An avalanche hit us and we had no idea of the danger... we were laughing
HE is one of our greatest living adventurers, admired for feats including being the first Briton to climb the North Wall of the Eiger.
But for his first ever mountain climb, Sir Chris Bonington, who has scaled Everest four times, would only have been met with fury. For the professional mountaineer and Honorary President of the British Orienteering Federation admits that for his first ever peak challenge he took on Snowdon totally unprepared.
Writing about his early years Sir Chris explains in his autobiography Ascent how as a teenager he decided to venture to the new National Park of Snowdonia with his school friend, Anton.
It was Christmas 1951 and the budding adventurer was 17. Now 83, he offers this insight into that first disas- ter prone climb.
He explains: “I bought a pair of exWar Department hobnailed boots from an Army surplus store, but Anton made do with his school shoes.
“We both had our school macs. Yet we had chosen one of the hardest winters of recent years for our introduction to the hills.
“Our map showed a footpath to the summit known as the Pyg Track. The trouble was, it was concealed by snow.
“We were about to abandon our attempt when three climbers with ice axes strode past – so we followed them.
“Soon we had not the faintest idea of where we were as we floundered up to our waists in snow. The figures in front were fast-vanishing blurs in the swirling flakes.
“Suddenly everything around us was moving: we were caught in an avalanche, sliding with increasing speed down the steepening slope. We had no idea of how dangerous our situation was or the consequences if we had gone over a cliff.
“We were tumbling down, laughing and whooping, until we came to a rest just above a frozen tarn. When we got back to the youth hostel I was soaked, exhausted, but deliriously happy.”
It was a journey that was to shape the rest of his life. For as writes he had “tasted the addictive elation of a brush with danger.”
Not a brush that today’s mountain rescue teams would encourage others to follow. ● Ascent, by Sir Chris Bonington, is published by Simon & Schuster on October 19, priced £20.