Mountain Prospect, by Scott Russell. 248 pages, with seven sketch maps and 46 illustrations. London: Chatto and Windus, 1946. 18/-.
Scott Russell was a prisoner of war in Singapore for three and a half years. It was during this time—when, as he says, the present and the future were alike blank—that this refreshing book of mountain adventure first saw the light. Russell, because of his scientific knowledge of plants, was put in charge of the gardens where men worked to provide the all too meagre rations of the prisoners. He persuaded the Japanese to give him paper to make lists of plants and in this way was able to keep two copies of the book going, in case one should be discovered and confiscated.
Not a sign of the conditions under which it was written appears in this delightful account of mountain adventure, which ranges from unexplored valleys of New Zealand to the snows of the Karakorams, and is illustrated by excellent photographs. Here was a lucky boy: he had all the thrill of discovering a new world at his very door in the untrodden valleys and peaks, the interesting vegetation of New Zealand—all within a scale where it was possible for him to forge his own mountain experience with his chosen companions. As a reader, I felt genuinely sorry when Scott Russell left this most fascinating mountain world for England. But after a short chapter on the Pennines and the Alps, we find ourselves wafted off on a scientific expedition to Jan Mayen Island in the Arctic, climbing its great extinct volcano, Mount Beerenberg, with a party whose extreme youth prompted a kindly old lady on the ship going back to remark: “And have you dear boys been hiking?”
Finally we find Scott Russell joining Shipton for surveying and botanical work in the Karakorams. This expedition was cut short by the War, but an amazing amount was accomplished even in half a year. Scott Russell makes us see the country and the people. We breathe the air of the icy passes and follow him back to civilization —so-called.
“Read Mountain Prospect. You’ll find it different from most books of that sort,” said Mrs. George Finch, who has over twenty years’ experience of mountain literature. I agree with her heartily and am sure other readers will do the same. Incidentally, the book has a delightful introduction by Geoffrey Winthrop Young.
* The year was 1945. Himalayan Journal, XIII (1946), 62, 70-72.