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The foundations for my future mountaineering life were built on an early background walking and camping in the Peak District where I grew up, and in the other mountain areas of the UK. I started rock climbing as a teenager because I aspired to climb in the Alps and Greater Ranges, and I wanted to learn the necessary technical skills. I got really bitten by the climbing bug in 1979 when I was 17, and about that time made an “on sight” traverse of the Cuillin Ridge with my school friend Jeff Cooper. By this time I had known for ages that my heart lay in the outdoors, and particularly in the mountains, and I was already pretty obsessive about spending all the time I could on the crags and in the hills.
Although I started rock climbing as a means to an end, I was soon hooked on it for its own sake, and I was lucky to live in an ideal place to practice. When I moved from the Peaks to Bristol to study mechanical engineering, I was delighted to discover that the South West of England, with its wealth of sea cliffs, quarries and natural crags, is another wonderful climbing ground, and I ended up spending most of the 1980’s near Bristol! This was the period when I was able to devote most time to rock climbing, and my cragging peaked with a lead of Right Wall in North Wales. Although it wasn’t the hardest thing I managed, climbing is about far more than technical difficulty. It is one of those routes we dream about doing, and was finally achieved on a memorable weekend with a great group of friends.
Despite living in Bristol, my winter climbing blossomed at this time as well, and a group of us made regular long distance weekend trips to Scotland, and when the conditions were good, to Wales. A couple of the best winter climbs we made (and my favourites) were Black Cleft on Cloggy, Snowdon, and Gully of the Gods in Applecross in the North West Highlands of Scotland. However, I must say that the fantastic winter climbs we made in 2010 in the Lakes felt every bit as good as these distant memories.
I was very fortunate to receive an excellent apprenticeship in alpine climbing from my mentor and school German teacher Chris Fitzhugh. I was lucky to spend my first season in the Alps with him, and together we visited Arolla, Central Switzerland and finally the Bregaglia, where we climbed Cassin’s classic North Face of the Badile to round off an action packed month. Chris and I still climb together now and we made a winter ascent of Steep Ghyll on Scafell together recently.
What really interested me was, and still is, travelling to less frequented mountain areas, in particular the Greater Ranges. This first became a reality in 1984 when 4 of us organised a University of Bristol Expedition to the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru. In 1985 my future wife, Rebekah, climbed the Diamond Couloir on Mount Kenya with me, and I later returned to lead 2 professional trips to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro in the 1990’s. We climbed the Heim Glacier Route on Kili on one of these trips, and took our African agent up with us. He was delighted, as were all the expedition staff, because apparently it was the first ascent of the route by a local African.
Bobby Gilbert and I climbed 2 more of the big, historic alpine routes: the Walker Spur and the Bonatti Pillar. We climbed the latter on a short Spring Bank trip to Chamonix, as preparation for our first Himalayan trip, and had quite an epic after the weather broke unexpectedly into a really bad storm. Fortunately we were committed to the Himalayan trip, and didn’t go through with our plan to give up climbing. (I still climb with Bobby now.)
The trip to the Himalayas came in 1987 when, together with Pete Scott and Rob Tresider, we made the first ascent of the beautiful North Ridge of Kharcha Kund, after Andy Perkins had inspired us with a photo he’d taken on an earlier visit. This is really where it is at for me: a small group of friends pioneering a beautiful climb with the minimum fuss and logistical support – “Alpine Style”. The mountain outline on my logo is a profile of Kharcha Kund North ridge!
Around this time I decided to make the mountains my life and living. I set out on several challenges: to qualify as an IFMGA Guide, to leave my job as a mechanical engineer to start out as a self employed mountain guide, and to become a dad. These have kept me pretty busy ever since!
As an Aspirant Guide, I climbed to the summit of Broad Peak in the Karakoram in 1991, with Ramon Blanco and the Guide Alan Hinkes. This was the first British professional expedition to put a client on the summit of one of the world’s 8000m peaks. After this trip I made several professional expeditions to India, Nepal and Africa, and also spent a lot of time in the Alps guiding and completing my guide’s courses to become a full IFMGA Guide. When I finally qualified, Rebekah and I started a family, and I divided my time between working as a house husband (particularly whilst our two daughters, Carrie and Natalie were pre-school age), guiding and later, managing the renovation of our home in the Lake District.
I first met Paul Walker of Tangent Expeditions through my daughter’s playgroup! (A similar chance meeting on a first aid course had led me to work in Oman in 1994, looking after seismic surveyors in the limestone Jebel.) Since 2000, much of my expeditioning has been to the Arctic with Tangent. This has included a lot of exploratory mountaineering and first ascents of minor peaks in Greenland, 4 ski ascents of Gunnbjornsfjeld, the highest peak in the Arctic, including the first British ski descent from the summit, and several other first ski descents. I also provided the safety support for “Ian Wright’s Excellent Adventure”, a film that won Best Mountaineering Film at Kendal Mountain Film Festival, in which Ian climbs the highest peak in the Arctic.
Also since 2000 I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time skiing, and this has fitted in very well with my family. Our daughters, Carrie and Natalie, are both keen skiers. They received regular race training and coaching, but they are themselves particularly interested in all mountain skiing.
Since 2002 I have spent a significant proportion of my time working as an associate of Adventure Peaks, and I am indebted to them for giving me the opportunity to lead some of their most sought after expeditions. In 2007 I led a professional expedition to the North side of Everest for Adventure Peaks, on which 6 out of 10 clients reached the summit, a hugely successful trip. I reached the summit with Ian Mckeever, who was on his way to breaking the world speed record for climbing the Seven Summits. In 2010 I led Adventure Peak’s trip to Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. All three clients reached the summits of both Vinson and Knutzen Peak with me, and this expedition helped George Atkinson, age 16, become the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits.
To travel to Antarctica was right at the top of my hit list. Luckily, Adventure Peaks found a new challenge, and I returned to Antarctica in January 2012 with AP boss Dave Pritt to help him with Adventure Peaks Expedition to the South Pole.
More recently I have focussed my attention on exploring the Alps, both with clients and in my own time with family and friends. With our family grown up and Carrie living in Switzerland I have been able to spend more time in the Alps in winter and this provided me with the opportunity to develop my own skiing and to work in the Alps in winter guiding day tours, hut to hut ski tours and off piste skiing. Personal highlights have been some of the classic descents in the Mont Blanc massif such as the Col des Cristeaux, Cosmiques Couloir, the Brenva Glacier, Marbrees Couloir, Trappier Couloir, the E.N.S.A and many more. The summers have largely been occupied guiding throughout the Alps including adventures exploring some new places, with hut tours in the Austrian Alps and Liechtenstein for example. I spent a month skiing in East Greenland in 2018 and in 2019 made my first visit to the USA rock climbing, canoeing, sailing and hiking with my family. The Korr Ingalls route on the Castleton Tower with Rebekah and our American niece Hannah was particularly memorable as were the clutch of classic routes at Red Rocks and Joshua Tree made with Carrie.
I look forward to continuing to share these adventures with friends, family and clients, and I hope to see you soon in the mountains!