A Climbing Record: Eight climbs logged by Chris Bonington

Despite Sir Chris Bonington’s glowing track record in the greater ranges, he also climbed extensively across the UK. The iconic first ascent of Old Man of Hoy is only part of the story, Chris put up the Cheddar Gorge classic Coronation Street in 1964 and his development as a mountaineer was strongly mirrored in his development as a rock and winter climber. From the early sandstone days at Harrison’s Rock to the Scottish Highlands, Chris climbed some of the most iconic lines in Britain, and even been a first ascensionist on a few.


img012King Cobra, E1 5b, Sgurr Mhic Coinnich, Skye

FA Chris Bonington, Tom Patey. 1960.

With the soaring Cullin ridgeline as a setting, the routes on Skye are often remote and little climbed. King Cobra gives exactly these qualities and despite the dihedral providing climbing and rock quality that doesn’t scream classic, the backdrop of Sgurr Mhich Coinnich more than makes up for this. Before their escapades on the OId Man of Hoy, Chris Bonington and Tom Patey were here six years earlier in 1960 to make the first ascent of this remote mountain route. A direct E3 variation was completed in 1992 by B. Davison and H. Day.


Coronation Street, E1 5b, Cheddar Gorge

FA Chris Bonington, Tony Greenbank. 1965.

The steep imposing line so named after the film that was made was shown on ITV. The team made two attempts on the line, succeeding ahead of Pete Crew who was also contemplating the route. The notorious Shield pitch gives full exposure with the airy gorge spread beneath you. Groups of ‘tourists stood slack-jawed’ watching the progress of Chris and Tony during 1965 and has gone on to become on of the gorge’s most iconic lines.


7301821768_96f44c7596_oMarch Hare’s Gully, IV 4, Beinn Bhan

FWA Chris Bonington, Tom Patey. 1969.

The first significant line to be completed on Beinn Bhan which tops out close to its summit. The line was climbed the day before locals Allen Fyffe, Mary Anne Alburger and C. MacInnes put up the more amenable North Gully. In the same year, Chris and Tom teamed up with Don Whillans to make the first winter ascent of the huge Great Gully on Garbh Bheinn which was first climbed as a summer rock route by W. H. Murray and Doug Scott in 1946. The exploits of Murray and Scott on the summer route is excellently documented in the superb 1951 book Undiscovered Scotland published in 1951.


img009East Face Route, E1 5b, Old Man of Hoy

FA Chris Bonington, Tom Patey, Rusty Baillie. 1966.

Climbed once for pleasure and once for the cameras. The huge monolith of rock in the Orkney archipelago boasts adventure like few other routes in the UK can. Originally climbed over two days and repeated for BBC audiences a year later, the contrast between the media furore and a small silent team of three in 1966 is stark. The logistical operation run by John Cleare and Hamish MacInnes saw the likes of military units, boats and camera platforms all run to meticulous detail for the live broadcast. Chris even practiced the crux crack pitch the day beforehand – just to be certain.


32728811702_562a9aa968_oRaven’s Gully, V 5, Buachaille Etive Mor

FWA Hamish MacInnes, Chris Bonington. 1953.

Little did Chris know that his first trip to Glencoe would contain a first ascent of a coveted winter line that is now a classic of the notorious Slime Wall. Barely looking his nineteen years, a chance encounter with Hamish MacInnes at the Lagangarbh climbing hut saw Chris go from stumbling across deep snow to climbing a hard mixed winter climb with a legend of Scottish climbing in the space of a day. It’s a route that rarely sees ascents given the lack of ice build-up, however it remains a seminal line in the development of Scottish winter climbing and a product of the strong hut tradition of British mountaineering where bonds of camaraderie are formed amongst strangers.


4612250886_8e71e0e7cc_oCruel Sister, E3 5c, Pavey Ark

FA J Lamb, P Botterill. 1975.

Despite being one of the shorter climbs on Pavey Ark, Cruel Sister nonetheless holds serious clout amidst the cliffs multitude of classics. First climbed by J Lamb and P Botterill in 1975, its three pitches take a central line up Pavey Ark and top out on Jack’s Rake. Chris climbed the route with Jim Loxham nearly 10 years later at the age of 50, this was to be his first ever E3 lead. The route was notably included in Ken Wilson’s classic publication Extreme Rock released in 1987.


36473802213_de8e2af5b0_oAthanor, E3 6a, Goat Crag, Borrowdale

FA J. Adams, C. Read. 1968. FFA J. Lamb, K. Rudd. 1974.

Immediately next to the iconic route Footless Crow, Athanor, alongside many other Borrowdale routes developed in part from the growth of indoor climbing walls during the 60s, giving what the 1978 Borrowdale guide book referred to as the ‘steel claws necessary for today’s top performers’. Yet despite this progression in training, no less than six pitons were used during the first ascent in 1968, and it would remain so until J. Lamb and K. Rudd climbed it free in 1974. For Chris this was to be his first 6a lead which he achieved in 1986 with partner Dave Absalom.


img008The Medlar, E4 6a, Raven Crag Thirlmere

FA Chris Bonington, Martin Boysen. 1964. FFA 1976.

Climbed initially with three points of aid, the route went free over a decade later when C. Jones climbed the line in 1976. Bonington and Boysen first put the route up in August 1964 which follows an open book corner over technical ground after starting next to the cave. Chris proved prolific at Raven Crag, also claiming the classic Lake District E1 Totalitarian in 1964 which takes in the cliffs full length over four magnificent pitches.


Man and Mountain, our new exhibition on world renowned mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington is open at Keswick Museum from the 19th May 2018 to the 6th January 2019. Find out more here.