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Wild Country

The man who made Friends

Paperback (240pp)
  • Paperback £14.95
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In early 1978, an extraordinary new invention for rock climbers was featured on the BBC television science show Tomorrow's World. It was called the 'Friend', and it not only made the sport safer, it helped push the limits of the possible. The company that made them was called Wild Country, the brainchild of Mark Vallance. Within six months, Vallance was selling Friends in sixteen countries. Wild Country would go on to develop much of the gear that transformed climbing in the 1980s. 

Mark Vallance's influence on the outdoor world extends far beyond the company he founded. He owned and opened the influential retailer Outside in the Peak District and was part of the team that built The Foundry, Sheffield's premier climbing wall - the first modern climbing gym in Britain. He worked for the Peak District National Park and served on its board. He even found time to climb eight-thousand-metre peaks and the Nose on El Capitan. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in his mid fifties and robbed of his plans for retirement, Vallance found a new sense of purpose as a reforming president of the British Mountaineering Council.

In Wild Country, Vallance traces his story, from childhood influences like Robin Hodgkin and Sir Jack Longland, to two years in Antarctica, where he was base commander of the UK's largest and most southerly scientific station at Halley Bay, before his fateful meeting with Ray Jardine, the man who invented Friends, in Yosemite. 

Trenchant, provocative and challenging, Wild Country is a remarkable personal story and a fresh perspective on the role of the outdoors in British life and the development of climbing in its most revolutionary phase. 

Mark Vallance (1945–2018), the man who made Friends. 

Mark Vallance was born in Cheshire. After watching the film of the 1953 ascent of Everest, he developed an obsession for climbing and exploration. Educated at Abbotsholme School and Goldsmiths, University of London, he spent two years in Halley Bay working for the British Antarctic Survey. In 1977, he formed Wild Country to manufacture Ray Jardine’s revolutionary climbing protection device, called Friends, launching one of the most influential outdoor brands in British history. In 1987 he built and opened Outside, a new kind of outdoor retailer in the UK. Having sold his businesses, Vallance planned a long and action-packed retirement, but was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease aged only fifty-four. He went on to serve as president of the British Mountaineering Council. Mark died in 2018, aged 72, and the climbing world lost one of its greatest heroes.

  • Title: Wild Country
  • Sub-title: The man who made Friends
  • Author: Mark Vallance
  • Imprint: Vertebrate Publishing
  • ISBN: 978-1-910240-81-6
  • Rights: Worldwide
  • Publication date: 1 June 2016
  • Edition: First
  • Size: 234mm x 156mm
  • Extent: 240 pages, black and white text with 2x 16pp colour plates
  • Cover: Paperback
  • Classification: Climbing and mountaineering (WSZG); Autobiography: sport (BGSA); United Kingdom: Great Britain (1DBK); Antarctica (1MTS); Himalayas (1FKAH)
  • Retail price: £14.95

Also available as an ebook:

  • Imprint: Vertebrate Digital
  • ISBN: 978-1-910240-82-3
  • Publication Date: 1 June 2016
  • Price: £14.95
'[The book] chronicles not just the mountains [Mark] has climbed, but the part he played in bringing to market a little piece of sporting equipment that revolutionised mountaineering and saved countless lives.'
Sarah Freeman, Yorkshire Post
‘Widely-known as the man who made Friends, Mark Vallance’s influence is far wider than that, as his autobiography elucidates. Dick Turnbull summed up Mark’s achievements very well as the book launch at Outside on 2 June 2016, when he said to a packed audience, “your entire climbing career is entirely dependent upon Mark”.
Keith Sharples, Climber magazine
'This is an outstanding book by an outstanding personality and it is a tragedy that it needs to end on such a sad note with failing vigour, decimated by a presently incurable disease, however he assures us that he is "still fighting gravity and always will".'
Dennis Gray, Footless Crow
'It is a good inspiring read which covers not just the life of a remarkable man, but gives a unique view of some of the developments in our world of climbing that these days we take for granted.'
David Medcalf, Footless Crow
'A thoroughly well written book which combines the personal adventures of the life of a climber with an interesting history of climbing gear and its manufacture in Britain over the last 50 years.'
Nick Carter, Alpha Mountaineering
'The book is an inspirational tale of a very determined man who has without doubt altered and enhanced the climbing world. Absolutely a ‘must-read’.'
– Ian Sykes, Scottish Mountaineering Council Journal 

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