OBITUARY: Paul Nunn
Monday 21 August 1995
Three other members of the same expedition had already returned safely from the summit that day - Dave Wilkinson, Brian Davison and Colin Wells. They were within earshot of Nunn and Tier. They would have all been safely back in base camp if that ice had broken a few minutes before or after. This accident was sheer bad luck, for these men were not driven to take undue risks. They were there for the sheer fun of climbing and none more so than Paul Nunn, whose prodigious energy and enthusiasm for the sport have become legendary over the past 35 years.
Nunn was at the centre of British climbing, its affairs and development. He was involved in every aspect: its literature, guide books, and social life; he was a great yeoman of the climbing world and its servant. He held the leading post in the sport, as chairman of the British Mountaineering Council, at the time of his death.
Paul Nunn was born in Abbeyleix, Co Laois, Ireland, in 1943. He was brought up by adoptive parents in Macclesfield, Cheshire. He attended the Catholic Xavier College, in Manchester, where he joined the Boy Scouts, who introduced him to hill-walking and rock-climbing in the Peak District at the age of 12. His natural curiosity led him to climb further afield in North Wales, the Lake District and Northern Scotland. He also pioneered an enormous number of new routes on Derbyshire limestone with members of the Alpha Mountaineering Club, in Borrowdale, with Paul Ross, and in the north- west Highlands, making the first ascent of the Old Man of Stoer in 1966 with Tom Patey, Brian Robertson and Brian Henderson; and the first ascent of Eastern Stack at Whiten Head with Patey, Brian Fuller, David Goodwin and Clive Rowlands. It was here, on the descent, that Patey died. Patey was Nunn's mentor - as he was for so many other climbers - and imbued him with a love for the north-west Highlands. Nunn established scores of new routes such as Megaton, on Skye, with Paul Braithwaite and Martin Boysen, Pilastre, again with Boysen, in 1973, on Foinaven; and Emerald Gully, on Beinn Dearg.
In his late teens Nunn began to make annual visits to the Alps and/or the Dolomites, climbing many of the classic hard routes. In 1959 he climbed the Cassin route on the Cima Ovest in 41/2 hours and in 1963 made the first British ascent of the Phillip-Flamm route on the Civetta.
In 1970 Nunn and Chris Woodhall joined Hamish MacInnes in the Caucasus. MacInnes led them up a steep new route on the north face of Pik Shchurovsky. On the descent Nunn suffered from a combination of asthma and the altitude. These were problems that were to dog him intermittently on the highest mountains in the world.
In 1972 he joined Paul Braithwaite, Dennis Hennek and myself to make a new 4,000ft rock climb on the east pillar of Asgard up on the Arctic Circle, in Baffin Island. In 1974 he was back in Russia with Clive Rowlands, Guy Lee, Paul Braithwaite and myself for a new route on Pik Lenin (7,135m). At about 6,500m Nunn had to descend with altitude sickness. In every other way Paul Nunn was the ideal expedition climber. He was not given to homesickness, he was supportive of other members of the team and was himself a craftsman where technical climbing was concerned. Certainly if he had acclimatised better he would have been included in Chris Bonington's 1975 Everest expedition. However he was undeterred and simply threw himself into expe- ditions to lower peaks, principally in the Karakoram. He returned to Pakistan or India almost every year with the occasional visit to Nepal.
But this list of his climbs outlined, and those not, hardly does justice to Paul Nunn's contribution to world climbing. In the 1960s, he was instrumental along with Nat Allen and Dave Gregory in reviving the British Mountaineering Council's commitment to producing climbing guides to the Peak District. He sat on many important committees at the Alpine Club, the Mt Everest Foundation and the British Mountaineering Council. He contributed to all the main magazines and international Alpine journals. In particular his book reviews were always so refreshing to read. He was a leading contributor to the influential Mountain magazine from its inception. His balanced views helped the founding editor raise the standards of mountain journalism to new heights.
Paul Nunn was also a formidable economic historian. He gained his degree at Sheffield University and taught for two years at the Cavendish Girls' School, Buxton, before taking up a post as economic history lecturer at Sheffield Polytechnic where he became principal lecturer in economic history at the School of Cultural Studies. He was himself an expert on the management of 18th-century estates and did his doctorate in this field. He contributed to a prestigious publication, Essays in the Economic & Social History of South Yorkshire (1976). Through original research he was able to solve the mystery of where capital originated to finance the Industrial Revolution.
Together with John Salt he developed an independent history degree course at the Sheffield Polytechnic, a very lively course, specialising in regional history.
Paul Nunn had time for people and he really cared for those down on their luck. He made time to visit me in hospital recovering from broken legs after the Ogre climb, and whilst languishing in Nottingham isolation hospital with a mystery disease in 1980. He was generous with his time, never had a bad word for anyone, was always positive and, most of all, kind.
It was these qualities that encouraged the climbing fraternity to vote him in as chairman of the British Mountaineering Council. He had half completed his term of office but had already made his mark, making the BMC a much friendlier organisation than formerly.
Paul Nunn, economic historian, mountaineer: born Abbeyleix, Co Laois 6 January 1943; married (two daughters); died Haromosh II, Karakoram 6 August 1995.
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