“The next step for Chris always leads to the wonderful unknown” – Noel Dawson reviews Ascent, the new book by Sir Chris Bonington
This review was first published in the December 2017 issue of The Great Outdoors
Ascent tells the enthralling life story of one of the greatest British mountaineers. It reveals so many years of remarkable adventure which started with the first step of discovery out of a garden gate and into the unknown. The magic had begun.
Mountaineering is largely what it is because of its rich and treasured history. In Ascent we read of some of the most well remembered British expeditions around the world. Chris climbed, and indeed led, during one of the most exciting and productive periods in British climbing. The first ascent of the South Face of Annapurna in 1970 and the first ascent of the South West Face of Everest in 1975 still stand as two of the finest British achievements in world mountaineering history.
Chris shares with the eager reader his immense love for the mountains, his powerful words describing the beautiful landscapes he has enjoyed for so many years. And yet we also read of times when Chris severely questioned his ability as a climber and leader as he worked with strong, highly motivated, working-class lads with huge egos and demanding personal ambitions, eager for success and recognition. It was incredibly challenging to understand and meet the needs of all.
Along with outstanding success almost inevitably there came tragedy. Chris writes with heartfelt emotion of leading climbs during a period of just 12 years which saw the loss of Ian Clough, Tony Tighe, Mick Burke, Nick Estcourt, Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker. It was, in some ways, a time when climbers lived a today when too many tomorrows witnessed the loss of good friends in the mountains.
Wendy Marchant, a beautiful young woman, was determined to marry an outdoor man, a sort of Canadian lumberjack. She married Chris! Some of the most powerful passages in Ascent describe this amazing woman who smiled through Chris’s boy-like ambitions, who comforted him through too much pain, who enriched his life and nurtured two rebellious boys, Joe (Daniel) and Rupert, through difficult years to emerge as fine young men. Chapter 22, ‘The Cruellest Challenge’, describes Wendy’s battle with motor neurone disease and the devastating effect it had on her family and many friends. It makes very hard reading.
The reader is left in no doubt that every morning Chris Bonington wakes with a plan
Ascent is a well-paced book illustrated with a small but very carefully chosen selection of photographs. It is edited by Ed Douglas who Chris thanks for “firmly cutting where necessary”. The chapters are sensible in length and always leave the reader feeling a strong desire to read on. There are so many familiar stories. One of the beauties is that you can read about each famous expedition in a chapter rather than having to read a whole book. As always, Chris really wears his heart on his sleeve and gives the reader an honest and enthralling insight into his extraordinary life.
Chris has found love again in his life with Loreto and he is so proud and happy to face the fresh challenges that his grandchildren puzzle and amaze him with on so many family occasions. The reader is left in no doubt that every morning Chris Bonington wakes with a plan; that every day remains a fresh challenge and that still the next step for Chris always leads to the wonderful unknown.
Published by Simon & Schuster, £20