Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Boardman Tasker prize

It is 30 years since Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker were last seen on Mount Everest attempting to traverse the pinnacles on the unclimbed north east ridge. To commemorate the lives of the two climbers who pioneered a series of groundbreaking ascents, as well as producing books that have acquired classic status, the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain literature was set up by family and friends in 1983. The aim was to promote mountain related literature and, three decades later, it is still going strong. The winner of the 2012 prize (from a very strong shortlist) is announced on Friday 16 November.

By coincidence, I've been working my way through the Boardman Tasker Omnibus, a collection that includes the climbers' four books - two published posthumously. I was familiar with some of Boardman's work but less so Tasker's. Apart from the well told tales of close calls and danger, what struck me about the latter's writing was his honesty about the risks and fears of life at high altitude.  As he says in Everest The Cruel Way, an account of a winter attempt on the west ridge in 1980, 'whichever way a big mountain is climbed it is rarely enjoyable'. Of course there is the physical hardship but there are also the tensions that develop between team members forced to spend weeks together in close proximity. Tasker doesn't shy away from criticising fellow climbers, but handles it in such a way that the reader understands disagreements in the context of the expedition.

Aside from this there are details that make you realise just how much has changed over the past 30 or so years. On his first Asian expedition, Tasker drives an old Ford Escort van across Europe, Iran and Afghanistan to get to Dunagiri, a 7,000 metre peak in Northern India. On the 1980 Everest trip, there is the excitement - in the pre-internet age - of receiving hand-written letters. Also, the team was filing news reports about the expedition for the Observer and in return the paper was mailing out a copy each week. Tasker describes the disorienting experience of reading news weeks after the event (including reports of John Lennon's death).

One minor disappointment with the Omnibus is the lack of photos from some of the climbs (or at least in my edition). I did come across came a Boardman Tasker feature about their 1980 K2 west ridge and Abruzzi spur expedition in the Observer though. This does include some stunning pictures. Both writers provide accounts of the climb in their respective books - one of the collection's strengths being the contrasting views of various expeditions.

The Observer, 15 February 1981
Some interesting notes by Boardman about his early climbing career, written in 1981 for a talk at Stockport Grammar School, can be read here.


  1. Thanks for posting that. I was at that talk which Pete Boardman gave at Stockport Grammar School - I was a pupil there at the time - and remember it as if it was yesterday. He described trying to sleep in his climbing gear and sleeping bag on the summit of Everest as 'like you spending the night in your pyjamas in a deep freeze'. Earlier I had met his parents, who were very elderly, at my great Uncle's house - possibly my great Uncle's ninetieth birthday party? They were friends. I always wondered how his parents came to terms with Pete's disappearance

  2. Many thanks for your comments. Interesting about the 'deep freeze' line. As you probably know, Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker prepared for the Changabang climb by spending a night or two - hammocks suspended from the ceiling - in a meat packing factory's deep freeze.

  3. Good to read something about Boardman and Tasker. Richard, Pete Boardman also wrote articles about Kangchenjunga and Kongur for the Observer magazine. Any chance of a trip to the archive to scan them?

  4. Hi Thea. Thanks for the tip and will see what I can find...

  5. Thanks Richard - Kangchenjunga article published 11 November 1979; Kongur on 15 November 1981.

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