Bonington's last big challenge: the secret summit of Tibet

He already has his senior citizen's rail card and will soon be receiving his old age pension. But far from relaxing into retirement in his Lakeland home, the mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington is planning arguably his most dangerous expedition - up Tibet's secret mountain. He tells Matthew Brace his thoughts about his prospects

Bonington will turn 64 in August, just days before he is due to begin his second attempt on an ascent of Sepu Kangri (6,950m or 22,800ft), a treacherous and as yet unconquered mountain in north-east Tibet. His first attempt, last May, ended in failure when he was forced back by atrocious weather. He knows that this year's expedition is almost certain to be his last big climb to this height. And he knows it will be a struggle.

The peak, whose name means the Great Snow Mountain by the Sacred Lake, lies in the eastern section of the of the Nyain-Qen-Tanglha Shan range, 400km north-east of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Bonington's attempt last May was the first European expedition to the area. It is one of the last unexplored regions of the Himalayas, a remote, frozen wilderness the size of the Swiss Alps, inhabited only by a few families of Tibetan nomads and their yaks. It boasts 20 peaks over 6,000m and the sources of the Mekong and Brahmaputa rivers, two of the longest in Asia.

Before the attempt he said: "When almost every range has been explored, when you can pay to be guided up Mount Everest, and most of the faces and ridges of the world's 8,000m peaks have been climbed, an unknown range in the heart of the Tibet capped by mountains of outstanding beauty provides a challenge few mountaineers could resist."

The mountain is complex and formidable, comprising extremely steep slopes, sheer rock walls and ice overhangs, and a long approach to the summit.

Bonington's team for the 1998 attempt consists of old and trusted climbing pals: the Scot Graham Little, Victor Saunders (an architect turned mountaineer), Jim Lowther and Charles Clarke, a consultant neurologist and expedition doctor. Clarke was doctor on Bonington's 1975 and 1982 Everest expeditions.

Bonington has studied records from the Tibetan Met Office spanning the past 30 years which show that precipitation goes up as summer approaches but down in the winter, so he will start in the autumn when he should get clearer skies and less snow.

Whether the weather is fair or foul, he will have to contend with the fact that age is creeping up on him.

"More and more people who are getting older are realising what they can do. There are a lot of older climbers who are still climbing bloody well."

Bonington also seems to be an older climber who is climbing "bloody well". He lives in the Lake District surrounded by opportunity and last week he was in Scotland, "just nipping up" a few mountains in the grip of winter, a gentle afternoon stroll compared to the Himalayas.

This lust for life has sustained him through his 48-year career which has seen him scale the world's great mountains including Everest, K2, Panch Chuli, the Eiger, Mont Blanc, Mount El'brus (the highest peak in Europe) and Mount Vinson in Antarctica, the summit of which he reached solo.

He will be expanding on his philosophy of adventure next week at the Royal Geographical Society when he is interviewed live on stage by the journalist Libby Purves.

The conversation may touch on the controversial issue of the ethics of exploration. No one doubts his credentials as someone who travels with respect and due care for the environment he is visiting, but will bus- loads of tourists be tempted to follow in his wake in their search for the last unexplored corners of the world?

"There aren't many places in the world like this part of Tibet - not as wild and romantic. No, I don't think it will ever become like the Alps but if climbers do go into the area and some trekking takes place as well, the local people will benefit from it financially," he said.

Bonington is realistic about his prospects on Sepu Kangri: "At the moment I seem to be pretty fit and I'd really like to get to top but I've got to be realistic. It's going to be hard for me," he said.

"As I get older things become more difficult. Carrying heavy loads is harder and I wouldn't try to climb an 8,000m peak now. As life goes on I will be forced to climb smaller and smaller peaks. Although there are plenty of great ones left at 6,000m or under, this is probably the last peak over 6,500m I will do."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Accountant

    £25000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join...

    Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?