A Short Walk

With Sir Chris Bon­ing­ton

Gripped - - NOTES FROM THE TOP - Story by Joanna Cros­ton Con­tin­ued on p.62…

I’ve been to the U.K. sev­eral times for busi­ness and for plea­sure and have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the climb­ing cul­ture there. My first brush with the U.K. climb­ing scene was in 1993, when fresh out of school, as part of a six month cy­cling trip from Dublin to Istanbul, I rode from Holy­head to Dover pass­ing through the moun­tains of Snow­do­nia along the route. I vis­ited Pete’s Eats in Llan­beris and was thrust firmly into the staunch climb­ing his­tory that per­me­ates from the hills there. This was se­ri­ous busi­ness I learned, some­thing I hadn’t ex­pected in my naivety.

Decades later, bet­ter read and much savvier about Bri­tish climb­ing gen­er­ally, I vis­ited my friend John Porter in Cum­bria. He and his wife Rose had kindly taken me in for a few nights be­tween moun­tain fes­ti­vals I was vis­it­ing. John and I share a love of moun­tain lit­er­a­ture and have spent some time to­gether dis­cussing his suc­cess­ful writ­ing and my de­sire to write more, but we’d never ac­tu­ally done any­thing out­side to­gether. John sug­gested we do some walk­ing on my visit. The weather was hor­rific, even worse than a nor­mal Novem­ber in the U.K., and John’s knees won’t al­low for much crag­ging any­more, so hik­ing sounded like a great way to fi­nally oust my jet lag and rec­tify a week of sit­ting and watch­ing moun­tain films.

“Right, I’ll just give Chris a call then and see if he’d like to come along this af­ter­noon,” John said. And with­out a thought I agreed, think­ing it would be nice to meet some lo­cals. About 17 min­utes later as I was con­tem­plat­ing which of my in­ap­pro­pri­ate footwear would be best for a trek up a sat­u­rated water-logged fell when I re­al­ized which Chris he was ac­tu­ally re­fer­ring to. John meant to take me on a walk with Sir Chris Bon­ing­ton.

I stopped what I was do­ing for a mo­ment and con­sid­ered the im­pli­ca­tions. Soggy ap­proach shoes seemed a mi­nor de­tail given the op­por­tu­nity to have some one-on-one time with quite pos­si­bly the world’s most fa­mous moun­taineer. What the hell was I go­ing to talk to him about? I’d never even been to Ever­est base­camp never mind the South Face of An­na­purna, Shivling or Baintha Brakk in Pak­istan. Bon­ing­ton’s ex­pe­di­ton re­sumé and hon­ours are the stuff of le­gend. I’d cer­tainly hoped to shake his hand one day but never ex­pected an op­por­tu­nity to ac­tu­ally speak to him. All of a sud­den a walk in the Bri­tish hills felt like an ex­pe­di­tion unto it­self, I needed to pull my­self to­gether.

John, Rose and I piled into their car, El­lie the Bor­der Col­lie jumped in the boot and we were on our way to Bad­ger Hill, Sir Chris’s hum­ble cot­tage in the Lake Dis­trict. ‘How do I even ad­dress him?’ I won­dered ‘Sir? Sir Chris? Bon­ing­ton old chap?’ I de­cided to fol­low John’s lead which didn’t make much sense since they were old friends, they’d been on ex­pe­di­tions to­gether and he cer­tainly wasn’t go­ing to call him Sir.

We were wel­comed warmly into the cot­tage by Chris’s charm­ing wife Loreto. Her South Amer­i­can f lare and warmth filled the mod­est en­try hall­way, she gave me a friendly wink and I re­laxed in­stantly. Sud­denly I felt as though I might be able to act like a nor­mal hu­man be­ing af­ter all. Sir Chris ap­peared and af­ter a quick sort­ing out of weath­er­proof gear and de­cid­ing which “wellies” would be best, we headed out and up High Pike, the hill di­rectly be­hind the cot­tage.

El­lie broke the ice and led the way search­ing for sticks and cir­cling back ev­ery now and then, round­ing us up. I walked with Rose and Loreto at first, John and Sir Chris up ahead, the misty driz­zle was bear­able but there was lit­tle to see in the dis­tance ex­cept fog and cloud. All of a sud­den I found my­self alone with Sir Chris. We chat­ted about the book he was writ­ing and the cur­rent state of film and the seem­ing need to doc­u­ment ev­ery mo­ment on today’s ex­pe­di­tions. Even with hoods up and col­lars drawn in, we man­aged a de­cent and in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion. I couldn’t have been more thrilled as we ap­proached the top of the fell. Mother Na­ture how­ever was in­tent on mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for me. The wind picked up, just a gust here and there at first un­til it seemed as though all the air in Bri­tain had been in­haled all at once and then bru­tally weezed out onto us in one big breath. All of a sud­den we were in the midst of a rain and snow storm, it was snain­ing hor­i­zon­tally, we were soaked and we needed to get back be­fore hy­pother­mia set in.

Sir Chris took charge and forged a new di­rect route to the val­ley through the rusty slip­pery bracken. He moved quickly and pur­pose­fully, I was right on his heels. I could see John be­hind, caught in no man’s land be­tween us and Rose and Loreto who were try­ing to fol­low care­fully through the brush. We fi­nally reached the small creek at the bot­tom of the fell, the rain still fall­ing hard and once at the car we de­cided to change clothes then head straight to the pub.

Sir Chris Bon­ing­ton on Prana E3, Black Crag, Bor­row­dale, the Lake Dis­trict U.K.

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