Om On Thin Ice
On Thin Ice is Mick Fowler’s second set of climbing memoirs, following Vertical Pleasure. Here, the celebrated mountaineer records his expeditions since 1990. Despite work and family commitments, he has maintained a regular series of & #145;big trips’ to challenging objectives around the world with a sequence of major successes: Taweche (1995, with Pat Littlejohn), Changabang (1997, with Steve Sustad, Andy Cave and Brendan Murphy), Arwa Tower (1999, with Sustad), Mount Kennedy (2000, with Cave), Siguniang (2002, with Paul Ramsden). Siguniang’s hard ice climbing on a fabulous face in deepest China was so admired by the international climbing community that it won the US Golden Piton’ and the French & #145;Piolet d’Or’, both awards given for the finest alpine achievements in the world during that year. The author describes his travels in the great traditions, with engaging modesty and wit, but the climbs themselves are frequently so dramatic that the anxiety and tension forces its way to the surface to be matched by a corresponding relief and triumph when success and safe descent is achieved. Mick Fowler has thus become Britain’s most successful exponent of high-standard lightweight mountaineering in the greater ranges. At 48 he is already something of an elder statesman of a cadre of international activists. They are steadily ticking off the most challenging lines in the world a golden age’ of super-alpinism that is now in full swing. How this influences activities on the 8000m peaks where the dangers (rarefied air, weather severity and sheer scale) are greater is an open question. History suggests that as major challenges on the lower peaks are steadily mastered the focus will return to technical challenges offered at the higher altitudes. Whether the results will exceed achievements such as the Kurtyka/Schauer (Gasherbrum 4) and the Bohigas/Lucas (Annapurna 1) remains to be seen. The combination of exotic travel with major climbs provides the ultimate adrenalin-soaked holiday experience that Mick Fowler has mastered to the full. We are transported from the cliffs of Jordan, to remote peaks in deepest Asia, via Taweche and Changabang in the Himalaya, with jaunts to the Andes and Alaska thrown in for good measure. That Fowler has organised this routine for years, while holding down a conventional nine-to-five job with the Inland Revenue, has constantly amazed his peers. In this, his second book, he has also mastered the skills of amusing travel-writing to entertain us as a preliminary to the finale of a titanic struggle on each of his fiendishly demanding climbs.