1. Michael Westmacott
  2. Maurice Herzog
  3. Ryuji Hayashibara
  4. Roger Payne




(1925 - 2012)

When several hundred breathless people reached the summit of Everest in May this year they did so thanks in no small measure to the labour of an unsung group of Sherpas known as the ‘Icefall Doctors’ whose job it is to maintain a passageway through the chaos of ice cliffs and crevasses of the Khumbu Icefall. ‘Mike’ Westmacott was in essence the prototype Icefall Doctor. While the final assault was underway in 1953 that would see Hillary and Tenzing to the 8848 m summit, it was Mike and his team of Sherpas who were charged with keeping open the expedition’s vital line of supply and return.

In 1953 the icefall was still relatively unknown territory and much feared. The 1951 reconnaissance expedition led by Eric Shipton had penetrated to the lip of the Western Cwm and in spring 1952 the Swiss rigged a rope bridge across the giant crevasse that bars the top of the icefall and entered the Cwm for the first time. Though Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgay got tantalisingly close, reaching almost 8600 m, fatigue and bad weather finally forced them back.

Michael Westmacott.

Michael Westmacott.

As the Swiss were trying and failing on Everest – a second attempt in the autumn reached just over 8000 m – young Michael Westmacott was embarking on his career as a statistician and enjoying a highly successful climbing season in the Alps. Everest hadn’t seriously entered his head. That summer, with friends, he had spent three weeks in Switzerland and succeeded on a clutch of classic routes that would still be the envy of
alpinists today, then finished with a traverse of the Matterhorn.

‘As we made for our doss at Satfelalp, Dick [Viney] said “We’ve had a marvellous day’s climbing, Mike. Nothing like in the Himalayas – all slog, slog, slog – but wouldn’t you give anything to go to Everest next year?” He was right, but I don’t think it had occurred to me before to do anything about it.’

The quote comes from a short recollection Mike wrote for the Alpine Journal on the 40th anniversary of the Everest ascent1. Mike was the most self-effacing of men and first person accounts of his climbing emerged only in understated journal accounts and interviews. He was one of the few main players of 1953 not to write a book of his experiences.

Born on 12 April 1925 in Babbacombe, Torquay, and educated at Radley College, Oxfordshire, Mike’s first climbing adventures were scrambles on the limestone and sandstone cliffs behind the Torquay beaches. His father had been invalided out of the Royal Navy and would take the family for picnics among the tors of Dartmoor. But Mike was still years from catching the climbing bug and first had the excitement of service as a junior officer in King George V’s Bengal Sappers and Miners, building bridges in Burma with 150 Japanese PoWs under his command. Then came Oxford, where he studied Mathematics, adding a further year of Statistics, and joined the university mountaineering club – initially more for the comradeship than to satisfy any great yen. His first rock climb was of Napes Needle in Wasdale, done in floppy tennis shoes on a cold day in December 1947.

The OUMC was on the cusp of a post-war mountaineering renaissance and together with its Cambridge counterpart would provide many of the leading climbers of the 1950s. Both George Band (Cambridge) and Mike had been president of their respective university mountaineering clubs and at the time John Hunt was selecting his Everest team both had just enjoyed excellent alpine seasons. Mike speculated that that they might both have owed their Everest places to the good weather in the Alps in 1952.

Mike had been climbing with Anthony Rawlinson and Dick Viney; together in a 22 hr 30 min day they had climbed the east ridge of the Dent d’Herens, one of the longest arêtes in the Alps, more than two km long, ‘sustained, exposed and committing’; Mike and Rawlinson went on to do the Weisshorn Schalligrat and the Cresta di Santa Caterina on Nordend. (Band and Roger Chorley had done the first British guideless ascent of the latter route earlier that same season.)

Mike was by this time employed as an agricultural statistician at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, for example analysing the effect of feeding penicillin to pigs. Returning from the Alps he had put in his Everest application as a long shot and some weeks later was delighted to receive an invitation for an interview at the RGS. Hunt was certainly impressed by the young man’s alpine record, but as an ex-Sapper, Mike had other valuable skills. He was given responsibility for structural equipment, notably the ladders needed for bridging crevasses. As kit was being tested on the approach march, Mike assembled one of the sectional ladders between two large boulders. Hunt noted ‘an alarming sag’ in the middle but Mike’s Sherpa assistants soon gained confidence as they crawled along it.

