GEORGE BAND OBE: 2 February 1929–26 August 2011




George Band holding a photograph of himself as a young man. Source: Photograph taken by Alf Gregory in Emerald, Australia, 2008. Courtesy of Susan Band

George Band once quipped that he ‘chose to work’ in contrast to Chris Bonington who titled his first autobiography I chose to climb. In actual fact, George packed in a great deal of climbing to the very end of his remarkable life. He was primarily a climber, and passionately so from the time in 1946 when he cycled up from Somerset, through Snowdonia, to visit relations in Stockport. He had seen climbers in action in North Wales and heard more about it at a lecture given in Stockport, which fired his imagination enough to ask the lecturer how he could get started. As it happened, he and his friends were planning to climb on gritstone in North Derbyshire that weekend and George was invited to join them. He made his way by local transport to within 13 miles of his destination, Laddow Rocks above Crowden Great Brook. After walking in, he roped up for his first climb, Staircase Route, and although moderate, a good climb for a beginner. He just had time to walk 5 miles across to Greenfield Station and catch a train back to Stockport, now, as he wrote, ‘totally hooked on learning to climb’.

George was born in 1929 in Japanese-controlled Taiwan where his parents worked as Presbyterian missionaries. Just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, George was sent to Eltham College in South London where he excelled in athletics. He then gained entrance to Cambridge where he became President of the Cambridge Mountaineering Club. He studied Geology and Petroleum Engineering in between climbing trips to the Alps and around the UK.

In 1952 a Canadian geologist, mountaineer and millionaire, Joel E. Fisher, employed George and Roger Chorley to take core samples of the ice of Monte Rosa. He had a theory that the density of ice on the North face of Alpine mountains above 4000 m was of equivalent density to ice in the Polar regions. George and Roger did this for 9 weeks, walking to work every day from the Monte Rosa hut and, very significantly, being paid in Swiss francs by the somewhat eccentric Canadian. The British government had just imposed strict foreign exchange controls allowing travellers to take only £30 out of the country, which severely restricted the amount of time that could be spent climbing in the Alps. George and Roger, however, were able to spend 9 weeks working high and climbing higher, which was to be of huge significance to the future of George's climbing. Coincidentally, there was a Cambridge University mountaineering meet during this period when George accomplished the first guideless ascent of the North ridge of Dent Blanche with John Streetly.

George was selected for the 1953 Mount Everest expedition despite his age. Doubt had been cast on including a 23 year old but his list of Alpine climbs was second to none that previous year, guaranteeing him a place, and as the youngest member. George took on essential work in charge of catering and the radio equipment. He also helped pioneer a way through the Khumbu Icefall and went 3500 ft up a Lhotse face. Like many climbers on their first visit to the Himalaya, George was plagued by altitude-related illnesses. However, he was fit enough to rush out of Base Camp at 21 000 ft to greet Hillary and Tenzing coming down successful from the summit.

The following year George was on an expedition to Rakaposhi in the Karakoram. He wrote a book of the determined but unsuccessful attempt: Road to Rakaposhi (1955).

In 1955 it was decided to send a strong reconnaissance party to the third highest summit, Kangchenjunga, with the intention of launching a full-scale attempt to be led by John Hunt the following year. The recce party, under the leadership of Charles Evans, took their task so seriously as to recce to within a few feet of the summit! This was a remarkable climb and one of the finest achievements in the annals of British mountaineering. Kangchenjunga is an extremely active mountain with avalanches constantly streaming down its flanks. It stands proud of the Himalayan divide and being near to the Bay of Bengal the monsoon precipitation lasts far longer than on any other 8000 m summit.

The first ascent of Everest was a remarkable achievement but what made the climbing of Kangchenjunga even more impressive was that on Everest only 900 ft of the ascent route remained unexplored since the Swiss had got so high the year before. On Kangchenjunga there was 9000 ft of untested ground to negotiate and this was found to be more technically difficult than on Everest, with most of the difficulties near the summit. The expedition was brilliantly led by Charles Evans who created a wonderful team effort that put George and Joe Brown in position to make the first ascent, which they did late on the day of 25 May, to within 10 ft of the summit. There they stopped, in deference to the people of Sikkim who had requested that the climbers not disturb the protecting deities that they said dwelt on the summit. The route was repeated the following day by Tony Streather and deputy leader Norman Hardie of New Zealand.

In 1957 George began his 26-year-long career with the Shell International Oil Company, serving in numerous countries until 1983 when he returned to the UK to direct the UK Offshore Operators Association. Despite having taken on huge responsibilities in the oil industry, George took advantage of each new location to go out into the hills and on the crags with a variety of companions, pioneering new routes and repeating old classics from Venezuela to Borneo. George's last new route was achieved with John and Jonathan Innerdale and Peter Mould in Bhutan. They climbed Ganae Gang II (5460 m) amongst other unclimbed peaks.

George was a hard worker and skilful chairman of committees who had a natural talent for reconciling opposing forces. It was not surprising that he became a distinguished President of the Alpine Club from 1987 to 1990 and an equally productive President of the British Mountaineering Council from 1996 to 1999. In 2003 George took on the Chairmanship of Ed Hillary's Himalayan Trust UK. He found time to chair the Mount Everest Foundation; was a member of the council of the Royal Geographical Society; and was a tireless worker for the Alpine Club, particularly for its library. He also marked the Everest Jubilee by writing Everest: 50 years on top of the world and in 2006 he wrote Summit: 150 years of the Alpine Club, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the world's oldest mountaineering club. In 2009 George was finally appointed OBE for services to mountaineering and to charity.

George was out trekking in the Himalaya and walking over Munros with his wife Susan and friends from the Alpine Club into the last year of his life. Right to the end, despite battling cancer, he found time to sign books and posters, and discuss all things climbing.

In 1959 George married Susan Goodenough who survives him with their three children and seven grandchildren.