Alan Hinkes: Britain's most successful climber on his hardest challenges and still going at nearly 70
At approaching 70, life is still going uphill for Alan Hinkes, a man who can claim with justification to be Britain’s most successful climber. The fact that he is here to tell the tale of conquering the world’s biggest and most dangerous peaks is remarkable enough.
“I had a few near misses,” he said. Everest was difficult enough but it was K2 which probably threw him the most challenges. It is technically more difficult and there are more rock falls.
And the lesser known Mount Kangchenjunga – the third highest peak – was arguably his most difficult opponent.
And while he is happy enough with his life he believes if he was French or Italian he would be a national hero because mountaineers are held in higher esteem in those countries.
“I was Yorkshireman of the year in 2006 so that makes up for it,” he laughs. “And I have freedom of Northallerton which is a fabulous honour.”
As we speak for the first time, Alan is on the moors near Catterick helping train search and rescue dogs. It’s a weekly outing for him and he is happy to help.
“We go out in all weathers, rain or shine. The dogs have to rescue in all weathers so we train them in all weathers. We can’t call it off just because it’s a bit wet.”
Later we chat and he’s in the calmer but equally stunning Brimham Rocks. He has no intention of slowing down as he approaches 70 next year. But lockdown restricted his visits to the Alps or the Himalayas.
“But you can get in just as much trouble in Yorkshire or Cumbria if you’re not careful,” he said.
“We have some wonderful areas in Yorkshire, some of which I have still not been to. So I’m enjoying still finding new areas, even at my age. New peaks, new potholes, I am still very active.
“I went to Hag Dyke for the first time recently. It’s above Kettlewell and is very remote. It’s owned by Ben Rhydding, Ilkley Scouts and Guides and I went there with Easingwold Air Cadets for their annual camp and outdoor training.
“It’s in the wilds but it’s a beautiful place. You don’t have to go to the Alps. We have plenty of wonders here.
“I am respectful of the mountains. I have had a few close shaves or gifts as I call them. K2 is I think probably the most dangerous but I have been back to it. I’m proud to be the only Briton to have conquered the 14 top peaks. But actually there is a naturalized Brit, Nims, who has also done it.”
Nims is his friend Nirmal Purja, a Nepal-born mountaineer who served in the British Army with the Brigade of Gurkhas and the Special Boat Service. He is now a naturalized Briton and he made his 14 ascents in a record time of six months and six days.
“So technically there are two Brits who have done the 14 but I guess I’m the only one who was actually born here,” he said. “There will be others in time but it’s a dangerous game. The French don’t have any. They have come close but some of their top mountaineers have died in the process of trying. It’s a grim fact.”
Alan began his mountaineering career whilst at Northallerton Grammar School, North Yorkshire. He progressed to the Alps with ascents of many difficult mountains, including the notorious North Face of the Eiger, eventually graduating to the Himalaya.
He works as an outdoor equipment technical consultant, writes for magazines and lectures on his exploits. He is an accomplished cameraman (filming 11 documentaries), photographer, author, motivational speaker, environmentalist and mountain guide. His book 8000 Metres Climbing the World's Highest Mountains won TGO Awards Outdoor Book of the Year.
He is also a Honorary Fellow of the University of Sunderland; Honorary Doctor of the University of York, Honorary Doctor of Professional Studies, University of Teesside and has received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Royal Institute of Navigation and the President’s Award for Outstanding Voluntary Contribution to Water Aid.
He is involved in charitable work including: Water Aid, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, British Red Cross and Mountain Rescue.
Alan lives in North Yorkshire and enjoys being in the hills, rock climbing and fellwalking. You will regularly see him in the Lake District and Yorkshire tramping the fells and moors, clinging to a rock face or climbing a frozen waterfall. He recently put an Isuzu through its paces for a mission to the Lake District. Alan’s trip began with an evening drive to Borrowdale.
“It was already dark, and the light bar and grille lights were fabulous,” he said. “It must have been 11.30pm by the time I put the tent up, but it was so easy, literally taking seconds. It’s exciting and you just want to get in it. Other seasoned campers could not believe it, as it is so streamlined and neat on the top yet opens up into a decent-sized tent”.
During his trip to Borrowdale in Basecamp, Alan found himself pitched up inside the roof tent, sheltered from the heavy rain of a storm. “The heavens opened, and I lay there listening to the rain on the tent and the D-Max metal roof. It was like a symphony but so cosy.
“It evoked memories of listening to the graupel (frozen rain) while camping in the past. I would have a tent this size at base camp while climbing for weeks. But I could have done with this one as its memory foam mattress was so comfortable and I got a really good night’s sleep.”
After spending time in the go-anywhere vehicle, Alan also shared his final thoughts, stating: “The hardtop is voluminous, and I was able to chuck in all of my gear. The drawer and cooking unit are also exceptionally tidy. It’s all quick to pack away too.”
Now lockdowns are behind us, he is considering adventuring abroad again to the Alps. “I feel humbled and privileged to do what I do and I’m going to carry on doing it for as long as I can.”