Mike joined Hillary, Band and others in forcing a route up the maze of the icefall. Grisly names like ‘Atom Bomb Area’ and ‘Mike’s Horror’ reflect the hazardous nature of the beast – the latter being an awkward crevasse negotiated by Mike in what Hunt praised as ‘a fine feat of icemanship’. Higher on the mountain he helped push the route and carry loads on the Lhotse Face, but was dogged by sickness and reluctantly had to retreat having reached a height of about 7000 m, just below Camp 6. He spent the succeeding days in the icefall, engaged on the risky task of keeping a route open as the ice continually shifted. However he was back up at the camp at the head of the Western Cwm when Hillary and Tenzing returned triumphant.

Handshakes over, Mike accompanied Times correspondent Jan (then James) Morris, down through the icefall in order to get the news back to London in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It was late in the day and, as Westmacott recalled for the BBC, ‘not the most sensible thing I’ve done from a mountaineering point of view. By the time we got to the bottom we were very tired indeed and it was getting dark.’ Morris had already noted how much the icefall had changed – ‘messier and crumblier than ever before...its ice bridges soggy and ominous. Michael Westmacott had been working inside this horrible place for 10 days... I have often thought of Westmacott since, immured there in the icefall, and marvelled at his tenacity.’2

Though few of the expedition members realised it at the time, the Everest experience shaped the rest of their lives. A dinner invitation to the young celebrity (though he would never have described himself as such) led to Mike’s courtship of Sally Seddon, then studying at the Royal College of Music, and a long and happy marriage; together they climbed together in the Alps, North America and throughout the UK, often with other Everest friends. Mike left Rothamsted to work for Shell as an economist. During a spell for the company in the USA, in 1964 he and Sally joined a lightweight expedition to an untouched range of granite peaks in northern Alaska, the Arrigetch, where they made eight first ascents. In 1956 he went to Peru with a party including George Band and made the first ascent of Huagaruncho (5748 m); and in 1968 he and Sally went to the Hindu Kush where with Hugh Thomlinson they made the first ascent of Wakhikah Rah (5681 m) – ‘three rock pinnacles on a beautifully sculptured snow ridge. It was one of the most beautiful summits I have known,’ he wrote3.

Most of Mike’s years with Shell were spent working in London and living in Stanmore. After his retirement in 1985 the couple moved to the Lake District, close to friends and the best rock climbing in England. Mike had joined the AC in 1952, served as honorary secretary from 1967 to 71, president from 1993 to 95 and rightly became an honorary member. He was similarly active in the affairs of the Climbers’ Club.

Mike’s most public legacy to mountaineering must be the development of the Himalayan Index, an initiative of the Alpine Club Library, the council of which he chaired from the early 1980s until 1993. Aided by a small team, he created a computer database that now lists more than 4000 peaks of above 6000 metres and their climbing histories – an invaluable resource to expedition planners and available on the internet. Mike’s labours on the Index led to him probably holding a record for the most nights spent in the AC bunkhouse. One of the few compensations I recall for a night in that cheerless basement was the pleasure of breakfast with Mike – and sometimes Sally too – in a café round the corner from Charlotte Road.

Mike died on 20 June 2012 after more than two years of debilitating illness. Next year will be 60th anniversary of the Everest and family and friends of the 1953 team will gather at an AC event at the Pen y Gwryd Hotel in Snowdonia, venue of many happy reunions. The absence of Mike Westmacott and George Band will be strongly felt, but there will be great lives to celebrate.


  1. AJ 98, Pp. 52-53
  2. Jan Morris, Coronation Everest (1958) 3. AJ 74, P.208
  3. AJ 74, P.208




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(1919 - 2012)

In late 1950, Maurice Herzog lay in the American hospital at Neuilly- sur-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris, dictating what would become the bestselling mountaineering book of all time, Annapurna, published the following year. The effort was emotionally exacting, as he revisited every twist and agonising turn of one of the most important Himalayan expeditions in the sport’s history – the first ascent of Annapurna, in central Nepal.

