Happy New Year, Mr Clark

Monday, 3 January 2011

Archers' fans shocked by the fate of Nigel Pargetter might spare a thought for those of us who live permanently on the roof of the creakiest tenement on Grub Street – the mountaineering writers. Reviewing the entire history of climbing, albeit at a superficial gallop, is a great way to remind oneself of scores of climbers who have put pen to paper, and a few writers who have come prospecting for literary gold. One of those was Ronald William Clark, who wrote a number of mountaineering books in the 1950s, before moving on to intellectually greener pastures, with books on Freud and Einstein, among other great thinkers. I didn't know Clark, but Ken Wilson certainly did, and has told me stories over the years that made me think I would like to have done. There were a few popular climbing histories published in the last decade – Fergus Fleming did one – and one or two weightier tomes that weren't nearly so readable. But Ronnie it seems to me managed the balancing act of accuracy, insight and readability. All his mountaineering books are out of print, but I can see his hand at work in all sorts of places, including my own current occupation. If you can find it, The Victorian Mountaineers is well worth tracking down, but he also wrote books on the early mountain guides, W. A. B. Coolidge and the Matterhorn disaster. You can also read an account of his life here. Most writers, even successful ones, flare and die like a match. So I'd like to raise a glass to the memory of Ronald Clark and his astounding work ethic.

Posted by Ed Douglas at 2.03 PM