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About Nick Estcourt

Nick Estcourt PortraitNick Estcourt (1942-1978)

Nick Estcourt died on 12 June, caught and swept away by a windslab avalanche on the W ridge of K2 at a height of around 6500m. With his death Britain has lost one of her most outstanding expedition climbers, and his fellow mountaineers, a loyal, warm- hearted friend.

His upbringing and introduction to the mountains were almost in the tradition of the Victorian and Edwardian pioneers, giving a clue perhaps to the foundation of his quality as a team member, though his manner and approach to life were very much in key to our own time.

He was introduced to the mountains at an early age by his parents who were keen walkers and adventurous scramblers. They started with walking holidays in the Lake District, and then, at the age of 10, in 1953, he was taken on a family walking holiday in the Savoy Alps. Its climax was a guided ascent of the Aiguille de Polset. From that moment he was hooked on climbing. These trips to the Alps became an annual fixture throughout his childhood and youth, with guided climbs on progressively more difficult routes. Back in England, he went to Eastbourne College, joined school climbing parties to North Wales, grabbed illicit climbs on Beachy Head, and whenever he could escape, cycled for the day to Harrisons Rocks, 60 miles there and back.

By the time he went up to Cambridge he was a competent rock-climber and sound Alpinist. In his 3 years at university he built up on this foundation, became president of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club and went on his first expedition, to the Stauning Alps in Greenland when he completed several first ascents.

On leaving Cambridge, he undertook voluntary service overseas, spending a year in Sierra Leone. On his return to England, he went into civil engineering, but soon changed to computers and moved up to Manchester, to be closer to climbing. He was one of the few outstanding expedition climbers of his generation who succeeded in following a career as well as climb to the full, with a major expedition almost every other year. It was a mark of the breadth of his interests and intellect as well as his capacity for hard work that he managed to combine the two. It was in this period that he met Carolyn, getting married in 1966. They had 3 children.

The sixties were filled with Alpine climbs. He joined John Harlin in 1964 in one of his early attempts on the W face direct on the Dru, made a very fast ascent of the Walker Spur in 1965 and in 1967, with Martin Boysen, as British representatives to the International Rassemblement in Chamonix, made the second ascent of the S face of the Fou and a new route up the NW face of the Pic Sans Nom. During this period he was also secretary of the ACG.

But it was in the seventies, as an expedition member, that Nick contributed so much to British mountaineering. He had the comparatively rare quality amongst good climbers of being a first class organizer and having a strong social conscience. If you ever asked Nick to do anything, whether it was an organizational job, running out a stretch of the route or ferrying a load, you could always rely on it being done to perfection.

It was Nick and Martin Boysen who forced the hardest piece of ice-climbing on the S face of Annapurna and then exhausted themselves in support of others, carrying loads up to Camp 5, and then 6. It was Dave Bathgate and Nick who pushed the route out below the Rock Band on Everest in 1972, accepting a role that greatly reduced their chances of making a summit bid. In the event they got the best climbing of anyone, since we failed to force the route beyond their highpoint.

Then in 1975 it was Tut Braithwaite and Nick who forced the Rock Band. John Hunt summed up their achievement in the foreword to Everest the Hard Way: 'I think that all members of the party would concede (with the exception of the person that I allude to) that the supreme example of climbing technique applied with exceptional determination, was Nick Estcourt's superb lead, without the normal safeguards or oxygen at 27,000 feet, up the rickety, outward leaning ramp of snow-covered rubble which led from the gully in the Rock Band up to the upper snow field. This must be one of the greatest leads in climbing history....'

On the Ogre, in 1977, it was Nick who stayed behind, organized the evacuation and did all the thankless, messy work of clearing up after the epic that Doug Scott and myself had on the mountain. But most of all I should like to remember the really great days' climbing that I and others had with him; our ascent of Brammah, a beautiful virgin peak of 6415m in the Kishtwar Himalaya, our Alpine style push on the Ogre, which took us to the W summit, or many delightful days of climbing in this country. Nick always had a tremendous enthusiasm for climbing and had completed most of the modern hard routes in Wales. He always spoke with special enthusiasm of his trip to Yosemite in the summer of 1976, when he climbed the Nose of El Capitan and the Salathe Wall, with cassette player blaring on the stances and a bottle of scotch for the bivouacs. This was very much Nick's style of climbing.

It was his capacity for enjoyment as well as work, the parties, the booze-ups, impassioned arguments about politics or almost anything else, the fun of climbing with him, combined with an exceptional sense of loyalty and integrity that his friends will miss.

Chris Bonington

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