Aamir Ali was an international man in the true sense but one who kept his Indian roots firmly entrenched. He was from an illustrious Muslim Bohra family—Salim Ali the great ornithologist and Zafar Futehali, the naturalist were his first cousins. His father was liberal and almost an ‘Englishman’; Abide with Me and Onwards Christian Soldiers were played in this good Muslim home!
At age 94, staying at a Swiss old person facility for the last few years, he completed his last book just months before his death. The book There Comes a Time1, is now published and its brilliant prose recalls his life and events.
Aamir was born in Kobe, Japan, where his father lived and conducted his business. His initial schooling was at Mrs F. Walker’s school at Kobe. It was an English Mission School and Aamir, like all new entrants, received a copy of the Bible. The atmosphere was very English and Aamir quoted in 2018, a poem he learnt in 1925 at the school:
Two Dark clouds one summer day
Went flying through the sky
They went so fast they bumped their heads
And both began to cry.
He writes, ‘not bad, recalling after 93 years!’
At 23, he left for India and joined a Mumbai college, in his words, “to rub out Japanese in me”. Later, in 1935, he moved to the newly established Doon School, which became a major influence in his life. After completing studies, he was offered a job as a teacher at the school.
He was already introduced to trekking in hills near Mumbai by Rusi Gandhy, a family friend. Thus, he became a part of the Doon school climbing fraternity and made a trip to Ladakh with Gurdial Singh and later to climb virgin peak, Mrigthuni, with J.T.M. Gibson. He eventually left Doon School, or he was not-so-politely asked to leave, as he writes. Jobless, he headed for a few days to Kihim, his family bungalow near Mumbai. Almost at the last minute, his friend Hate came running to say his goodbyes. “Hate was my friend’s name; it is pronounced Ha-tay. Mind you, don’t get it wrong”.He gave him a paper cutting for a job. Aamir forgot all about it till the need to work became acute. He applied for the job and was called for an interview with the International Labour Organisation, which was part of the UN. Waiting for the result, he worked at a magazine and finally the call came, and he was sent to ILO’s Geneva office where he stayed all his life.
He writes about his work in international theatre, very different then, and his travel to many countries to study conditions of labour. He married a Swiss lady and settled in Geneva with his children.
I met Aamir around 1980s when we corresponded for his articles on Himalayan travels and views about the Alps and Himalaya. He became a frequent correspondent and contributor to the Journal. One of my favourite articles by him in the HJ was: ‘Ladakh 1980’.
Only one Himalaya to lose, said our President.2 Are we losing Ladakh to the tourists too? It was opened to tourists only a few years ago; an air service began in April 1979, I believe. We went there about three months later, and the plane was full of tourists, of the ruck-sack-and-jeans variety. For the next couple of days, we saw them again and again, going up and down the half-mile bazaar of Leh. What happens to a culture like that of Ladakh when it is suddenly subjected to a massive assault from the outside world? Is it the ‘fatal impact’ that Alan Moorehead called the coming of the Europeans to the South Pacific? And for Ladakh, this is the second wave. The first was when, after the Chinese foray, Indian military presence was reinforced. Now it is the tourists.
The old dilemma: protect Ladakh completely from outside influences as if it was a museum? Unacceptable. Allow free access to every tripper and carpetbagger? Surely not. Where is the golden mean?
(p. 113, Himalayan Journal, Vol. 37—‘Ladakh, 1980’)
Aamir Ali on Jerrycans
Here we had the first experience of sleeping in bunkers, on beds made of jerrycans. These crackled merrily every time you turned and dug you playfully in your back, sides and hips and other bony places. They were a good reminder that oil is paramount in all our lives today. The bunkers themselves were also made of jerrycans and sandbags and were as much underground as above, merging brownly into the dusty landscape. This was the typical accommodation for army units in this area and we gradually got used to it—partly, anyway.
In this article, he wrote about the journey by an army Jonga.
Jonga and Lobsang
Then there was the case of the reluctant jonga (jeep). Alas, the jonga had broken down. “Such a thing had never happened before. It would be repaired just as soon as possible. All the resources of the army were being diverted to this end. It wasn’t quite ready for an early morning start the next day but would be during the day. After all, it was Sunday”. Alas, it was more serious than one had thought. No possibility of an early start the following day either. Resigned to another day’s delay, we went off to improve the shining hour by exploring the bird life of a verdant side valley. A Ladakhi Scout came running up to say that, believe it or not, an alternative jonga was ready and we should leave immediately, but immediately. We galloped back, packed and piled in, all in record time. To make sure that heaven treated us right, we picked up Lama Lobsang, who was also going to Partapur. The Ladakhi Scouts provide Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim religious services for their men. Lama Lobsang, who had obviously taken no vow of silence, was on his way to provide these.
He regaled us with many merry tales of his experiences.
We laughed with Aamir on this and this pseudonym started to be used for some of our talkative friends. Until today, with anyone speaking too much, it remained our code word to say “careful, he is Lama Lobsang”. (Aamir added: “wives excluded”)!
He wrote several other articles for the Himalayan Journal including a series which summarized a bunch of the past Himalayan Journal articles. He participated in many Club activities and attended celebrations.
I was impressed by his writing and we met at Mumbai often, after all he was a Bombay boy. We discussed many subjects, but one important topic that always came up was the Siachen glacier, with its high-altitude war raging there since 1984. I had climbed on this war-torn glacier. and agreed for the need to try and propose ‘A Peace Park’ on the glacier to end the war and allow the region to grow. “War, garbage and death yes, but what about flora and fauna of the region that is being destroyed” said the naturalist in him.
