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Behind the Scenes at Cicerone

Schoolboy turned superstar climber

13 Jan , 2015  

Today we received a letter containing a review of Alan Hinkes’ 8000 Metres: Climbing the World’s Highest Mountains and it was so lovely that we had to share it with you.

“Forty years ago, on a summer’s evening, a schoolboy tied onto my rope to climb on a small North York Moors crag before he hitch-hiked back to Northallerton to finish his homework. He was unbelievably keen but polite and eager to learn so climbing with the young Alan Hinkes was always a pleasure. Over the years I have followed Alan’s career with interest, attending many f his lectures and, to be truthful, I thought that I’d heard all the stories, seen all the pictures and even had the t-shirt so, although I knew that he had compiled a book recording his ascents of fourteen of the World’s highest mountains, I didn’t immediately rush out to buy a copy.

HINKES.Alan

It came as a pleasant surprise to be given ‘8000 Metres‘ by friends and my initial reaction was ‘Wow!’. I am pleased that it is a big, very well presented book as that does justice to Alan’s superb photographs as it is these pictures of ice, snow and rock that make the volume so appealing. Just to scan through these images makes a reader, especially a climber, be awed by the sheer scale and enormity of Alan’s self-imposed task. It’s easy enough to stand on a Scottish summit on a Spring morning and wonder how ‘Munro-ists’ manage to climb each one of them but these Himalayan giants are in a different league and they more frequently bite back!

In the stories of his ascents Alan does try to some degree to answer the obvious questions of ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ and it is interesting to see that Alan evolved gradually from a pure mountaineer into the ultimate peak-bagger motivated by the quest to become the first British climber to achieve the goal. I find it difficult to comprehend just how Alan managed to maintain his level of commitment for so long, coming to terms with the ever-present threat of death zones, avalanches, storms, oedema and frost-bite. And even as the odds of success began to stack against him he adapted his strategies, often climbing alone to increase speed and so his safety margin. It is a measure of Alan’s skill and cool determination that he could linger alone on summits like K2 to carefully compose photographs before beginning a descent in the dark. It is however true that in some instances even a mountaineer of Alan’s vast experience can be thankful to Lady Luck which makes the reading even more gripping.

Alan devotes a chaper to each of the fourteen 8000 Metre peaks which could have been a marathon read but, instead of ending each with words to the effect of ‘and then I went home to make some money and find sponsors for the next trip’, he has cleverly interspaced each ascent with a short essay on a variation of topics such as his climbing history, climbing partners, family and even his love of the little hills of his youth. I personally remain captivated by the accounts and enjoyed trying to follow the lines of ascent on those superb pictures. Here I will add my only, minor, criticism as I sometimes wanted a little more information on the routes, and perhaps a thumbnail sketch of the line taken, to accompany some of the photographs and help armchair mountaineers with greater involvement and understanding.

A really beautiful book and an inspiration to any who would wish to emulate Alan Hinkes‘ remarkable achievement.”

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