The Breach Kilimanjaro and the Conquest of Self – Rob Taylor.

I visited Hamish MacInnes in Glencoe a few weeks ago he was on sparkling form. During my visit he was awaiting for a call from the USA from his old friend Rob Tayor. Hamish met Rob in the 60’s when as a young 17 year old he wrote to Hamish in Glencoe and came over from the USA to learn from the master. They have a friendship that has lasted a lifetime Rob became a top mountaineer and world class Alpilnist but he loved Scotland and Glencoe where he worked with Hamish and the “Glencoe mafia” for many years.

The  Breach - Pick your companions carefully.

The Breach – Pick your companions carefully.

This is the account of the author’s attempted ascent of the Icicle Route on the Breach Wall of Kilimanjaro. Author was injured in a fall from the icicle. Controversial rescue & conflict ensued. Taylor uses a pseudonym in this book for his partner, Henry Barber. This is a good read.  The first ascent of this route was completed later by Reinhold Messner.


”The Breach: Kilimanjaro and the Conquest of Self” (1981). Its author, Rob Taylor, accused his ropemate of letting him fall and break an ankle and then abandoning him on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Mr. Taylor identified the companion by the pseudonym Harley Warner, whom everyone in American mountaineering immediately recognized as Henry Barber, nicknamed ”Hot Henry” in the 1970’s for his dazzling pioneering of new rock ascents.

”From the start Harley and I were never friends,” Mr. Taylor began, and went on to accuse his erstwhile partner of so many defects, from social ambition and ac-Christopher Wren, an assistant foreign editor at The Times, is an experienced rock and ice climber. Acceptance of ”the dogma of the dollar” to insouciant atheism and a rasping snore, that even before they had bickered their way to Kilimanjaro’s ill-fated Breach Wall, the logical reader wondered why the two had bothered to link up. Mr. Taylor concluded disingenuously that ”an avalanche is not malicious unto itself, nor was Harley. He was what he was.”

Literature has witnessed character assassinations committed on flimsier grounds than those set forth by Mr. Taylor, who was lucky to have suffered nothing worse than a broken ankle on Kilimanjaro. Mr. Barber has spared readers his account of the controversy, but he told friends that after his partner’s accident he rushed down the mountain to summon rescuers and tell them where Mr. Taylor lay bivouacked and then, too exhausted to climb back up with them, caught a scheduled flight to Houston.

This book I read many years ago in 1978 it tells a tale of a climb to Kilimanjaro the remote Breach Wall. This is on the other side of a huge mountain a place where few visit. It is a tale of a warm up climb on the famous ice climb the Diamond Couloir in Mount Kenya. The travel through a war torn Africa and then the attempt on an unclimbed ice route on Kilimanjaro. Rob tells a tale of two very different people himself and his climbing partner a world famous American climber. There are so different in many ways  and there is tension all through the trip. Rob’s companion is on a tight schedule throughout the trip to get home as he has many business involvements planned in the USA. Rob is also haunted by the loss of his best friend Dave Knowles who was killed filming on the Eiger and has many thoughts on this trip of his friend. Eventually they reach Kilimanjaro and have a wild trip through jungle to reach this wild side of the mountain where the climb is. On the climb very high up  Rob falls and breaks his ankle on the crux of the route. He blames his rope-mate for not stopping  his fall and the badly damaged ankle.  They are high up on the mountain and very alone. His partner helps him off  an epic on its own but has to leave him still very  high on the mountain in a basic bivouack. In the book his companion to go for help, he expects him back within 24 hours but it is a long way for help. It takes him 36 hours to reach civilization.  Rob is alone for several days, his leg is getting worse and he is in terrible pain and worried about his leg and infection. In this period the worries  and fears he has are of dying alone in a wild mountain are well told. Two days later after a 14 hour journey at altitude  eventually basic help arrives  in the form of Odd Eliassen a local guide from  Norway who works in the area. He  arrives with some local Park Rangers but with no stretcher they carry drag him down the mountain. It takes two days and involves incredible effort. Odd gives Rob morphine to help with the pain but what an epic they have getting him down. There is no rescue service on this side of the mountain, it is wild and remote and takes superhuman effort Odd carries Rob on his back at times and is exhausted but they get him down. It is an incredible tale the heroism of the rescuers or the working at altitude is an amazing tale in its own right and so is Rob’s will to live. His partner who went for help  is exhausted, yet amazingly he leaves for the USA the next day. He has business commitments and Rob feels so alone. Rob is left alone in a strange country and nearly dies, it is some story. After they get him off the mountain he has a horror time in the very basic hospital where he nearly dies and loses his leg. It is a terrible story of the huge difference between such a basic medical service and what we moan about and take for normal in the UK  and USA..  Rob eventually gets back to the USA after his family raise the money to pay for his medical care and flights home. His climbing partner in the meantime has even visited Rob’s family and told a tale very different from what happened when Rob  was struggling for life in Africa.

This book is so graphic the gradual breakdown between two people so different and each has so different agendas. The name of Rob’s climbing partner were given a pseudonym due to the fear of litigation but what a tale.  It is so so well worth reading especially if you are a climber and going to some remote area where you and your partner rely on each other when it all goes wrong!

The book is a real gift, not only as an insight into the inner strength that we can all draw upon in our most critical hours, but also in the artful way it combines adventure and psychology with anthropological and cultural musings to create a thoroughly deep and satisfying meal of a read.

Pick your partner well!

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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