An Interview with Alan Hinkes OBE
He is the first and only British Mountaineer to climb all of the world’s mountains over 8000 metres high and has survived the Death Zone on Everest five times and K2 three times. An International Mountain Guide who has spent many seasons in the Alps knocking off notorious ascents such as the North Face of the Eiger, he was awarded an OBE in 2006 and is showing no signs of slowing down…
Fjällräven ambassador and legendary British mountaineer Alan Hinkes OBE talks to us about the reasons why he’s spent his life chasing the world’s top peaks, how a beginner can get into mountaineering, and the three items of kit he never leaves home without.
How and when did you first get into mountaineering?
My first experience of mountaineering was while at school – Northallerton Grammar School. I was part of an outdoor pursuits club and teachers took us out camping, fell walking in the Lake District and rock climbing in the North Yorkshire moors.
What was it about mountaineering that appealed to you so much?
I loved the sense of adventure mountaineering gave me, exploring new places and routes and experiencing that frisson of danger. Aside from that I always have and continue to love being outside in the hills and the mountains. It is where I feel most at home.
How has the sport changed since you began your career?
The main change has been that the sport has become far more accessible. The introduction of climbing walls all around the country has made it much easier for people to go and give climbing a go. Another main change has been the range of gear available. There’s now loads of bright and shiny kit to choose from and products have become substantially lighter! The introduction of the internet, GPS and mobile phones has also had a big impact on the mountaineering experience.
What can a beginner do to prepare off the mountain before giving the sport a go?
Maintaining your overall fitness is a great place to start. I would advise anyone interested in mountaineering to get out and do some hill walking. As well as improving overall fitness, this offers a great opportunity to practice crucial skills like navigating, reading your OS map, carrying and packing your rucksack etc. Indoor rock climbing walls are also a great way to get used to the sport and practice your technique before heading out to the mountains.
Which was the first route you tried? And which route would you recommend for a beginner?
My first routes were on the Sandstone outcrops at Scugdale in the North Yorkshire Moors. Other early climbs include Peak Scar and Bingham Rocks in the North Yorkshire Moors and Black Crag in the Lakes. Shepherds Crag in the Lake District is a great option for beginners. Alternatively you could fly out to Europe and try some of the bolted cliff routes there.
Is mountaineering just a physical challenge? Or are there mental barriers to be overcome too?
Mountaineering is definitely as much mental as it is physical. I couldn’t have achieved some of the climbs I have without physical determination and strength but mental toughness and resilience also played a crucial role.
Apart from the obvious (ropes, helmet, harness), which 3 pieces of kit do you never attempt a climb without?
I will always make sure to pack a head torch, a knife and my camera.
Who do you look up to in the sport?
Legendary British climber Joe Brown.
What are your top safety tips for newbies?
My number one piece of advice to all climbers is ‘be prepared to retreat – no mountain is worth a life’. It’s always important to remember that coming back unharmed from an expedition is a success, summiting is only a bonus.
How do you celebrate when you reach a summit?
I only really celebrate when I’m safely back down, however I will always take a photo of the view if there is one and will take a photo at the summit of me with a picture of my daughter.
Founded in 1960, Fjällräven have worked for over fifty years to craft innovative, functional items of clothing and kit designed to allow more people to enjoy the great outdoors. Popular with outdoor enthusiasts worldwide, every piece that they sell has been put to the test, to support you when it matters the most.