RIP Ian McNaught-Davis 1929--2014


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Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 21, 2014 - 02:59pm PT

The text from the above link:

In the spring of 1956, the Manchester climbing star Joe Brown had just put his feet up after a taxing weekend in north Wales, when there was a knock at the door. Waiting on the step was a bearish man with a curly mop of hair and thick glasses. Without preamble, he introduced himself as Ian McNaught-Davis and explained that he was leaving in a fortnight with a friend for the Karakoram to climb a mountain called Muztagh Tower. Would Joe like to join him?

The idea was preposterous on many levels. If any mountain encapsulates the notion of inaccessibility it is Muztagh Tower, a tapering fortress of rock and ice reaching 7,276m on the border between Pakistan and China. Equipping and supplying such a logistically awkward expedition in so short a time was surely madness. But two weeks later, all three men sailed from Liverpool with their gear, en route to one of the finest first ascents by British climbers.

As a tour de force, it was typical of McNaught-Davis, who has died aged 84 of cancer. Ebullient, forceful and charismatic, he had an enthusiasm for life in general and mountains in particular that was impossible to contain. "Mac", as he was known, born in Wakefield, became a kind of international Yorkshireman, urbane but plain speaking, down-to-earth but with an appreciation of life's pleasures. He seemed able to fit in anywhere, while remaining wholly himself. He became not only an influential mountaineer but also a successful businessman and TV presenter who was able to demystify the world of computers – his chosen business – for BBC audiences.

After Rothwell grammar school, Mac did his national service in the RAF, with dreams of becoming a pilot like his father, Stanley. Poor eyesight prevented this, and he left early to go to Manchester University, where he got a first in mathematics. His sense of adventure was instead poured into climbing mountains and Mac rapidly became part of a group of university mountaineers that restored British climbing to the front rank.

Among his best alpine climbs were the Pear Buttress on Mont Blanc and the north face of the Cima Grande in the Dolomites. In 1952 on the Aiguille du Peigne, he did the north ridge with George Band, Roger Chorley and his fellow Yorkshireman Arthur Dolphin. That summer, he did the first British traverse of the Peuterey Aręte on Mont Blanc, one of the most elegant routes in the Alps, with Neil Mather.

Band would go to Everest in 1953, and Mather was part of the team that climbed Kangchenjunga in 1955. Mac, a year younger than Band and similarly untested at altitude, would have to find his own way to the Himalayas and the imposing flanks of Muztagh Tower.

There were two obvious routes, the north-west and south-east ridges, and little to choose between them in terms of difficulty. The north-west side looked safer, if a little steeper, and the team installed themselves beneath it on the Chagaran glacier and set to work. They made early progress, but bad weather set in and the team were confined to base camp. Then a rival French expedition appeared below the south-east ridge; an entente cordiale was swiftly established, but the pressure was on.

Mac and the others, including the late-arriving Scottish doctor, Tom Patey, established a third camp on a col beneath the final 1,200m (4,000ft) of ridge, and with sufficient supplies in place he and Brown made a bid for the summit. They found a tiny perch for their tent on a ledge covered in rubble, horribly exposed should a storm brew.

The climbing next day was steep and dangerous, and they reached the peak only at 6pm. To their horror, they discovered a second summit a short distance away that seemed marginally higher. It was now too dark to go on and they were forced to bivouac in bitter cold without sleeping bags or tent. Next morning they retreated, anxious to give the second climbing team, John Hartog and Patey, a free, and ultimately successful, run at the true top.

Muztagh Tower was the highlight of Mac's climbing days, but although he never lost touch with the sport – there was a landmark expedition to the Pamirs, to the west of the Himalayas, in 1960 led by John Hunt – his career began to take priority.

After university he had taken all kind of jobs: digging ice tunnels for glaciologists on Monte Rosa in Switzerland, fixing roofs and teaching. Now he moved into industry, spending many years as a geophysicist for BP, particularly in Africa.

In the early 1970s he changed tack, switching to information technology to work for Comshare, a company set up to use redundant computer time in an era before personal computing. The company also wrote software, and as large businesses began to get their own computer systems this side of the business took over. Mac became chief executive of the European division, staying with Comshare until he retired in 1995.

Mac's ability to hold an audience, an extravagant sense of humour and his expertise in the nascent information-technology industry made him an ideal candidate when the BBC was looking for presenters to introduce Britain to the impending computer revolution. He was recruited for a sequence of BBC television series that began in 1982 with The Computer Programme.

Mac was already an old media hand. He was a gifted storyteller, especially in person, and his articles, often satirical, for Mountain magazine were hugely popular – he never took the game too seriously. Chris Brasher was a climbing friend, as was the critic Al Alvarez. Mac had climbed the Eiffel Tower in 1964 for a television show with a French team that included his rival from Muztagh Tower, Guido Magnone, and he had been a key figure in a series of British climbing outside broadcasts in the 1960s, most famously on the Old Man of Hoy, Orkney, in 1967.

After The Computer Programme, which he hosted with Chris Serle, came Micro Live, which became the BBC's flagship computer programme in the mid-1980s. Mac remained in demand as a narrator for adventure documentaries into the 2000s.

After retirement, when he was travelling the world climbing with old friends, Mac became happily embroiled in climbing politics, not least as president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation, the first non-Swiss holder of the post. He was hugely popular in the role, where his charm and straight talking won battles and mended fences. He was also president and patron of the British Mountaineering Council.

In all this, Mac relied heavily on his second wife, Loreto Herman, who maintained an elegant yet deeply loving scepticism when he was mid-anecdote, but otherwise shared his great enthusiasm for life.

