(24 March 1921- 2 July 2005)

Butter lamps were burning in the gompas (Buddhist temples) of Darjeeling in July for a man who counted the Sherpas of the Indian hill town among his closest friends and with whom he had shared many adventures.

John 'Jacko' Jackson was a member of the British expedition that in May 1955 made the first ascent of Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, which rises in ethereal splendour north of Darjeeling. His love of the Himalaya had been kindled 10 years earlier in Kashmir and was to endure for the rest of his life. He was trekking on the verdant Singalila ridge in his eighties and partying with Sherpa friends in Darjeeling only last February.

Though an English northerner by birth and stalwart character, he spent most of his adult life in North Wales, where he guided Plas y Brenin to its place as one of the UK's pre-eminent centres of excellence for training in mountain activities. (The other is Glenmore Lodge in Scotland.)

Born in Nelson, Lancashire, John Angelo Jackson had on his doorstep the 'Bronte' moors. He started rock climbing at the age of 12, exploring the grit stone outcrops with his older brother Ron. When Ron purchased a motorbike and sidecar for £5 - an old side-valve Ariel - the pair extended their activities to the crags of the Lake District and then in 1938 to the Isle of Skye. It was a classic apprenticeship for the all-round mountaineer that Jacko was to become.

Joining the RAF in 1940 he flew with 31 Squadron as a wireless operator and air gunner in Dakotas over Burma. In 1944, however, he got a dream posting, assisting Wilfrid Noyce, another climber in uniform, as an instructor at an Aircrew Mountain Centre in Kashmir. Rather like the institutions Jackson would run years later, it was recreation with a purpose. Over a two-year period, he made numerous ascents of peaks in the 4500 -5500 m range in Kashmir and undertook many mountain treks, including in neighbouring Ladakh.

John Jackson

After the war, Jackson trained as a pharmacist, but switched to teaching, first in his home town and later in Redcar, North Yorkshire. He taught science and geography and in an extra curricula role introduced youngsters to the hills. In 1946 while on a climbing visit to Buttermere in the Lake District, Jacko met an army officer who questioned him extensively about his experiences in Kashmir. It was John Hunt, who would in 1953 lead the expedition that made the first ascent of Everest and later head up the awards schemes that Jackson implemented at Plas y Brenin.

Three post-war alpine seasons in Switzerland were followed by an RAF expedition to the Garhwal Himalaya in northwest India, including an attempt on Nilkantha (6596 m), rebuffed high up by the arrival of monsoon weather. Jackson's experience secured his selection as a reserve for the 1953 British Everest expedition and he became heavily involved in the testing of oxygen equipment, much of it carried out at Helyg, the Climbers' Club hut in the Ogwen valley.

Disappointment at not actually getting to Everest was fully compensated when he was invited to join the 1955 expedition to Kangchenjunga, led by Charles Evans, who had been Hunt's deputy on Everest. It was, by comparison, a modest affair, largely free of flag waving and national expectation, however in climbing terms Kangch' was a much more unknown quantity than Everest and is today regarded as one of the hardest of the 14 summits exceeding 8000 metres.

The attempt, by the southwest face on the mountain's Nepal side, was billed as 'reconnaissance in force' rather than an all-out go for the summit. Its attainment on 25 May by Joe Brown and George Band was the culmination of a remarkable feat of exploratory climbing by the whole team, with some 3000 m of untrodden ground to negotiate - steep rock and ice, avalanche-prone snow and many crevasses.

Jacko reached Camp V, at 7710 m (25,300 ft) the penultimate camp on the mountain, but did not see much of it due to snow-blindness. For the final push he and Tom MacKinnon had been assigned the task of leading Sherpa teams carrying vital supplies. On the carry to Camp IV he rather overdid the practice of pushing up his goggles, which tended to fog up when wearing an oxygen mask.

He spent a sleepless night in agony. 'I felt as if powdered glass had got under my eyelids,' he recalled. Still in acute pain next morning, he nonetheless insisted on continuing up, roped between two Sherpas. He could barely see where they were going but encouraged the team on through deep soft snow.

