People who rock
Q&A with mountaineer, diver and expedition leader Paul Rose
The highest mountain I’ve stood on the top of is Denali, at 20,320ft. But I always think of Chimborazo in Ecuador: its summit is the furthest point from the centre of the Earth!
On Everest we reached 26,000ft (7925m) attempting the north-east ridge in 1989. It was appalling conditions. Everyone was saying they’d never seen Everest so white. I was very happy to turn back – it was quite obviously the only decision to make.
I remember reading the script for our new BBC series and it said something like ‘Paul walks up Scafell Pike and bivouacs just below the summit, gets up at 3am, and walks to the summit in moonlight for dawn’. I was at home here in Windermere at the time on one of those days where the rain was sideways, and I remember thinking “Holy smokes! That’s never going to happen”. But the weather had obviously read the script and that’s exactly what did happen. I’ve always loved going up there. From Eskdale particularly, it has that lovely Lake District magic where as soon as you get going it feels like a wild place.
What made me move to the Lake District was that ease of access to wild-feeling places. It’s a relatively small place, but because of its nature and the way it is protected a journey into the fells feels like an adventure. There aren’t signposts everywhere, and there’s a real sense of working it out for yourself.
It’s hard to name a favourite part of the Lake District. I like it where I live, between Windermere and Bowness. I love that I can nip onto the Lake in the boat and have a paddle, even a night paddle, or go for a run over Brant Fell or School Knott, or get on a bike and cycle round Windermere.
As an explorer I’ve always been very realistic about the idea that you might not come back from an expedition. I’m a good risk manager. But the greater risk I think is staying at home and doing nothing.
The polar regions are very powerful places. It’s one thing being stormbound for a few days but once it gets beyond a few days, conditions get harder, tents begin to get weaker, the storm intensifies... then it gets personal. You feel the storm is out to get you. The wind speed changes, the noise changes, the snow battering the tent changes and it’s like you’re in your own personal storm. I don’t hunt those experiences out, but when you get through one there is a sense of relief and rejuvenation.
Compared to greater ranges the Lakes have always felt very friendly to me. If it all goes wrong and you get lost, the worst thing that’s likely to happen is you come down the wrong valley or something… but even then there’s probably a pub there. So put your boots on and make a run for it!
You’re in a pub: what’s on the menu? Sausages! And mashed potatoes with gravy and a good, proper bitter. That’s living! Worst thing you’ve ever eaten? I got very sick in Pakistan eating goat curry. It had been re-heated lots of times and carried by camels and was getting warm. Then in a remote village I had raw camel milk, because that’s what you did there. When I got back I thought eating yoghurt would help. But the yoghurt was off. That combination was enough. Weirdest place you’ve slept? On long, deep dives I always used to fall asleep at the decompression stops on the way up… Ultimate mountain day in three words? Quiet. Wild. Tea.
The Lake District with Paul Rose is broadcast on BBC2 in September.
Paul enjoying good weather on top of Scafell Pike – holy smokes!