In 1993 I went to London to lecture. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I travelled to Geneva and there he was, my host Aamir standing on the platform. He gave me a tour of the city and took me to the UN Headquarters where he worked. Opening a door to a large conference room I saw two delegations seated across each other immersed in discussions. “They are talking about conflict between their countries and know that nothing is going to come out of the discussions today or in near future. But the UN gives them a chance to meet and express their views. This helps to ease the tension”. He organized a lecture by me on the Siachen glacier at the hallowed room in the UN. After the lecture it was a tradition to invite the audience for lunch (at their expense!) and almost half the audience joined. Lunch was always at the nearby railway station canteen – the only place large enough and available without prior reservation. He had invited many persons who in his opinion I would love to meet, including Trevor Braham, Andre Roch, and Raymond Lambert amongst others. I was truly honoured and touched
We drove to the Alps for a day trip and visited his home to meet his charming wife. All along he discussed the proposal for establishing a Peace Park on the Siachen. He wrote a formal note titled ‘The Siachen Peace Park’, suggested methodology based on rules of IUCN, also located at Geneva. Thus began his major mission in the later part of his life. I was happy to collaborate and joined him in lecturing about it in many parts of the world, when invited. Soon the idea was known all around and to most officers of the Indian Army. But the decisions were to be made by politicians and secretaries.
With prior appointment I went to meet a high-ranking Government of India secretary at Delhi. He heard me out but declined to do anything, suggesting that I approach the Supreme Court to appeal for stopping the environment damage. As I was about to leave, he pointedly asked me; “Why are Aamir Ali and Zafar Futehali, two Muslims, interested in sensitive issues like the Siachen, involving the Pakistan army?” I was aghast and explained to him that Aamir was posted in the UN. But despite living most of his life abroad, he had proudly retained his Indian passport. When I wrote of this event to Aamir, he ignored the hateful comments and simply replied with a couplet by Thomas Moore’s Truth:
Shall I ask the soldier who fights by my side
In the cause of mankind, if our creeds agree?
Should I give up a friend I have valued and tried
If he kneel not before the same altar as me?3
Another aspect of his life was that he was a prolific author. He even produced a detective novel amongst several serious articles and papers! And he was expert on works of William Shakespeare. He spoke about the Bard at colleges, gatherings and had a group which met till his death, discussing his work. He was a great speaker too—I heard him speak on many subjects. A born optimist, trivial matters did not bother him. When the Siachen Peace Park idea was rejected after talks with the US State Department, he simply said: “Remember night is darkest before the dawn. Dawn will come”. And he was sage-like in his advice. When I was receiving mountain awards, he advised me “do not become blasé about awards and savour the recognition” We met often, when he was on his yearly holiday to Mumbai and on my other two visits to Geneva; walking around the lake, eating fondue and meeting mountaineers. After the death of his wife he moved to an old age home and we kept in contact by e-mail, which he typed slowly but always replied. In one of his last mail he wrote: “I hope we meet”. Alas, that was not to be. A letter arrived from his son, Rafi, announcing Aamir’s passing away. He wrote, “Aamir was ready to go and I hope you and others will remember the good times”.
His one wish was fulfilled substantially but not fully. Though a cease fire was declared on the Siachen glacier ending the actual fighting, his idea of establishing a Siachen Peace Park remains unfulfilled. But optimist as Aamir was, he concludes his book with sentence:
In our lifetime, or in that of our descendants, it will come.
The roses will bloom again. (on Siachen).
As he usually ended his letters: Salaams, Aamirbhai.
Andy Nisbet was one of few mountaineers who attained the status of ‘living legend’. He was the most prolific pioneer in Scottish climbing history and left his mark in the Himalaya with several notable first ascents. With his bright ginger beard Andy was a distinctive, loveable and eccentric character possessed of unfailing courtesy and good humour. Every mountain day was made more memorable and enjoyable by his company.
Born in Aberdeen, Andy had completed the Munros, the ascent of all 282 three thousand foot mountains in Scotland at the age of 19. Once introduced to roped climbing he quickly developed a particular passion for winter climbing in the Cairngorms. He made several ground- breaking first ascents on steep faces that had hitherto been regarded as impossible when plastered in snow, applying new techniques of axe torqueing in cracks and ‘tufting’ on small clumps of frozen vegetation. Andy oversaw the evolution of this style of mixed climbing into the modern era and the techniques that he nurtured spread around the world and have been taken to extreme levels by today’s climbers. He seemed impervious to cold and undaunted by the suffering endured on ascents which often took the whole of a day and night.
He first went to the Himalaya with Mal Duff in 1981 to attempt the futuristic west ridge of Nuptse and was a member of the Scottish Everest expedition of 1985, reaching 7500 m on the unclimbed ENE Ridge where Boardman and Tasker had perished three years previously. Andy recalled digging a snow cave at his high point to provide lodging for the next pair of lead climbers. “It was so exhausting I couldn’t do anything more for the rest of the trip.”
From an early career as a research biochemist, Andy became a full-time climber and found instructing and guiding work the ideal way to fund his winter activism. He was the most charismatic and engaging mountain guide, and could enthuse novices and experts alike. Clients would walk ten miles in a storm for Andy while other instructors would struggle to get them out of the car. On most days there was a new route to be climbed, and most were of modest grade. This didn’t worry Andy. The adventure and sense of the unknown mattered more than pure difficulty. He left a legacy of hundreds of classic new routes to be enjoyed in secret pockets all over the Scottish mountains.
In 1995 I recruited Andy as one of our guides on the first ascent of the South Face of 6861 m Nanda Kot in Kumaun, a beautiful trapezoidal face visible from every hill station in the region. At 6700 m with his companions flagging, he popped a couple of Diamox pills and set off in front, post-holing a trail in knee-deep snow for 150 m to the top. When he got the bit between his teeth Andy took some stopping!
