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The New Zealand Alpine Journal

20 April 2010

A record of mountain exploration and adventure by members of the New Zealand Alpine Club

The New Zealand Alpine Journal is the annual publication of the New Zealand Alpine Club. The first volume, edited by G.E. Mannering, was published in March 1892, after the alpine club officially came to life on July 28th, 1891. In spite of its small size (63 pages), the volume covered a wide range of topics, including the inauguration of the New Zealand Alpine Club, early explorations in the Southern Alps (an article about Julius von Haast), mountaineering in Otago, trip accounts (the first ascent of Mt Earnslaw), alpine photography, equipment and literature.

The journal was published every 6 months until May 1896. After a break of 25 years, during which the club was virtually non-existent, publication resumed in 1921 and continued half-yearly until 1940.

The New Zealand Alpine Journal

In 1941 the journal became an annual publication. Roughly A5 in size, it had a soft brown cover, and mostly contained articles about the exploration of New Zealand’s alpine regions and first ascents in the Southern Alps. The colour of the cover changed to light blue in 1960, but the journal retained the same look and contents until 1970. Monographs about specific alpine regions were one of the most valuable and interesting features, as each volume was de-facto a complete climbing guide to a region in the Southern Alps.

When David Galloway took over as an editor in 1971, the NZ Alpine Journal received quite a face-lift. The first change was a photographic cover, followed by an increase in size, the inclusion of colour photographs and the elimination of advertisements from 1972 onwards. From 1972 to 2002, both soft and hard cover versions of the journal were published. The size increased again in 1988, and the journal received its current look of a high quality coffee-table book in 2003 with Mark Watson as an editor.

While print quality and layout have steadily improved over the years, the contents have gone down hill. This unfortunate trend started in the 1970s, and precipitated in the 1990s – I’m afraid the journals published in the last decade are hardly worth a read. It seems to me that once the exploration of the Southern Alps was completed, climbers had to find motivation for writing elsewhere than in the excitement of being first to visit a place, or to climb a mountain. Today’s articles are often about remarkable yet sterile athletic exploits, or philosophical ramblings that show an underlying shift in values in a climbing world that is more and more performance oriented.  Somehow, stories about higher grades or faster times on those mountains we all know are not as exciting as tales about untrodden paths. It’s no-one’s fault though – the exploration of the New Zealand backcountry is completed, and the scope and nature of our mountain adventures are no longer the same as they were fifty years ago.

A comprehensive index to the first 40 volumes of the New Zealand Alpine Journal was published in 1987. Reprint volumes covering the years 1892 to1940 were published in 1975, in a limited edition printing of 500 numbered sets.

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