My Mountains: Alan Hinkes

© Alan Hinkes collection

For our series of chats with well known hill folk Fiona Russell talks pork pies, broken ankles and favourite fells with Alan Hinkes

Alan Hinkes OBE is one of Britain's greatest living mountaineers, and the only Briton to have climbed all 14 of the world's 8000m peaks. Only 12 people alive have achieved this feat - the same number who have stood on the moon.

On the North Col of Everest  © Alan Hinkes collection
On the North Col of Everest
© Alan Hinkes collection

Alan's book, 8000 Metres Climbing the World's Highest Mountains, is a fascinating and thrilling read (see our review here), while his new DVD, simply entitled Alan Hinkes, reveals a wealth of stunning landscapes from the Lake District, Scotland, Yorkshire and the Himalaya along with previously unseen archive footage of life in the "death zone". You can see the UKH review of that here.

Alan began his mountaineering career while at Northallerton Grammar School, North Yorkshire. He progressed to the Alps with ascents of notoriously tough mountains such as the North Face of the Eiger before graduating to the Himalaya.

Alan's work includes being an outdoor equipment technical consultant, cameraman, photographer, author, motivational speaker, environmentalist and mountain guide. He is also an ambassador for Mountain Rescue England & Wales, YHA and clothing brand Fjallraven.

Alan still lives in North Yorkshire and enjoys being in the hills, rock climbing and fell walking.

Trekking in Scandinavia  © Alan Hinkes collection
Trekking in Scandinavia
© Alan Hinkes collection

What is your first memory of walking in the hills or mountains?

I can remember learning to map read on the North York Moors with teachers and friends from Northallerton Grammar School. I also went on a school summer camps to Place Fell and Striding Edge on an ascent of Helvellyn in the Lake District.

Who introduced you to the joys of the great outdoors?

School teachers on various trips gave me my first taste of the outdoors and then through older mates I discovered Cleveland Mountaineering Club and took my outdoors interests more seriously.

When did you realise you would be a keen life-long walker?

Straight away I knew the hills were for me. I aspired to climb the big hills and tackle the ridges so I took up rock climbing to learn skills that I would need to scramble safely.

Coast, hills, moorland or mountain ridges?

Oh, it's so very difficult to pick. I love the moorland areas, especially the North York Moors, where it all began for me. I like to see the vast expanses of purple heather in late summer and to hear the clucking of the grouse. When you are in the moors you often see the North Sea as well, so it's the best of two worlds.

I also love the Yorkshire Dales with the stunning gritstone and limestone scenery and the many miles of drystone walls.

I like the Lakes, too, for the superlative landscapes of fells, crags, lakes and ridges. Perhaps Helvellyn is my favourite place in Britain.

Oh, but then there is north Wales and Scotland, too, with their more rugged and challenging hills, glens and mountains.

I really don't think I can pick one thing so it has to be a mix of all scenes that I enjoy.

Alan Hinkes in a blizzard  © Alan Hinkes collection
Alan Hinkes in a blizzard
© Alan Hinkes collection

Are you a fair weather or "any weather" walker?

Any weather. You have to be to enjoy as many days outdoors as possible.

What are your all-time favourite hill or mountain walks, and why?

Helvellyn's Striding Edge and Swirral Edge because there were my first big ones.

I like the distinctive hill of Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire because although it is small it is like a proper mini mountain.

Stac Pollaidh in north-west Scotland is another great hike. I first saw it in a geography text book, with its rocky crest of sandstone, with many pinnacles and steep gullies, and it impressed me. It's even better when you are there.

The iconic mountain of Suilven in west Sutherland is another great walk in fantastic Scottish landscape. I only did it last year and so it holds strong recent memories for me.

I would also add K2 but it's not really a walk.

Is the night-time a good time to go walking?

Yes, I really like walking at night and especially in moonlight. It's like a mini adventure and offers more challenges that walking n daylight. It's also a great time to practice navigation and I like to see the stars.

I like that a night-time walk is good exercise and it allows me to pop into a pub afterwards for a pint. Well, it's better than watching TV or going to the gym before heading to the pub, isn't it?

Have you ever been lucky to avoid/escape a difficult situation in the mountains?

I have experienced many close shaves, near misses and unusual occurrences and there are a few epics detailed in my book about climbing all the 8000m peaks. It's well worth reading that and taking a look at the new DVD.

But accidents also happen closer to home. A few years ago, for example, I broke my ankle while walking in the North Pennines. I stepped back without looking and my foot went over on a large tussock.

I was forced to hop and crawl in pain for several hours to reach a road, where I was then picked up and taken to A&E. I was on my own so I was forced to self-rescue. I guess you never know when you will be faced with a difficult situation and it's not just in the world's highest mountains.

Alan on his home turf in northern England
© Alan Hinkes collection

When faced with danger, how do you act?

I usually stay very calm. I use my lifetime of experience and my instinct to cope.

Who is your perfect walking partner?

I will happily walk with anyone. I'm a mountain guide so I often meet new and interesting people.

Are you happy to go solo?

I often do and so therefore I must be happy to do so.

Walking boots or trail shoes? And why?

I walk in both and it simply depends on the conditions and how I feel. I even have trekking sandals.

How do you navigate?

I mostly use a map and compass.

What three items are always in your rucksack?

Water, camera or phone and an HD torch.

What goes in your pack as a guilty secret?

Oh, I don't have any guilty secrets in my pack, unless you mean organic chocolate but I don't feel guilty about that!

What one piece of walking clothing do you trust/favour above all others?

My Fjallraven Keb Eco-shell jacket.

Your favourite walking foods?

Boiled eggs, homemade cold buttered toast and sandwiches, that organic chocolate and also organic pork pies.

If you could only pick one area of Britain to walk in, where would it be?

The north of England, the Lakes and North Yorks Moors. This is where my heart is.

What is your ultimate walking dream?

I really must try a trip to New Zealand because I have heard so many great things about the country and walking there.

Will you be walking until you are 103?

That will be my clone! But I will walk until my legs collapse and I hope that is many years more.

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