Alpine Americas – Book Reviews



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Alpine Americas: An Odyssey Along the Crest of Two Continents

Olaf Sööt, essays by Don Mellor. Horizon, $50 (256p) ISBN 9780977849024

This stunning book by Sööt and Mellor (who previously joined the efforts in Adirondacks Alive) combines superlative photos and insightful text in a tribute to the beauty of the 10,000-mile range of mountains that start in Arctic Alaska and end at Cape Horn, 600 miles from Antarctica. This beautifully printed photographic celebration deserves a wide general audience for its presentation of the majesty of the western edge of two continents – from the Yukon through the Canadian Rockies, America’s Rocky Mountains, Mexico, the Andes, and ending in South America. Mellor’s text captures the essence of each of Sööt’s photos, such as his description of the Arctic summit of Denali, where “the air swirls with blinding ice pellets.” This exploration of the connections and differences across the Americas substantiates Mellor’s belief that,
“the more we know about the earth on a grand scale, the better we understand our own small place on it.”


By Sunny (Montana, USA)

Alpine Americas: An Odyssey Along the Crest of Two Continents (Hardcover)

Wow! This is really an impressive book! First of all the generous size (14” X 12” X 1”) and beautiful cover make for a perfect coffee table book and conversation starter. But once you open it up you won’t want to close it. The pictures are absolutely breathtaking, and that’s an understatement! You literally can’t look at just one.

When Alpine Americas arrived, my husband snatched it up and poured over every page. We were all looking over his shoulder, oo-ing and ah-ing at each one. This would be a wonderful gift for anyone, even non-readers. I love to read and my husband loves to not to read. We are completely captivated by this book!

The stunning scenery draws you in and once you dare to pull your eyes away you’ll be even more blessed by the words. You’ll get a personal tour and inside scoop on these fascinating places.
If you’re having a rough day, you can open up this book and take a mini-vacation and feel so much lighter as you let yourself be drawn into its grandeur.


☆☆☆☆☆  WOW!
By Tara of Tara’s View of the World (Canada)

Wow! This book is amazing. The pictures are incredibly breathtaking! Even my almost-2-year old daughter Olivia was captivated by the photos! The book itself is super high quality and would be a delightful coffee table book or Christmas gift for the difficult-to-buy for folks on your list. I am truly impressed by Alpine Americas.


☆☆☆☆☆  AWSOME!
By Sally “Sally” (Pembroke Pines, FL)

This large volume (14” X 12” X 1”) will make a beautiful coffee table book and conversation starter. However, there are many other uses for it.

Essays by Don Mellor are informative; he uses his own mountain climbing experience to describe sights too awesome for words. Interesting details are given; for instance, the Alaskan pipeline debate is discussed along with the history of the Incas, Columbus and the discovery of America, and Magellan. I can see this book being used by homeschooling moms for history, geography, geology, and art lessons.

As I turned page after page, I quickly became a fan of Olaf Sööt’s phenomenal photography. I found myself oohing and aahing over and over. Lovers of artwork will appreciate this. So many magnificent color pages; this heavy volume will be passed down from generation to generation.

Whatever your age, you’ll spend many happy hours climbing and investigating these mountains.


By Joseph G. Langen “Joe Langen”

Recently I had the opportunity to review Alpine Americas. I have always been more fascinated by the sea than by mountains, that is until this book arrived. I was immediately drawn to the grandeur, hidden recesses and inhabitants of the mountains which the authors took years to document in photos and words, based on their exploration on foot and by air.

I was glad to see the wonders of the Denali Range which I hope to visit some day. I was surprised to find glorious photos of hidden mountain recesses from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. I had not imagined such wonders existed. Exotic photos of these mountains matched my favorite sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.

Tearing myself away from the photos long enough to read the text proved a challenge. When I finally succeeded, I was rewarded by glimpses of the peoples inhabiting the various ranges and their ways of life. In enjoyed meeting the explorers who discovered, mapped and photographed these environs which remain mysterious to most of us. I also relished up-close meetings with the wildlife and domestic animals in these high places.

High mountain ranges always seemed to me lonely, desolate places. The text makes clear that most of them are not easy to access. Once you do, either in person or thought this wondrous volume, the trip is well worthwhile.