Next year he was back with a large guided team to attempt Nanda Ghunti. The team reached Bedni Buggyal while the annual shepherds’ fair was in progress. On spotting Andy’s magnificent red beard the organizers invited this Scottish ‘Braveheart’ to be guest of honour, presiding over the volleyball competition and presenting the prizes. The spectacle lasted five hours but Andy took it all with grace and good humour.
In 2000 he was back in India to make the 1st ascent of the West Ridge of 6596m Nilkanth, now the classic way up the mountain. For the final assault he brought a Goretex tent reeking of mildew that had last seen service on Everest 15 years previously. Those of us who bivouacked outside got the better deal on that climb. Again, Andy forged the route up the final ridge leading his client to within three metres of the top where a knife-edge ridge stopped them. We followed in his wake but found a devious traverse to avoid the arete and reach the true summit.
Andy was generous in spirit but notoriously frugal, as befits the Aberdonian tradition. On a visit to Agra at the end of the trip he was waylaid by a posse of flash salesmen in an inlaid marble showroom. Faced with a starting pitch of $3000 for a coffee table Andy withstood all pressure and slowly ground them down. He left after an hour with a single $6 drinks mat.
A year later he went back to Nanda Ghunti, obsessed with the idea of making a first ascent up the south face. A first attempt was thwarted by a thunderstorm just 150 m below the summit. The rest of us gave up at that point and went round to the north side to ascend the easier north ridge, but Andy was not to be denied. Commandeering the most gullible client, he went back in true lightweight style with just a single 15 m length of rope and completed the climb.
Chronic injuries and significant accidents slowed him down in later years. In 2003 he broke his femur in a fall while ice climbing in Torridon. He spent 14 hours standing on one leg through a bitterly cold night before a rescue arrived. His wife Gill was a regular trek leader in Nepal and India. She died of cancer in 2006. Through these setbacks Andy soldiered on, doing the only thing he knew. One winter he completed a remarkable tally of 60 new routes in a single season and was miffed when he was called to hospital for a long-awaited hernia operation. This prevented him matching the tally to his age – I think he was then 62 years old!
Later trips to the Himalaya were more relaxed in nature. He climbed a few new peaks in Himachal and Zanskar in 2011, 2013 and 2015, but the summits became less important than the pleasure of just being among friends in the mountains. Among those friends he counted all his regular Indian staff and companions. The old zeal had mellowed, and on a visit to Adi Kailash in eastern Kumaun in 2014 he stayed in camp while the summit was climbed. “This might be my last trip, you know.” he said to me at the time.
Andy died with his companion, Steve Perry, following a fall at the top of a new winter climb on Ben Hope, Scotland’s most northerly mountain – just the sort of place on the edge of the world that had inspired and entranced Andy all his life.
In his outlook towards mountains my friend Ernst was a traditionalist. With a love of every aspect of the world’s high places, he was a peaks, passes and glaciers man, as happy when crossing a grassy alp in search of an elusive flower, as he was when plodding up the final snow slope to a 4000 metre summit.
He made no first ascents but was content to follow established routes; the majority of his climbs in the Alps were guideless, and he often claimed that his ascent of Piz Badile’s north ridge was the slowest on record. Not that it mattered, of course; it was being among the mountains that counted. Sadly I never saw him in his physical prime, nor did we ever share a rope, but to spend a day in his company discussing mountains (or any other of his passions) was one of life’s joys, and he retained a boyish enthusiasm for them well into late old age.
At 7.45 a.m. one Tuesday morning in 1993 he called me. He’d arrived home late the night before from a plant-hunting trip to Bhutan and couldn’t wait to tell me about it. He was seventy years old, but could have been a teenager desperate to share his news.
‘You’ve got to go there,’ he urged. ‘Every day I’d think – Kev would love this; he must come and see for himself!’
‘I’d love to,’ I told him, ‘but Bhutan’s beyond my pocket.’
‘I’ll pay!’ he said. And he meant it, for he was the most generous of friends. I declined his offer, of course, and it was another ten years or so before I finally made it to that Himalayan Shangri La – and then I received a fee for leading a group there. But I never forgot his excitement that Tuesday morning, or the hours we later spent drooling over the hundreds of photographs he took of the plants, gompas and dzongs that had so fired his enthusiasm.
Ernst Sondheimer was something of a polymath, a man of high intellect and broad interests; knowledgeable about everything from the art of Emil Nolde to classical German literature via bridge, opera and the Himalayan plant hunters. Widely read, his bookshelves groaned beneath heavyweight biographies, scientific tomes, books on art and exploration, collections of poetry – and a splendid library of mountaineering books too. Beyond the cerebral he was gentle, generous and modestly wise; a man who grabbed life with both hands, whose presence could light a room, and who had the ability to relate to anyone, no matter what their background, education, culture or creed. One of his unique gifts was to treat everyone as his equal; without patronizing in any way he was able to raise others to his level. Being with him was to grow.
Ernst Helmut Sondheimer was born into a comfortable middle class Jewish family in Stuttgart, Germany in September 1923, where his father ran the family glue factory founded in Oberdorf by his paternal grandfather. The family were not observant Jews, but the rise of fascism and interrogation by the gestapo in 1935, led to their fleeing to England two years later.
Although he had no English when he first arrived as a refugee, Ernst learned quickly and went up to Cambridge in 1941, intending to study chemistry. However the director of studies told him the country needed physicists, so he changed course and after passing his final exams in December 1943, was taken on by John Rendall to work in a reserved occupation, before returning to his studies in theoretical physics.
