Up Close and Personal

Up Close and Personal is a new series of short informal interviews with members of the Alpine Club. The articles are designed to profile the breadth and depth of a ‘typical’ AC member and are first published in the Alpine Club Newsletter. 

Back issues of the newsletters can be found HERE.

Up Close with Rob Collister

Interview by Melanie Windridge

The well-known guide, backcountry skier and writer Rob Collister recently stepped down as vice president of the Club and chair of its Environmental Group. Here he discusses his life, his passion for the mountains and his fears for the future of the natural world.

 

How did you get into climbing and skiing?

No one else in my family was interested in mountains. I had a privileged education – public school and Cambridge – but my parents crippled themselves financially educating their four children and there was no money left for school ski trips. I had to pay for myself. My first climbs were in the Cuillin on a school camp but I didn’t start climbing regularly until I left school and went up to Cambridge. Then, as now, I loved controlled, precise movement, the sense of space and exposure, the satisfaction of managing risk in potentially dangerous situations and the extraordinary places it allows one to get to, things accessible to all climbers whatever their grade. I was not very talented, did not enjoy frightening myself but was competent enough to get by on most things in the Alps. 

My first Alpine season was nearly my last. We had two unplanned bivis in three routes and I nearly died when an abseil anchor failed on a retreat. On the other hand, I found that I was well suited to the long sustained effort required in the Alps and enjoyed long hut walks that others hated, an attribute I discovered was even more useful when I got to the Hindu Kush in my second long vacation in 1968. 

Up Close with Sally Westmacott

Interview by Adele Long

But for Mt. Everest, Sally Westmacott might now be a professional concert pianist. Instead she…is one of the best…British women mountaineers’.  This is how Ingrid Cranfield began her article about Sally for the Observer on 4 March 1965.  

So, if Sally had not met Mike (Westmacott of the 1953 Everest expedition fame), would she have been a climber? When asked, she replied “I don’t know. Because the bug is always there. I was climbing on the sandstone in Fontainebleu long before I met Michael”. But she did concede “I fell in at the deep end with the Everest business. I was lucky”.

Up Close with Mike Kosterlitz

Interview by Glyn Hughes

Mike, could you start by telling us about your earliest climbing experiences.

When I turned up in Cambridge in 1962 I had done very little real climbing, but I was very keen to do more, and I had already discovered that I seemed to have some talent for it. I went on a meet to the Derbyshire gritstone as soon as I could, and, wearing my mountain boots (I had not heard of PAs at the time), I got up a few climbs. Shortly after that I fell about 25ft off a VS because the rubber on the toe of my boot was worn away, and I tore my ankle. The more experienced members of the CUMC (Nick Estcourt, Rupert Roschnik, etc) were not amused by this novice showing off. However I managed to show them that I was actually able to climb, and that I could be competitive with them. That winter I joined the Club’s Ben Nevis meet and got my first taste of ice climbing, which I also enjoyed. I think the reason that I was competitive with the best of them was that I was quite strong, and was able to keep my nerve on rock climbs. I reasoned that if other people had done it before me, even if I could not see how to do the next bit, it was obviously possible and there must be holds there, and so I should be able to do it too. I did not frighten easily, and my (flawed) reasoning worked, so I went up the grades quite quickly, and become one of the better climbers in the CUMC.

Up Close with Uisdean Hawthorn

Interview by Adele Long

 

Hi Uisdean, how long have you been a member of the Alpine Club?

Two months!

 

Like many UK mountaineers you seem to have cut your teeth on Scottish rock, how does this prepare you for alpine climbing?

I suppose the thing is you get a lots of technical climbing, so for me when I do lots of winter climbing or trad that really helps to gives you a lot of confidence that you will be able to get up pretty much any of the technical cruxes on a route [in the Alps] because you know they are a few grades lower than what you would climb at home.

A lot of the mixed climbing on the Bheinn, the routes are short and if they were anywhere else no-one would climb them, they are just little bits of rock, but because they are technically really hard and you can just go and do them from your house in a day, you get in a lot of climbing.  Its the volume of hard climbing more than any specific climb. You would spend weeks and weeks in the Alps to get that volume of hard climbing.