Sprayway and a striking colour scheme.....

14th Feb 2014

Sprayway is a British clothing manufacturer that will be very familiar to many.  They are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary and during their long period in business they've equipped everything from groundbreaking ascents through to many thousands of users enjoying personal adventures.  As part of their birthday celebrations I am delighted they have offered to support the upcoming Trek & Mountain/Peak Mountaineering Scottish Winter Weekender by providing every attendee with a stunning Grendal softshell jacket worth £180 (Sprayway are only making 300).  The jacket will be a perfect protective layer when the Highland winds blow over the weekend and the striking colour scheme is borrowed from one of Sprayway's most famous sponsored climbers.......
It was in my early years of mountain adventure that I heard the news of a terrible disaster on one of the planets deadliest mountains, K2.  I remember watching the news reports as if it was yesterday, even though it was in fact as long ago as 1995.  A group of climbers, caught in a sudden and terrible storm on the upper ramparts of the mountain, had nowhere to go.  One by one they were plucked from the slopes before they could reach the fixed ropes that may have offered them a slim chance of survival.  6 climbers died.
One of the climbers lost on that fateful day was leading British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves.  Alison was, by all accounts, an extremely strong and determined mountaineer who had completed solo ascents of many Alpine test pieces as well as a completely solo ascent of Everest without supplementary oxygen.  Infact, it was soon after Everest that she went to K2 as part of a plan to summit the world's 3 highest peaks (the third being Kanchenjunga).  In reaching both K2 and Everest's summits without supplementary oxygen Alison had achieved something no woman had previously done,  but her tragic death on the descent led to a huge amount of publicity.  
Unfortunately, many media sources chose to focus not on her achievements as a mountaineer, but rather on perceived recklessness.  The reason? At the time of her death Alison was a mother to 2 very young children and this was the angle the press chose to pursue.  How could a mother of children so young take such ridiculous risks?  What was she thinking? Was she a responsible mother?  Should mothers of young children be banned from taking such risks?  The media took their gloves off and fought dirty.  It must have been a very distressing time for her family - I was distressed at the venom and I had never even met her!
It did, however, raise several interesting points.  Firstly, there was the gender angle.  For many years men had taken great risks in the name of exploration and they never seem to have been vilified in the same way.  Somehow being an adventurous father wasn't the same as being an adventurous mother.  It was also interesting that the press reports, as far as I remember, didn't explore the whole picture about why Alison was pushing the boundaries in the mountains.  Although she clearly had a passion for climbing she was also, at the time of her death, responsible for supporting her family.  She was making a living from her professional climbing career and knew that, if she was able to complete the triple, she would be a long way towards securing her families financial future.  It is clear from literature that has been written in the intervening years that Alison was finding it desperately difficult to spend time away from her children.  She was a mother torn between two worlds and the simplistic viewpoint of the press didn't seek to explore her dilemma.
The dilemma Alison faced has, of course, undoubtedly influenced many mountaineers.  The magnetic draw of the mountains and the challenges they offer versus the responsibilities to family and friends can be hard to reconcile.  It is also a theme that has been discussed in countless books, autobiographies and articles.  I have had friends that have given up climbing once long term  relationships or children come along.  I have also had friends that have keep pushing their personal boundaries as hard as possible.  Most commonly, in my experience, often friends find an in between.  Maybe there are less of the long expeditions or unprotected rock climbs, but there are still plenty of adventures to enjoy.
We all make our own choices.  The press argue that those who seek the limelight, and publicity was certainly necessary for Alison's career as a professional climber, are open to any analysis.  But surely we need to make sure that analysis is balanced and respects those that were left behind?  Luckily, there are several texts exploring Alison's life (and death) that offer a far more thorough and balanced analysis. In particular I recommend David Rose and Ed Douglas's 'Regions of the Heart', Jim Curran's 'K2: Triumph and Tragedy', Jennifer Jordan's 'Savage Summit' and it is also well worth reading Alison's own book 'A Hard Day's Summer'.
 Posted by Paul