Alan Hinkes - 1st Brit to Climb the World's Highest Mts Review

© Terry Abraham

Alan Hinkes is still the only British person to have climbed all 14 of the world's 8000m mountains. Terry Abraham's new biopic of this larger-than-life high altitude mountaineer is out now, and Ash Routen was keen to take a look.

Award winning filmmaker Terry Abraham is back with his latest offering. Unlike his previous features dedicated to celebrating the majesty of the mountain landscape, such as Life of a Mountain: Blencathra, this film profiles Alan Hinkes, the first (and still only) Briton to climb all of the world's 8000m peaks. True to style, Abraham treats us to a visual feast of mountain scenery, but this time it is Hinkes who steals the show.

Alan Hinkes DVD cover  © Terry Abraham

Alan Hinkes. Among hillgoing folk he may be known as a successful high altitude mountaineer, but in terms of wider public recognition beyond our niche he seems to have flown under the radar. So when in the summer of 2016 Lakeland filmmaker Terry Abraham announced he was to make a biopic about Hinkes I, like many others, was pretty excited.

As a follower of Hinkes and Abraham on social media, I knew they were great pals (often to be found bonding over a beer or two!), and so it seemed a natural fit for Abraham to be able to show us a side of this mountaineer that we might otherwise not see. The question, however, was whether this friendship would lead to an unbiased and enjoyable portrait of the man and his exploits.

I downloaded my copy in Standard Definition, and immediately regretted the decision not to go HD, as from the outset you're met with stunning landscape scenes, that linger for just the right amount of time - as has become typical of an Abraham production. What becomes clear however is that Hinkes' zealous and fun loving personality is meant to be the main focus of your attention.

This is a heartfelt, intimate and light-hearted portrait of a world-class mountaineer. It's big on mountain scenery, and big on inspiration.

The first half of the film largely paints a portrait of Hinkes, from his early life to current interests. You're introduced to his beginnings in Northallerton, and favourite haunts in North Yorkshire and the Lake District, as well as a heart warming scene with his grandchildren.

Coupled with a glimpse of his work with young people in the outdoors, ambassadorial responsibilities for charities such as the YHA, and association with Fjallraven you're left with the impression that Hinkes just loves being outside and sharing this passion with others - no need to seek the attention of the wider world for his exploits.

The job of singing his praises is left to noted outdoor luminaries such as climber and serial first-ascentionist Paul Ross, and outgoing BMC president Rehan Siddiqui. Ross candidly remarks at one point that Hinkes hasn't got wider recognition for his climbs, perhaps in part due to his down to earth and light-hearted approach to life:

"It's quite remarkable how little people have heard about Alan in the general public. Because his Himalayan exploits is just way ahead of most, if not all British mountaineers… He certainly hasn't got the recognition…I think he's probably too down to earth"

Alan Hinkes in Nepal   © Terry Abraham
Alan Hinkes in Nepal
© Terry Abraham

Legendary fell-runner Joss Naylor also has a nice cameo appearance talking about the pioneers of rock climbing and mountain photography in the Lakes, and it's here I get the sense that Abraham and Hinkes really do want to pay tribute to their shared love of the Lake District, which in some short scenes does however appear a little 'adverty'.

At this point we've been served up a giant slice of Hinkes background, which I really enjoyed, but it might be a little slow for some viewers to get to what I consider to be the real meat of the film – the climbs for which Hinkes is known. Finally we get there. Leaving Britain for the Himalaya around the hour mark, the film progresses into covering Hinkes' climbs and this is where the jesting is left behind a little. We're taken around Kathmandu, Namche Bazaar and up into the Himalaya.

The footage of the Himalayan peaks is superb, and it's hard to get your head around the fact that this film was essentially made by a one man band on a limited budget, all shot within 12 months.

It is in this section that my favourite part of the film features, the Kangchenjunga summit footage – late in the day and approaching nightfall Hinkes calmly exclaims that he may not make it down alive from the summit. That short moving scene is a perfect microcosm of the mindset needed to complete the 8000ers and come away intact.

