ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Alan Hinkes at the summit of K2, one of the 14 mountains above 8,000m he has climbed
ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Alan Hinkes at the summit of K2, one of the 14 mountains above 8,000m he has climbed

Teesdale-based Alan Hinkes is the first Briton to climb the world’s 14 mountains above 8,000m – one of an exclusive club of just 12 people alive who have achieved that feat. His love affair with the mountains began at Northallerton Grammar School, progressed to the Alps and graduated at the Himalaya. Awarded an OBE in 2006 he works as an outdoor equipment consultant, writes for magazines and lectures on his exploits. He still enjoys heading to the hills, rock climbing and fell walking in the Lake District and Yorkshire.

When did you first discover a love for the outdoors?
It was probably always there – I loved raking about the countryside.
I was aways adventurous. I looked at fells and wanted to climb them. In my early teens at Northallerton Grammar School I got chance to take up fell walking and climbing.

And how did that develop into a passion for hills and mountains?
I knew from the start that I wanted a life in the hills and mountains. I developed my skills, experience and stamina – Scotland in the winter, which is a harsh testing environment; the Alps, with ascents of routes such as the North Face of the Eiger; and to the greater ranges, the Himalaya, climbing Everest, K2 and all 14 peaks over 8,000m. I took part in more than 60 expeditions.

How did you learn to become a climber – did you have a particular mentor?
Teachers took me out and mentors/older climbers helped in local clubs such as Cleveland Mountaineering Club and the North Yorkshire Youth Service.

What do you consider your first success as a mountaineer – and why?
It was probably when I was 15 or 16 on a school trip along Striding Edge, Helvellyn.
It was wet, slippery and very windy.
I was nearly blown off. It would have probably put most people off but I wanted more – I relished the challenge.
I did feel good after climbing the North Face of the Eiger.
This was a milestone – a difficult and dangerous climb with a lot of deadly rockfall.
It is still a significant and respected climb amongst mountaineers.

What made you give up teaching to concentrate on mountaineering full time?
The time was right and I had the chance to go on a Himalayan expedition.
I developed my skills and passed out as a Mountain Guide, an international qualification which is the same standard as that of a Swiss Guide.
You are best known for scaling all 14 of the world's mountains above 8,000m. Was this something you deliberately set out to achieve – or did that come after you had climbed the first few?
Initially, I was climbing new routes on the mountains above 8000.
I spent three consecutive yrs attempting K2. Eventually, I had climbed eight of the 14 including K2 – the hardest – and Everest, the highest.
When there were only six left, that was when I decided to try to climb all 14.
At the time, only six or so people had done it then.
I became 12th when I succeeded – the same as the number of people who have walked on moon.

Of the 14, which was the most challenging?
It would be K2, the second highest or Kangchenjunga, the third highest which is only 14m lower than K2 and got more difficult climbing high at 8,500m-plus.
Both are more serious than Everest, with more difficult technical climbing, worse weather, more avalanches and rockfalls.
Both are also more remote with longer more arduous walk-ins to base camp.

How difficult is it to organise expeditions to these far flung places – how long would it take to put a trip together; and how were they funded?
Firstly, you need to get permit from the Ministry of Tourism – usually $20,000. Then you have to organise air cargo and clear it through customs
You need to recruit a team of porters to get all the equipment to base camp which can be ten-day trek – or 14 days for K2.
Porters have to be paid and you need to book and pay for flights – years ago before my time it was a sea journey).
Sometimes I got financial help – some sponsorship – but usually I worked giving talks and guiding and invested my own income.

What do you consider your greatest climbing achievement – and why?
It was successfully completing all 14 peaks above 8,000m.
Most people who try don’t succeed because they get killed – often as they are attempting the last few, ie their 12th, 13th or 14th mountain – or give up when they have done nine or ten of them when they realise the odds are against them.
I didn’t have a death wish though. I climb to live, not to die and climbing enhances my life.

You have often said the success of a climb is not necessarily reaching the summit but returning safely. Have there been occasions when you have felt in danger?
I made 27 attempts to summit all14 which I class as 27 successes, not 14 successes and 13 failures
Coming back from an expedition is a success and reaching the summit is only a bonus.
I had a few close shaves, near misses andnear death experiences along the way.
A lot are featured in my book – 8,000m Climbing the World’s Highest Peaks.
I’ve also had a few hairy moments in UK – I didn’t have to go to Himalaya for danger. It is always there in the mountains and fells and can catch you out at any time.
I’ve been avalanched in Lake District and escaped serious injury.
Be prepared and try not to get complacent.

More often than not you are to be found on the fells of Teesdale or the hills in the Lake District – do you think there will ever be a time when you put your feet up?
Never! I love the fells of northern England.
You don’t have to spend two or three months as part of an expedition to the Himalaya to have a “value for money” experience.
You can have a fabulous day out locally and it can be as difficult as you want to make it, especially in winter when conditions can be serious and where crampons and ice axes are essential pieces of kit.

Alan Hinkes’ book 8,000m Climbing the World’s Highest Peaks is available from the Teesdale Mercury shop.