Thankful that he and his family had escaped the horrors of Auschwitz, after the war Ernst became naturalized as a British citizen, taking an oath of allegiance to George VI. “If you have had good fortune such as mine you must be grateful”, he said. “Being British means a lot to me, more than if I had just happened to be born into it.”
It was during his time at Cambridge that he met Janet Matthews across the bridge table. The Anglican niece of the Bishop of Truro, Janet was a Fellow of Girton College where she’d gained her PhD in history. She and Ernst married in 1950, spent their honeymoon in the Dolomites, raised two children and continued to play bridge together until Janet died in 2007.
The newly married Ernst was offered a lectureship at Imperial College in 1951, and then became a reader in applied mathematics at Queen Mary College before accepting the post of professor of mathematics at Westfield College in 1960. And there he stayed for more than twenty years. By his own admission he enjoyed teaching more than research and maintained contact with former colleagues and some of his students long after taking retirement in 1982.
His love of mountains had taken root on pre-war family ski holidays in the Black Forest and the Jura, and was revived during his Dolomite honeymoon when his enthusiasm for the Alps really took off. It led to ascents of such peaks as the Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa (when he made the classic error of stabbing himself in the calf with one of his crampons), the Weissmies, Zermatt Breithorn and Nadelhorn, a failed attempt on the Zinalrothorn, but successes on Piz Cengalo and Badile (twice), the graceful Monte Disgrazia and two routes on Piz Bernina—the Spallagrat and Biancograt – as well as such lesser-known peaks as the Rheinwaldhorn and Piz Terri.
As you can see, his climbing was not restricted to the honeypot areas, for he found equal pleasure among lesser-known mountains. He also climbed in Norway, added Kilimanjaro to his list, went to the Atlas Mountains and Corsica with Hamish Brown’s parties, fell in love with Skye and claimed the Inaccessible Pinnacle as his first Munro.
Once a year throughout much of the seventies and eighties he would meet with two Swiss friends to spend a week either climbing or simply wandering the Alps together. They’d met by chance at the lovely old Val Bavona village of Foroglio in Ticino, and their friendship was instant and long-lasting. Fabian was a monk, Richard a banker; three quietly modest gentle men who would walk and talk and enjoy every aspect of the mountains in an orderly fashion.
Ernst was elected to the Alpine Club in 1974, became a committee member ten years later, and from 1987–1992 edited the Alpine Journal. Thanks to his editorship, his net of contacts was cast ever wider, which was a great boon to me when researching a variety of writing projects. Through him a number of mutual friendships developed. Did I need information about the Carpathians or Caucasus? Ernst knew just the man. Norway? Ditto. The Julian Alps? Ernst had a friend in Ljubljana… He’d pick up the telephone or send a note abroad, and back would come a response, for everyone wanted to help him. He was everyone’s friend. And his knowledge of mountains worldwide grew, especially the Alps which he knew so well from the numerous journeys he’d made among them.
Ever inquisitive about the wider world, he loved to travel, and for a year or two after Janet died it seemed he was barely at home. He rode the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostock, visited South Africa and Italy, and went to Spitzbergen and Greenland.
Some years earlier he had bought a copy of John Cleare’s Trekking – Great Walks of the World in which Colin Monteath contributed a chapter on New Zealand’s Routeburn Track. That was it; his appetite was whetted. So Ernst being Ernst he flew to New Zealand, spent four days walking the route in the Southern Alps northwest of Queenstown, then flew home again. He was gone for just over a week.
Surprisingly he didn’t visit the Himalaya until his climbing days were over, and it was his newly-developed passion for alpine flowers that gave him the spur. He explained this in an article he wrote for the 1997 Himalayan Journal: ‘As my climbing powers, such as they were, diminish with advancing age, my interests have turned more and more to the mountain flora.’ So he became a member of the Alpine Garden Society, and with expert help and advice, created a splendid alpine garden on the steep terraces behind his house in Highgate which attracted visitors from as far away as Japan and Sweden.
This interest in alpine flowers was evident in some of the pictures that adorned the walls of his home; some were prints of photographs he’d taken himself, others were delightful water colour illustrations created by his friend Anne Chambers.
Combined with his love of mountains, his passion for alpines led to his joining plant-hunting parties to the Spanish Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa. He went to Ireland and Croatia; and my wife and I once accompanied him to Madeira – but most notable were his visits to the mountains of Bhutan in 1993 and twice to southeast Tibet – Namche Barwa in the late spring of 1996 and the remote and now forbidden Tsari region three years later.
His attraction to the Namcha Barwa region was due to his reading plant hunter Frank Kingdon-Ward’s The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges, and at the age of 72 found himself crossing the Doshong la in foul weather and was excited to discover the fabled ‘daffodil primula’ that is endemic there. Once over the pass the rain was relentless, but such was the party’s devotion to their task that they continued to botanize regardless. Meanwhile a lot of fresh snow had fallen on the pass when it was time to return, and had it not been for the assistance of his young Tibetan guide, Ernst doubted he would have made it. “I still wonder,” he wrote some time later, “what would have happened to me if I got stuck down there on the far side – we had no permission to travel further south, and no provisions either.”
Such concerns soon fade from memory and in 1999 (now 75 years old) he returned to Tibet where he fell in love with the rich flora of Tsari. The Tsari valley lies close to the Indian border, and being a politically sensitive area, permission to go there was not easy to obtain. Once in Tibet, however, a series of 5000 m passes had to be crossed in order to reach what Ernst referred to as “the promised land, with its streams, flowers, forests [all] framed by mountains – a beautiful place indeed.”
