Paul Preuss: Lord of the Abyss

Life and Death at the Birth of Free-Climbing

By (author): David Smart
ISBN 9781771603232
Hardcover | Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Book Dimensions: 5.5 in x 8.5 in
248 Pages

About the Book

Shortlisted for the 2019 Boardman Tasker Award

Shortlisted for the 2019 Banff Mountain Book Award for Mountain Literature

An intriguing biography of the renowned Austrian alpinist Paul Preuss, who achieved international recognition both for his remarkable solo ascents and for his advocacy of an ethically “pure” alpinism (meaning without any artificial aids).

In the months before his death in 1913, from falling more than 300 metres during an attempt to make the first free solo ascent of the North Ridge of the Mandlkogel, Paul Preuss’s public presentations on his climbing adventures filled concert halls in Austria, Italy, and Germany.

George Mallory, the famed English mountaineer who died on Mount Everest in 1924, said “no one will ever equal Preuss.“

Reinhold Messner, the first climber to ascend all fourteen 8000 metre peaks, was so impressed by the young Austrian’s achievements that he built a mountaineering museum around Preuss’s piton hammer, wrote two books (in German) about him and instituted a foundation in Preuss’s name.

Alex Honnold, the first and only person to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, has thought about Preuss’ untimely and surprising death and imagined it to have likely been “the worst four seconds” of Preuss’ life.

Although he died at only 27 years old, modern climbing may never have developed the ethical, existential core that it has today if not for Preuss’s bold style. Even the most trenchant traditionalists remain unsure about whether to add him to their pantheon or dismiss him as at worst a lunatic or at best an indelicate subject better left ignored.

Smart’s biography is the first English language volume to be published and is certain to bring the remarkable story of Paul Preuss to a whole new generation of climbers.

About the Author(s)

David Smart has been climbing since 1975 throughout North America and Europe. He has completed hundreds of new routes in eastern Canada and is the founder of Gripped, Canada’s Climbing Magazine, Canadian Running magazine, Canadian Cycling Magazine and Triathlon Magazine Canada. He is also the author of five climbing guidebooks; a memoir entitled A Youth Wasted Climbing, short-listed by the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in 2015; Paul Preuss: Life and Death at the Birth of Free-Climbing, short-listed for awards by both the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and The Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature (UK); and Emilio Comici: Angel of the Dolomites; and he is the co-author with Brandon Pullan of Northern Stone: 50 of Canada’s Best Rock Climbs. He is the editorial director of Gripped Publishing and is still an active new-router in northern Ontario. David lives in Toronto, Ontario.


“If we come away from Smart’s evocation of Paul Preuss puzzled by the man’s contradictions and confused about his legacy — is Alex Honnold really the perfectionist heir of Preuss’ radical vision or something else entirely? — we must stand in admiration of one of the finest biographies of a climber ever written.” – David Roberts, the American Alpine Club Journal

“The finest biography of an adventure figure I have ever found. I cringe to think of the years of research needed to dog down all the information, more than a century after it happened. And the journalistic chops to frame it all so cogently made me jealous of Smart as a writer.”  -John Long, author of The Stonemasters: California Rock Climbers in the SeventiesThe High Lonesome: Epic Solo Climbing Stories and Long on Adventure: The Best of John Long.

“Was [Preuss] a patriarch or pariah? The argument continues, yet the path Preuss set, which has wound through climbing for a century, led directly to Alex Honnold’s successful free solo on Yosemite’s fearsome El Capitan. As such, this book introduces the origin of the notion to a new generation of climbers. This book’s sub-subhead – Life and Death at the Birth of Free Climbing – attempts to summarize a formative period immediate post Europe’s Golden Age of Alpinism, when mountaineering, rock-climbing and skiing were changing public perception of the mountains that had surrounded them forever.” – Mountain Life Annual

“His creed: to estimate well his capacities compared to the ascensions to which one claims and thus to remain safe, to leave the rope and the pitons to the emergency situations.” – Montagne (translated from French)

Paul Preuss: Lord of the Abyss is a skillfully written and meticulously researched book. David Smart has offered the reader an insightful portrait of an intriguing young man so strong in body and mind. Climbers talk of ‘feeding the rat’, a hunger to climb more and more and David reflects that, for Paul, climbing in a pure style was his ‘food for immortality’, a food which carried him to the most beautiful places on so many extraordinary adventures.” – Climber Magazine UK

[Paul Preuss: Lord of the Abyss] is an intriguing dive into the [Preuss’] life and accomplishments…” – Revelstoke Mountaineer

Lord of the Abyss is not only a scholarly biography of Preuss and history of early rock climbing in the Dolomites, but an engaging story illuminating in words and photos the life and death of one of the most compelling, nearly forgotten heroes of early free climbing. It reminds us that for all that climbing has changed in the past century, it really hasn’t changed very much at all.” –

“Smart…has intricately woven stories of Preuss’ life and accomplishments with vivid illustrations of the times and the rising middle class in the outdoors into a magnificent biography.” – The Suburban Mountaineer