Mountain man Simon Yates remembers over three decades on mountains and ice caps

Legendary explorer and climber Simon Yates will be talking about his experiences during his Cork tour, writes Conor Kane

Simon Yates in the Gangroti, Northern India, with Bhagirathi III behind, in 2011. Picture taken by Greg Parsons during a group expedition

AFTER the 1985 near-tragedy in the Andes which necessitated him cutting a rope and sending his climbing partner plummeting over the edge of a cliff, just to give the two of them a chance of surviving, mountaineer Simon Yates gave up the outdoor life, retired to rural England and has spent the intervening years working in an office and gardening.

Like hell.

That disaster in Peru which nearly killed the then-22-year-old and his colleague, Joe Simpson, might have tainted anything to do with mountains for many of us. Not this laid-back Englishman who didn’t like the subsequent attention brought on by the book and inevitable film but hasn’t allowed the event or its media aftermath put him off spending months every year in some of the most physically inhospitable and least-visited places on the planet.

This Wednesday night he starts an Irish tour in the Everyman Theatre in Cork, which promises to be an entertaining ramble, so to speak, through over three decades on the mountains and ice caps of the world, including that Peruvian adventure made famous in the Touching the Void book written by Simpson, and subsequent film.

The word “remote” is like honey to a bee for Simon Yates. The more isolated, the less frequented, the better, as he details in his show. “The places that people are not likely to go to, I’ve saved them the bother,” he laughs.

Climbing partner Andy Parkin on the Antarctic Peninsula, looking over the Gerlache Strait, in 2015.

Tierra Del Fuego is one such; Pakistan is a favourite destination; while there are not many places more remote than Antarctica, a place he visited in 2015. “I sailed there from South Africa and as it turned out it was quite benign. I did find it a bit gripping, when you sail past Cape Horn and you realise you’re going to go into 600 nautical miles of what’s regarded by sailors as the worst bit of ocean in the world. But it turned out we were pretty lucky and the crossings both ways were fine.” Greenland is another favoured area of late, as well as the stretch of Canadian wilderness bordering Alaska and featuring Mount Logan, Canada’s highest mountain and the second highest in North America. “It’s a colossal area of big, remote mountains and a national park on both sides of the border. It’s actually the largest national park in the world and is pretty much empty. There wouldn’t be a lot of life, but has big rivers and forests, full of bears and salmon jumping out of the rivers. It’s a very wild place.” Some of Simon’s expeditions are alone or with friends and colleagues, others involve him leading touring parties to places where the adventurous of spirit want to go. During the 30-plus years he’s been heading to such corners of the globe himself, they’ve become busier as more and more people seek out the thrills and the summits involved.

But he’s not grumbling. “I think I’m kind of lucky in that I saw these areas before all that,” he reflects, adding that actually getting to “base camp” or it’s equivalent is now much easier because of improved infrastructure. Nepal, and Mount Everest is a classic example.

Paul Schweizer climbing on the SW Ridge of Mount Vancouver, Wrangell St Elias Ranges, Alaska in 2009. Picture taken by Simon Yates during two-man expeditions

“I used to like the actual process of travelling and the fact that it required a bit of effort. Now everything is a bit more instant, but that’s modern life… Back then you had to carry more gear and it was much heavier. The kit I take now is maybe half the size and that’s made it better. The clothing is lighter, the boots are lighter everything is lighter. Even the ropes. I have to have a satellite phone with me now, I don’t always necessarily climb with it but it will be in the mountains with me.” The Everyman show will feature Simon talking about, and showing some brilliant images of, some of his mountaineering highlights. And while you may expect him to be sick to the back teeth of talking about Peru, Joe Simpson and cutting that rope, he is happy to look back on that time. “I wouldn’t say it’s been my lifetime’s work promoting that story of going on about it, but obviously if you don’t talk about it, it would be like going to see your favourite band and they don’t play their biggest hit.

“It seems a very long time ago… I’m in a very very different place now, like most people.” He was in his 20s when he was bitten by the mountaineering bug and actually spent his 22nd birthday in the Andes on that trip with Joe Simpson which was the most remote place either had visited by then. “I think we were both very lucky [to survive] when I think back on other people that I knew at the time who were killed climbing mountains.” The later documentary movie proved a hit although “I didn’t find that a very joyous experience. They [the makers] were after something from me that I couldn’t give them. They were after tears and hysteria and I’m not that sort of person. Not surprisingly mountaineers, or certainly most of the ones I’ve met, tend to react very calmly in dangerous situations. We have to, that’s how we get out of them.” More will be heard during his show, taking place in the latest of several stints in Ireland over the years, and after 11 venues in Ireland he’s heading back to Cornwall for more, before escaping once more to do what he loves best. “I’m going to Nepal at the end of September so I’ve quite looking forward to that. That will be a pleasant way to unwind!”



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