After four nights the party set out for the Bimbi la where they discovered countless alpine gems before descending through hillsides ablaze with yellow and pink rhododendrons, followed by a walk alongside the Bimbi chu where they found clumps of a beautiful blue member of the buttercup family growing among cliffs close to the track.
It was his Himalayan swan song, and writing about it later in the 2006 Himalayan Journal, his sense of wonder and delight shone through. He wrote of Tsari’s “incredible beauty, its gentle, friendly people, the religion which shows no signs of being exterminated and—of course—what we had really come for, the wonderful plants, alpines, rhododendrons and the rest. Those primula meadows below the Bimbi la – can there be anything more beautiful on our planet?”
These are the words of a true enthusiast; a man who lived life at full pitch; a man who loved the wild places in all their rich diversity. And they echo his first editorial for the AJ all those years ago:
“Whilst men and women are preoccupied with their puny doings, the hills remain, in their infinite variety and the richness of their offering – if we let them speak to us with humility and a receptive heart.” Ernst Sondheimer did just that.
Ernst Helmut Sondheimer died peacefully on 9 June 2019 at the London home in which he’d lived for over sixty years. He is survived by a son and daughter, three grandchildren and one great grand-daughter.
This is an abridged version of the obituary written for the Alpine
Journal, and is reproduced with the consent of the AJ.
Born in England’s North Tyneside, an area devoid of any significant hills, Martin Moran developed a taste for the outdoors through his childhood love of maps. It was the first indication of the interests that would go on to drive an extraordinary life – one of discovery, adventure and a love of exploring the unknown.
After graduating from Cambridge University in geography, Martin followed his father’s footsteps into accountancy, basing himself in Sheffield with his wife Joy. But it was a stormy ascent of the legendary North Face of the Eiger in 1981 that would prove to be the turning point in Martin’s life, with the realization that he wanted to become a mountain guide. Once qualified, Martin and Joy opted to start their business Moran Mountain, based out of Loch Carron on the west coast of Scotland, far from the traditional guiding centres of Fort William and the Cairngorms. It was typical of the innovation that would become a hallmark of their approach to guiding.
In the winter of 1984–85, Joy and Martin proved that they were as effective a partnership in the mountains as they were in business, when they completed the first continuous ascent of all the Scottish Munros (mountains over 900 m) in winter. A formidable journey over 277 summits in 83 days. On his home terrain, particularly during the cold and wet winters typical of Scotland, Moran soon established himself as a forceful and imaginative pioneer, establishing dozens of major new routes. Some of Martin’s additions such as Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears on Beinn Eighe broke new standards in terms of technical terrain, others such as The Godfather on Beinn Bhan opened up whole new cliffs, whilst routes such as the 2800 m Rheingold, also on Beinn Bhan, had an Alpine or even Himalayan stature.
Big adventures were a consistent motivator throughout Martin’s life with a predilection for long self supported efforts on seemingly insurmountable challenges. In the Alps for example Martin, together with Simon Jenkins, made the first self-propelled traverse of all the 4000 m peaks over 52 days in 1993. Martin summed up his approach to the mountains in his Alpine Journal account of their effort, “..the journey rekindled the fire of true Alpinism as perhaps it was practised in the days of Winthrop Young, Knubel and their contemporaries.
By following their steps in all weathers and conditions we largely escaped the crowds and discarded the regimentation and commercialism which has crept into modern Alpine mountaineering (AJ 1994)”. One shouldn’t mistake this connection with previous pioneers as those of someone stuck in the past, as demonstrated by Martin’s speed record of the 11 km long Cuillin ridge in a mere three hours and 33 minutes, which brought modern speed alpinism to Scotland.
The Himalaya was perhaps the domain where Martin’s imagination could really roam. In all he led over 40 exploratory climbs and treks often offering his clients the chance to share in the first ascent experience he loved so much. At times those trips pushed the boundaries of high altitude guiding. His 2005 expedition to Kamet (7756 m), for example, saw his team battle to within 100 m of the summit before Martin guided his clients back down to safety. Martin had a deep love of India’s mountains and in particular ‘pioneer trips’ to less explored corners of the Himalaya. He visited the Adi Kailash range in eastern Kumaun on four occasions, coming away with several first ascents including Cheepaydang (The Peacock Peak) (6220 m) and Ishan Parvat (6100 m). The Gangotri, the Garhwal and Zanskar were other areas of significant interest to Martin but it was perhaps the mountains in and around the Nanda Devi sanctuary that drew him most. The first ascent of Changuch (6322 m) with an Indo-British team, the first ascent of the south face of Nanda Kot (6861 m) and the third ascent of Panwali Dwar (6663 m) via the south east ridge were all notable lightweight expeditions but it was perhaps the second crossing of the Garhwal Himalayan watershed between Badrinath and Kedarnath that was Martin’s finest effort. First achieved by Eric Shipton, Bill Tilman and three Sherpas in 1934 this formidable journey from deep bamboo jungle over 5486 m high mountain passes had achieved almost mythical status after several failed and at times tragic attempts at a repeat. Martin’s team of 10 included John Shipton, Eric’s son and were successful in not only retracing the original route, but climbing a virgin 5758 m peak which they named Shipton’s Peak, as well as forging a more direct finish to their crossing.
As well as his personal climbing and guiding, Martin was an active member of his local Torridon Mountain Rescue Team for many years. Notable was the team’s rescue of Andy Nisbet following a long fall ice climbing. Nisbet had spent 12 hours standing on a tiny ledge with a broken femur in sub zero conditions, before an all night effort by a team of twenty led by Martin managed to pluck him to safety. Martin’s account of the rescue reads like a modern epic and was included in the last of the five books Martin wrote about his adventures. His writing had a refreshingly uncomplicated style that conveyed both Martin’s enthusiasm and modesty in a highly readable manner. His books The Munros in Winter and Scotland’s Winter Mountains are recognized as the classic texts on their subjects.
