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Alpine Panorama by Andy Buchanan

Andy Buchanan, the author of the stunning new book Alpine Panorama: A View to a Climb, is a semi-retired structural engineer and former Professor of civil engineering at the University of Canterbury.

Even as a child walking to school, he was drawn to the spectacular views of the mountains visible across the Canterbury Plains. He grew up in a family that loved the outdoors, and skiing holidays and tramps fostered his great love of these snow-covered peaks. In his childhood home in the Cashmere Hills above Christchurch, there was a picture window looking towards the mountains with a sweeping view of the Southern Alps.

Displayed on the wall alongside was ID Pugh’s printed panorama sketch showing 133 named or numbered peaks, from Mt Peel in the South to the Kaikouras in the North.

When he reached retirement age, he created a grand challenge for himself. He set himself the goal of climbing every one of the 133 peaks identified by name or by elevation on Pugh’s sketch.

This filled his next decade with wonderful adventures accompanied by his climbing companions who shared his love of the mountains.

‘More than anything, the book speaks of my 70-year journey in the mountains and represents a fulfilment of the wishes of that little boy, my younger self, who gazed across the plains to the distant peaks all those years and wondered’,  he writes.

Alpine Panorama is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs of the majestic mountain scenery. There are also pictures of climbers wading through rivers, climbing snow slopes with crampons and ice axes, descending down seemingly endless scree slopes, or perching on rocky outcrops to admire the breathtaking views.

Many of the photographs were taken by Andy himself, others by his climbing companions, and there are also superb double-page spreads of mountain scenery by professional photographer John O’Malley.

Andy Buchanan is an enthusiastic amateur painter and has used some of his photographs as a reference for his oil paintings. Some of these are also included in this book. It is fascinating to see how he has re-created the feeling of being in the mountains in his oil paintings.


Early on in his book, Andy Buchanan writes that the story of the mountains is, first and foremost, a story of rocks and elaborates on their geological formation and features.

The chapters which follow the climbs of his challenge are arranged roughly in chronological order.

'Each tramp or climb is an exercise in getting to know more about the peaks up close and underfoot; about being there at dusk and dawn as the colours fade or bloom on the tops; about discovering unknown contours and hidden routes and overnighting in historic huts or on awkward ridges, about enjoying spectacular views, including the view back home to the Port Hills, and feeling the great satisfaction of a successful walk or climb.'


Throughout his narrative he includes many interesting anecdotes about the early Maori history and about early European climbers. Māori had already named most of the mountains but a great many were renamed by settlers and he recounts who they were then named after.

A highlight was climbing Aoraki Mt Cook towards the end of his panorama challenge (for the first time accompanied by guides) after he had turned 70.  He had never imagined he would climb it!

‘It was disconcerting to climb up the steep snow slopes of the Linda Glacier for 6 hours in total darkness, even if guided by Roy on a rope. When the sky cleared and stars came out, I was surprised to see what appeared to be stars moving high above us, until I realised I was watching the headlamps of climbers far ahead.  We still had a long way to go. After the long, cold climb in the dark, the pink sunrise on the Linda Shelf provided thrilling views of Mt Tasman and far beyond.'

His eventual climb to the summit was a thrill he would never forget!

Andy Buchanan intended his book not just for trampers and climbers, and they would find it very useful, but also for the enjoyment of all the residents of Christchurch who share the views of the mountains across the plains, and the walkers, joggers, cyclists and weekend sight-seers who exercise on or wander over the Port Hills and enjoy this spectacular skyline vista.

I also think that for those who are approaching the third age the goal Andy Buchanan set himself for his retirement, how he achieved it and how much joy it brought him, would be a truly inspirational story to read! It was a remarkable achievement!

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Quentin Wilson Publishing



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