Great Days in New Zealand Mountaineering, by John Pascoe. London: Bailey Bros, and Swinfin Ltd., 1958. 199 pages; 27 photographs, 20 maps. Price 21s.
It is always a pleasure to read the recollections of a mountaineer about his own homeland mountains. There is here a knowledge and an intimacy which is hard for a visitor to achieve.
In reading this book it would help anyone to whom the New Zealand mountains are unknown to have on hand a physical map of the whole country to orient himself. John Pascoe writes about the chief climbing areas and covers a wide range in some of the lesser known ones. He has climbed himself in most of the areas of which he writes and has a great familiarity with all of them. The pioneer New Zealand climbers are household names to him. Some of them he knew or knows personally as he does the modern generation of New Zealand climbers. He writes, therefore, with a thorough knowledge of New Zealand climbing, and in doing so he bridges a gap between the old and the new. The reader can readily grasp a feeling of the development of climbing in New Zealand from the time when the first great summits were sought by daring pioneers, to the present when even more challenging new routes are sought by just as adventurous climbers, albeit now with more modern methods and better equipment.
New Zealand mountaineering is unique. One must grasp the peculiar instability of the weather, particularly of the dread, "North-Wester” (something like the Alpine Föhn wind but giving less warning). One must realize the fact that the snow and ice level is, in general, about 3000 feet lower than in the European Alps, so that with about the same summer temperatures, there is more snow and ice which melts and moves faster, giving frequent rockfalls and ice avalanches, and making every peak the equivalent of a peak 3000 feet higher in European Alpine conditions. One has to appreciate the inaccessibility of some of the ranges, the virtual impassability of some of the valleys and what New Zealand bush-whacking is like, to appreciate the stoutness of heart of the early New Zealand mountaineers, to say nothing of the really rigorous training and mountain experience that New Zealand provides for the present generation.
I remember the well-known New Zealand mountaineer, Professor R. M. Algie saying to me in 1938, when I was enjoying some delightful climbing in New Zealand, that he would not be surprised if New Zealand mountaineers would do well on Everest expeditions because New Zealand conditions gave such good training. I agreed and I felt 15 years later, that it was no coincidence that Edmund Hillary reached the top of Everest. Reading John Pascoe’s book it is easy to understand why.
Great Days in New Zealand Mountaineering will have a valuable place always in New Zealand mountaineering literature. It will always be a delight for mountain lovers to read.