His contributions as a reserve for Everest and as a Kangch' team member made Jacko very much a part of the 'Everest family'. Though the styles of the two shows were different, the casts were very similar, with regular reunions at the Pen-y-Gwryd hotel, the Everesters' UK base camp in Snowdonia. Jackson joined other Kangchenjunga veterans at the Pen-y-Gwyrd a month ago prior to celebrating the 50th anniversary of first ascent at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 7 June.

Expeditions were an integral part of Jackson's life for more than half a century, most frequently to the Himalaya. Elsewhere, he went with Hunt to the Staunings Alps in Greenland and to the Pindus mountains of Greece. In the Staunings he and Hunt climbed a 1980 m (6500 ft) peak, topped by a rock tower, they named Beaumaris - both having adopted Wales. Approaching his 70th birthday he made an ascent of Kilimanjaro and also of Point Lenana on Mount Kenya.

Jackson's love of mountain travel was shared by his wife Eileen who he first met at a cricket match, another shared enthusiasm. In 1976, after retiring from Plas y Brenin, the couple drove a campervan overland to India and Nepal on a nine- month spree of trekking, climbing and skiing. They celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary four days before he died.

The National Mountaineering Centre underwent many changes during Jackson's tenure, responding to a need articulated by the then Sir John Hunt for well-trained mountain leaders. There was much concern over the high percentage of mountain rescues in Snowdonia involving young people. Taking over as director in 1960, Jackson introduced a range of leadership courses and oversaw the creation of Wales's first dry ski slope. The first Mountaineering Instructor's Certificate courses - the top UK qualification - were run at the centre in 1969 and hailed as a great success, however it was not long before a bitter row broke out within mountaineering over whether the certificates route had not gone too far and was endangering the game's freewheeling nature.

Soon after the campervan trip, the Sports Council for Wales asked Jackson to be their consultant for a National Outdoor Centre for Wales.

A site was chosen at Plas Menai, not far from his Anglesey home, and Jackson stayed on as director until 1983, seeing the centre through its formative years, the emphasis being on sailing rather than mountaineering.

Revealingly, Jackson entitled his first book More than Mountains. His fascination with the Himalaya was not limited to headline summits or new routes, he wrote about the flowers, including a short essay on the breathtaking beauty of blue poppies, and about the inhabitants, including the yeti. In 1954 he had been the mountaineering leader of a yeti hunt organised by the Daily Mail. Needless to say none was found and Jackson came to the view that prints sighted over the years might be those of the equally elusive Tibetan blue bear.

Jackson was a regular contributor to the Alpine Journal and despite failing health - he suffered from leukaemia - accepted my invitation to write an account of a 50th anniversary journey by Kangchenjunga veterans to India in February this year. It will appear later this year. Sherpa hospitality in Darjeeling was lavish, from those friends who are now lighting butter lamp candles for him, and Jacko got one more chance to see the great mountain whose name roughly translates to 'The Five Sacred Treasuries of the Snows'. He described it thus:

The final morning of 13 February was clear with blue sky. Would we see the Kangchenjunga massif at last? We did! Jannu and Rathong stood out boldly, then the summits of Kabru began to show. Further east, Pandim and Tingchenkang were impressive. But the 'Five Treasures' were playing hide and seek so that only fleetingly did they show themselves. It was enough.


(First published in The Independent (UK) on 8 July 2005)

John Jackson, mountaineer and outdoor educationist; born Nelson, Lancashire, 24 March 1921; director Plas y Brenin National Mountaineering Centre 1960-76; director Plas Menai National Outdoor Centre for Wales 1980-83; author More than Mountains (1955) and Adventure Travel in the Himalaya (2005); married Eileen Dillon 1950, two sons; died Bangor, North Wales 2 July 2005.

Note (Ed.): John Jackson was Honorary Member of the Himalayan Club and a regular contributor to the Himalayan Journal. He participated in the 50th anniversary of first ascent of Kangchenjunga at various centres in India, organised by the Himalayan Club. His book Adventure Travels in the Himalaya was published few weeks before his death. See book review in this journal.

