American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Mountains of Europe

  • Book Reviews
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

The Mountains of Europe. Kev Reynolds, Editor; various contributors. Oxford Illustrated Press, Haynes Publishing Group, Starkford-near-Yeovil, Somerset, England; Haynes Publications, Ltd., Newbury Park, California, 91320. 207 pages, 51 color and 18 black-and-white illustrations. U.K. price £ 19.95 (approx. $US 37.00).

This book is addressed not only to serious mountaineers, but to all lovers of mountains. Its purpose, the editor tells us, is to enthuse and inform—also, he should have added, to educate.

Except for the Apennines, the text covers all Europe’s mountain areas—a big order for a relatively short book. Kev Reynolds and his colleagues acquit themselves well, though some readers may complain about omissions. The writers all know their business. There are, however, rare typographical errors, notably in the translation of French names into English. Much of the content is necessarily broad-brush, but it is always interesting.

Despite the editor’s apologies for what he terms excessive attention to his native isles, the section on Britain holds the reader’s attention. Cameron McNeish’s chapter on Scotland is remarkably well written and sets a noble tone for the remainder of the book.

British hills are succeeded by Norway’s. Here we learn that some modem Norwegian alpinists deliberately refrain from reporting their first ascents so that successors will not be denied the thrill of pioneers. Then come good chapters on the Alps, one each for the Dauphiné, the Mont Blanc area, the Valais Pennines, the Oberland, Engadine, Dolomites, Austrian and, finally, Julian Alps of Slovenia. The focus then shifts to the Carpathians, Caucasus, Pyrenées, Picos de Europa (described with enthusiasm by Louis Baume, author of Sivalaya), Greece and Corsica. The authors do not limit their descriptions to topography. There is also history (with frequent references to Roman and medieval times), biota, access and accommodations. In the background, barely audible, echoes a serious concern for modem man’s degradation of Europe’s mountain beauty.

The writers and the editor are not only alpinists, but true lovers of the mountain scene. They admire gentle hiking and alpine esthetics as much as they do severe under takings. This is one of the joys of this book for those of us who in recent years have been bombarded with the writings of super-climbers and their tales of derring-do. Kev Reynolds’ book does not overlook important feats of mountaineering, most especially those which, in their day, were considered outstanding, such as I.A. Richards’ and Dorothy Pilley’s now classic ascent of the east face of the Dent Blanche, André Roch’s route on the east face of the Zinal Rothom, Hamish Mclnnes’s twelve-day traverse of Ushba, or the struggle for the Eiger’s north wall. But these things are treated as sidelights. The main emphasis, as it should, focuses on the glories and wonders of Europe’s mountain world.

The color illustrations, on matte paper, are excellent, many of them featuring unusual views of well-known areas and summits. The black-and-whites do not succeed so well, aside from a few spectacular shots, notably one of Ushba. The maps represent a major weakness in an otherwise good book. They are inadequately detailed, neglect to include most references found in the text, but often supply place names not elsewhere to be found. They are, in a word, quite useless.

Nonetheless this is a good purchase for anyone wishing to acquire a quick, general and informative description of Europe’s mountains or help in deciding where one might want to go for more detail. There are, of course, many works of this kind available, both old and new, so that the reader may wonder at the outset how this volume can compete against its rivals in today’s market. The quality of the authors’ writing is the answer. Kev Reynolds has done a fine job and his book merits serious attention and a wide readership among those who have interest in Europe’s alpine world.

Andrew John Kauffman, II

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