Boldness in winter climbing : an old picture from the past.

When your out climbing this winter with all the great gear about from ice axes to crampons , harnesses, ice screws, rock protection, superb clothing etc. Get your guide book out and look at the dates of the first ascents and the Boldness of the past. Mixed winter climbing has always a huge part of our history and still is. This winter there has been so many incredible routes climbed by those at the forefront of climbing. Every year the standards improve.

The photo below was from the RAF KInloss Mountain Rescue Albums of Ian Spike Sykes on Alladins Lamp in the Cairngorms. Spike is climbing with a rope round his waist, no crampons on snow covered rock the photo is about Mid 60’s. It always allured me as it had a great atmospheric and in black and white makes it even more stunning. I love the frosted rock and how it looks like Spike is caressing the rock. No harness then just a Tarbuck knot round his waist. To me it’s a classic photo. Winter climbing was bold in these and early days just read the guide books and see the dates of the first ascents.

Ice axe info 1957

Sadly in pushing the standards in the early years with simple gear there were some tragedies. Ice axes breaking as they were used as belays but improving equipment and several gifted mountaineers pushed on. Names like W.H.Murray, Robin Smith, Jimmy Marshall, Tom Patey, Hamish MacInness and so many others they were in small pockets all over Scotland. How much do we owe them? Even in my early years we knew most of the winter climbers about it was a smaller world then. I even carried a spare terror as picks broke often. We had few ice screws then and a fall would be fatal. I remember doing Hadrians wall on Ben Nevis with 4 ice screws in total and leaving my spare Terror as a runner half way up the route!

In 1959, sixteen-year-old Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes left school and, after a short period of work at Leeds University, joined the RAF. Already a keen climber, he signed up on the promise of excitement and adventure and was posted to the remote RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the north of Scotland. It was the beginning of a journey which would see him involved in some of the most legendary call-outs in Scottish mountain rescue history, including the 1963 New Year tragedy on the Isle of Skye. In the Shadow of Ben Nevis tells Spike’s story from growing up in Leeds in the aftermath of the Second World War, to his time with the RAF during the cold war. After leaving the RAF, he remained an active member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and was involved in the first lower down the north face of Ben Nevis – an epic 1,500-foot descent to rescue stricken climbers in the middle of winter. Following a two-and-a-half-year stint on Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, he returned to the Highlands and opened the first Nevisport shop with his close friend Ian ‘Suds’ Sutherland. Together, they brought Sunday trading to Fort William and were one of a small number of shops to revolutionise outdoor retail in the UK. Later, he was a key player in the development of the Nevis Range ski area. Over many years, and against all odds, the project became a reality and a great success. Recounted within these pages are a great many lively tales of adventures and mishaps, told with immediacy and charm. With a foreword by legendary Scottish mountaineer Hamish MacInnes, a close friend of Spike’s, In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Scottish mountaineering and mountain rescue.


This book tells of the life and experiences of a unique character and should appeal to anyone with a spirit of adventure. – Stu Gallagher, Alpine Club One man in his time plays many parts.’ This is certainly true of Spike, and this autobiography takes us through them – RAF MRT member in the primitive pre-helicopter days, outdoor instructor, FIDS ‘gash man’, entrepreneur, Lochaber MRT member, and throughout it all a climber whose experience ranges from hitch-hiking and barn-dossing as an impoverished teenager to helicopter drops into exotic locations. Not a typical climbing autobiography – and all the better for it. — R T Richardson, former president of the Scottish Mountaineering Club

Suffice to say, In The Shadow… is a rattling good yarn, and that’s before you even get on to Sykes’s life-saving work with the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and his climbing adventures in the Alps, the Yukon and elsewhere. – Roger Cox, The Scotsman This book is a good read about a man and his life of adventure in the mountains and out of them. – Nick Carter, Alpha Mountaineering It recounts many lively tales of adventure and mishap. — Eilidh Davies, Highland News

His stories of epic mountain rescues before the age of helicopter assistance, good communications, organised rescue teams and enforced drink driving laws are riveting. – Dave McLeod, Blogspot Hats off to Ian Sykes for a terrific read. Very highly recommended. — Ullapool News

About the Author

Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes was born and raised in Leeds during the Second World War. A climber since his youth, he joined the RAF at sixteen, working on the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the Scottish Highlands during a number of dramatic rescues. After leaving the RAF he worked with the British Antarctic Survey on the southern polar ice cap, where he ran a dog team and worked as a guide for the Survey’s field scientists. Back in Scotland, Spike and Ian Sutherland identified an opportunity for a climbing and outdoor equipment shop in the Highlands, and the first Nevisport shop was born. Both remained as members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue, the UK’s busiest team. Spike was also instrumental in the development of the ski area at Nevis Range on Aonach Mor, where he stayed on as managing director for twelve years. He is currently a director of Nevis Range, which is now also internationally renowned as a mountain biking centre.Spike was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to sport and mountain rescue, and in 2011 he received the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. His first book, Cry Argentina (978-1-846248-71-9), a semi-fictional account of the build-up to the invasion of South Georgia in the Falklands War, was published in 2013. In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is his second book. Spike lives in Fort William with his partner Gay, and has a daughter Eilidh.

A insight into the past I really enjoyed this book well worth a read .

1984 Polar Circus Canada

To me the book Cold Climbs was a wonderful insight into Winter climbing and still is with great writing on the history of these great climbs. What’s your favourite winter route? I wonder if I will get another done when I get fit.

A great book very influential on many of us. Wonderful memories, great days superb companions.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Books, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Boldness in winter climbing : an old picture from the past.

  1. 8carol says:

    A few (5) years ago I bumped into Spike at a do in the Sligachan on Skye. I mentioned that I had given up skiing because of the state of my knees and he said that he had almost been in that position but had discovered Ski – Mojos (basically bits of scaffolding with built in shock absorbers) and now felt as if he could tackle moguls again. I bought a set, and suffice it to say that tomorrow I’m off for a weeks skiing in Norway. I’ve already put two weeks in in Obergurgl this year. Thanks Spike.

    Liked by 1 person

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