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Distant Mountains

Distant Mountains. John Cleare. Discovery Channel Books: New York, 1998. 160 color photos. 173 pages. $35.00.

“What beautiful names the mountains and glaciers have in this region…. said W.M. Conway of the Jungfrau region of Europe’s Alps. These same words work to describe the contents of Distant Mountains by John Cleare. Not only has Cleare captured the descriptive prose of such mountain legends as Conway, Tilman, Murray, and others in his new book, he has once again captured for his readers a number of amazing mountain images as well.

John Cleare is one of the most respected mountain photographers in the history of mountain travel. In this book, as with his 15 previous titles, he has combined his art and abilities as a mountaineer, but here he has included too the inspiring words of some of his legendary predecessors and contemporaries to provide the reader with an amazing vicarious experience in some of the world’s wildest and most beautiful mountain ranges. From the Highlands of Scotland to the Andes, from the Himalaya to the Rockies, Distant Mountains contains some 160 beautiful color photographs that serve to complement masterful essays. Nicholas Crane writes on the Pyrenees, W.M. Conway on the Alps, David Harris on the Canadian Rockies, Steve Roper on the mountains of the American Southwest, Mike Banks on the Andes, Kurt Diemberger on Pakistan Karakoram, Jim Perrin on the Garhwal Himalaya of India, Kev Reynolds on the Himalaya of Nepal, H. W. Tilman on the mountains of East Africa, and Cleare himself on Patagonia.

Distant Mountains is more than a large-format anthology. It also provides practical information for mountain travelers and armchair adventures alike by including in each chapter maps and tables, notes on the local geology, flora, and fauna, warnings regarding hazards specific to each mountain range, and suggestions on equipment. For instance, the chapter, “The Abode of the Gods” (Kev Reynolds), is followed by the very timely “The Nepal Himalaya ‘Factfile,’” which provides a map and several paragraphs of information and advice under the subheadings Background, Access, and Climbing and Trekking. The information found here is clear and straight-forward. To wit, in Climbing and Trekking: “For climbers, the several hundred Permitted Peaks (none of which are virgin) offer plenty of new routes. Siege tactics, oxygen and big expeditions are, these days, considered inappropriate, and ideally climbs should be attempted alpine style… Climbers and Trekkers alike should treat altitude… very seriously. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) regularly kills and there is no substitute for proper acclimatization.” Important information and advice for anyone interested in visiting high, remote mountains, and well worth following.

Cleare’s 40 years of climbing mountains and his commitment to providing a photographic record of his adventures, as well as his carefully selected essays, make this book an important edition to anyone’s library who loves to escape into mountains either literally or via good writing and vivid photos.

The words of Tilman on the frontispiece of the chapter entitled “Snow on the Equator” captures the spirit of this volume: “On Kenya is to be found climbing at its best. There is no easy route up it, but much virtue may be got from a mountain without climbing it. For those who are not compelled to answer its challenge, let them camp near the solitudes of its glaciers, to gaze upon the fair face of the mountain in sunlight and shadows, to watch the ghostly mists writhing among the crags and pinnacles, and to draw strength from her ruggedness, repose from her aloofness.”

There is “much virtue” to be found for both climber and non-climber between the covers of John Cleare’s Distant Mountains.

Mikel Vause