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In the Shadow of Ben Nevis

Paperback (256pp)
  • Paperback £12.99
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In 1959, sixteen-year-old Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes left school and, after a short period of work at Leeds University, joined the RAF. Already a keen climber, he signed up on the promise of excitement and adventure and was posted to the remote RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the north of Scotland. It was the beginning of a journey which would see him involved in some of the most legendary call-outs in Scottish mountain rescue history, including the 1963 New Year tragedy on the Isle of Skye.

In the Shadow of Ben Nevis tells Spike’s story from growing up in Leeds in the aftermath of the Second World War, to his time with the RAF during the cold war. After leaving the RAF, he remained an active member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and was involved in the first lower down the north face of Ben Nevis – an epic 1,500-foot descent to rescue stricken climbers in the middle of winter.

Following a two-and-a-half-year stint on Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, he returned to the Highlands and opened the first Nevisport shop with his close friend Ian ‘Suds’ Sutherland. Together, they brought Sunday trading to Fort William and were one of a small number of shops to revolutionise outdoor retail in the UK. Later, he was a key player in the development of the Nevis Range ski area. Over many years, and against all odds, the project became a reality and a great success.

Recounted within these pages are a great many lively tales of adventures and mishaps, told with immediacy and charm. With a foreword by legendary Scottish mountaineer Hamish MacInnes, a close friend of Spike’s, In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Scottish mountaineering and mountain rescue.

Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes was born and raised in Leeds during the Second World War. A climber since his youth, he joined the RAF at sixteen, working on the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the Scottish Highlands during a number of dramatic rescues. After leaving the RAF he worked with the British Antarctic Survey on the southern polar ice cap, where he ran a dog team and worked as a guide for the Survey’s field scientists.

Back in Scotland, Spike and Ian Sutherland identified an opportunity for a climbing and outdoor equipment shop in the Highlands, and the first Nevisport shop was born. Both remained as members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue, the UK’s busiest team. Spike was also instrumental in the development of the ski area at Nevis Range on Aonach Mor, where he stayed on as managing director for twelve years. He is currently a director of Nevis Range, which is now also internationally renowned as a mountain biking centre.

Spike was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to sport and mountain rescue, and in 2011 he received the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. His first book, Cry Argentina (978-1-846248-71-9), a semi-fictional account of the build-up to the invasion of South Georgia in the Falklands War, was published in 2013. In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is his second book. Spike lives in Fort William with his partner Gay, and has a daughter Eilidh.

  • Title: In the Shadow of Ben Nevis
  • Author: Ian Sykes
  • Imprint: Baton Wicks
  • ISBN: 978-1-898573-98-2
  • Rights: Worldwide
  • Publication date: 15 February 2016 
  • Edition: First
  • Foreword: Hamish MacInnes
  • Classification: Climbing and mountaineering (WSZG); Autobiography: sport (BGSA); Northern Scotland, Highlands and Islands (1DBKSH); Antarctica (1MTS); Ambulance and
    rescue services (JKSW3)
  • Size: 234mm x 156mm
  • Extent: 256 pages, black and white text with 2x 16pp colour plates
  • Cover: Paperback
  • Retail price: £12.99


'This book tells of the life and experiences of a unique character and should appeal to anyone with a spirit of adventure.'
Stu Gallagher, Alpine Club
‘One man in his time plays many parts.’  This is certainly true of Spike, and this autobiography takes us through them ‒ RAF MRT member in the primitive pre-helicopter days, outdoor instructor, FIDS ‘gash man’, entrepreneur, Lochaber MRT member, and throughout it all a climber whose experience ranges from hitch-hiking and barn-dossing as an impoverished teenager to helicopter drops into exotic locations.  Not a typical climbing autobiography ‒ and all the better for it.'
R T Richardson, former president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club
'Suffice to say, In The Shadow... is a rattling good yarn, and that’s before you even get on to Sykes’s life-saving work with the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and his climbing adventures in the Alps, the Yukon and elsewhere.'
Roger Cox, The Scotsman
'This book is a good read about a man and his life of adventure in the mountains and out of them.'
Nick Carter, Alpha Mountaineering
'It recounts many lively tales of adventure and mishap'
Eilidh Davies, Highland News
'His stories of epic mountain rescues before the age of helicopter assistance, good communications, organised rescue teams and enforced drink driving laws are riveting.'
Dave McLeod, Blogspot 
'Hats off to Ian Sykes fr a terrific read. Very highly recommended.'
Ullapool News

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