"Pasang's [Gelu] below. God know's what time it is, it must be seven at night. This is really serious. Could die on the descent, [chuckling nervously] and I'm not joking…Yeehee Kangchenjunga!"

This is Hinkes in serious mode, and you see the side of the man that lead him to be able complete 27 expeditions to the 8000ers unscathed - a remarkable feat. I would have liked a little more on the details of some of the climbs, and perhaps a little more introspection on what these experiences were like, but alas that wasn't the purpose of the film. Abraham set out to make a light-hearted biopic and avoid the philosophical self-examination often found in adventure films.

At 1 hour and 46 minutes, this cut of the film might be a little long for some, and arguably a few of the early background scenes could have been left out, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it. A job well done.

This is a heartfelt, intimate and light-hearted portrait of a world-class mountaineer. It's big on mountain scenery, and big on inspiration. I'll be watching it again sometime soon.

The film is available from Steepedge here (£12.99 in SD and £14.99 for HD). It is sponsored by Fjallraven and presented in association with Jagged Globe, the BMC, and Leeds Beckett University Carnegie Great Outdoors.

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22 Dec, 2017
Isn't there still some controversy over his ascent of Cho oyu? Or is that all now resolved?
22 Dec, 2017
And one of the few climbers to have slipped a disc in a chapati based accident at altitude! I remember going to a great lecture in the 90s and being quite inspired by it. I had a signed k2 poster on my wall for years. James
23 Dec, 2017
Depends what you accept as 'official' but officially he's only got 13, as I don't think the Himalayan Database accepts his Cho Oyu summit. He himself has long maintained to not give a stuff what they think... Not long ago I would have said he was in the wrong, the HDB was justified in their judgement, and if he wants it complete he should go back like so many others have done on Shishapangma, Lhotse, Broad Peak etc.However, in light of recent developments and new research, it's now clear that dozens, probably hundreds, of people have not summited 8000ers to the very top of the true summit, as they have claimed - mistakenly or otherwise. Annapurna is a real mess, as there are actually two, maybe three, places that are equal highest, but there are about five or six places that people have stopped. Some of the people who have stopped short are *quite* famous, which makes it even more difficult for everyone involved. In recent times a few (Sherpa led) groups have stopped WELL short of the highest point, and this is even evident in their 'summit' photos, but they insist they were on the top, despite all evidence. Dhaulagiri is now also a bit of a mess. It was already known that if going up the normal route, one had to actually traverse a LONG way along the summit ridge to reach the true highest point. Some didn't do this, some returned to the mountain to make good, some didn't. Now most take a variant traversing up snow slopes on the northern side of the summit ridge then cut up to the top - but people have been going to one of two tops, an eastern and western top, or the col in between. Usually it's clear from their photos, whether they care or not. And of course Manaslu has been a clusterf#@k in recent years as most have not been to the true highest point. In one year (2016?) the HDB has disqualified nearly everyone who claimed a summit, as they clearly stopped short - ostensibly due to a rope-fixing mistake, about which Russell Brice was very vocal. Almost nobody goes to Shishapangma anymore, regardless of the Chinese access issues, as it is quite hard (south side) to get to the summit or a bit dangerous (north side) to traverse and up. When Denis Urubko and his mate did their totally insane amazing new route up the south face of Cho Oyu a decade or so ago, they summited in the dark and wandered around in poor weather. Their photos are inconclusive and Denis admits they were not sure if they were right on the correct bump or not. Basically everyone accepts their summit, it seems churlish not to after such an amazing climb, so as much as it pains the pedant within me to admit it, Hinkes has probably been treated a bit unfairly - not in principle, but in context. As for injuring yourself on chapatti flour, I can sympathise, sort of. I sat up in my bag at C2, 6300m, on G1 some years ago and was bent over coughing, just a normal altitude cough. I heard a loud pop noise and felt a little twinge in my ribs. Within a minute or two I was in agony and could only lie flat in the tent to breathe normally. Apparently this happens quite a bit. I was alright after several hours rest, but have been forever wary of a repeat.
23 Dec, 2017
Just after the Chapati incident I took Alan out for an Indian meal. Took it well!!
25 Dec, 2017
Sod likes, someone needed to say this: that's a stonking post!
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