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Biography & Autobiography Historical

Conrad Kain

Letters from a Wandering Mountain Guide, 1906-1933

by (author) Conrad Kain

edited by Zac Robinson

translated by Maria Koch & John Koch

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2014
Historical, Mountains, Personal Memoirs
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2014
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2014
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Conrad Kain is a titan amongst climbers in Canada and is well-known in mountaineering circles all over the world. His letters to Amelie Malek-a life-long friend-offer a candid view into the deepest thoughts of the Austrian mountain guide, and are a perfect complement to his autobiography, Where the Clouds Can Go. The 144 letters provide a unique and personal view of what it meant to immigrate to Canada in the early part of the twentieth century. Kain's letters are ordered chronologically with annotations, keeping the sections in English untouched, while those in German have been carefully translated. Historians and mountain culture enthusiasts worldwide will appreciate Kain's genius for description, his passion for nature, his opinions, and his musings about his life. Foreword by Chic Scott. Epilogue by Don Bourdon.

About the authors

Conrad Kain (1883–1934) was born in Nasswald, Austria, and moved to Canada in 1909, where he remained until his death in 1934. Although credited with more than 60 first ascents and numerous pioneering routes in the Canadian Rockies and the Purcell Range of British Columbia, Kain is primarily known for three first ascents in western Canada: Mount Robson (1913), Mount Louis (1916) and Bugaboo Spire (1916). During his 30-year mountaineering career, he journeyed to New Zealand between 1913 and 1916, successfully guiding more than 25 first ascents and climbing Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak, on two occasions.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kain’s arrival in Canada, the Conrad Kain Centennial Society was formed in 2008 to celebrate his many achievements and to develop legacy projects in his memory. This expanded edition of Kain’s book will help carry his passion for mountaineering to a new generation of readers and adventurers.

Conrad Kain's profile page

Zac Robinson is a historian and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He currently serves as Vice-President for Mountain Culture for the Alpine Club of Canada.

Zac Robinson's profile page

Maria Koch studied and graduated at the University of Würzburg in West Germany and taught high school there until she emigrated to Canada in 1957. In 1964, she resumed her teaching career at the University of Alberta as a lecturer of German. She taught at the UofA for twenty-seven years until retirement.

Maria Koch's profile page

Originally from Germany John Koch attended the University of Würzburg and emigrated to Canada in 1954. After further studies at the University of British Columbia, where he obtained a masters degree in social work, John worked in the social welfare and health-care fields in the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and, since 1964, Alberta. John retired in 1987, and since has written and published books on German history, as well as Martin Nordegg: The Uncommon Immigrant (1997) and most recently No Escape: My Young Years Under Hitler's Shadow (2004). John and Maria currently live in Edmonton.

John Koch's profile page


  • Winner, AAUP Book, Jacket & Journal Show, Book – Trade
  • Winner, 2014 Alcuin Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada, Prose Non-fiction Illustrated

Editorial Reviews

"Zac Robinson’s edition of Conrad Kain: Letters from a Wandering Mountain Guide, 1906–1933 is an important new work. It is imbued with a level of intimacy that was edited out of Kain’s classic biography, Where the Clouds Can Go. Robinson's erudite annotations and freshly discovered photos help shed new light on the life and times of one of our country's greatest mountain guides and raconteurs."

Chairman of the Conrad Kain Centennial Society

“… A must have book for those interested in Conrad Kain, 1st generation Canadian mountaineering and Canadian mountain culture. Conrad Kain: Letters from a Wandering Mountain Guide, 1906-1933 has a splendid assortment of maps and photographs, but the prize jewel of the book are the many letters (142) written by Conrad Kain.… The letters to Amelie are touching and tender, informative and insightful, historic and charming. .. [T]he Robinson and Bourdon contributions are like exquisite book ends within which the evocative letters make for the literary centrepiece.” [Full review at:]

"Conrad Kain was arguably the pre-eminent mountain guide in Canada in the early years of the 20th century and left a legacy of first ascents and epic climbs in his native Austria, in his adopted home in North America (e.g., Mount Robson), and in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.... Robinson has ordered the letters chronologically and throughout the book has skillfully annotated them to fill in gaps or provide context.... From his letters, it’s obvious that Kain loved climbing mountains for the physical challenge, to meet interesting people, to make a living, and for opportunities to travel around the world, but most especially because of his all-consuming love of the natural world." Vol. 129, No. 1 (2015) [Full review at]

