John ‘Brummie’ Stokes, the former SAS soldier who climbed Everest three times has died aged 70.
Born at the end of the Second World War, in the Birmingham suburb of Hamstead, a boyhood love of climbing and mountaineering culminated in becoming the third Briton to summit the world’s highest peak.
Joining the British Army aged 17, Brummie spent a number of years in the Royal Green Jackets before passing the gruelling tests required to become a member of the SAS.
A twenty year Special Forces career ensued seeing active service in the likes of the Middle East, the Falklands, and Dhofar where he was shot through the knee.
In 1975 Brummie teamed up with fellow SAS and Army Mountaineering Association member Major Michael ‘Bronco’ Lane on an expedition to the Himalayas. It ended in tragedy when four men died.
Not put off the pair returned the following year, this time to take on the challenge of Mount Everest in a joint British-Nepalese army expedition.
Bronco and Brummie reached the summit together on May the 16th but were caught in a storm on their way back down. Forced to halt their descent they spent a perilous night bivouacked in a snow hole near the top of the mountain.
With an oxygen bottle running low Stokes attempted to attach a new bottle to his face-mask but was unable to do so. Lane took off a glove to help and managed to succeed but his fingers rapidly froze.
Finally making it back to basecamp after surviving an uprecedented night in the open, the pair both had badly frostbitten feet and hands. Despite doctors’ efforts to save them both Brummie Stokes and Bronco Lane lost their toes, Lane also losing the tops of his fingers on his right hand.
Recounting the tale in his book ‘Soldiers and Sherpas: A Taste For Adventure’ Stokes described showing off his blackened toes at a party back in England when somebody tapped them and one dropped off – legend has it that, that having hit the floor it was quickly eaten by the host’s pet dog.
Bronco Lane’s digits meanwhile found their way behind the regimental bar at Stirling Lines, the SAS headquarters in Hereford. After several years on display to drinkers they were donated to the National Army Museum.
Despite only having half their feet the pair returned to fitness and to duty having had to learn to painfully walk, run and climb again. Brummie Stokes joking he could take up modelling for Mothercare’s shoes with his ‘new’ feet.
After the Falklands War Brummie Stokes returned again to the mountain that had claimed his toes, this time climbing via the notorious North Face. Tragedy however struck again with an avalanche at base camp killing one of the expedition members and leaving Stokes with a broken neck.
Leaving the army in 1985 he returned again to Everest, determined to once again conquer the peak but this time by successfully tackling the only remaining unclimbed route. The joint ex-SAS and civilian expedition once again proved costly to his health, the prolonged periods at high altitude causing his brain to swell and leave him partially paralysed.
In more recent years Brummie Stokes, a small man famed for never giving up, had run the London Marathon with no toes and only one knee, been awarded an MBE and perhaps most proudly made a huge difference to scores of under-privileged children’s lives.
Set-up and run with his wife Lynn and their two sons the charitable Taste for Adventure centre in Herefordshire uses money from paying customers to fund courses for the less able, the impoverished, the abused and the elderly.