Remarkably as he entered his sixties Martin showed no sign of slowing down. At home inspired by new generations of Scottish winter climbers, he trained with renewed vigour and managed to raise his standards to the cutting edge grade of IX, matching the levels of climbing partners half his age. In the Himalaya his explorations continued apace, and in 2016, together with long term partner Ian Dring he made perhaps his most technically challenging route in the big mountains, with the first ascent of the north spur of Marakula Killa (5755m) in the Miyar valley. The route, named Crocodile Rock, involving 1300 m of challenging rock climbing up to VI+ climbed over six days, was the archetypal Moran climb— challenging and technical up a beautiful feature in an overlooked corner of a great mountain range.
Martin is survived by his wife Joy, their son Alex and their daughter Hazel.
January 2016. Lochcarron, North-west Scotland, UK.
A confident, clean-shaven, youthful looking man entered the room and welcomed me warmly.
“Hi Dave. Thanks for coming to work for Moran Mountain” Martin Moran was one of Britain’s foremost mountaineers and most experienced Mountain Guides. I’d heard the stories (how could you not?) but stood before me was the man himself, in the flesh. It is easy to build up people in your mind based on what you hear about them, folklore in the case of Martin. Through experience I have learnt this to be a dangerous practice ofter wide of the mark and especially so, the more their reputation precedes them.
“I’m not long back from a solo, winter traverse of the Cuillin Ridge. The conditions had been good up to a point, but then the mist came down and I couldn’t see a thing. I’ve done either forty-four or forty- five summer traverses of the ridge, but up there today at points I couldn’t make out a thing. I was looking around for rocks I might recognise, my glasses all frozen up” Martin laughs light-heartedly looking back at his predicament in retrospect, as is often the way in mountaineering. Christ. Forty-odd Cuillin traverses. Makes my singular summer traverse seem trivial. Maybe all the stories are true?
Martin continued to talk full-bore and with born again enthusiasm about the Scottish mountains and the climbing conditions the North West were experiencing at the time. I was new to all this outdoor work having only recently officially joined the BMG training and assessment scheme. Indeed this was to be my first ever, paid outdoor work. Did Martin know my lack of experience?Should I have told him? Over time I grew to learn about Martin’s willingness to ‘bring in’ the next generation of Guides, a practice that suited not only the many dozens of aspiring British Mountain Guides Martin had helped along the way, but also benefited Moran Mountain with a seemingly endless supply of young, fit and overly helpful Guides, all keen to make their mark and eager to guide on one of Moran’s adventurous itineraries.
Working for Martin in the particularly wild NW of Scotland was something of a right of passage for many a British Guide. Prospective Guides looking for acceptance on to the BMG scheme begin by amassing huge amounts of experience in mountaineering, climbing and skiing before being signed-off to start the training and assessment process. The UK elements of the scheme are gradual and progressive beginning in summer in Wales, before heading north for what many see as the crux of the whole process, the Scottish Winter test. To this day the climbing and guiding I have done in the NW of Scotland is still undoubtedly some of the best I have ever done. The wild terrain, beautiful mountains and incredible selection of routes, no wonder Martin and Joy Moran (Martin’s wife) chose to base themselves here.
There were very few ‘easy’ days working for Moran Mountain in Scotland. The area is wild and generally quite inaccessible necessitating big walk-ins off the back of early starts and late finishes. This did however mean it was rare to see many (if any) other folks on the hills and we often had the crags to ourselves. Miles and miles of Torridonian monoliths, as far as the sea.
Martin saw these points as key to his business model, ever keen to get away from the crowds and an easy sell to clients looking for something special. Martin built and demanded something extra from both his Guides and clients and was never happier than when groups came back off the hill having had to put in a ‘little extra’ (often a few savage extra hours descending safely off the hill in appalling weather). His eyes would light up at such information. Mission, Achieved!
He would only ever give you just enough information (never all the pieces of the jigsaw), to go off and have a total adventure. Information is key and Martin was always keen to keep the uncertain element of any outdoor forays. This was Martin’s nature through and through, always looking to give folks the ‘full’ experience and nothing less. If you just wanted to ‘tick’ the box, this was not the course or the place for you…
I remember back in my first season working for Martin as a Trainee, out guiding the classic Forcan Ridge in Glen Shiel. I was running a ‘Winter Mountaineer’ course. Unlike most run of the mill generic type mountaineering courses Martin’s featured a steeper learning curve than most, taking on challenging traverses and the option of a night out snow-holing to able teams in good conditions.
All the elements came together that week and the last couple of days saw me guiding a team of three along the Forcan Ridge to a snow hole on the saddle, just down from the summit.
As previously mentioned Martin was keen to maximise the adventure at all times and having three on a rope on a fairly involving ridge traverse complete with big packs and an as yet unknown doss for the night made for quite the day out. Couple this with my relative inexperience as a Trainee Guide and the full team were on for some good learning. At one point the lead client (let’s call him Jim, mainly because I think that was his name) completely blew his footing and dived head-first off the ridge…! Much to my delight (and everyone else’s) my rope system worked perfectly and we continued our traverse to the summit.
Even with this very enthusiastic team we spent many hours digging our snow hole for the night before settling in. I remember this foray being a high point of the week for one in particular. He lived and worked the city life in London and I’m not sure he had even been camping before. He was able and keen, happy to dedicate the time and the long drive north to overall adventure, a prime Moran Mountain client.
