How we met: Sir Chris Bonington & Leo Houlding

<b>Sir Chris Bonington is a mountaineer, writer, photographer and lecturer. He is most famous for leading the expedition that made the first ascent of the south-west face of Everest in 1975. Aged 72, he lives near Caldbeck, Cumbria with his wife.</b>
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The Independent Online

Rock climber Leo Houlding, 26, has scaled famous mountains all over the world. He has free-climbed the El Nino route in Yosemite, and is at the forefront of para-alpinism - climbing the face of a large cliff and using a parachute to descend. He lives in the Peak District with his wife.

I was about 10 when I met Chris. He was doing a slide show at a school in the Lake District near where I lived. I'd been climbing for about six months, and afterwards I dragged my dad up to be introduced. Chris is pretty much the most famous climbing mountaineer Britain has ever had, and you could say he was my hero. Because he's been so successful, there was quite a lot of envy around some of the guys who had got me into climbing. I was really surprised by how down to earth and what a lovely guy he was.

About two years later our paths crossed again at Shepherd's Crag in the Lake District. I was half way up a route, a steep little hard number, when Chris walked past. He stopped and waited to see whether I'd do it or not, and he was quite impressed.

We've become friends over the past few years, partly due to the fact that we both work for Berghaus, and also because I've become more involved with the climbing establishment. It's an international community and there are all kinds of events around the world where we see each other and have a beer together. Chris is a good storyteller.

We know each other well now so I'm not as star- struck as I once was. We get on in the same way I do with my other friends even though there is a 46-year age difference. He is virtually the same age as my grandparents. I occasionally call him for advice about book projects or for information about climbing areas and how to get visas for particular places.

Two years ago we went to Australia for a week for a film. It was a pleasure and an honour to go climbing with Chris. It was like going climbing with a mate. We'd do a couple of climbs and then go and enjoy a beer and meal together. He led a difficult section at one stage, and he had a bit of a fight, but he pushed on through. He was jubilant. It was like climbing with a teenager. Taking the Michael is always a big part of climbing. We gave each other abuse in a very compassionate way as we climbed. It's an expression of endearment.

We obviously operate at different standards. I'm at a much higher level because Chris is 72 and modern climbing is a very technical sport. But I'd rather climb at a lower standard with someone who is enjoying himself, than with a contemporary who I don't get along with very well. I hope Chris and I will still be cragging together in 20 years' time.

Chris is a great inspiration and advisor. Somebody once asked me if I saw myself following in his footsteps. I replied: "I'm not sure about the beard, but I wouldn't mind the 'sir'."

I was first aware of Leo when he was about 12 or 13 and he and his mate were climbing at Shepherd's Crag. They were at an incredibly high standard. I've since met him at a number of events around the world. I thoroughly enjoy his company. I don't notice the age gap. He's a lot of fun, but he's also a thoughtful, intelligent guy. Climbing isn't the only thing on his horizon - he can talk about other things as well. I value him as a friend and I'm always glad to see him. He's got that interesting combination of youthful enthusiasm and surprising maturity. His company and what he's doing are a huge stimulus.

The only time we've been on the same rope was two years ago when Richard Else, a film-making friend of ours, was making a series on heroes. He had the really good idea of having Leo climb with me and be the interviewer. We spent two or three days filming in the Blue Mountains. It was a delight. Leo is an amazing adventurer, but at the same time he's very sensible and responsible and a really good ambassador for British mountaineering.

He's a brilliant climber. He makes everything seem so incredibly easy. In rock climbing, your twenties are probably your peak time. He is the equivalent of an Olympic athlete. I still love my climbing as much as I ever have done, but I don't think I ever climbed as well as Leo does. I was at my peak in the 1950s when rock climbing was a completely different culture; we were obviously climbing at a much lower standard at that time.

He's very bold and innovative, particularly with his base-jumping. He leads the cutting-edge climbers. I admire his enthusiasm and his absolute integrity to the sport and the way he relates to other people. I also admire his humility. He's not an arrogant sportsman. He's realistic. He knows how good he is but he doesn't flash it around.

Leo has wonderful zest for life, even if he takes it to the absolute edge at times. He's not reckless, but I do worry for him. All of us are incredibly lucky to be alive. I've had so many narrow escapes in my climbing life. Leo pushes the limits. It's a high-risk activity. You are going so close to the threshold the whole time, you can run out of luck.

The kind of things he's doing now are totally unobtainable to me. But the lovely thing is that, if we go out on a climb, Leo is totally delighted to drop his standard of climbing about 10 grades to have a really good go on the hill with me. He's a genius on rock. There's no sense of envy. I've had my time and I'm having a bloody good one now. I'm enjoying my climbing without any pressures to be the best. It's a friendship that I treasure and I look forward to doing more climbs with him in the future.

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