IRSHAD HUSAIN POONAWALA (6 December 1968 - 23 August 2004)

'I am going to retire at 40 and live in a small village in the Himalaya where I will work as a school teacher' is the line I heard umpteen times during my married life with Irshad. This was a line friends heard very often at parties and in fact would add that they too would follow suit.

Irshad identified his 'mountain feet' and love for the mountains only on completing post-graduation. A few classmates decided they needed an adventure before they got bogged down with jobs and the rat race. Trekking from Manali is what they did without appropriate shoes leave

alone trekking equipment which was an alien concept. But after this trip Irshad just couldn't have enough of the mountains.

Irshad being perseverant found like minded people and then it was weekends in the Sayadris (Western Ghats) and holidays in the Himalaya. He also completed the Basic Mountaineering Course from NIM, Uttarkashi. He did not retain his love for the mountains for himself but spread it to others. Irshad was known to be most encouraging on treks and with words alone pushed team members in reaching the Irshad Poonawala destination.

Irshad had several plans like forming an adventure club and learning technical aspects related to mountaineering. When he fell sick, during his various sessions of chemo-therapy in hospital, he wrote a vision paper to spread awareness on cancer in India. He visualised travelling from Kanyakumari to Siachen, in three legs, that included trekking, cycling and sailing. Trekking in mountains over the world also remained a dream.


UDDHAVRAJ S. MATKAR (20 October 1967 - 23 July 2004)

'Those beloved to God, die young.' That seems to unfortunately hold true in case of Uddhavraj S. Matkar, 'Uddhav', for us, those who knew him, respected him and loved him. He was a member of the Himalayan Club. A mechanical engineer by profession he worked with Reliance Industries in Mumbai. He was honest, simple and straight forward and so is colleagues and friends alike, respected him, be it in his professional life or in the mountains.

We first trekked together in May 1998 on the Everest trail in the Khumbu. He was a man of varied interests and lived his life doing what he liked most, being in the Himalaya. He would never miss a opportunity to be in the mountains. His motto was 11 months of work (peppered with weekend treks in the local hills) and one month of 'play' (trek in the Himalaya). Uddhav took his trips to the mountains seriously and was a thorough planner. Our joke was would be that the only preparation necessary for a trek was to take Uddhav along. Being such a meticulous person he was invariably the informal leader on our ventures.

On a trek to Pin Parvati pass, as we crossed a 5200 m pass and descended into the Pin valley, a porter complained snow blindness and showed symptoms of altitude sickness. Uddhav recognised the symptoms, gave him Diamox, and trekked all the way down with the porter never leaving his side, carrying his load. This was true leadership and his caring human side for all to see.

The beautiful vistas of the Himalaya ignited a passion for photography which he took seriously. He studied photography at the Photographic Society of India, of which he was a member. He was a gifted photographer with an eye for compositions. Marathi literature and theatre were dear to him. He was well read and had a huge and varied collections of books.

Uddhav had widely travelled in the Himalaya : in Spiti (Pin-Parvati pass), Rupshu - Ladakh (Parang la), Khumbu (Everest base camp / Kala Pathar), Garhwal (Kuari pass and Valley of Flowers), Himachal (Sar / Chandrakhani pass).

He was seriously contemplating an early retirement to spend more time in the mountains, particularly the Himalaya. Recently we had been on a jeep safari; travelling from Manali-Chandra tal-Leh-Khardung la- Nubra valley and return via Kargil-Dras-Zoji la-Sonmarg to Srinagar and Jammu. It was a 23 days memorable trip which was to be our last sojourn in the Himalaya together.

This fit person, with no vices whatsoever, passed away on 23 July 2004 after a brief illness. Being an only son, Uddhav leaves behind grieving parents and friends. It was a privilege to have known and had him as a friend even for a short span of 6 years. He will be sorely missed by all those who have crossed his path in his short life of 37 years. Uddhav lives in his Heavenly abode which for him was the Himalaya.