One of the unexpected bonuses of writing this blog over the last eight or nine years is that I have got to meet some of this country’s best and most prominent outdoor writers. I have found them all to be great fun, fascinating characters who are genuinely inspirational in many ways. Of all of these writers the one who has made the greatest impression on me personally has been Kev Reynolds. Kev’s guidebooks have seen me safely through all kinds of Pyrenean adventures and his mountain reference books to the Alps and the Pyrenees are some of the most well-thumbed books on my bookshelves.
Before I met Kev for the first time I knew I would like him. His oeuvre may be the guidebook but somehow from out from that restricted format shines an exceptionally warm person, a man who revels not just in high mountains but in the company of both mountain communities and fellow visitors. An encounter with Kev is always an experience to savour and memory to cherish. Kev’s stories are a delight as they entrance you with the magic and wonder of high and far off places. Within them there is always humour, writ and just the right amount of cheekiness. If you have heard Kev speak or give a presentation you will know what I mean.
Now Kev has distilled his 50 years or so of mountain walking into a wonderful new book, A Walk in the Clouds.
As Kev says himself in the introduction this is not a collection of stories of great drama and excitement but a series of memories at the gentler end of the outdoor spectrum. Kev’s long walk in the clouds has left him with a rich store of memories and as he puts it himself:
…(this) is collection is a celebration of wild places in all their seductive mystery — a commemoration of mountains and valleys; friends with whom some great days have been shared; people met alone the way; the generosity of strangers; humour plucked from the most unlikely situations. A celebration of life”
This is no autobiography biography but a carefully crafted collection of short stories most of which started off as journal entries written at the end of days on the mountain or at the end of a trip. This is not hard or intense reading and most of the pieces here are no more that three or four pages long. These stories are never anything but accessible but despite their brevity each them carries a lo, so much so that I found Kev constantly playing tricks on my mind. I would read some small piece or other only to find, when I finished it, that all kinds of memories and encounters from my own trips were flooding my mind.
The pieces are grouped in sections that follow the development of Kev’s own walking career. We start in the Atlas mountains Kev’s first excursion in the wild land of an unfamiliar country. Next up is the Pyrenees —mountains that Kev first saw on that trip to Morocco — which set the scene for Kev’s first groundbreaking guidebook Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees , a book which is still in print today and which I’ve used a great deal over the yeas. Following the Pyrenees comes the Alps, the Himalaya and, finally, a collection of memories from assorted trips around the world. In each of these sections you will find wonderful descriptions of high, wild and beautiful mountains, high passes and lowland pastures. There are nights spent in storms under canvass, convivial evenings in refuges, brushes with near disaster, stories from the leading of mountain treks and others featuring life long walking companions including, of course, Kev’s wife Min.
These short stories really do bring these mountains to life and they do so not least because Kev is so good at connecting with local people and with the communities that have lived there for generations. As Kev looks back over his career he is finding that the memories of the people he met along the way are becoming stronger and stronger and this is certainly something that I can identify with. I am reminded of the late writer and traveller Bruce Chatwin who said that a landscape was never properly illuminated for him until he had met the people who animated it. Here we encounter lonely shepherds, simple mountain pension owners, guardians of high refuges and a multi millionaire who tackled the great peaks of the Alps by private helicopter! We meet Pierre and Jean Ravier, two of the greats explorers of the Pyrenees and many of Kev’s long standing sherpa guides, good friends and comrades. There is also a fascinating encounter with a small Himalayan village community none of whom has ever left their own valley and who really cannot understand why you would need to know what was to be found further downstream! Kev’s publisher Jonathan Williams also has a few important walk on parts, some of which are too delicate to describe here!
If you have seen Kev speak you will find that many of his ‘greatest hits’ stories are here, most prominently the one where our hero ends up hanging in mid air following the collapse of his balcony. But most of the material here is completely new to me.
The great thing about this book is that it focuses on the kinds of experiences and observations that all of us will have when we venture out into the Alps, the Pyrenees or the Himalaya. In that sense there is nothing out of the ordinary here but of course, as all mountain goers know, everyday in the hills is a chance to experience the extraordinary. This is a quietly inspirational book, I say quietly because it inspire us all to get out and do things that we are all capable of doing!
In ‘A Walk in the Clouds’ Kev tells us that he never set out to become a guidebook and outdoor writer. Things just happened and opportunities arrived out of the blue that he simply took advantage of. You can see that Kev is a genuinely modest man but reading this book I’ve realised what makes him so special. Kev’s art is this quiet and gentle ability to inspire us all to do that little bit more and to unlock just a little bit more the potential within. Whenever I have chatted to Kev he has always quietly encouraged me to explore somewhere new or to return again to the Pyrenees (and provide him with even more up to date intelligence of conditions on the ground). I always go away from an encounter with Kev beginning to plan a new adventure in my head. Reading this book has given me the same experience.
Anyone who has used one of Kev’s guidebooks will delight in this collection of memories and mountain stories. If you don’t know Kev’s work you’ll still find this delightful and I would be amazed if you then don’t find yourself buying one of his guides and quickly planning to follow in his footsteps. And all readers — like me — will surely be heartened by Kev’s closing remarks that make it clear that there are yet more of these memories to be set down.
Kev’s inspirational cajoling continues until the very last paragraphs of the book:
“… all who go to the mountains have abundant opportunities to gather a harvest of memories worth reliving. Happily there’s no need to be a top-grade climber tackling the latest major vertical challenge, nor even to trek the longest or toughest routes, for with an eye for beauty and the ability to absorb the wonders of the world you, enrichment comes from simply being there.”
“I hope this message comes across in some of these stories in this book and will inspire you to gather a harvest of experiences and memory to underline the truth that life is a gift to be treasured and not wasted on ‘if only …’
Well, Kev, the message has certainly come across in this book. Even in the final paragraph you have inspired me to think afresh of many of the experiences I have had when travelling. You have given me the inspiration to explore new pastures of writing myself.
This is truly a wonderful gem of a book. With A Walk in the Clouds Cicerone have developed yet another dimension to their publishing and log may this spirit of experiment continue. I hope that a further collection of Kev’s writings will find its way into the future catalogue.
Go and buy this book for you will understand what is truly great about my friend Kev — at the end of these 200 pages he will be your friend as well!
Available now in book form, electronic versions following shortly.