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Peaks, Packs and Mountain Tracks, by Scott Gilkison

3 February 2011

Twenty-five, according to Mr. Beverley Nichols, is the latest age at which anybody should write an autobiography. Were this, then, to be reckoned the story of my life, I could only blush and confess that I am two years older...” This is how a 27-year old Gilkison introduces his first book, prompted by the onset of the second World War, and the fear that “it may be that some of us have climbed our last peak in the Southern Alps“.

Gilkison states that the book does not aim to give an official account of expeditions, and that names, dates and places are used only where necessary by way of illustration, in the belief that it is the story which will appeal, rather than the precise detail of history. In spite of this claim, the first two thirds of the books are nothing more than a plain account of first ascents and explorations, written in simple words, and lacking any profound thoughts.

The last few chapters are somewhat more insightful. The sections “On Tramps and Tramping”, “Transport and Locomotion”, “In Defence of Swagging” and “Of Myself” especially tell us about the author’s philosophy, about his love for the hills, his motivations for climbing. We learn that Gilkison considers himself a tramper ahead of a climber, that he loves the torture of carrying a heavy pack over rugged terrain, and that he does not approve of the changes that aircraft access is about to bring into the mountaineering world. “But when that day comes – when climbers with their goods and chattels can be landed at any desired point in the mountains, there to remain until the day when they wish to be called for again – when the pioneer will have his mid-day spell interrupted by a picnic party who have dropped in, by autogiro – then, assuredly, swagging will have lost much of its point and purpose, and I for one will be very sorry.”

The pocket-size makes this a suitable book to take into the hills. I opened it after breakfast on a rainy day, while waiting for the weather to clear at the toe of the Park Pass Glacier. By lunch, I had run out of reading material. A very quick, easy read, entertaining but not particularly insightful, it’s a good book for when you’re tired and you feel there’s only so much your brains can take.


Gilkison, W.S. (1940) Peaks, Packs and Mountain Tracks. Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 120 pages

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