Review of First on the Continents lectures – November 2014

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London, Oxford and Chesterfield were the locations for CAN’s ‘First on the Continents’ lecture series in November – to celebrate significant first ascents and new climbs across all seven continents.

An exceptional line up of speakers enthralled packed audiences. Once again we are grateful to CAN supporter Noel Dawson for the review of the London RGS event below:

“Many thanks for yet another memorable experience at the Royal Geographical Society. It was an extremely inspiring and informative day.

Doug Scott started the day with a fascinating account of climbing Cartensz Pyramid in Papua New Guinea. The walk in lasted five days and when the team asked when was the best time to climb they were told that really any time was because it always rained!  The first ascent of the mountain had been in 1963 by Phillip Temple and Henrich Harrer. In 1995 Doug Scott and four other climbers made their ascent. It completed Doug’s Seven Summits, climbing the highest mountains in the seven continents of the world.

Alexander  Huber took to the stage and enthralled us all with his passion for the mountains and climbing. His inspiration was his father who at 75 is still climbing today. Alex quickly learnt that it was not what you climbed that was important but how you climbed it.

‘My life hangs on my finger tips,’ said Alex Huber, ‘one mistake is one mistake too much.’

The mountains fill Alex’s imagination and he is always looking for something different and more rewarding.

He told us that the greatest mountaineers do not have the greatest muscles, they have the greatest minds.

‘Mountains are about what we learn about ourselves.’

Mike Searle had been asked to talk about the geology of the whole world but as he pointed out that may have been a task too far even for him! Mike is certainly unequalled in both his amazing knowledge and in his ability to make most of us nearly understand! What I had not realised was what an accomplished mountaineer Mike Searle is. Surely one day he has another book to share with us all.

Simone Moro has completed 51 expeditions during his time in the mountains. He has worked out that this means he has spent 13 years travelling the world climbing the hardest peaks, usually during the most unfavourable times to climb them. Simone does not like the word impossible which probably explains how he has achieved the seemingly impossible with his winter ascents of Shishapagma, Makalu and Gasherbrum II.

Michael Kennedy reminded us all of the importance of finding the balance. Michael has spent 40 years in the mountains and has found his expeditions a very satisfying way of exploring the world in a direct and profound manner. I was pleased to hear him remember Latok I in 1978 with Jeff Lowe, Jim Donini and George Lowe. They took only 6 ropes on this legendary ascent and fixed only 2 as they climbed the first half of this long route. They then climbed in pure alpine style and only 250 metres from the summit were forced back by atrocious weather and by the tropical flu Jeff Lowe was suffering from. It was a magnificent example of great teamwork and friendship, and the route still remains unclimbed. Michael went on to describe ascents of Mount Hunter and Mount Foraker in Alaska. Michael talked at length about the importance of family life and the strength he took from that.

Simon Yates was brought up in Leicestershire and he quickly realised that if he wanted to be a serious climber then this was probably not a great place to live! He climbed in the Alps where he met Joe Simpson, and soon off they went to South America where they had been told of the great West Face of Siula Grande. The story of what happened is very well known. Both climbers survived and within weeks of his return to the UK Simon was off to make a successful ascent of the North Face of The Eiger with John Sylvester. Simon has been drawn to the largely unexplored and unmapped regions of the world and has even climbed unnamed peaks. Simon explained that you do have to be very careful climbing in these stunningly beautiful regions because there is little if any chance of rescue if anything goes wrong.

Pat Littlejohn described climbing at a time when if you were lucky you had a rope, a peg, a peg hammer and a couple of slings to climb with. Happy days! He remembered years of climbing on sea cliffs where when the tide came in you either completed your ascent or got very wet! Pat would go on to climb in the Alps and made the second ascent of the East Face of Mount Poi in Kenya and in 2000 completed a very difficult first ascent of the North Face of Poi. This climb is probably best remembered for the improvisation and the determination of the team to achieve their ambitious goal.

Andy Kirkpatrick was only four hours late for the day. Good going! If it had been one of the evening lectures at Oxford or Chesterfield he would have missed the whole event! But nothing puts Andy off his stride and he launched into a description of his intriguing life with his usual ‘machine gun’ delivery. There was little noise for the first few minutes as people tuned into his strong Yorkshire ascent and speed of delivery but soon there was much laughter as Andy demonstrated why he spends much of his none climbing time lecturing to big business about the importance of Political Correctness!

Underneath the banter and the laughter lays a catalogue of remarkable climbs and challenges. Andy described climbing the South Ridge of Ulvetanna with a Norwegian team, a climb that pushed them to the very limit of what they were capable of.

I must congratulate Henry Day who stepped in at the last minute to fill the enormous shoes of Chris Bonington who was unable to attend due to illness. There were several changes to the timetable during the day but Henry took it all in his stride and gave warm and informative welcomes to each speaker.

The wonderful speakers at the RGS gave us a pleasing and powerful reminder that there is still so much to explore and what amazing times there are to be had in the almost unknown regions of the world. And we are the lucky ones. Fifty years ago most people had to be amazed by Everest and K2 and Annapurna by reading fascinating  books and looking at remarkable photographs. Today we can share the sights and sounds that our mountaineering heroes remember and we can all enjoy our own adventures.

We were joined yesterday by quite remarkable men who shared their passion for the mountains of the world and for their families and friends. They told inspiring stories and filled the theatre with stunning photographs and film, but most of all they reminded us that we can be remarkable too.”

CAN would like to thank the large team  who made this lecture series possible: the speakers who all gave their time free of charge, including foreign guests Alex Huber, Mike Kennedy and Simone Moro; Phil and Sarah Powell from Oxford who organised another sell out event at the Natural History Museum and Julie Summers who hosted speakers in Oxford.

CAN is grateful to the venue staff at the RGS London, Oxford University and Winding Wheel Chesterfield and the many invaluable CAN volunteers who staffed the Nepalese Bazaars, ticket sales tables and helped with the auctions. THANK YOU ALL. 



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