Chris Bonington Interview taken in 2008
On the 21st April 1985 Chris Bonington reached the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 51. He was a member of the Norwegian Everest Expedition. He was the leader of the 1972, 1975 and 1982 British Mount Everest expeditions, and has travelled all over the world, making him become one of Britons most successful and loved mountain climbers.
You reached the summit of Mount Everest while on a Norwegian expedition, would you of preferred it to of been on a British expedition with some of your climbing colleagues?
I don’t regret going to the top with a Norwegian Expedition because I made so many life long friends in the course of the expedition, especially Odd Elliassen and Bjorn Myrer Lund with whom I went to the top. And of course, Pertemba Sherpa, who is one of my dearest friends also went to the top with me – he was our Sirdar in 1975 on the South West Face. Apart from anything else, it’s great making climbing friends from around the World.
As the leader on the 1972, 1975 and 1982 British Everest expeditions, did the media or anyone else ever try to blame you for the ones that perished and never came home?
NO, there was never any question of that.
Are you happier climbing or sat in Base Camp running the expedition as a leader?
I’ve never sat at base camp during an expedition. I believe the best position as leader of a big siege style expedition is to be in the camp just behind the lead climbers. In this way you can have a real feel of what the problems are out in front and also how the supply line is working, getting the big picture of what is going on through out the expedition. I have always done a bit of lead climbing, mainly because that is what I love doing but also, once again to get a feel for the climb. It’s a mistake to spend too much time out in front however because you tend to think tactically and loose sight of what else is going on.
What have been your most favorite climbs?
Climbing the West summit of Shivling with Jim Fotheringham – It was a 2 man trip, completely spontaneous, Alpine style, interesting technical climbing to a lovely pointed summit and a scary descent down the other side. Another great trip was when Charles Clarke and I went into NW Tibet to find Sepu Kangri – this was real exploration – not much climbing, but fascinating country and exploration.
Over the years you have sadly lost some very close friends to the mountains. Has it ever made you stop and think why am I doing this (climbing)?
You never get hardened to losing good friends but I love the process of climbing and everything about the mountains so much that I have never thought of giving up.
What do you think about all these ‘stunts’ that happen on Everest? For example, the fastest ascent, oldest person, youngest person, snowboarding, wedding vows and even standing naked on the summit.
Thank goodness I got up before the “Stunt “ era. It is of no real significance to mountaineering, but it is a great personal achievement for anyone who gets to the top, and certainly to snow board, parapont, ski from the summit or for some one with a disability, or over 70 to reach the top is also one hell of an achievement. I think this trend is inevitable in the evolution of things.
Your wife, Wendy must have hated it every time you said your goodbyes before hopping on a plane for another expedition. Did she ever try and talk you out of going on any?
Wendy has always been 100% behind me on all the climbs I have been on. She fell in love with a mountaineer and has never wanted to change me.
It has been nearly 24 years since you reached the summit of Everest. What one item do you think has technically advanced in some way to make climbing Everest easier today than in 1985?
It’s really the arrival of commercial expeditions that run a line of fixed rope from bottom to top and then look after the clients and help them up. Improved oxygen gear and lighter bottles certainly have helped.
There are more commercial expeditions on Everest than ever before now. I know that they all bring much needed money into the area, but do you think that there should be a restriction on how many should be allowed on Everest in any one season?
I think there does need to be a level of regulation on Everest both in terms of numbers going on the mountain and also on a code of conduct and guiding qualifications. It seems ironic that guiding on Mont Blanc is very strictly (quite rightly) regulated with the guide needing proper qualifications that demand a long and thorough training, and the guide only having a maximum of, I think it is three, on his rope, whilst on Everest which is infinitely more serious and dangerous, there are no regulations at all.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
I think it is very possible that Mallory climbed the Second Step. He was a very good rock climber, but I think it is unlikely that he and Irvine reached the summit, but you can never be sure, and let’s hope that remains a tantalizing mystery.
If you would like to find out more about Chris Bonington then head over to his website at www.bonington.com