Author Interview: Victor Saunders, Structured Chaos
- Thursday 11 March 2021
Structured Chaos is a follow-up to prize-winning Victor Saunders’ previous works, Elusive Summits, No Place to Fall, and Himalaya: The Tribulations of Vic and Mick. Beginning by reflecting on his early childhood in Malaya and his early climbing experiences, Saunders explores the integration between the human condition and the inclination to climb from a young age. Following expeditions in the Himalaya and successful climbs on K2, he left his architectural career to become a mountain guide in Chamonix where he harnessed his passion for the mountains.
Structured Chaos is a down to earth collection of tales from on top of the world. It is not just a series of mountaineering triumphs, but an account of rescues, tragedies, and friendships. The latter provides a strong foundation for Victor’s answers in this interview as he explains that the value of good people is priceless in the mountains.
Nangav Ganalo Peak. © Victor Saunders.
The previous three books have mostly been climbing stories loosely grouped around expeditions and talking about success, failure, and friendship. Structured Chaos attempts to chart the journey from the beginning and how it changes the way my friends and I look at the world. It is a book about growing up, I suppose.
The book isn’t really about your mountain exploits but your friendships in the mountains. What inspired you to write it?
Good question. I think that climbing is just another structure on which to hang human stories. For mountaineering, you need at minimum two ingredients: mountains and people. It is the people that are the more interesting subject, in my humble opinion.
Fly Direct - Me and Mick after Fly Direct, Creagh Meagaidh. © Victor Saunders.
When did you and Mick first start climbing together and what made you say yes to being his climbing partner despite his reputation for difficult ascents?
Easy answer … in the beginning, it was beer. But I soon realised that although the climbs Mick wanted to attempt were often on deplorably loose and unstable rock and ice, he had the knack of making those projects feel like a relatively normal weekend’s pastime. I soon began to feel that climbing unsound ground with a safe partner was a better bet than climbing safe ground with an unsound partner.
How did you go from scaling canal-side walls in Camden to expeditions in the Himalaya and the Karakoram? Has your career in mountaineering been driven by your climbing friendships?
It is actually quite a natural progression. You train for the Himalayas by climbing in the Alps; you train for the Alps with Scottish winter climbing; you train for that with summer rock climbing weekends; and you train for rock climbing after work by clambering about on anything you can find that is vaguely vertical. In North London of the 70s and 80s that was canal walls and disused railway cuttings.
Chombu - Magnificent position; awful conditions. © Victor Saunders.
You said in a recent interview that you’ve made many a decision to go on a mountain expedition after having a few in the pub. Are there any climbing trips that you’ve particularly enjoyed as a result or any that you’ve regretted?
There have been very few expeditions, if any, that I have regretted. I know this is going to sound extremely old school, but for me it is true that I don’t mind failure, provided I feel I have made a real effort to succeed. The only expeditions I have felt pangs of regret are those in which I feel I should have tried harder.
Click HERE to buy a copy of Structured Chaos.