Alan Hinkes

Features Issue 34 Aug, 2010
Text by Dinesh Rai

Alan Hinkes was born on 26th April, 1954 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire in England and was brought up in a country farm. He has been working with Berghaus and at other times works as a mountain guide. He also gives lectures and writes for “Trail” magazine. He has climbed 13 out of the 14 eight thousanders (mountains over 8000m high). He plans to climb Mt. Kanchenjunga (the last on his list) next year to reach his goal. When he achieves that, he will be the first Briton to climb all 14. Alan believes no mountain is worth a life; for him returning is a success and the summit is only a bonus. He has been on 28 expeditions to the 8000m peaks and made only 13 summits. Safety comes first to Alan, and he knows when to turn back.

When did your interest in climbing begin?
My interest in climbing goes back to my school days when I was around 12. At the age of 14, I used to walk up the hills and went on to climb the Matterhorn. Then I went to Kilimanjaro and also to the Kulu valley in India.

Who were your inspirations?
Joe Brown, Chris Bonnington and of course, Kukuczka who was the second person to climb all the 8000m peaks. The first eight thousander I climbed was Shisha Pangma and I climbed with Kukuczka. On this first major climb one of our companions got frost bitten. He later died. I learnt a lot from this climb.

So far which has been the most difficult climb?
K2 is the toughest and more technical. Much tougher than Everest and has the worst weather. It also has more difficult sections to climb. It lies in Pakistan and that country is very different compared to Nepal. There are no lodges, tea shops and bars. Comparatively Nepal has clean hotels.

Have you had any close calls or any major accident?
The worst accident actually happened on a trek in 1995. I fell off the path and was lucky to be saved by a tree. I was flown back to Kathmandu by helicopter and then taken to Bangkok for treatment. Another close call was on the Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. A rock fall nearly killed me. Then on the Kanchenjunga, I fell into a crevasse while coming down. I broke one arm and it took me another 8 hours to reach base camp. But the worst accident I had was nowhere near a mountain. I was driving with my daughter Fiona, when the car rolled over two and a half times. I broke some ribs but luckily nothing happened to my daughter.

When did you set this goal of climbing all 8,000 meter peaks?
By 1996 I had climbed eight of them and I thought, why not go on and do the rest.

You have one more to go, which is Kanchenjunga. It’s a difficult one; how do you feel about climbing it?
It is harder than Everest. Unlike on Everest, a track has not been made, because not many people climb Kanchenjunga. So I will have to make my own track. This will be my second attempt as I was not successful the first time.

When did you summit Everest and what did it feel like? Any major problems?
I knew I could do it. I was working then, making a TV film on Everest. From the summit I took some pictures of Lhotse. Some people take a flag to the summit of a mountain, while others just take themselves. I always carry a photograph of Fiona and take it out when I reach the top. This reminds me that no mountain is worth a life. Fiona and I have a pact- I trust her to be there when I get back and she trusts me to come home safely. I summited Everest in 1996, didn’t spend much time on the top. Getting back safely is very important. A week later, there was a storm and three people died on the north side.

Is Reinhold Messner considered the best climber?
He’s possibly the world’s best climber. He was the first to climb all fourteen eight thousanders. He was also the first to climb Everest solo.

What is it like climbing Everest from the Tibet side (north side)?
The negative side of climbing from the north is that a lot of equipment get stolen. I haven’t experienced that, climbing from the Nepal side. I have climbed Shisha Pangma in Tibet. I climbed twice and both from new routes.

You’re away from home a lot. How does your family take it?
My daughter Fiona accepts it. Since she was a little girl I have been climbing and as she grew older she realized the dangers. She is now 20 and studying at the University. She’s been to Pakistan and Bangladesh with me and had a difficult time in Pakistan. Women are treated so differently there. There’s a lot women cannot do in Pakistan. She has never been to Nepal and I plan to bring her here.

What are your views on commercial expeditions?

I would like to bring tourists for treks. May be take people to the mountains like Cho Oyu or trekking peaks like Mera Peak.

You were one of the recipients of the medal during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations. What was it like and how did it feel to have such a large gathering of climbers and sherpas?
It was great to be in the event. I met a lot of friends whom I hadn’t met for a long time. But for me climbing Kanchenjunga is more significant. And next year I climb it.

Do you see further challenges after the 14? May be the seven summits?

The seven summits in the seven continents will be the next challenge, since I have already climbed four of them, which leaves just three. After the seven highest, I could go on to do the 2nd highest mountains in the seven continents because they are more difficult. I named a peak in Tien Shan after my daughter Fiona and four others after RAF pilots. I will be the first to do the 2nd highest, if I achieve my goal.

Which are the continents you have climbed in?

I have climbed in Africa, Europe, Alaska, South America (Equador, Argentina, Peru and in Iriyanjaya.

Is there still a lot of enthusiasm for climbing in England?

Yes, every day people go rock climbing.

What do you do besides climbing?
Most of the time, I am climbing. Besides that I do some writing, biking (mountain bikes), exploring caves, skiing (in Scotland but mostly in Europe), canoeing, kayaking, etc.

What’s your opinion of the book “Into Thin Air”?

It’s a good book and I enjoyed reading it. It’s written by someone who climbed the mountain. But Anatoli Boukreev could have been shown in better light. I met him in 1993 on Mt. K2. We helped somebody down instead of going up to the summit. He was also doing the 8000m peaks.

Have you spent time in Nepal away from the mountain?
I’ve done some rafting and I went up to Kakani, where the British Embassy has a guest house. I haven’t been much to the south.

What is your impression of Nepal?
I like coming here. I have made lots of Nepali friends. I’m used to the life here. The bandhs are frustrating, but I like to bike around. The pollution bothers me but I like it here. The Nepali people are so friendly.

Any favorite spots?
Yes, I like Namche and Kakani.

What would you tell other mountaineers who want to emulate your feat?
I would tell them to be prepared for the hardship. They should remember, no mountain is worth a life. Coming back is a success. Be prepared to turn back and try again. Be prepared to spend a lot of time.

What will you do when you go back?
I will be working in Austria doing some guiding. Then I’ll be guiding in Morroco. Then I’ve got lectures in England.