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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Guest Blog: One Day As A Tiger

Alex MacIntyre and John Porter in Huaraz. Photo by John Porter

Alex MacIntyre (left) and John Porter taking a taxi to Laguna Peron base camp from Huaraz, courtesy of the Mount Everest Foundation.
Photo: John Porter.

Guest blog by John Porter, author of One Day As A Tiger.

An email from an old friend at Leeds University, Tim Jepson, got me thinking recently. When I arrived at Leeds in 1972, the university climbing club was a pretty anarchic bunch of around twenty climbers. A few, like John Syrett and Roger Baxter-Jones, clearly had real climbing ability, but the majority of us were pretty average. We were as likely to be down at the sports hall playing five-a-side as we were to be out on the crag. But something happened during the next few years, a transformation that would have a significant impact on the British and international climbing scene for decades after. This is what Tim Jepson reminded me of in his email:

‘It's amazing to think how much that group of climbers achieved in subsequent years within the wider world of climbing: you, Alex, Bernard Newman, Syrett, John Stainforth, RBJ, John Eames, Brian Hall, me. Pioneering ascents, new routes, film festivals, books, magazines, films and film safety, photography, teacher education, ski training, guiding ... and loads more, I'm sure.’

My book One Day As A Tiger, a biography of Alex MacIntyre, could now be added to that list. Back in 1972, Alex did not appear a candidate to become one of most influential Himalayan climbers of all time. He was a Severe-grade leader and his knowledge of snow and ice did not extend beyond the university’s icy pavements on freezing January mornings. His transformation was remarkable. Within five years, his record of Scottish and Alpine ascents – including many new routes – was the best in the UK. In the five years after that, up to his death on Annapurna in 1982, he completed five major new routes in the Himalaya, the first alpine-style ascent of the Eiger Direct and designed equipment that helped transform the concept of alpine style on high peaks. How did all that happen? That is what I began to ask myself after his death on our trip to Annapurna.

In those days, we had no climbing manuals or scientific training programmes. We used to say that the only way to train for climbing was to climb. In his recent book Outliers, Malcom Galdwell writes that 10,000 hours of training or practice will transform anyone with ability into someone quite remarkable. That was Alex for sure. His appetite for climbing was insatiable, as was true of many of his generation. Added to his hard climbing was his thoroughly professional hard work for the British Mountaineering Council, which skilfully helped to steer the organisation through a morass of public opinion that wanted climbing banned or severely restricted. But perhaps the thing that drove him most of all was his love of the mountains. He could not get enough of them; he was a part of them, and he still is. His body is buried somewhere in the snows of Annapurna.

I returned to the bottom of the mountain two years ago to replace the plaque originally erected by Alex's mother Jean, sister Libby, girlfriend Sarah and his friend Terry Mooney. Like Alex, the original plaque had been destroyed by the forces of the mountains. Now for a little while, the memorial is there again. It has a Tibetan saying chosen by his mother – ‘better to live one day as a tiger than to live for a thousand years as a sheep.’

John Porter
Cumbria, August 2014 

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