Mountain Man

Saturday, 3rd December 2005

Tibet's Secret Mountain'Is this your most philosophical book?' I ask Chris Bonington, who is visiting our local outdoors store, just at the end of our road, today.

'Yes, it is, although I'm not philosophical,' he claims, 'but Charles Clarke (his co-author on this book) is . . . '

Tibet's Secret Mountain describes the attempts Bonington and Clarke made in 1997 and 1998 to climb Sepu Kangri, which is known locally as 'the Great White Snow God'.

Having seen the film of Seven Years in Tibet and read Hergé's Tintin in Tibet, I'm convinced that any man who has spent so much time in these mountains must become some kind of zen sage but, as I sketch Bonington talking to visitors about his 40-odd years of climbing (and he still climbs), he doesn't seem at all remote, lofty and mystical; more genial, practical and perceptive.

BoningtonTwo children who are preparing for their own trek up Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, ask him how cold it was on top of Everest (it wasn't bad, only -5°, although at other times of year it can reach -40°) and has anyone ever skied down the mountain (yes, says Bonington, and it's been snowboarded too). Outdoor instructors exchange notes with him about the remoter fringes of Iceland, swap notes on tents and ask what he thinks of the commercialisation of Everest.

'I don't mind; we've made Everest what it is; it's accessible today but, if you want to get away from it, there are plenty of other peaks in the Himalayas.'

He asks Barbara and I if we've ever been to Tibet. It is still a difficult country to get to, he explains, and, while Nepal has opened up to tourists, it now has political problems but the Indian side of the Himalayas, he says, is still unspoilt and easy to get to.

Barbara and I have never travelled beyond the boundaries of Europe, but he makes it sound an enjoyable and inspiring possibility.

Mountain High

Someone asks him what was the high point of his career: 'Getting to the summit of Everest?'

'Well, it was great getting to the summit, but I've enjoyed everything I've done,' he explains.

BoningtonI show him my sketches;

'You look suitably craggy!' I tell him.

'There's something about drawing,' he says as he looks through my sketchbook, 'which you don't get with photographs.'

I ask him if he takes watercolours with him on expeditions. He doesn't, but his wife, who attended Brighton art college for a year, made a living as a children's illustrator for a while.

As he had been signing books and photographs as I drew him, I ask him if he'll sign my sketchbook too. Next Page

Chris Bonington




Chris Bonington

Mitchell's Outdoors, our local camping store

Richard Bell,