The Amazing Jack Clarke

This mountain man played a major role in the development of New Zealanders knowledge of their own country, and of mountaineering as a magnificent pursuit. Graham Langton

A superb sports biographySummits and Shadows

Reviewed by Bill Clague

Graham’s beautifully presented book highlights mountaineering in New Zealand as a relatively new pastime. This late arriving sport was brought about by climatic conditions, isolation and a society that was focussed on carving a living out of an environment quite different from the one our early British settlers knew.  There were no granite spires or Dolomite crags within walking distance of the local pub and little time to do other than make a basic living.

In this new egalitarian society there were few people able to afford the time or money to travel the very difficult terrain in and around the Southern Alps. Those that were able to do so gravitated towards the Mount Cook region and this well presented history really begins here.

A teenage guide in the Mt Cook area

Jack ClarkeThe original Hermitage building attracted its first mountain tourists well before the First World War and its existence in the 1890’s was instrumental in attracting a new breed of mountain man.

Jack Clarke, a teenager, landed his first job as a guide in this district in 1894 and went on to be one of the first to climb Mt Cook. (The photo alongside shows the climbers with Jack Clarke on the left.)

Besides guiding visiting tourists he acted as advisor and porter to wealthy climbers who came to New Zealand to make first ascents on the many virgin peaks.

It was here that this self-sufficient New Zealander came up against class discrimination and used this experience to educate himself in the ways of the world. His climbs and history are legendary and thanks to this book will now receive the recognition they deserve.

A well qualified author

Graham, LangtonGraham Langton, a climber and professional archivist, is well qualified to write this wonderful work. He has spent a long time researching not only the life of Clark but has captured the essence of simplicity and fortitude that spawned the likes of Dingle, Hillary, Hall and others in the high mountain scene.

Filled with nearly 200 photographs and complete with explanatory notes, this book is a must for anyone who cares about our land. If you are a tramper, climber or a lover of the outdoors buy yourself a copy.

If you are heading south, this book will become an old friend as you can recognise and then steep yourself in the environment these early pioneers traversed. Take it from someone who has climbed in the region Graham describes, is the owner of several shelves of mountaineering books, and has read everything he can on this region – this book is one to cherish.

Get yourself a copy

Summits & Shadows: Jack Clarke and New Zealand Mountaineering by Graham Langton is published by Steele Roberts Aotearoa Ltd. It retails for $40.

To purchase a copy, contact Graham at

  • or ring 04 383 8868.


(Editor’s note: Reviewer  Bill Clague has climbed mountains all round the world from New Guinea to the Swiss Alps.  His autobiography No Fear of Flying is a fascinating story of a hunter, airline executive, power company CEO, climber, sailor, cold war courier and more.


A Print on Demand (POD) version can be ordered through bookshops world wide. A paperback version can be found on Amazon.  KIN readers may find it easier and cheaper to buy and download via Amazon to their Kindle. Price seem to vary from $14 down to $11 and the paperback and POD versions are about $30.)