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
News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
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

    Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

    Design Technology Teacher

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

    Foundation Teacher

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

    English Teacher- Manchester

    £19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes