a history in photographs
by John Wilson
This beautiful book covers the history of climbing in New Zealand decade by decade, highlighting the climbers, the mountains they climbed, and the equipment they used. The progression and improvement in gear, techniques, and the way mountains are accessed, is highlighted decade by decade.
Climbing in Europe was a sport, chiefly undertaken by the upper classes who often saw guides as servants. The mountains were generally accessible by road, or even railway, and huts and shelters were always there as starting points or shelters.
In New Zealand climbing is largely an amateur sport, and guides are treated as friends or equals, often leading to life-long relationships as seen in the famous pairing of Freda de Faur and Peter Graham in the 1920s and of Harry Ayres and Sir Edmund Hillary in the 1940s.
The way to a mountain in New Zealand often requires days of walking carrying large loads of food and equipment. In the early years help for injured climbers could be days away, as there were no radios to call for help, and no helicopters to answer a call.
It is really interesting to see the progression in equipment as the decades progress. Long handled ice axes, used to great effect in cutting steps up icy slopes, gave way to front-pointed crampons and short ice axes, hobnailed boots to high altitude climbing boots. Pitons, ice screws, and other aids improved safety and enabled much more technically advanced climbs. Huts and shelters, replaced rock bivouacs, roads running deep into the mountains made access easier, aircraft able to land on glaciers, and the introduction of radio and cell phones transformed the sport decade by decade.
The endurance and skills necessary to spend long hours cutting ice steps produced mountaineers such as Sir Edmund Hillary and others who found their skills really stood out when they climbed in Europe or the Himalayas. Strangely, no mention is made of George Lowe, who should appear in any book on a history of New Zealand mountaineering. Surely, at least, he should be included in the Introduction where several others who achieved climbing prominence overseas are named.
The strength of this book lies in the more than 200 photographs it contains. Magnificent, gorgeous photographs illustrating climbing history, and bringing to life the written words they accompany. The author makes the point that even if a climber fails to reach the peak he is striving to attain, the sheer joy of being in the mountains surrounded by such beauty is ample compensation for failure. This is one of the reasons climbers return over and again to the mountains.
This is a large format book, printed on quality paper that reproduces photos well. Rather than a book that one reads cover to cover, following a plot, this is one to be picked up from the coffee table and savoured time and again. It will transport the reader to the Southern Alps and fill him or her with pride to be living in such a magnificent country.
Author: John Wilson