It was clear the week (and in particular the snow-holing) was one of the best things he had ever done. He enthused about it and we finished off the week with a full traverse of Liathach in fantastic blue- sky, spring conditions. Along with Martin’s guidance I had taken the group from relative newbies to experienced novices and we had all learnt and experienced so much along the way. What an introduction to Scottish winter mountaineering! I could only imagine the stories he would regale when back in the city.
Martin also gave me the chance to guide further afield in Norway and the India Himalaya. In particular the trips I undertook to India struck a chord with me and now four trips later I can safely say (again) it is some of the best guiding I have ever done and one trip in particular quite simply the best thing I have ever done.
‘I am organizing a personal climbing trip to India and there is the possibility of some others coming along. We are heading to the Miyar Valley area in Himachal Pradesh to attempt an unclimbed ridge line. There is plenty of scope for adventure and new routes in the area’ read the email.
I spoke with my climbing partner John Crook (a friend and fellow Aspirant Guide at the time) and debated what to do. We had not long returned from a trip to Alaska which had been one of the warmest and snowiest on record. On this trip pretty much all we had done was dig the tents out and fight for lives, but now this potential offer to join Martin and co on what would be our first trip to the Himalaya was too good to turn down. We replied to Martin eagerly and although there had been interest from much more accomplished alpinists to join the trip he saw our keenness and potential and signed us up. And so it began.
Over the next several months building up to and then on the trip itself, what an education in expedition planning and execution we had. It was like we were being schooled by the grand master himself. Arriving in Delhi it was clear Martin was in his element. Here was a man that had done over 35 trips to India and it showed. Indian cultures and customs, history, Gods, geography, regional conditions, travel and just about anything else, Martin understood it and the way it worked in this bizarre country. Upon entering mine and John’s room the morning after arriving in Delhi Martin preceded to tell us all about the ‘new’ mosquito-borne virus that was doing the rounds and the need to keep covered-up.
‘Can we borrow your mosquito spray?’
It was a good job as me and John on our first trip literally did not have a clue! 2000 Rupees is how much?
Martin had given us some objectives (along with everything else we needed) including beta on the biggest peak in the area, which was still unclimbed. We were lucky that (unlike our recent trip to Alaska) we hit great weather and conditions and all the remaining pieces fell into place to climb two new routes on two new summits, without doubt the highlight of my life so far. Essentially Martin saw something in us and gave us the golden ticket. Hitting lucky with conditions and weather on this trip all we had to do was cash it in. It was that simple. After our time up at high camp we returned to Base Camp and were all reunited to share stories of our successful forays into the hills. All three teams had successfully summited our peaks on 1st October. Martin could see how obsessed both me and John had been with our ‘A” plan and had stated calling it ‘The Eye of Sauron’, such was the fix it had on us. I’ll never forget.
On another trip to India to the Kalapani Glacier a couple of years ago I was working with Martin and was storm-bound at 5200m at our advanced base camp along with 7 clients. We had a selection of tents and I was in a small, two-person Rab bivy tent on the end of our row of tents, cut into the snow. It was the sort of night with regular alarms to remind us to get up and dig the camp out. The morning dawned clear and we all came out to have a look at what greeted us. I was met by Joe (one of the clients) who was wide-eyed and eager to share.
‘I woke up to a funny tinkling noise last night in the storm. I looked over and saw Martin in the porch. He was having a wee into our pan. Then he opened the door, threw it out, scooped up some snow and put a brew on’
Completely normal expedition behaviour to Martin but clearly a memorable moment for Joe! We went on to climb four virgin summits as a team and descend safely back down to civilisation.
I remember last autumn when planning our Nanda Devi East expedition we kept on coming up against Indian bureaucracy and uncertainty as is so often the way in such things. Our agent, Mr Pandey (of Himalayan Run and Trek, Delhi), was doing a fine job sifting through all the necessary paperwork and chasing all the correct channels but at one stage the process was looking increasingly unlikely and with a substantial financial outlay with no guarantee of a permit. I asked Martin what he thought. His answer was simple and unequivocal, ‘You have to go for it, just go and there will be a way’. This uneviquival, adventurous and raw attitude summarised Martin, time and time again. We went for it and the gamble paid off. We got our wish and our permit and headed to Nanda Devi East. Here we experienced appalling snow conditions, frost-nip and a lot of sitting in tents. When we weren’t sitting in them we were digging them out. After two months I headed back to the UK. All Martin could say was ‘it is all part of the learning curve’ Be careful what you wish for…
After many years on the guides scheme I finally received my full IFMGA carnet at the annual BMG AGM last year. As luck would have it that year was held in Kendal (my home town). Due to a couple of reasons it was at one stage looking like I might not attend. I had mentioned this to Martin who came straight back via email to say I should go and that it would be great to see me get my pin. I’m so glad I went now.
I only knew Martin for maybe three or four years but looking back over that period he had without doubt the single biggest influence on my life during that time. Who will I be able to quiz now about conditions and objectives in India? Who will tell me what is in condition to climb around the NW and where the best bum-sliding descents are? Before Martin and Mark Thomas left for their last trip I had spoken with Mark about looking to return to Nanda Devi East to have another attempt on the NE Ridge. The only two teams to have ever tried it were Mark and Martin in 2015 and myself and John last year. It’s a mega line and we were both feeling keen for a rematch. As to how I feel about it now I’m just not sure. Maybe in time it will become clear, or maybe it won’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe there are plenty of other things to climb in life, or indeed other things to do.
