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Pete Boardman memorial calendar and Stockport Grammar memories

Boardman Tasker calendar

A commemorative calendar has been produced to mark 30 years since the disappearance of Old Stopfordian Pete Boardman and his friend Joe Tasker, who both died on the north-east ridge of Mount Everest in 1982.

An extensive recollection of Pete’s memories from Stockport Grammar are also reproduced in the article below.

Proceeds from the calendar will be put back into the Boardman Tasker trust, which supports a competition for mountain literature in memory of Pete and Joe.

Peter Boardman climbing wallThe calendar can be bought for £12.95 from the Vertebrate Publishing website, which also contains more information about Boardman, Tasker and the work of the trust.

Pete, renowned as one of the greats of British Himalayan mountaineering, was a pupil at Stockport Grammar between 1956 and 1969, where his passion for the sport began. His influence lives on at the school through our state-of-the-art climbing wall (pictured right), opened in his name in 2008.

Between university and his death, Pete’s major expeditions included the Koh-i-Mondi and the north face of Koh-i-Khaaik in Afghanistan, Mount Everest by the south-west face, the west face of Changabang, Kangchenjunga via the north ridge, a 7975-metre climb of K2, and Kongur Tagh.

Pete kept a “spare thoughts” folder, from which his recollections from his time at Stockport Grammar, written in December 1981 and transcribed by John Boardman, can be read in full below.

1956-69. Thirteen years of SGS rule

It’s not very long ago since I left SGS. I lead a fairly unconventional life. Apart from a year working in an outdoor centre in Scotland, my thirteen years at SGS have been the only time that I have ever been completely at the mercy of a rigid timetable. So, whenever I revisit the place, I still feel like a pupil. Meeting old masters still re-arouses identical feelings of fear, guilt, respect and affection. Most of the masters who taught me are still around – some still at SGS, some teaching elsewhere, some retired. So I’d better be careful about what I say.

Brian Donaldson, who studied to be a priest before submitting to a passion for Manchester United and taking to teaching, once stimulated some blank-faced pupils by vividly describing Wordsworth at his poetic height as “think of Georgie Best out on the wing”. Brian Roberts once wrote at the foot of one of my essays “The blur of words is very impressive but I suspect that behind them is ‘All I know about Louis XIV'”. The lesson I draw here from these two quotes is that you’re safest talking about your known ground – for description and facts. My known ground is mountaineering so here’s how my obsession emerged from SGS.

People sometimes ask me how I started climbing and the answer really is that I never stopped – it’s just that my pursuit of the sport became formalised later on. While I was in JA, JT and the First Form, a group of us (at one point half of JT – ‘a gang of scruffs’  one parent called us) used to go weekly to the Happy Valley of the Ladybrook, and build look-outs, tree-top dens, swings and dugouts. On the afternoon following the service at St Marys, we held an annual ‘Founder’s Day Walk’ when, wearing wellington boots, we waded in the river from Bridge Lane halfway to Mill Hill. Much of the journey was done swinging from bough to bough of trees that overhung the river for if your feet left the water you were disqualified. Strong clothes line safeguarded our more perilous tree ascents. For me, the high points at school were “Pirates” and when Douglas Steele, as a special treat, allowed us to descend the dizzy heights of his fire escape and I tasted the omniscience of a bird’s eye view of the playground and kitchens.

Nowadays, I dig snow caves rather than dugouts. But it was in Corsica in 1964 and 65 that I first sensed the freedom of moving, lightweight, through mountain country, carrying shelter, warmth, food and fuel on my back. The first time I went, I started to pack two weeks before, and even sawed the handle of my toothbrush in half to save weight. When I first saw the island from the boat, Corsica loomed out of the Mediterranean. I could not believe that mountains could be so high. Monte Cinto, covered in snow, hovered, seemingly baseless, above sea and clouds. I lifted my eyes up to it, as if to a summons.

Corsica was wild, untamed. We never met any other tourists. The names rolled across the mouth. ‘Las Scala di Santa Santa Regina’ ‘Le Foret de Valdo Niello’. We traversed thundering, boulder-strewn rivers and crossed three ranges, feeling the sudden change of panorama upon gaining a crest after hours of effort, and seeing more ranges appear beyond, split by deep gorges. Climbing to the 6000 foot Col de Guagnerola, I kicked up my first snow slope, and discovered the phenomena of a randkluft – the cleft formed between snow and rock. I lowered myself into it, and I’ve sheltered inside a few of them since. We whooped and shrieked as we glissaded back down the forest. Then we traversed the coast, fighting through prickly, scented maquis scrub and slowly wending our way back to Calvi. Some of us took a short cut across a small estuary and, faced with a fast flowing channel, took our boots off and threw them onto the opposite bank and waded across. Steve Critchlow lobbed his left boot up into the air; it landed in the middle of the channel and was immediately swept out to sea. Ever since, I have always kept my boots on in unpredictable situations.

