Published: 25/01/2016 11:30 - Updated: 25/01/2016 11:38

Peak performance - on half a pack of digestives

Written byCalum Macleod

Rick Allen and Sandy Allan on the summit of Nanga Parbat.
Rick Allen and Sandy Allan on the summit of Nanga Parbat.

IT was described as "the last great climb" in the Himalayas, and for two 50-something Scottish climbers, the first ascent of the 8000m Mazeno Ridge was potentially their own last great adventure.

One they completed fuelled by just half a pack of digestive biscuits.

Yet Sandy Allan from Newtonmore and Rick Allen from Aberdeen kept going when others turned back to eventually stand on the summit of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world and regarded as one of the deadliest.

Since completing their ordeal in the summer of 2012, Sandy has spoken about his adventures to audiences in theatres and at mountain festivals in Europe and Canada, but next Wednesday will relive the ascent and his other adventures before a home audience at Eden Court in Inverness.

Originally from Dalwhinnie and brought up in Muir of Ord and Grantown, Sandy resisted following his father into the whisky industry to become a professional climber.

As a qualified mountain guide he can work anywhere in the world, from the Alps to the Himalayas, which he first visited at the age of 21 just a few years after taking up climbing seriously.

However, his involvement with Nanga Parbat began long before he and Rick successfully traversed the 13km ridge.

The pair were first invited to tackle the Himalayas’ longest ridge by English climber Doug Scott in 1995.

"There are eight 7000m peaks along the ridge and we managed to climb the first three, but then came to this point which was just very dangerous and were forced to abandon the climb, but ever since then, it just got under my skin," Sandy said.

"It was one of these interesting problems that was always on my mind. And Rick’s mind too. And in the meantime, there were lots of other expeditions doing the same – 11 expeditions tried to climb it before me and Rick did."

That success came as part of a team of six, and expedition leader Sandy, who at 57 was a couple of years behind 59-year old Rick as its senior member, stresses the successful ascent was very much down to team work.

Sandy scaling the Mazeno Ridge.
Sandy scaling the Mazeno Ridge.

Yet even with this combined effort, things did not go according to plan.

"We had eight days food with us because we thought it would take eight to 10 days to climb the ridge," he said.

In the end, it took a total of 18 days to complete the task and after 12 days above 7000 metres, the other members of the expedition decided to turn back.

But not the veteran Scots.

"We all went to bed and I had a fantastic sleep and woke up in the morning and felt great," Sandy said.

"Rick and I decided: ‘Well, we’ve got half a pack of digestives – let’s go for it.’ We thought it would only be half a day to the summit and then another couple would get us off the mountain.

"In fact, it took us two days to get to the summit, and then on the way down we had very deep snow and avalanches and all that sort of stuff, so we ended up running out of water and not having food, and at that altitude, that can be very serious."

The pair’s efforts in completing the first major new route in the Himalayas in almost quarter of a century were recognised with the coveted Piolet d’Or Mountaineering Award, while Sandy’s book on the expedition, Some Lost Place, was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.

"I suppose people were surprised it was a couple of older climbers who pulled off that ridge climb, but if anything, our age might have helped," Sandy added.

"When things start going wrong, if you are older you can stand back from it a bit and access the situation and maybe control your emotions better."

One interview Sandy gave following his Nanga Parbat adventure suggested this might be the summit of his career as well and "the rat has been fed".

But is that really the case?

"I don’t know about that," Sandy answered.

"If you do something amazing, I suppose you get really satisfied with your life for a while. But the rat gets hungry again and Rick and I have started looking at other climbs."

Sandy Allan: In Some Lost Place, is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, on Wednesday  January 27, at 8pm.

His book of the same title is published by Vertebrae Books.

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