Maurice Herzog with a camera. (Marcel Ichac)

Maurice Herzog with a camera. (Marcel Ichac)

The personal cost of this triumph to Herzog, who has died aged 93, was horrific. In reaching the summit in the summer of 1950 with Louis Lachenal, Herzog’s hands and feet had been frozen, and doctors had amputated all his fingers and toes. He spent months in hospital recovering from his injuries, plunged in a deep depression. Writing his book was not only cathartic but also sealed his reputation as a dynamic and courageous leader, and helped restore self-respect to post-war France.

Telegram announcing the success of 1950 Annapurna expedition. (Courtesy: Hubert Odier)

Telegram announcing the success of 1950 Annapurna expedition. (Courtesy: Hubert Odier)

In 1958, Herzog became minister for youth and sport. After France’s poor showing in the Rome Olympics in 1960, he was charged by Charles de Gaulle with reinvigorating French sport and inspiring a new generation, something he did to great effect. He was elected mayor of Chamonix in 1968, and headed several enterprises, including the company running the tunnel under Mont Blanc. In a 1998 memoir, he recalled suggesting to John F Kennedy the idea of the Peace Corps and meeting the biggest names of his day, including Brigitte Bardot and Juan Perón.

He was born in Lyon, the eldest of eight children. His father, Robert, an alpinist himself, had served in the French Foreign Legion during the First World War. The family owned a chalet at the foot of the Bossons glacier that flows from Mont Blanc, which sparked Herzog’s passion for the mountains.

L to r: Lachenal, Houdot, Rebuffat, Herzog and Schatz. (Marcel Ichac)

L to r: Lachenal, Houdot, Rebuffat, Herzog and Schatz. (Marcel Ichac)

Herzog married Marie-Pierre de Cossé-Brissac in 1964. They had two children, Laurent and Felicité, and divorced in 1976. He had two more children, Sébastien and Mathias, with his second wife, Elisabeth Gamper, whom he married in 1976.

Maurice Herzog, mountaineer, born 15 January 1919; died 14 December 2012.

Courtesy: The Guardian



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(1950 - 2012)

Ryuji san had a deep interest in the Karakoram glaciers. Perhaps he was one of the rare persons who had traversed all the glaciers in the Karakoram, during trips spread over many years. During his several visits to the Karakoram, Purian Sar was climbed by him in 1975 and Sia Kangri in 1979. He crossed the Hispar glacier and Hispar pass in 1997, reached Karakoram pass in 2002 and in his last visit to the Karakoram he traversed the Batura glacier and crossed Chillinji pass. He went to K2 twice and his team members climbed the summit in 1977.

His major achievement was the traverse of five glaciers in 1979 when a Japanese expedition led by him climbed Sia Kangri from the Conway Saddle, descended its south face to the Siachen glacier. They trekked out via the Bilafond la. This was one of the last crossing of west to east in the Karakoram before the fierce Siachen war took over since 1984.

Ryuji Hayashibara. (Harish Kapadia)

Ryuji Hayashibara. (Harish Kapadia)

But Ryuji san was not to be deterred in completing his exploration- visiting the eastern-most glaciers in the Karakoram, namely the Rimo glacier. In 2002 he joined with the Indian-Japanese expedition led by Hiroshi Sakai and myself to complete his full explorations. In a long traverse we covered the trail along the Shyok river and then traversed the Rimo glaciers to reach Col Italia.

Ryuji san and myself separated here from the main expedition team and went off to explore the 6000 m high Teram Shehr Plateau, the first persons ever to do so. It was surrounded by high mountains. Two of us spent five days alone on the plateau, reached several high cols. Those were great days and though Ryuji san did not speak much English we could perfectly share the beauty of mountains.

