To mark the 25th anniversary of the Kendal Mountain Film Festival it was decided to try to achieve the near-impossible - to celebrate the whole history of British mountaineering and rock climbing achievement in just 25 classic photographs from 1880 onwards - the concept of 'crux' meaning pictures that represent a step forward in climbing history, not necessarily a crux photograph.
Very soon we realised that this was concept was flawed because one of the most important chapters of British mountaineering was the Golden Age of Alpinism that reached a climax in the 1860s. Also, many of the photographs taken before the 1890s are extremely dull - mostly landscape shots, or posed static pictures because of the long exposures that were required with early photographic emulsion. Accordingly, two of the pictures are drawings.
25 pictures covering 15 decades from 1860 to the present day - that's only about one and half pictures per decade! How was I to achieve such a compression of history? In practise, I quickly deemed some decades to be more important than others, and the final compilation breaks down as follows: one picture per decade from the 1860s to the 1940s, then 2 for the 50s, 4 for the 60s, 3 for the 70s, 3 for the 80s and 2 for the 90s. The whole gamut of the sport had to be represented too, covering the whole of Britain as well as the Alps, Himalaya and other ranges. 12 of the pictures are of mountaineering, and 13 of rock climbing, in England (4), Wales (6), Scotland (4), the Alps (4), Himalaya (5), other ranges (2).
The nature of the pictures is very varied too: from superb photos of great artistic merit to technically imperfect shots that capture a unique moment in climbing history: no fewer than five of the rock climbing pictures are of such crux moments - and then there's the classic reconstruction taken in 1915 by the incomparable Abraham brothers, a year after the first ascent, of the Central Buttress of Scafell. Quite a few of the pictures I've selected are such obvious classics, but there are several others that I hope will be less familiar. Amongst the better known photographers represented are Chris Bonington, John Cleare, Cubby Cuthbertson, Leo Dickinson, Doug Scott and Ken Wilson. A huge number of other archivists and experts have also been consulted. Many of the pictures were extremely difficult to track down.
Tony Riley has applied state-of-the-art Digital Restoration techniques to a wide range of original material to maintain the image integrity.
One thing's for sure: this unusual and perhaps controversial exhibition will attract a good deal of debate!
Gordon StainforthBelow is one of the extended captions that accompany each of the photographs and the full list of photographs that Gordon chose. Gordon and the Kendal Mountain Festival are now securing printing rights for as many of these photographs as possible and high quality prints will be available for purchase at Kendal Mountain Festival website.
This is undoubtedly one of the great moments and greatest iconic photographs in British mountaineering history.
One of the biggest outstanding challenges in the early 1970s was to make a direct route up the SW Face of Everest from the Western Cwm. There had been three previous, unsuccessful expeditions, including a Bonington-led one in 1972. In 1975 the Bonington-led team consisted of Doug Scott, Mick Burke, Dougal Haston, Pete Boardman, Martin Boysen, Nick Estcourt and Tut Braithwaite (the latter two finding the crucial way through the difficult Rock Band).
Doug Scott's photograph has captured the crucial moment at dusk on the 24th September in all its dramatic glory, just as they are about to be the first Britons to put their feet on the highest summit in the world (the summiteers on the successful British-led 1953 Expedition had, of course, been New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay).
Scott and Haston then had to spend the night in a hastily-evacuated snow hole on the South Summit without any oxygen or protective equipment, the highest bivouac that had ever been made. Two days later, Pete Boardman and Pertemba also made it to the top.
Although this was one of the last old-style Himalayan expeditions on a grand scale, supported by a huge team of Sherpas – Pete Boardman memorably described it as 'one of the last great Imperial experiences' – it was another huge triumph, though marred, yet again, this time by the death of Mick Burke.
1. A cannonade on the Matterhorn, July 1862
Edward Whymper/James Mahoney Scrambles amongst the Alps, 1900 edition/Freda Raphael Historical Archive
2. On the Messer Grat
H G Willink, 1891 Bâton Wicks Archive
3. Napes Needle, Great Gable, Wasdale
4. Beatrice Tomasson and her guide, Arcangelo Siorpaes, in the Cortina Dolomites, 1898
Bâton Wicks Archive
5. Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis
6. Central Buttress, Scafell, Easter 1915
George & Ashley Abraham, Bâton Wicks Archive
7a. Siegfried Herford and George Mallory at Pen y Pass, December 1913
Geoffrey Winthrop Young, Alpine Club Photo Library
7b. The last picture of Mallory and Irvine, Camp IV, Everest, 6 June 1924
Noel Odell Mountain Camera Picture Library8. Edward Norton at 28,100ft on Everest, 4 June 1924
T Howard Somervell, Somervell family
9. Fred Pigott on the crux of Crack and Corner, The Roaches, c.1922
Eric Byrom, Rucksack Club Archive
10. Joe Brown making the first ascent of The Right Unconquerable, Stanage, April 1949
11. Rusty Baillie starting up Cenotaph Corner, Dinas Cromlech, Llanberis Pass
12. John Streetly on the first ascent of Bloody Slab, Clogwyn d'ur Arddu, 10 June 1952
E A Wrangham, Bâton Wicks Archive
13. Pete Crew repeating Great Wall, Clogwyn d'ur Arddu, 1965
14. Layton Kor on the Central Pillar of the Eiger Direct, 5pm, 19 March 1966
15. Rusty Baillie at the crux on the first ascent of the Old Man of Hoy, 18 July 1966
16. Ed Drummond & Dave Pearce pioneering A Dream of White Horses, Craig Gogarth, Oct 1968
17. Doug Scott on The Scoop, Sron Ulladale, June 1969
18. Ian Clough on the South Face of Annapurna, May 1970
19. Dougal Haston arriving at the summit of Everest, 6pm, 24 September 1975
20. Alex MacIntyre below the summit of Changabang, Garwhal Himalaya, 1978
21. Tasker, Boardman, and Renshaw on the NNE Ridge of Everest, 5 May 1982
22. The Screaming Ab Dabs, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
23. Johnny Dawes making the first ascent of The Indian Face, Cloggy, 4 October 1986
Paul Williams, Chris Williams archive
24. The Arwa Tower (6352m), Garwhal Himalaya, April 1999
25. Leo Houlding on the crux of The Passage to Freedom, El Capitan, October 1999
Keep your eye on the Kendal Mountain Festival website as prints of some of these photographs will soon be available.
Also see our Kendal report.