In a career spanning over thirty years Simon Yates’ climbing and travelling has taken him from Alaska in the west to Australia in the east and from Greenland to the Antarctic. Highlights include a long list of first ascents, among others of Leyla (6300m) & Nemeka (6400m) peaks in the Pakistani Karakoram, the West Face of Mt Alverstone (4439m) in the remote Wrangell-St Elias Ranges in Alaska, and the West Face of Siula Grande (6356m) that many of us will know about through the film and book ‘Touching the Void’.
This year he will add to that an expedition in the High Andes of Bolivia and an ascent of Lenin Peak in the former Soviet Union. Read on to learn more about Simon Yates: mountaineer, public speaker, leader & author of three books.
We all know today’s Simon Yates as a devoted mountaineer, but can you recall the moment you first got introduced to climbing?
My first experience of climbing was on a school trip that I joined as a 15-year-old. It was an outdoor activities week up in the Lake District. On the last evening one of the instructors said he could take two students to come along climbing the following day. I put my hand up – that decision has defined my life until now.
Who do you consider as your heroes in the mountaineering world?
Early heroes of mine were Chris Bonington and Doug Scott. Many people have inspired me since, particularly those whom I have been lucky enough to share a rope with over the years. At present, Tom Livingstone is catching people’s eyes. I sent him some photos recently of a mountain in Pakistan that he is considering climbing. It’s nice that I am now in a position to be able to help like that.
How do you inspire others to go on their first mountaineering expedition?
I hope the positivity and enthusiasm that I feel for mountains rubs off on others – they are special places. During this year’s theatre tour in the UK I hope to bring this across again. As to actually climbing them, it’s simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, however slow it becomes.
A few minutes after we had started climbing, a rock the size of a washing machine came trundling past us.
What is your advice to aspiring mountaineers?
The obvious entry point into climbing these days is through climbing walls. The climbing skills acquired there can then be transferred to the outdoors and you can work up through winter climbing, visiting the Alps and then moving on to bigger and/or more remote mountains. For those with less time in their hands and who want to progress smoothly, World Expeditions organises mountaineering courses at different levels or there is the option to hire guides.
What do you do to stay fit in daily life?
I generally do 3 or 4 mountaineering expeditions a year, which keep me in pretty good shape. I don’t climb as much when I’m at home now as in the past due to work and family commitments, but I still get out a fair bit. I particularly do as much walking as I can – I do live in Cumbria after all!
What is the most challenging climbing expedition you’ve been on?
The most dangerous one. In 1996 I tried to make the first ascent of a peak called Makrong Chhish in Pakistan with Steve Sustad. The weather conditions were unseasonably hot. A few minutes after we had started climbing, a rock the size of a washing machine came trundling past us. It set the tone: a lot of falling rocks flew around us over the following days. It was a miracle we were not hit.
Wow, that sounds like quite a frightening situation for a mountaineer. Has fear ever been an issue for you?
Obviously, you are frightened when a dangerous event occurs like a fall, rockfall, avalanche etc. But as an older mountaineer, I now recognise that I felt a general low level of fear whenever I was in the high mountains when I first started going into them. I guess that is a natural emotion when you move into that unfamiliar environment. Now I understand that environment better and can enjoy the moment more freely.
Those coming along on these mountaineering trips should aim to […] bring a positive attitude and sense of humour along with them.
What is your favourite piece of mountaineering gear?
I have a mechanical Thommen altimeter that was given to me as a 21st birthday present. It still works perfectly and I take it on every expedition and use it to give me an idea into what the weather is going to do next. I still consult it even now, when I can usually obtain a weather forecast. There are a lot of weather forecasts out there – a rise or fall in air pressure is still a very accurate guide as to what will actually happen where you are.
This year you will be leading the Peak Lenin summit expedition and also the Triple Peaks of Bolivia trips. What tips do you have for those that are keen to take on these challenging climbs?
Whatever skills and experience the participants can gain in terms of basic rope work, using crampons and an ice-axe, camping in a cold snowy environment and spending time at altitude can all be useful. Those coming along on these mountaineering trips should aim to get as fit as possible before the departure and bring a positive attitude and sense of humour along with them.
Interested in joining Simon Yates on one of his mountaineering expeditions in 2019?
>> Learn more about the Trek & Mountain Peak Lenin Trip with Simon Yates, June/July 2019
>> Learn more about the Triple Peaks of Bolivia with Simon Yates trip, July/August 2019