I closed the last page captivated and humbled by nature’s vast spectacle. While many of us are prone in our day to day life to lose sight of all but our personal microcosm, Alpine Americas helps us maintain a healthy respect for the glory of our hemisphere and a spiritual context in which to view our own small lives. I would highly recommend this book to anyone needing a reminder of the breathtaking environment we take for granted.

Joseph G. Langen, Author of Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage.


By Wendy Robards

North to Alaska the land rises gently from the Arctic Ocean and an ice pack that extends over the pole and beyond. South of Patagonia, it plunges into the Drake Passage at Cape Horn, six hundred miles away is Antarctica. Start at one of these ends of the earth – if only in your mind – and aim for the other along a ten thousand mile line of mountains. You’ll meet in your travels along the ridge all kinds of landscapes, all kinds of animals. You’ll learn the temperaments of all kinds of weather. You’ll meet people so different – and so much alike. Visit the high places, and the rest of the world will be less of a mystery. -From Alpine Americas-

Olaf and Gitta Sööt spent 40 years collecting photos of mountains, villages and the people and animals who inhabited them. Their adventures led them to the Western ranges of the Americas and an idea began to formulate – to create a book which celebrated the long and beautiful line of mountain ranges which run from the north to the south poles. They collaborated with Don Mellor (who they had worked with previously when they published Adirondacks Alive, a photo-essay collection of the Adirondacks of New York State) to piece together the jaw-dropping and beautifully written Alpine Americas.

Alpine Americas is a gorgeous “coffee table book” which examines the 10,000 miles of peaks from the Arctic to Patagonia. It is organized by chapters which look at each mountain grouping – beginning with the far North mountains of the Brooks Range along the Northern rim of Alaska, and ending with the ragged Patagonian ranges and fjords. Each chapter describes the unique weather, people and animals of the region and is filled with breathtaking photographs. It is a feast for the eyes.

Those who love the isolation and beauty of the mountains, and specifically those who climb them, will find themselves enthralled by Mellor’s captivating prose and amazed at how the lens of Sööt’s camera has captured the majesty of the west’s highest places.

For the real threads that hold this wondrous earth together are those of her own design – the currents of the sea, the jet stream, the great rivers. The real threads are the physical realities that we cannot change but to which we can adjust. And must. The real threads include the squiggly line of mountain peaks that defines the edge of two continents and in so many ways, defines those who explore. — From Alpine Americas—

Alpine Americas is recommended for arm-chair explorers, as well as those who have actually been there. My thanks to Lisa Roe, online publicist, who sent me this gorgeous book.



Alpine Americas by Olaf Sööt and Don Mellor
Copyright 2008
Horizon Editions, LL.- photo/mountaineering
Dimensions: 13.7 x 12 x 1 inches
256 pages

Photographer’s website
Book website (take a peek at both photos and text)

In faraway cities, gridded by patterns rectangular and unnatural, there are people with pencils who concern themselves with measuring mountains. Up in the Brooks Range, however, the cities are too far away. The ticking of clocks and the beeping of phones are replaced by a remarkable quiet as the oblique summer light filters into soft pastels. With the rest of the world so brutally quantified, it’s nice to be in such a place whose components don’t wear fixed numeric labels. It’s enough work to keep the mosquitoes out of your pot when you lift the lid to see if the noodles have boiled.

Alpine Americas appears to be what one traditionally would refer to as a “coffee table” book – heavy on photos, bought by most folks for the sake of setting it out on a table where people can flip through it whilst drinking coffee and admire the photos without really thinking. And, yes, you could set it out on your table and people will sigh at the awesome photography. But, stop right there. This is not a book meant to be idly dismissed as just another photo book to set on the table. Alpine Americas is for reading and savoring not only the beautiful panoramas, but also the stunningly crafted and sometimes very opinionated text.

The photos, taken by Olaf Sööt over a 40-year stretch of exploration and discovery on the North and south American continents is, according to publicity material, “a mountaineer’s tour of the 10,000-mile range of peaks from the Arctic to Patagonia through the lens of renowned outdoor photographer Olaf Sööt and in the words of writer and climber Don Mellor”.

What is a “mountaineer’s tour”, exactly? It’s photography taken in places that not just anyone is willing or able to travel, along with descriptions of geography and history along the mountain ranges in this lengthy stretch, how one arrives at certain peaks, what kind of climbing challenge a mountaineer will find, how it feels to walk or climb certain stretches of the earth’s stunning topography and what it’s like to face the dangers of falling into a crevasse or facing a mountain that tends to crumble beneath your fingertips. It’s a book that is crammed with the senses, written with philosophical bent and a poetic beauty. It’s also got some really terrific stories that you’ll find yourself repeating to the nearest willing listener.

