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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: John Harding, Distant Snows

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Released on 16 December, John Harding's book Distant Snows recalls his global explorations, which spanned sixty years across four continents. During this time he climbed many classic peaks including Mont Blanc, Mount Kenya, and Mount Cook, explored obscure ranges, and pioneered ski mountaineering expeditions in Turkey, Spain and Greece. Following the book's release, we caught up with him to talk about his adventures.

1. How much did your early trip to Iran with the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club influence your future adventurous lifestyle?

Very much for although I was already hooked on climbing, this expedition first opened my eyes to the world beyond Europe. A principal reason for joining the Colonial Service was adventure (and, dare one say it, also public service) with the prospect of having long leaves to undertake expeditions. Service in South Arabia had adventure in spades anyway.

2. Some of your early climbing in Britain was made possible through hitch-hiking – something that perhaps wouldn’t be undertaken by young climbers of today. Were you ever apprehensive about relying on the help of strangers? How do you think your mountaineering career would have developed if hitch-hiking hadn’t been an option?

Frankly, I never thought of hitch hiking as hazardous, maybe because I had a degree of confidence in my ability to look after myself having already spent two years National Service in the army. My only disconcerting experience was in Sweden when I was picked up by a harmless enough young man who made unfulfilled sexual advances. As an impecunious undergraduate, it was the only way I could have afforded to get around at the time, but would no doubt have reached the high hills somehow, some other way.

3. Why did your focus begin to shift from mountaineering to ski mountaineering?

Intrigued by my mother’s tales of her skiing holidays in the 1920s, I had always wanted to ski but never been able to afford it until I was twenty-seven and earning a crust. Thereafter, to graduate to ski mountaineering seemed a natural progression and presented another mountaineering challenge. To quote doubly Arnold Lunn and Rickmer Rickmers: ‘Ski mountaineering IS mountaineering: the marriage of two great sports’.

4. Your worldwide adventures have seen you undertake many classic climbs and ski expeditions as well as lesser-known challenges. Which in particular stand out for you? 

Climbs would include: Taschhorn Dom traverse (1958: first alpine season); Mt Kenya Nelion & Batian traverse (1961); Ruwenzori: traverse of Margherita/Alexandra/Moebius (1964); Crozzon di Brenta & Cima Tosa N Ridge (Dolomites) (1968); Mount Cook (1970) Gran Paradiso traverse (1976); Mt Broderick NZ (1988). Ski Mountaineering Expeditions: The Pyrenean High Route (1978-1988) – first British; Taurus traverse, Turkey (1990) (First complete traverse of Bolkar & Ala Dag); Kackar Dag traverse, Turkey (1991) (First complete traverse); Corsican High Route (1994) – first British.

5. What prompted you do document your explorations in Distant Snows and did you solely rely on your own journals / memories while writing or did you have access to your climbing companions’ diaries?

To quote from Julian Huxley in my Preface ‘it is one of he duties and priviliges of man to testify to his experience’. I hope that doesn’t sound too pompous, but it certainly inspired me to keep mountaineering diaries thereafter. In writing Distant Snows I relied entirely on my diaries, articles (some referred to in the bibliography) and fading memory. I did not have access or recourse to the diaries of any companions.

6. Finally, how do you think mountaineering has changed during the sixty years of your travels and what do you think the future is?

Like all sports, mountaineering has changed almost out of recognition from my own experiences in the 1950s. Climbers are immeasurably more professional, fitter, stronger, better equipped and probably less risk averse (though the huge advances in equipment and technique have helped to push up standards dramatically). I could not possibly predict the future save to say that in another sixty years what might now seem impossible will probably become an ‘easy day for a lady’ (Quoted from Mummery, so no accusations of sexism etc please!).

Click HERE to read more about John's book, Distant Snows.

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