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Savage Arena: the Legacy of Joe Tasker

Friday, 22 June 2018

Last week Jon Barton visited the Mountain Heritage Trust’s Joe Tasker exhibition at Preston Park. The event celebrates the world-famous mountaineer from his early life to his mountaineering exploits in the Alps and Himalaya. The exhibition closes this Sunday but well worth a visit if you’re looking for something to do this weekend. Jon shares his thoughts below …

British mountaineer Joe Tasker disappeared in 1982, high on the North-East Ridge of Everest. He was climbing with Pete Boardman. That we all know. There is a small exhibition celebrating Joe’s life at Preston Park Museum, near Stockton. The exhibition closes this Sunday. 

I visited the exhibition last week with my friend Paul Tasker, Joe’s younger brother. I obviously never knew Joe, but through years of attending the Boardman Tasker event at Kendal Mountain Festival and as publisher of Joe’s two books Savage Arena and Everest the Cruel Way, I, like a lot of people, feel some attachment to him. 

It was humbling to visit the exhibition because Joe is very much a literary figure to me. Savage Arena is certainly one of the greats of world mountain literature, and every year the winner of the Boardman Tasker Award has to square up and acknowledge what an honour and privilege it is to be in the company of such. Joe and Pete were legendary to many of us young lads in the ‘80s. Chris Bonington’s lectures simply raised their hero status, which increased every year. No biography for these men, no biography for Joe Tasker, seemingly no need, we lived on the stories and their lives became more literary with every speech at the BT, and every edition of Savage Arena

But what of Paul? A quiet man, always present at every event, but never in the limelight, never seeking to be one of the tribe, simply a trustee to this literary great, Joe Tasker. But the exhibition changed all that for me. Here laid out was something real, something of the Paul I knew, something of Paul’s life, here were photos his brother had taken, here was the camera he took them with, here the clothes he wore, the postcards he sent home to Mum, from the Eiger, from Everest. And here was the handwritten manuscript for what was to become Savage Arena. All a bit real and all a bit personal. Paul showed me around the exhibition, and we talked about his mum, and his childhood, about his work and, you know, just stuff. Paul is immensely proud of his brother and our tribe should be immensely proud of Paul, for what he has quietly kept safe and shared with us all.

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