Brede Arkless

Eyebrow-raising mountain guide


Brede Doyle, mountain guide: born Manchester 10 August 1939; married 1964 Geoff Arkless (four sons, two daughters), (two daughters with Mick Pointon); died Cromwell, New Zealand 18 March 2006.

Almost three decades ago Brede Arkless became the first woman to wear the coveted badge of an international mountain guide. In those less enlightened times, the prospect of a woman guiding in the Alps was viewed with some disbelief by European guides, and near horror by the (then at least) deeply chauvinistic Swiss guides. For the Swiss and Austrians it was bad enough that any members of the Association of British Mountain Guides should be granted the carnet of UIAGM (Union Internationale des Associations des Guides de Montagne), let alone that one of their number should be a woman. How could a woman possibly be strong enough to cope with the rigours of guiding day after day in the high mountains?

Arkless wiped the look of superiority off the faces of her doubters, so the story goes, by forcing the forearm of a Swiss guide to the table in an arm-wrestling match. It was an activity in which she gained some prowess. She would also relate how she had broken a man's arm while arm wrestling in the back of a van, reset it and then burst into tears.

Strength, determination, self-will and a cheery nature are the qualities which stand out with Brede Arkless, demonstrated not only in her expeditions and guiding right into her mid-sixties, but in the fact that she combined such a peripatetic mountain life style while raising eight children. It certainly raised eyebrows.

Brede Doyle was born in Manchester in August 1939. But it was the wrong city. Her mother was on her way home to Dublin. Somewhat mistakenly, baby Brede became the stuff of front- page news - portrayed as the youngest evacuee to Ireland.

Mrs Doyle ran a guesthouse in Dublin while her daughter developed a passion for the outdoors, wandering in the Wicklow Mountains and starting rock climbing as a 15-year-old. Mother and children emigrated to California for a short while and then back across the Atlantic to London, where Brede started work for a stockbroker. By the 1960s, however, she had exchanged Threadneedle Street for Snowdonia and launched herself on the uncertain career of climbing instructor and later fully fledged guide.

Her first work was as a trainer with the Mountaineering Association, a body that introduced some 15,000 people to climbing in the post-war years before its sudden decline and absorption into the YHA in 1967. Also working for the MA was the climber Geoff Arkless, who became its chief instructor. The pair married in 1964, their first home being a hut above Llanberis called "Quarry House".

Not long after the demise of the MA, Brede and Geoff formed their own guiding and instructing business and for a decade or more were one of the best-known wife-and-husband partnerships in mountaineering. Each summer the growing Arkless tribe would move to the Chamonix Valley, beneath Mont Blanc in French Alps, where the couple would run training courses and guide the popular climbing routes.

"We had a VW caravanette and a big tent and camped au sauvage in the woods above Argentière. The kids would wash their hair in glacial streams," Brede recalled. Sometimes the couple would take along an au pair from North Wales, or they would take it in turns to do the childminding while the other was away in the mountains. Brede guided clients on Mont Blanc when six months pregnant with her daughter Denise. There was plenty of work and the Arklesses took on young Brits, one or two of whom in much later years, as professional UIAGM guides, would in turn employ Brede in an alpine season.

A big family and tight domestic budgets did not allow too much opportunity for long expeditions to the greater ranges; however Brede still managed to leave a modest mark. In 1970 she took part in a women's expedition to the Padar Himalaya, between Kishtwar and Padar in Kashmir. In this, as in most things, she proved a powerhouse, cutting steps up tottering ice, to reach the summit of Rocky Peak (17,700ft). The women also climbed an 18,500ft snow peak.

Eight years later she was at the front again on a women's expedition to the Pakistan Karakoram, getting to within 1,500ft of the summit of Bakhor Das, a pile of dangerously loose rock rising to almost 20,000ft. Her dramatic account of the climb appeared in the magazine Woman's Own in January 1979 under the title "Lucky to be Alive". Rock fall proved to be the biggest danger with Arkless and Jackie Anthoine escaping death by inches when a massive boulder brushed their tent as it hurtled down the mountain.

She concluded: "When I got back and hugged the children I had only one thing to say about the expedition - never again! But now I miss the adventure, the nerve-tingling excitement. And if people ask about Bakhor Das, I say: "Well, maybe next time . . ."

There wasn't another time on Bakhor Das, but as family pressures eased there were more expeditions, notably the 1989 women's expedition to Gasherbrum II, when Rhona Lampard and Pole Wanda Rutkiewicz reached the 36,360ft summit, and an attempt on Everest at the age of 60 in 2000. She would have been the oldest woman and the first Irish woman to reach the highest point of the world but had to give up at 28,000ft with severe altitude sickness - barely 1,000ft from the top.

By the time of her Everest shot, Brede Arkless's life had undergone a good many changes, though her appetite for mountaineering and her Roman Catholic faith remained constant. In the mid-1970s she and Geoff had separated and Brede and settled with another Llanberis-based climber, Mick Pointon, with whom she had two more daughters.

In the 1980s, to help other women realise their potential, she started women's climbing courses with Jill Lawrence, a feminist and talented rock athlete. She had also become weary of the still unreconstructed sexist attitudes of some European guides, angered by one particular remark from an unsurprising quarter: "I will eat my guide's badge if a Swiss woman ever becomes a guide."

In 1990 she upped stakes again and moved to New Zealand, by now a single mother but with only the four younger children in tow. Again she had to prove herself, and did. Her eventually tally of ascents of Mount Cook, at 12,316ft New Zealand's highest summit, was 22, all the more impressive when leading clients who might not be the most proficient of climbers. In the antipodean winter she would return to Europe, where she was still guiding at 65, and still meeting men who were shocked at being led into the mountains by a woman, let alone a grandmother.

Arkless was increasingly dogged by an old climbing injury, a badly broken ankle sustained when just 23 while guiding a new route on the Isle of Skye. A block came off and she fell 30ft, one foot jamming in a crack. As a result she had no Achilles tendon and her ankle was gradually destroyed by arthritis.

The thousands of miles she cycled - including alone across Cambodia - probably helped retain mobility and it was typical that even when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Brede Arkless made the 200-mile journey to hospital for tests and treatment on her bicycle.

Stephen Goodwin

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

£350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

£35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment