“Chris Bonington once asked me why I never did any of the big plum lines in the Alps. I blame Tom Patey for that. Tom would spend long winters in Ullapool, combing guidebooks for any potential gaps and making plans for us. And that’s what we did when we got out there. None of them were classics, some of them were a bit manky, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t mind not doing the plums. I just thought, I’m climbing with Tom. I’ll just do what’s on the itinerary. I was along for the ride. We were doing new routes, and Tom was mad for that.”

“My daughter Zoe has been writing my autobiography. It’s been a long job, what with her having kids, but I don’t mind that. I told her before she started that I didn’t mind if it came out after I’d left, if you know what I mean, then I don’t have to put up with all that follows.”

“Throughout everything, I’ve always been a fisherman, and I’ve taken my rod everywhere from Trango to the jungle. It’s always been a passion. Until the year before last I’ve fished for three or four months a year. It’s given me a lovely sense of contentment – not the coming alive sense that climbing gives me, but still, it’s been a great experience that’s taken me to great places.”

“When I was young and reading about the Himalaya, there were two mountains that I thought I would like to climb, more than any others: Kangchenjunga and the Mustagh Towers. They were beautifully shaped unclimbed mountains and they really caught my eye. And in an amazing stroke of fate I did their first ascents in two consecutive years. Being invited on Kangchenjunga was totally unexpected. I’d only had a fortnight in the Alps in ‘53 and six weeks there in ’54. That was my mountain experience. But we got there, had a few storms, but overall it was a textbook expedition and me and George Band reached the summit. For Mustagh Towers, Ian McNaught-Davis got in touch with me and invited me. He asked how much money I had and I said a hundred pounds. He said we’re leaving in two weeks. Fantastic. A four-man team – myself, Ian, John Hartog and Tom Patey – and it just went like a dream.”

"There were two

mountains that I thought I would like to climb, more than any others."

“The last climb I did was Crackstone Rib. I was 80 at the time, and I’d slowed down a lot. My joints were so worn that everything ached. I was okay on the rock, could still climb 5b at the time, and it was an absolutely fantastic day. But coming down just killed my knees. It was so hard and painful that I just decided that I couldn’t do it any more. I could have them done, perhaps, but my elbows and shoulders are knackered too, so what’s the point? It was a really sad decision to leave all that behind. But I don’t regret anything, I’ve had such a fantastic time. Even now, as I drive into Llanberis, I’ll look up at Cloggy and my mind will fill with thoughts of all the fabulous experiences I’ve had up there. The great climbs and the great people I’ve known.”

“I look back with such warm feelings on the whole thing, and with feelings of great fortune that I got to live that life. There’s no time that stands out in particular because it just kept rolling the whole time. Even as far as 2006, making big trips doing first ascents in Morocco, it never diminished.”

Interview: Niall Grimes. Thanks to John Cleare and Zoe Brown. SUMMIT#98 | SUMMER 2020 | 45


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