John Slee-Smith
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John Slee-Smith - Eskdale, The Lake District, 1951

Outward Bound Mountain School in 1951

As a young man of 18 ½ the Outward bound course in July 1951 turned out to be a life changing experience. It was not the strict regime of rising at 7.00am and running around the lake in the grounds of the Mountain School, jumping into cold water and staring the day refreshed and invigorated, but the enthusiasm and overall concept of an outdoor life, with hills and mountains that gave each of us a major resource to everyday living. The instructors we had emphasised this point, time and time again. People like Dick Marsh, a high altitude mountaineer who had just returned from the Himalayas attempting Nanga Parbet (26,658ft) but tragically lost his companions and a Sherpa in an avalanche, where after many fruitless hours searching for his lost friends he got severe snow-blindness. AT the OB Mountain School he often had to wear dark glasses during the period of his sight recovery.

Then there was Vincent Veevers, a professional mountaineer and rock climber whose whole attitude to climbing was one of partnership with the elements, you didn’t fight the elements, such as rain, snow ice, electrical storms, high winds and low cloud you found a way of working with them, safely. I remember my son, who became a good rock climber, in his younger days, saying to me, ‘you know Dad, you would be a great rock climber if you learnt how to fall on your gear, so conserve energy.’ But this was something that was drilled into us by Frank Dowlem and Vincent Veevers on Dow Crag; whatever you do, don’t get yourself into a position where you cannot reverse a move that will take you to safer ground. Throughout my long life as a climber I have never had a serious accident. That must have been largely due to the excellent early training at Outward Bound.

Following the course at the Mountain School I have enjoyed rock climbing and mountaineering all my life; climbing rock up to Hard Very Severe E1 and then many years climbing in the European Alps and the USA. My last major climb at 65 was when I climbed Mount Aspiring in the New Zealand Alps. Now nearing 78 I still love the mountains and the great wilderness and give thanks for that remarkable experience of four weeks in Eskdale Green back in 1951. As patrol captain i was able to lead my patrol to win the inter-patrol competition and we were each given a book celebrating the lives of some of the great explorers.

Thinking back, perhaps in a small way I too could be described as an explorer.