When the news was coming out and it was starting to look like the unthinkable had happened a friend messaged me saying just how sorry he was as he knew what an influence Martin had had on me. He signed off with ‘Keep his spirit alive’. I intend to do this and will never forget our times together, my fortunate progress under his wing or the man himself. A fair few glasses have been raised over the last week or two, within the guiding world and a personal one at that. Martin often spoke about the fine line between the two; the do’s and don’t if you like. It was a fine line indeed, for such a man as Martin.
I’ve now lost quite a lot of friends and colleagues in the mountains. Martin and the other seven victims aren’t the first and unfortunately they won’t be the last. When I think about the mountains and the risks involved in all honestly I’m not sure if I would continue adventuring in them if the risk was nil and void. I’m just not sure I’d see the point. It’s a serious game and I like it as such. I’ve never really seen myself as tennis or track type guy, just doesn’t seem to cut the mustard. The mountain gives and the mountain takes, it’s as simple as that for me.
This post is mainly about Martin with who I had close contact but my friend Chetan Pandey was also taken. Chetan was an Indian national and had been with us for three out of four Indian trips and was a total legend. Never an angry word, a raised voice and always with a smile, no matter what he was doing, he ALWAYS had that smile! I remember carrying loads with Chetan on our first trip several years ago. Me and John had just finished our summer alpine training on the guide scheme and were more conscious than we had ever been on looking after folks in the outdoors. Martin had drummed it into us too; that the porters and the assistants on the mountain were our responsibility and to do our part for their well-being. We were carrying big packs and the weather came in, whilst crossing the moraine from hell. We were both trying to look after Chetan but he clearly didn’t need it. A fine example for me when I am out with clients in adverse weather.
This post has taken me an age to write and now in re-reading it I fear I might not have done it justice. I feel like I have been waiting for the perfect words, unaware there aren’t any. I have had countless conversations with colleagues and friends over the last couple of weeks and there is so much more to be said. I myself am absolutely gutted. It’s not a contest or question of time served front-line or other, but a huge feeling of loss for myself and many others that surrounded him. In my case the loss of a mentor (a pivotal one at that), colleague and friend. This tragedy has affected many and it is hard to imagine he is gone. Truth be told it hurts. I will continue to guide in his spirit both on the hill and in life in general.
My sincerest thoughts go out to Joy, Hazel and Alex Moran. Also to Mansi Chetan, C.S. Pandey and all the staff at Himalayan Run and Trek (HRT) and all the family and friends of the other victims involved in this tragedy. You will never be forgotten.
Take care out there boys and girls, it’s a dangerous world.
(We are grateful to Dave for sharing his blog post with us—Ed)
(1936 – 2018)
Most of the events in the life of Susan George Band revolved around her husband. George Band was a leading mountaineer of his time and the youngest member of the 1953 Everest expedition, who made the first ascent of Kangchenjunga in 1955.
“I had to wait till George finished his mountain climbing”, said Susan Goodenough, her family name, in an Oral History recording with me. Susan was working at the British Embassy at the Hague when George was sent there by Shell, the firm he worked for, to train as a petroleum engineer. She says that as George had no mountains to go to, he and friends were gravitating towards the young ladies working at the Embassy. That is where they first met. “I knew nothing about mountains and had not met any mountaineer. When he told me about Everest and Kangchenjunga, I had to imagine what that meant.” She had never climbed a hill and it never occurred to her that a mountain should be climbed! She walked in 4-inch-high spike shoes.
Susan, well conversant in German and Dutch worked at the London Foreign office and was later deputed to Holland. That’s when things began to happen. George proposed and they were soon married in London in 1959 at the family church. The first mountaineer friend she met was Lord Hunt and soon others followed. Then on, mountains became a part of her life though in the shadow of George Band. After the wedding, a Dutch paper interviewed them and asked if she would go climbing: “I don’t know” was her crisp reply.
Soon after their marriage they were sent by Shell to USA. On returning to UK they set up a new home. This was followed by a posting to Malaysia and thereon regular transfers to Bangladesh, Oman, Basra till that phase was over. On his return, George became the President of the Alpine Club and was responsible to find a new home for the Club.
Inevitable Himalayan treks followed, and she especially enjoyed meeting hill people. They were in southeast Nepal in 2005. At Taplejung, en route to Kangchenjunga Base Camp, villagers requested them to start a school for them, in line with Hillary’s school for the Sherpas. They worked through the Himalayan Trust, especially Susan, to see it through. She visited Taplejung in 2009 again to see the school.
In 1995, Susan and George visited Mumbai for the celebration of 40th year of ascent of Kangchenjunga. We had a wonderful time together, going on a boat ride in the Mumbai harbour, walking in the Western Ghats and all the celebrations.
By the year 2000, George was detected with prostate cancer and was getting weaker. Susan was his primary caregiver and oversaw all his needs, though she adds, “despite the illness George was self-sufficient almost till his end”. His desire to attend the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest in 1953 and that Susan made it possible for him, was in a way the climax of their married life.
George passed away in 2011 and was buried near the local church. Few years later I was in London and Susan invited me to visit her home. She walked me around, took me to the Church and George’s grave. She sat there contemplatively and forbade me from taking a picture of her there. Later we met again at London when Martin Scott had invited friends for a party.
Susan was involved in many activities for local village. On Remembrance Day, 11th November, she would be present for the local parade. She would proudly wear the Khukri Badge of the Gorkha Regiment (a curved knife carried by the Gorkha soldier) I had presented to her in the memory of my son, Lt Nawang Kapadia who she had met, a Gorkha soldier, who was killed on the same date in the year 2000. Meticulous, as she was, I would receive an email soon thereafter about the parade, and that she wore the badge. I would remember her always on Remembrance Day for this.