Mick Fowler was elected President of the Alpine Club at the weekend (4 Dec) following what is thought to be the first contested election to the prestigious post in the Club's 153-year history.
The clear favourite of AC members, in both an opinion poll and a ballot held at the club's AGM in London, Fowler is expected to devote his three years as president to attracting more active alpinists into the AC. Fowler exemplifies the style of exploratory mountaineering championed by the Alpine Club, and having as its public face a climber who is still pushing the boat out on big mountain routes can only be of benefit to the club's image.
Earlier this year Fowler returned from a first ascent of the north face of Sulamar (c5380m) in the Chinese Tien Shan, with Paul Ramsden; he's been acclaimed as the “mountaineers' mountaineer” and his 2002 ascent of Siguniang netted him and Ramsden the Piolet d' Or and US Golden Piton. Fowler's expertise as a mandarin with HM Revenue and Customs is also likely to prove useful overseeing the club's administration and challenging finances.
Fowler takes over the presidential reins from Paul Braithwaite – best known for solving the problem of the 'rock band', with Nick Estcourt, on Chris Bonington's 1975 Everest south-west expedition. Braithwaite had the unenviable task of ending his three-year term having to preside over a potentially divisive leadership contest.
Though AC rules provide for ballots to office holders, traditionally that of president has been passed on by invitation rather than contested election. This year the club committee discussed potential candidates and unanimously concluded that Fowler be asked to stand. It came as something of a shock when a challenger emerged in the form of Henry Day, a retired colonel with a fine expeditioning record, albeit from an earlier era. Day's literal high point came on 20 May 1970 when he stood on the summit of Annapurna in Nepal, as climbing leader of an Army Mountaineering Association team that made the second ascent of the 8091m peak.
The AC committee was faced with a dilemma. Under the club's antiquated rules (now changed) only members who actually attended the AGM would be able to vote in the Fowler-Day contest (postal and proxy voting will be allowed in future). But annual meetings are often thinly attended and the AC membership is scattered world wide. The committee therefore decided to conduct an opinion poll among the club's 1,200 members. It was to be non-binding but would clearly be difficult to ignore.
Come the day, members filled the AC's clubroom in Shoreditch for a hustings session with the two candidates followed by a secret ballot. Despite much prior uncertainty, in the end the result was clear cut – Fowler 59 votes, Day 21 votes. The opinion poll was even more emphatic – Fowler 241, Day 60. If the turnout does not look too impressive, bear in mind two things – nobody loves AGMs, and it was a weekend when winter climbing conditions in the UK have seldom been better.
Stephen Goodwin Editor, Alpine Journal 6 December 2010