A few years later when I visited Japan, he was kind enough to invite me to his home and introduce me to his wife. He lived in the mountains and ran a small restaurant which was frequented by climbers and tourists. The first floor of his lovely house was always open for friends and climbers to come and stay. We spent wonderful days walking in the woods. Ryuji san was a purist in a way – no television, laptop, internet or any modern gadgets for him. As I left Japan little did I realise that this was the last time we would be meeting. He passed away, rather suddenly on 22 October 2012 at the age of 62. I will miss a friend and purist.




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(1956 - 2012)

Roger Payne. (John Wigg)

Roger Payne. (John Wigg)

On Thursday 12 July 2012, at 05.30 in the morning an avalanche was released on Mont Maudit. Ten climbers were more or less uninjured, nine victims were air lifted to hospital and nine more perished under the snow and ice. Well-known mountaineer and a close associate of the Himalayan Club, Roger Payne who was guiding an attempt, lost his life and his death was a great shock to the mountaineering fraternity.

Roger Payne was well known across many branches of world climbing. He made first ascents of routes in the Alps and climbed there every year from 1977. He took part in more than 20 expeditions to high and difficult peaks across the Karakoram and Himalaya – from K2 to little-known mountains on the borders of Sikkim, and Sichuan in China – as well as North and South America.

He was a former president of the British Mountain Guides, an avalanche instructor and held coaching badges in a range of other outdoor sports. He also had a strong interest in the mountain environment, working on projects with the United Nations on climate change, and was involved in raising awareness about the conflict on the Siachen glacier.

Roger discovered climbing through the Scouts in Hammersmith, and soon headed to the hills in Scotland, which lead to rock climbing in England and Wales. His passion for the outdoors was matched with a passion for education, the subject of his degree, and he soon developed a career both as a teacher in the Northeast and as an instructor.

Roger’s expedition climbing experience was deep and broad. He went to Peru in 1986 – the first expedition he undertook with his partner, in life as well as the mountains, the New Zealand-born guide Julie-Ann Clyma. Among five peaks climbed, Roger made the first ascent of the South Face Direct of Rusac (ED+).

Over the next 25 years, Roger and Julie-Ann embarked on some of the most significant British expeditions of the last two decades, notably to the north face of Changabang in 1997 with a strong team that included Mick Fowler, Steve Sustad, Andy Cave and Brendan Murphy. He and Julie-Ann, who had tried the face the year before, made a strong attempt, following the successful efforts by the other two rope teams.

In 1993, he and Julie-Ann had been part of a team on K2 along with Victor Saunders, who helped in the rescue on Mont Maudit that morning, and Alan Hinkes. Typically, along with the climbing, the team had a commission from Eastern Electricity to install micro-hydroelectricity in two local villages.

In 2003, he and Julie-Ann made the first ascent of the north face of Mount Grovesnor in Sichuan Province, China, descending via the east ridge. It was perhaps the greatest highlight of his long career in Asia, but he had a great enthusiasm for exploration as well as technicality, becoming one of the leading experts on climbing in Sikkim.

In 1989, he was appointed National Officer at the BMC. It was a turbulent time for the BMC finances, but his dynamism and confident approach worked wonders and he revitalised his post and, later, the BMC as a whole. He became involved in the many new developments that were transforming climbing: from climbing walls and competitions to mountain tourism and technical and safety issues. He was also a champion of ski-mountaineering events and helped ice-climbing competitions become part of the UIAA. Six years later, he became general secretary of the BMC and he found his natural niche. Under his leadership, the BMC embarked on a period of strong growth in membership and reform. He also oversaw the launch of the BMC’s Summit magazine in 1996.

Roger left the BMC in December 2001 and in the following year, became the first sports and development director for the UIAA. In this capacity, he was part of a movement to strengthen mountaineering’s links with the Olympic movement and United Nations agencies as well as the World Conservation Union.

There were few areas of the mountaineering world Roger didn’t influence – and for the better. Yet the overriding impression he leaves is of an unwavering and infectious enthusiasm for the mountain life.

Wherever you were in the world – in an alpine hut, a film festival in the States or a committee meeting in Manchester, you were pleased to see him. He will be sorely missed.

(Courtesy British Mountaineering Council)


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