Loreto and her daughter, Elvira Hurrell, and Mac's sons, John and Simon, from his first marriage, survive him.

• Ian McNaught-Davis, mountaineer, businessman and broadcaster, born 30 August 1929; died 10 February 2014

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA/Boulder, CO
Feb 21, 2014 - 03:13pm PT
Dude was one of that British hardman crew Brown, Whillans, Bonnington, etc. which pushed the standards of Alpine climbing on the Continent and abroad.

Trad climber
Is that light the end of the tunnel or a train?
Feb 21, 2014 - 03:19pm PT
A Giant lays to rest. RIP.

Thanks RGold for posting this.

Feb 21, 2014 - 03:37pm PT
Heavy Duty
Trusty Rusty

Tahoe Area
Feb 21, 2014 - 04:19pm PT
Thanks for the memorial post Rgold, guy wore the hat of dignified gentleman, scholar, activist, adequate carouser and quintessential high elevation hardass. The source of accents writings and stories, there's no mistaking Ian's bold skid-mark in the development of modern mountaineering.

Ian Mac
Credit: Trusty Rusty

Credit: Trusty Rusty

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Feb 21, 2014 - 04:59pm PT
rgold! Thanks for sharing that obit information. If I ever knew about his early climbs, I had forgotten that information. I do remember him for his many humorous articles in Mountain Magazine. A number of those articles are also in the book “Games Climbers Play.”
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Feb 21, 2014 - 05:12pm PT
I finally met Mac in Vegas ten years ago. Somewhere there is a photo of us drinking with donini and Bird, and a few others.

It was such a treat, having read and reread Patey's book, One Man's Mountains, so many times.

Berg heil, friend, one heck of a guy. Say hi to Tom,..
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Feb 21, 2014 - 05:21pm PT
Saw a show by him and chatted at an AAC annual meeting. Heckuva nice guy. Absolute gentleman.

Trad climber
Feb 21, 2014 - 05:41pm PT
tx for the thread, richard, i hadnt heard the news.

Trad climber
Tampa, FL
Feb 21, 2014 - 06:05pm PT
An example of his hilarious writing - can't remember where I found these..
Deux Grandes Bieres
Deux Grandes Bieres
Credit: pneame
Deau Grandes Bieres 2
Deau Grandes Bieres 2
Credit: pneame

Boulder climber
Feb 21, 2014 - 06:11pm PT
Quite an impressive guy . . . met him at Buxton in the mid 1980s.

Social climber
Feb 21, 2014 - 07:10pm PT
He said "Yosemite- hot and pot"
Phew! Far ...out...

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Feb 21, 2014 - 07:15pm PT

Condolences to Ian's family and friends.
A big loss. . .
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Feb 21, 2014 - 07:45pm PT
Mr. SATIRE, bummer. My sides used to split at his Mountain Magazine wittiness. RIP, old boy.
Chris Jones

Social climber
Glen Ellen, CA
Feb 21, 2014 - 08:10pm PT
In the early 1960s, Mac was one of a group of London-based climbers that I had the good fortune to hang out with. Others would have included Al Alvarez, Gunn Clark, Peter Bell, Pete Crew, Ken Wilson, Ben Winteringham and so forth. Mac was some 10 years older than those of us who considered ourselves the hard-climbing group; he was a hard climber in his day for sure. A completely engaging guy, he was a social force to be reckoned with.

Driving up to North Wales for the weekend from London was a semi-competitive sport. At that time Mac, Alvarez and I had Mini Coopers - fast, and with quick handling. Somewhere along the line, someone, likely Mac, came up with a game of chicken to be played on the narrow, twisty roads of Snowdonia: Silly Buggers. We knew which of us would be in North Wales, and the colors of each other's car. The theory was that if you saw one your mates coming towards you, then you would simultaneously cross over into the wrong-direction lane and pass each each other grinning like a Cheshire Cat. At this late remove I cannot recall if we ever put this all into practice - I am darn sure I did not, but Mac and Al were pretty hard-bitten ....

There is this time-honored exchange between Mac and his passenger that was all part of the mythology:

"It's Al! Let's go continental!"

"F*ck, it's not Al."


Trad climber
Feb 22, 2014 - 12:39am PT
Great post thanks.

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Feb 22, 2014 - 01:17am PT
Chris Jones!

Thanks for leaving that passing concept in my mind as I totter off to sleep.

**"It's Al! Let's go continental!"

"F*ck, it's not Al."**
Trusty Rusty

Tahoe Area
Feb 22, 2014 - 02:23am PT
Thanks for the great story Chris, and though not at all surprising, very cool that you've trucked with the man. I'm sure there's much more you hold dear.

My exiguous introduction was at in 1981 at 18 when I read The Hard Years; that birthed real hero's Iron John style. To name a few including Ian were:
Doug Scott
Doug Scott
Credit: Trusty Rusty
Don Whillans
Don Whillans
Credit: Trusty Rusty
Credit: Trusty Rusty
Chris Bonington
Chris Bonington
Credit: Trusty Rusty
Joe Brown & Tom Patey
Joe Brown & Tom Patey
Credit: Trusty Rusty

The dudes.

Not sure where the quote came from, if it even is a quote, or just a bastard damned great line:

"I once knew a climber named McNaught
who tied an insecure butterfly knot
he screamed as he fell
a maniacal yell:
My God I'll be hardly a spot"

Games Climbers Play?

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Feb 22, 2014 - 02:49am PT
Trusty Rusty and Chris thanks for the input, worth gold in their own right.

Feb 22, 2014 - 11:17am PT
Oh, yes.
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