One Day As A Tiger

12th Dec 2015


One day as a tiger

'The wall was the ambition.  The style became the obsession.' Alex McIntyre

Climbing develops through the innovators.  The people that will invent new equipment,  different styles or new ways to do things.  It raises standards, make previously unthinkable objectives possible and increases the visibility of what once was a niche community.  

There have been innovators since climbing began and there will always be more new ideas people coming through the ranks, but a really interesting period in climbing history that saw significant changes in methodology was the mid to late 70's and early 1980's.  It happened across all branches of the sport, but nowhere was it more apparent than in expedition climbing and alpinism.  

This was an era when ideas were shifting from the large siege style expedition approach to lightweight small teams pushing the boundaries on difficult routes.  Several climbers were instrumental in making this change but I have just been reading about one of the most active, Alex McIntyre.

John Porters book, One Day as a Tiger, is a fascinating account of everything about Alex - the audacious adventures he and Alex shared, Alex's contribution to climbing development, vivid descriptions of the climbs he completed with others and his contributions to the wider climbing community via his work as British Mountaineering Council (BMC) National Officer.  

Alex is portrayed as a complex and sometimes abrasive character, but a great friend to many and a person with the vision and drive needed to perform at the highest level.  He was also a talented strategist and product developer whose life was tragically snuffed out when he was struck by a single fist sized rock to the head while he attempted the South Face of Annapurna.  Alex died at only 26 years old.

One Day as a Tiger brilliantly sums up a time of climbing anarchy and decadence, but also a period when standards developed rapidly and the leading climbers were implementing new ideas with great effect.  One of these changes came with the move away from large expeditions to small teams climbing routes alpine style.  Ascents like Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker's mind boggling ascent of the vast West Face of Changabang in 1977 helped to lead the way, but Alex continued to push the boundaries of the possible even further on everything from big alpine faces to Scottish winter routes and high altitude mountains.  

For Alex, the style was key.  He wanted to climb hard things of course, but he also wanted to climb them in impeccable style and that was usually minimal equipment, a fast ascent and little back up.  Porter describes how Alex climbed a rapid series of routes and gradually honed his style over a relatively short period.  Who knows what he could have gone on to achieve if he had lived longer.

Alex had trained as a barrister and, although he never pursued a career in law, he had an analytical mind and bundles of brain power.  He was able to put these skills to great use during his period at the British Mountaineering Council (BMC). The BMC was a very different animal in those days although Alex was able to predict that its role would continue to develop drastically over the coming decades.  He was right of course and mountain activities have spiralled in popularity and the need for an organisation that can oversee the growing need for regulation through instructor qualifications along with a body that can fight for access rights and help forge the future path of the sport has never been more important.  One marker of this alone is that the BMC now employs nearly 30 staff rather than only 3 during Alex's time there.

As styles changed and standards rose it also became essential to develop equipment that could match in terms of performance and function.  Alex proved to be a naturally talented designer and worked with a number of manufacturers including equipment guru Mike Parsons.  Some of his rucksack, tent and hardware designs have stood the test of time and features he developed can still be seen in modern equipment.

John Porter details how Alex always sought recognition and fame to match his achievements, but still climbed primarily because he loved climbing.  Whether it was a day on the local crags near his home in Hayfield or a big mountain route, he was a climber through and through.  Towards the end the book quotes transcript from an interview with Mountain Magazine where Alex said as much. When editor Ken Wilson asked him if he would climb without the prestige Alex responded "I would carry on climbing regardless.  If I saw a picture of a big nasty face in deepest Xingiang or Siberia, and I thought I could sneak in and climb it and never tell anyone, I'd be off like a shot."

One Day as a Tiger is a beautifully crafted book and will be enjoyed by everyone from armchair climbers to ground breaking activitsts.  I really recommend it goes onto your 'must read' list.

Posted by Paul

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