Ken Wilson, mountaineering writer – obituary


Ken Wilson, who has died aged 75, was a writer whose fantastically illustrated coffee-table guidebooks to British mountain climbing helped to outline mountaineering on this nation as an adventurous and character-building exercise.

Cantankerous, opinionated (and with a willingness to share his opinions generously), Wilson resisted the continental vogue for drilling bolts into the rock, which makes climbing safer however reduces it to mere “efficiency sport”.

“On actual cliffs with actual risks,” he wrote, “one has to quickly grasp the ability and judgment required to keep away from accidents. One should discover the route, assess the issues, make the strikes whereas additionally inserting dependable safety. As well as, the highly effective aura and complexity of cliffs needs to be confronted, along with descent issues, benightment and unhealthy climate.” To older climbers, he was the guardian of the soul of mountaineering.

He actually took the function severely and would barrack climbers if he felt that they had one way or the other offended towards the British climbing ethic. Even journalists writing about climbing weren’t secure: they might obtain telephone calls despairing of the publicity given in direction of “document seekers” on Everest, whereas the noteworthy deeds of “actual climbers” went ignored.

His brusque strategy didn’t all the time win him buddies. One climber recalled that he had the phone method of Stalin, whereas an American writer as soon as prefaced a prolonged fax with a request to “learn all of it, after which have a glass of wine earlier than replying.”

Wilson edited Mountain journal from 1969 to 1978 and later based two publishing homes – Diadem and Baton Wicks – below whose umbrellas he produced a sequence of books together with The Video games Climbers Play and the hardback sequence, Basic Rock, Exhausting Rock and Excessive Rock, which impressed a era of climbers.

Every chapter within the trilogy targeted on a specific ascent. Most of the route descriptions have been written by the unique mountaineer, with every climb put in its historic and geological context, recalling the unique climbers, usually in woollen clothes and utilizing hemp ropes, who went earlier than.

Wilson himself climbed all his life – though by no means on the prime degree – and may very well be noticed attired in vintage clothes and gear that regarded as if it belonged in a museum.

The son of a stationery salesman, Kenneth John Wilson was born in Birmingham on February 7 1941. No locations have been accessible for him on the native grammar faculty after he handed his eleven-plus so he was educated freed from cost on the fee-paying Solihull College. He later studied structure however gave it up after three years, turning as an alternative to pictures. He went on to work in London for the architectural photographer Henk Snoek.

He first bought into mountaineering aged 13 through the Scouts, and it remained his ardour for the remainder of his life. In 1969 he took over Mountaincraft journal and turned it into Mountain. His massive break in publishing got here with a bestselling assortment of essays by Richard Gilbert, edited by Wilson, The Massive Walks: Difficult Mountain Walks and Scrambles within the British Isles (1989). Wilson later bought Diadem to Hodder & Stoughton, staying on as a writer. Following the Hodder/Headline merger he left in 1993, together with his catalogue, and with severance pay that he used to arrange Baton Wicks.

He additionally purchased the rights to international works corresponding to Hermann Buhl’s Nanga Parbat and Lionel Terray’s Conquistadors of the Ineffective and stored basic works in print whereas additionally guaranteeing that modern climbers discovered a writer.

Final 12 months the Boardman Tasker Prize gave him a lifetime achievement award.

He’s survived by his spouse Gloria, whom he married in 1971, and by two sons.

Ken Wilson, born February 7 1941, died June 11 2016


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