The Canadian Field-Naturalist

"Conrad Kain is a compelling title from University of Alberta Press. Kain is renowned among Canadian mountaineers as a pioneering guide so accomplished they named a British Columbia peak for him, Mount Conrad. He escaped grinding poverty as a miner’s son in rural Austria and travelled the world from Honolulu to Ulaanbaatar.... Conrad Kain: Letters From A Wandering Mountain Guide takes readers page by page through a man’s life and thoughts. It is a dark and absorbing narrative." [Full review at]

Blacklock's Reporter

"In a culture that enjoys as many romantic figures as there are mountain peaks on the horizon as viewed from a lofty summit, Conrad Kain holds a special place in the historical landscape of western Canada's mountains. Robinson...makes no secret of his affection for Kain, and that's a good thing, because he handles the letters Kain wrote throughout his adult life while guiding in Canada and New Zealand to his dear friend in Austria, Amelie Malek, with the care and reverence they so richly deserve."

Alpine Club of Canada Gazette

"... in the letters we find a Kain who is disarmingly open and honest about his life, his successes and his failures and this unscripted or unedited look into the life of a remarkable man continues throughout the book. As editor, Robinson [includes]... extensive and informative footnotes that provide context and create a broader historical story that fits Kain’s life into the events that occur around him while filling in any gaps in the narrative....Kain is one of those rare gems whose personality and reputation match. He is a great climber and a great person." [Full article at]

Rocky Mountain Outlook

"Conrad Kain (1883–1934) was an acclaimed climber of his day. Born in Austria, he immigrated to Canada in 1909 and became known for his pioneering climbs in British Columbia. In 1906, Kain wrote a letter to Amelia Malek (1871–1941), an early student whom he had instructed in the ways of climbing in the Alps. For the rest of his life, Kain wrote to her, first from Austria and then from Canada. The present volume presents all 144 of Kain's letters to Malek. It is a one-sided correspondence marked by class differences—he was a guide, she an affluent tourist—and deep affection. The letters cover a wide range of topics, from the immigrant experience in Canada to his life in the far north to the joy he discovered in the Canadian Rockies. If the writing is rough, the descriptions of the mountains and nature are glorious.”

Choice Magazine

"[Kain's letters] are rich in detail not only about his travels and climbs in the European, Siberian, Canadian, and New Zealand mountain ranges that involved staggering heights, immense walls of rock, steep glacier fields, icy crests, as well as sudden storms, rockslides, and avalanches. The letters also reflect the inner experience and yearnings of this mountain guide.... The book is enriched by fifty archival photographs mainly of mountains and people as well as by three helpful maps (xvi–xix). The 143 letters are amply annotated.... Reading these letters puts a wonderfully human face on an Austrian mountain guide's achievements and reveals as well his craft's challenges, defeats, and glories."

Yearbook of German American Studies

"Kain is a major figure in the history of Canada’s Alpine West. His name endures alongside those of later adventurers in the Bugaboos.... His exploits are familiar to lovers of the Rockies: Mount Robson, Mount Louis, North Twin.... Robinson’s edition consists of newly unearthed letters from Kain to Amelie Malek.... Malek’s letters have not survived, but Kain’s correspondence is effervescent.... The letters register his remarkable zest and on occasion his prejudices. They evoke a bygone time of hemp ropes but also depict aspects of life in a new country.... Devotees of the high country will enjoy the letters’ adventure and charm; literary critics will delight in certain details." Canadian Literature 232 (Spring 2017) [Full review at]

Nicholas Bradley

"Austrian Conrad Kain....became a celebrated guide and mountaineer, claiming sixty-one ascents in the Rockies. Kain was what we have come to call an economic migrant, a poor man looking for better wages and a modicum of financial security.... Throughout Kain’s life abroad, the written word was as important as wages to his sustenance.... Spanning the time from just before he set off for Canada until just before his death, these letters reveal something of the immigrant experience, of the loneliness single men like Kain felt, the solace and sadness that news from home brought, and the desire to return, if only for a visit." []

The Canadian Historical Review

"Simple, beautiful, and thoughtfully handled volume of letters. Though the content is historical in nature, the typography feels fresh and of this time--a nice complement to the old full-bleed photographs. The synopsis of events on the part openers provides a helpful overview of each section."

Juror, AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show