Such was Joe Stanley’s skill that I cannot remember him actively leading us at all. He played the role of experienced adviser. We had the illusion that we were our own masters, independent and in charge of our own survival – unaware that he was keeping an unobtrusive eye on all that happened. On Mull in 1965, Joe allowed Phil Turner and me to go off and camp high on the mountain, as long as we pitched our tent within view on the skyline – an ingenious solution which did not inhibit the wanderlust of two third formers. Phil and I watched the dawn throw vast beaming shadows of the highlands out across the western isles.

As William Blake nearly said

Great things are done when men and mountains meet
This is not done by jostling with the feet.

Joe’s trips kindled in me a fire that organised games at school could not put out. But school was stability, it went on. Apprehensive before a BCG test, I once fainted during morning assembly, scything a gap through the rows behind me. I was carried out, while Bill Johnson’s lead of the Lord’s Prayer never faltered. It went on.

In 1966, I went on a youth hostelling trip in the Swabian Alps with Wolfgang Herman and A P Smith. I’ve never been able to eat German sausages or drink mint tea since. There I learnt about hitchhiking and short cuts – a lesson reinforced a5t the start of the following term when I bumped in to Bill Johnston as he walked behind the pillar on the corner en route between his study and the staff room. “By cutting the corner”, he said, “I save four miles a year”.

Barry Monkman had been at SGS since JC. On 18th August we went rock climbing for the first time at Windgather, guided by Brian Whalley (who had just left the sixth form). Brian introduced us to the local climbing club, the Mynydd, which met at the Manchester Arms in Stockport. Once enrolled in the Mynydd, we had to grow up fast, at the risky age when it’s just possible to be served in a pub and just possible to obtain half fare on trains. As we cycled to school each morning our caps came on and off as the commuter traffic filed past. If a climbing club member saw us wearing them – shame; but if a teacher saw us bare-headed – detention.

During the long summer evenings before o-levels, we cycled from Bramhall to Windgather or Castle Naze. It was a two hour round trip – one hour up, half an hour’s climbing and half an hour’s headlong descent to the Cheshire Plain. We celebrated the last O level with an ascent of Cheedale Pinnacle.

A mountaineering friend, Nick Estcourt, considered that his rock climbing was greatly encouraged because he was caned whenever he was caught doing it. SGS had a milder, but nonetheless stimulating barrier against climbing weekends – Saturday morning school. Barry and I snatched excursions after careful planning with bus and train timetables. Avoiding Sports Day was the biggest challenge – we went to school to have our names ticked off, then sneaked away. A cycle ride, a train and two buses later, we were in North Wales.

Around this time the old gym became the library, and Barry and I were using iron nuts on slings to insert into rock cracks and protect our climbs. We rooted through the debris of the gym and found some suitable sizes. While climbing the limestone of Winnats Pass, a cog from the gym held Barry after he had fallen thirty feet, which goes to prove you can teach an old cog new tricks.

I received one award at school speech days – a third share in a divinity prize, for which I chose the guidebooks to Llanberis North and Snowdon South.

The climbing club introduced us to folk music. Barry learnt to play the guitar, and Chris Dawson encouraged a group of the sixth form to stage two musical evenings of music and poetry. Chris was young and enthusiastic and was the first teacher to treat us completely as adults on an equal footing – he was able to because he didn’t have to teach us formally. He’s still a great friend.

During the summer between two sixth forms I went climbing in the Alps. Brian Wilson was the form master in my last year and tolerated my girdle traverses of room 14. He and John Durnall probably didn’t know that I soloed Brown Slab on Shepherd’s Crag in Borrowdale while we were doing a village survey of Grange. Thanks to Mr Durnall I see two automatic red ticks for a north sign (crossed) and a scale whenever I draw a sketch map, cannot photograph a Himalaya paddy field without looking for moving water and whenever I see a settlement from the air I think “site factors”.

Levels were a tense time, but the hills were always another world. The first few years of learning to climb are always the time of the greatest risks, and in adolescence the consequences of an accident and the reverberations of tragedy seem far away. Feeling very wound up the Sunday before the exams, I soloed some difficult routes on Froggat Edge, abandoning all cares except the black and white one of not falling off. When I returned home my mother said, “Peter, you haven’t been out wearing that shirt have you? It’s not been aired.” Two worlds – it was a long time before I learnt to inter-relate and balance them.

I wonder if climbing would have been as important in my life if there had been girls around at school. In retrospect I wish there had been. But perhaps I would have escaped to the hills even more.

Peter D Boardman
December 1981