Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mountains in Colour, by Frank Smythe

In light of my last entry, I decided to read one of Frank Smythe's photo books, Mountains in Colour. I should clarify that I read the section entitled "The Himalayas" [sic], I glanced through his chapters on the British Hills and Switzerland, and read "The Mountains and Hills of North America" after seeing a picture of the Green Mountains of Vermont, one of my favorite places. The book contains several color photographs taken on his many trips across the globe and a general outline of the trips in prose, with some anecdotes thrown in for entertainment. This is a fairly old book (1949) for color photographs, and like Alf Gregory's The Picture of Everest, the printing impedes the potential beauty of the photographs (at least in the American edition I viewed). The photographs are nicely composed, though I did not find them to be spectacular. I appreciated seeing a couple things that I hadn't before, such as the southern Tibetan plain during the monsoon season, and a beautiful photo of Everest from the Lhakpa La at sunrise.

I found the prose to be enjoyable. He speaks of many of the places (with the noted exception of the North Face of Everest) with a sense of nostalgia. Everest, he says, is for the sufferer rather than the athlete. He believes it will take a superman with a high pain threshold and a lot of luck with the weather to eventually scale the mountain. Strangely, that seems a fitting description to Hillary, if not Tenzing. He remembers his Everest teammates warmly, and is especially complimentary to Longland. I don't think he was a fan of the 1938 attempt, however.

I made a point to study each of the photographs taken in Europe in an effort to begin my Alpine education. Ironically, the only clear mountain face in any of these photographs was of Glencoe in Scotland. I at least got an initial feel for Dougal Haston's early stomping ground!

It was fun to read about Smythe's visit to North America. I was especially amused by his praise and description of the American motel. I wish I could find the one he visited, because I've never experienced anything nearly that nice! It made me feel good to hear such a world-class mountaineer as Frank Smythe speak of the enchantment of the mountains of New England, a place that I love.

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