The two truths of Mick Fowler.

Mick Fowler is a man of two truths. One truth is Mike, an easy-going family man with a long and successful career in His Majesty's Revenue & Customs. The other is Mick, the relentless, almost fanatical climber who has spent almost 50 years finding and conquering some of the most incredible mountain ascents ever undertaken. For his entire life Mick has expertly juggled the two.

Intrepid exploration of the UK.

Mick was raised in the suburbs of northwest London. He discovered climbing with his father, George, on Kent's sandstone outcrops. Mick's childhood memories are peppered with trips to climbing spots around the UK and occasional visits to the Alps, in his father's Reliant three-wheeler.

Aged 15, Les Courtes, Chamoix, 1976.
Above - Aged 15, Les Courtes, Chamoix, 1976.

Emerging from adolescence, Mick had an obvious talent for climbing. Part of London's close-knit climbing community, he surrounded himself with friends as mad about climbing as himself, and just as hungry for adventure.

Mick spent the 70's and early 80'ss travelling the length and breadth of the UK in search of unusual climbs. Imposing sea stacks, crumbling chalk cliffs, a frozen overflow at Kings Cross Station, if it sounded improbable or memorable, it fit the bill.

Climbing a frozen overflow at King's Cross, London.

Climbing a frozen overflow at King's Cross, London.

And Mick spent a lot of the 1980s racing up and down M1 and M6 in the small hours, from London to Scotland and back over a weekend, bagging countless unclimbed routes in the West Highlands and mastering his craft.

The Greater Ranges beckon.

Inevitably, the search for bigger challenges eventually attracted Mick to the Greater Ranges, a handful of the World's biggest mountain ranges which include the Himalaya, Trans Himalaya, Hengduan, Karakoram, Kunlunshan, Hindukush, Pamir, Tianshan, the Great Tibetan Plateau, and, depending on who you ask, the Andes.

Mick's expeditions into mountain ranges beyond Europe started in 1982 with Taulliraju, a 5830m peak hidden deep with the Peruvian Andes. The expedition's perfect terrain and the sense adventure for a Brit travelling through South America during the Falklands War, ticked all the boxes. The experience of acclimatising for the climb also gave Mick the confidence that climbing 7000m peaks would be possible for him, despite having to fit his expeditions into his holiday allowance.

Taulliraju, Peru, 1982.

Subsequently, Mick's sights were set on the Greater Ranges of south and central Asia, the cluster of mountain ranges created by the Indian Plate impacting with the Eurasian Plate, that is home to the tallest mountains on Earth. Over the last 35 years, with climbing partners including Victor Saunders, Steve Sustad, Pat Littlejohn, Dave Turnbull, Andy Cave, Chris Watts and Paul Ramsden, Mick has claimed many astonishing first ascents on some of World's most spectacular mountain faces.

He is one of the most prolific climbers to ever wield an ice axe.
Spatnik w. Victor Saunders, 1997

Mick's endeavours have earned him a place at the table of climbing's greats. He is hugely respected by his peers and the international climbing community. The Observer calling him the "mountaineer's mountaineer" and The Sunday Times once claimed Mick to be "the world's greatest amateur climber". Not that he places much importance on them, but he is also one of only four climbers to have been awarded the Piolet d'Or, mountaineering's most prestigious award, three times.

Juggling climbing with everyday life.

Mick at Home with the family.

What makes Mick's achievements even more astonishing is the balancing act he has performed for the 40 years to fit his climbing around a busy work and family life. While it's typical for mountaineers to be battling against visa expiries, weather windows and finite rations, Mick's expeditions have always been limited by his 30-day holiday allowance at HMRC. It's the reason he never set his sights on the 8000m peaks; he couldn't afford the acclimatisation time. Despite his many commitments, Mick clearly still had too much time on his hands, which he used to write three books which recount his extraordinary adventures with great charm: Vertical Pleasure - The Secret Life of a Taxman (1995), On Thin Ice (2005), No Easy Way (2018).

Chombu, 2019 (post op)

A brief pause for cancer and back to climbing.

In 2017, within six months of retiring, Mick was diagnosed with cancer of the anus. Following unsuccessful non-evasive treatment, he underwent an ostomy, a significant surgery which included removing his rectum and anus and redirecting his bowel exit to a colostomy bag. Cancer is something he is remarkably matter of fact about, to him, like an unexpected turn of events on a mountaineering expedition, it is just another challenge to overcome.

Post cancer, Mick Fowler summits Chombu, 2019.

Post cancer, Mick Fowler attempts Chombu, 2019.

Cancer hasn't stopped Mick from climbing. In 2019, for the second time, Mick and Victor attempted Chombu in Sikkim, India, but were impeded by deep snow and poisoning from freeze-dried food. Last year Mick teamed up with Simon Yates to attempt Patkhor in Tajikistan, Rushan Pamir.

Unfortunately, luck was not on their side again, with both climbers battling food poisoning and Simon suffering a brutal fall which resulted in five broken ribs and two crushed vertebrae.

While he's resigned to the fact that age will eventually stop him from mountaineering, for now at least, he has no plans to stop climbing.
Mick conquer Chombu postcancer
Chombu, 2019

15 Years with Berghaus.

Mick's partnership with Berghaus began in 2008, but flick through photos of his expeditions from the 80s and 90s and you will frequently spot the brand's familiar logo on his clothing and equipment. As part of Berghaus' ambassador program, Mick has contributed significantly to the development of Extrem, the brand's specialist mountaineering equipment. Few brands are lucky enough to get the input of a mountaineer with such a wealth of experience.

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