In 1916, the same summer that roped climbing began in the United States, Austrian guide Conrad Kain was for a moment stymied by a fifty-foot pinnacle blocking the way along the ridges of unclimbed Bugaboo Spire. Outfitted in the manner of the day – nailed boots, long alpenstock, a feeble hemp rope – he didn’t see any way around. The drop off either side of the ridge was huge. He took his rudimentary ice axe and hooked it on the rock, pulling himself up just high enough to reach a hold in the crack above, while his nailed boot soles scraped against hard granite. Gadgets and guts.

I still think climbers have to be a little bit on the crazy side, but after reading this book I suddenly feel like I ”get it”, why they risk their lives to conquer a peak. Here’s one quote (a photo caption) that gives you an idea:

The highest peaks in North America describe an arc across southern Alaska and down the western coast of Canada. This is a land of scale, where huge mountains wear thick cloaks of snow and ice. Climbing here is both arduous and dangerous – and that’s the allure that finds this climbing team making its way up the Kahiltna Glacier under Mount Hunter’s west ridge toward Denali, in the joy of feeling so small in a world so grand.

Ah. That, I understand. And, this made me laugh:

In the Arctic kind of cold, a rubber band doesn’t want to retract when stretched. It just stays all out of shape until things warm up. In such cold, a camper’s foam sleeping pad stiffens and cracks and breaks into a hundred pieces, and it’s no fun trying to arrange all those little synthetic taco chips into a mat to keep the body off the snow.

I had that problem when I left a foam rubber pillow in my car during freezing weather, while I was in Oklahoma during the Christmas of 2007. “Synthetic taco chips” is right. Not the kind of thing a princess easily disturbed by little peas under a stack of mattresses can tolerate. But, these guys are touch.

Alpine Americas is the first book that has given me a real sense of why climbers take risks. And, the photos are, of course, spectacular. Definitely a book worth putting out on your coffee table, but it’s also a great way to read and learn a little bit more about our earth and the small group of people who are willing to hike into territory where whiskers freeze and block walls must be built from snow to protect a campsite.

An amazing, breathtaking book, highly recommended.



Mountains have always been in my blood. I was born in the Canadian Rockies and lived there until we moved to the hilly (but not mountainous) Albertan North when I was almost 12 years old. It took my family a long time to get used to our new surroundings because we all loved the mountains. Being in the mountains really influenced our lifestyle as evidenced by the fact that I had learned to downhill ski shortly after I learned to walk. So, when was given the chance to review a book about mountains … especially North American mountains … I jumped at the chance.

ALPINE AMERICAS by Olaf Sööt and Don Mellor: Alpine Americas is a mountaineer’s tour of the 10,000 mile range of peaks from the Arctic to Patagonia. The book combines stunning mountain photography with elegant text that explores the places from all perspectives – geologic, historical, philosophical – as it takes readers up the cold wind-swept ridges of Denali or down into the cauldron of a smoking Mexican volcano. The large, oversized format combines magical photographs with inspirational words, making this work a celebration of the western world’s majestic high places.

Each mountain grouping is a different chapter. Each chapter focuses on a single element of what the place means to us. Brooks Range in the Arctic, it’s all about tranquility and the reassurance of seasonal patterns. Way to the South, In Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, it’s the chaos and conflict of the natural elements – angry winds and big weather – as the jagged landscape thrusts upward from the cold salt sea.

Don Mellor’s inspirational words and Olaf Soot’s magical photographs, Alpine Americas is the celebration of the western world’s majestic high places.

As for what I thought:

This is a stunning book with some spectacular pictures. When I received the large, oversized book, I thought, “Great! I’ll skim this and be done it in a few minutes.” However, as I began reading the essays by Don Mellor, I was drawn in and read every single word in this book. His writing was compelling and interesting as he touched on the history of each region, the geological forces behind each mountain range and the climbing experiences one might feel. You could tell he loves his subject and I was pulled right in. It was fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. Coupled with pictures that really captured the beauty and majesty of North America’s highest places, this was a read that I thoroughly enjoyed.