History’s Most Stylish Mountaineers
Mr George Lowe, Junbesi, Nepal, 1953. Photograph by Mr Alfred Gregory/Royal Geographical Society Images
The legendary climbers who reached the highest sartorial summits.
There are, in life, a set of virtues that have universal appeal. Heroism, physical bravery, strength of body and mind, vision, ambition, determination and honour, they cannot fail to move. These are the qualities that are so sorely tested – literally and metaphorically – when climbers risk everything in their attempts to scale the world’s highest peaks. The acclaim afforded to the great alpinists is as much a recognition of their spirit as it is of their physical achievements.
There are, of course, as many motivations for going mountaineering as there are mountaineers. Pioneering expeditions such as Mr Maurice Herzog’s 1950 ascent of Annapurna (the first 8,000m peak ever to be reached), were often government-sponsored ventures driven by national pride. When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, Mr George Mallory famously answered, “Because it’s there,” which neatly sums it up.
Others have more personal reasons. Austrian climber Mr Herbert Tichy once said that the reason he decided to climb Cho Oyu while sitting at its base, was “a longing for the boundless peace of evenings such as these”. It’s telling that many mountaineers, Mr Tichy among them, go on to forge indelible bonds with both the environment and the people they encounter on their expeditions.
Even if, despite the beauty of the mountains and the lure of the peaks, a man isn’t tempted to try climbing, he can connect with it in another way. And that’s because much of the kit worn by mountaineers has broad sartorial appeal. Goose-down jackets, bobble hats, backpacks, hiking boots and thermals all have their origins in alpine culture. Thermals take the form of cotton or woollen long-sleeve T-shirts or sweaters, and work by trapping small pockets of warm air against the body. Whether a man’s hanging out in his neighbourhood, or hanging off a cliff face, thermals are this season’s most desirable insulating layer.
Here is a roundup of the world’s greatest climbers whose sartorial performance up the peaks matched their skills at scaling them.
Mr George Mallory
From left: Messrs Siegfried Hertford and George Mallory, Pen-y-Pass, Snowdonia, Wales, 1913. Photograph by Mr Geoffrey Winthrop-Young/Alpine Club Photo Library, London
There’s no one who more equally appeals to both menswear obsessives and alpinists than Mr George Mallory, the handsome Brit who died on the hitherto unscaled upper reaches of Mount Everest in 1924. Menswear obsessives like the fact that he climbed in the kind of old-school kit that’s now only worn by men out shooting on British grouse moors. Alpinists are impressed because, despite his foppish clothes, Mr Mallory was a true warrior in the mountains. This snowy scene was captured at Pen-y-Pass in Wales’ Snowdonia region in the winter of 1913. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Mr Mallory clearly thought that the day called for shorts.
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MR HERMANN BUHL
Mr Hermann Buhl during the first ascent of Nanga Parbat, July 1953. Photograph by Mr Walter Frauenberger. Courtesy of Archiv des Deutschen Alpenvereins, Munich
Austrian Mr Hermann Buhl was one of the pioneers of the “alpine” approach, which saw climbers carry their own kit, and eschew fixed ropes and supplementary oxygen. In July 1953, Mr Buhl became the first man to climb Pakistan’s 8,126m-tall Nanga Parbat (he did the last 1,300m on his own). Mr Buhl is the only man to have achieved the first ascent of an 8,000m mountain climbing solo. He went on to be part of the three-man team that conquered Broad Peak (another 8,000m mountain) in June 1957, but died on Chogolisa, in Pakistan’s Karakoram region, only weeks later – aged just 32. Given his achievements, it seems a bit trivial to admire his plaid shirt, grey sweater and his canvas tent, but admiration does not diminish his successes on the mountain.
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MR WALTER BONATTI
Mr Walter Bonatti during winter solo ascent on the North wall of Monte Cervino, Zermatt, winter 1965. Photograph by Mr Mario De Biasi/Mondadori Portfolio
This Italian climber was born in Bergamo, in the north of Italy and his ascents included K2, the world’s second-highest peak, the vertiginous Aguille du Dru, near Mont Blanc in France, Gasherbrum IV, along with K2 in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains, and Ninashanca, Peru. Clean-cut, by mountaineering standards, Mr Bonatti had a penchant for plaid flannel shirts, bobble-hats and sand-coloured goose-down jackets. It’s a selection of garments that would form the basis of a sound casual wardrobe this season.
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MR HERBERT TICHY
Mr Herbert Tichy in the recreating phase in camp I, Cho Oyu, Tibet, 1954. Photograph courtesy of Archiv Jöchler
Despite suffering from frostbite on his hands, the Austrian climber Mr Herbert Tichy was a member of the three-man party that, in October 1954, made the first successful ascent of Cho Oyu, which straddles the China-Nepal border and is, at 8,201m, the world’s sixth highest mountain. Perhaps Mr Tichy kept going, aside from the peace at the summit, because he was climbing with the highly motivated Mr Pasang Dawa Lama, a sherpa who’s marriage prospects were dependent on the group’s success on the mountain – he had been promised the hand of a villager’s daughter plus a substantial dowry if he reached the top. Mr Tichy looks rather intense in this shot, despite his recumbent position. It’s hard to tell from the shot where his jacket ends and his sleeping bag begins, but, whatever, that tan colour is spot on.
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Mr George Lowe
Mr George Lowe mends a jumper during a Mount Everest Expedition, 1953. Photograph by Mr Alfred Gregory/Royal Geographical Society Images
The New Zealander was part of the expedition that saw Mr Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary summit Mount Everest on 29 May 1953. On that trip, Mr Lowe got to an altitude of 8,500m in his capacity as a support climber, and he went on, between 1955 and 1958, to be part of the first expedition to reach the South Pole overland since the famous journeys made by Mr Roald Amundsen and Captain Robert Scott in 1911 and 1912, respectively. In this shot, Mr Lowe demonstrates the abiding appeal of a heavy-duty ribbed sweater, and a good quiff.
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Mr Galen Rowell
Mr Galen Rowell, Yosemite, 1965. Photograph by Mr Glen Denny
Every man on this list was a pioneer, but the Californian Mr Galen Rowell isn’t just remembered for his considerable climbing achievements, even though they include the first one-day ascents of Denali (at 6,190m, North America’s tallest peak), Africa’s Kilimanjaro, and the first ascent of Pakistan’s formidable Great Trango (6,286m). What really distinguished Mr Rowell was that he combined his climbing with first-class landscape photography (including cover stories for National Geographic), journalistic activism and other writing. In this shot, Mr Rowel sports a cosy but lightweight mock neck while he contemplates his next move.
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