Under A Sheltering Sky: Journeys To Mountain Heartlands. Colin Monteath. Christchurch, New Zealand: Hedgehog House, 2003. 240 pages. Hardcover. $60.00.
Under A Sheltering Sky is a large format photography book with unexpected visions of the enchanting beauty in mountain and polar worlds: a work replete with more pictures of faraway alpine places—Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, Greenland, Antarctica—than even Galen Rowell’s most ambitious productions.The Altai, Mt. Kailas, Mt. Erebus, Shackleton Gap: these evocative names, and the book’s 12 chapters, each chronicling a separate expedition, form a roadmap to the life well lived of New Zealand mountaineer Colin Monteath. Writes polar legend Sir Wally Herbert in his introduction: “Colin … is one of those rare individuals in our day and age—a romantic who is drawn to the wilder regions of the Earth, not by the call of instant fame to which so many of the modern ‘explorers’ all too eagerly respond, but by that far subtler insistence of spirit the more sensitive souls call wonder.”
And so Colin takes us on his prolific journeys to some of the world’s wildest and most remote quarters. His writing, colorful, insightful, humorous, and at times hypnotically evocative, complements his images; his descriptive passages are some of the best I have read. Under A Sheltering Sky weaves together the threads of Colin’s personal experiences in these remotest regions with the fabric of historic tales—of Mallory, Younghusband, Nansen, Shackleton, and Kingdom-Ward, among others—who first explored them. Part adventure narrative, part historic travelogue, each chapter ends with a definitive bibliography of the books penned by these early explorers, complete with photographs of the books themselves from the author’s extensive, well-read library.
Monteath’s photographic eye has few, if any, contemporary rivals for capturing not only the decisive moment in images of people and animals, but the stunningly pure color of the alpine and polar landscapes. To hike in Shackleton’s, Crean’s, and Worsley’s footsteps across South Georgia, from King Haakon Bay to the Stromness whaling station (to the very bathtub where they took their first baths in nearly two years!); to camp and climb the same route George Mallory and Guy Bullock took in Tibet’s Kama and Kharta valleys as they tried to unravel the unknown approaches to Mt. Everest …Ah, the stuff of legend, and the yearning for future adventures, lies within these pages! In a hopeful tone, Colin writes, “The more I travel, the more convinced I am that this is far from a shrinking planet with nothing left to discover … For climbers with imagination and resolve, the scope for new routes knows no bounds.”
I cannot recommend Under A Sheltering Sky highly enough—to young aspiring climbers and to older, more contemplative mountaineers alike. Go to Colin Monteath’s website at hedge- hoghouse.com to obtain your copy of this exquisite book.