UKC

Perfect Partners #9 - Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden

In this series of articles, Tom Ripley interviews some well-known climbing partnerships to dig up their dirty secrets and find out what they really think of one another...


Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden are probably the best weekend warriors in the world. For the majority of the year they are respectable members of society with wives, families and high flying careers - Mick is a tax advisor, whilst Paul does something to do with Health and Safety, I'm not quite sure what! Once a year they transform into gnarly mountaineers, for their annual big trip to the Himalayas. Always they return having climbed something highish and hardish, and in impeccable alpine style. The mountains they climb are around the 6000 metre mark; remote, beautiful and often unclimbed. In the dozen or so years they have been climbing together, the pair have won the Piolet d'Or award three times in recognition for their significant ascents.

Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden on their Gave Ding expedition., 223 kb
Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden on their Gave Ding expedition.
© Paul Ramsden

Mick and Paul first won a Piolet d'Or in 2003, for opening up the North Face of Siguniang (6250m) in China. They followed that up in 2013 with recognition for their ascent of the Prow of Shiva (6142m) in India and in 2016 were lauded for a first ascent of Gave Ding (6571m) in the Nepalese Himalaya. But with all that downtime spent in Base Camp holed up in tents, how do they get along with one another?

Paul on Mick

How did you first meet?

In a wet car park above Millstone. I had arranged to meet a mate there who failed to turn up due to heavy rain for some reason. Mick was sat there in his car under exactly the same circumstances. We decided to team up and climbed all evening in the rain.

Did you know Mick by reputation before meeting him?

How could you not! I remember when I was about 16 going to a talk at Leeds University by some bloke who seemed pretty good, but the most impressive part of the talk was climbing a frozen column of piss out of a leaky toilet at St Pancras Station. Only later did I start buying Mountain Magazine and work out who Mick was.

What was your first impression?

He had turned up at Millstone in a suit and shirt straight from the tax office, so he seemed a bit odd. However, I was impressed with his keenness for climbing in the wet, which is something I have always enjoyed. In many ways that first evening turned into some sort of mutual selection process, as we were already talking big mountains in the pub that evening.

What was the first route you climbed together?

I think it was Bond Street followed by Great North Road. Crack lines are definitely easier than slabs in heavy rain.

Why do you enjoy climbing with Mick?

He is definitely the most positive person I have ever climbed with. Even when it's completely unjustified. His inability to give up in the face of overwhelming officialdom is very impressive. I think he enjoys defeating the bureaucrats as much as he likes climbing the mountain. I don't think we have ever had a cross word between us and we always come to the same decision on the mountain automatically.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

For me it has to be the route we climbed on Siguniang. I didn't realise such things were possible. I didn't realise you could hang in a harness all night long and still function the next day or fail to light the stove for several days due to spindrift and still go up. It really opened my eyes up to the possibilities out there, if you are prepared to suffer. I lost two stone in three weeks on that trip.

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Calm, Fun, Successful.

Mick and Paul enjoying a day at the crag together., 195 kb
Mick and Paul enjoying a day at the crag together.
© Paul Ramsden

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

I haven't really to be honest. We never seem to have epics or dodgy moments - or at least that's how it seems now. Actually, there was one abseil on Siguniang from a very marginal shallow Abalakov that even made Mick go pale and unclip as I went over the edge.

If you could change one thing about Mick what would it be?

Mick's constant positivity can drive you crazy after a while. It's just not right! What's wrong with being miserable and grumpy? I do it very well.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment we are climbing different things expedition-wise, but I see Mick most weeks in the Peak so there will be more schemes and possibly big trips in the future.

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Mick?

We climbed a peak Called Manamcho in Tibet. I managed to slip a disc at one of the bivi ledges. A fragment of the disc trapped the sciatic nerve and I lost most of the use of my left leg. Ended up hopping the rest of the way to the summit and back down again. Front pointing when you can't aim your foot is a real bugger. Ended up having surgery when I got home.

Has Mick ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

I had to turn down a trip To Mugu Chuli in Nepal due to work commitments, so Mick ended up climbing with Dave Turnbull. That route looked really good and was in a great part of the Himalaya.

What have you learned from climbing with Mick?

Positivity! I am now expedition climbing with Nick Bullock, who makes me feel really chirpy.

Mick on Paul

How did you first meet?

That would be on the Peak District evening climbing scene. There must have been a mutual friend somewhere. Paul Eastwood perhaps? We both ended up in a small group of climbers that would meet up one evening a week after work. I first remember meeting when the weather was rubbish and we were the only two that turned up to spend an evening slithering around in the rain at Millstone.

Did you know Paul by reputation before meeting him?

I knew he was a gnarly Yorkshireman who at one stage in life had spent a lot of time in Antarctica. I knew too that he had been involved in assessing whether the ice on a frozen lake was thick enough for James Bond-type cars to be raced on it.

What was your first impression?

A gnarly, taciturn but likeable chap who seemed totally unconcerned by the fact that it was cold, windy and raining. Antarctica, James Bond, climbing – and, as I found out, keen on winter climbing and mountaineering. He seemed a very interesting character.

What was the first route you climbed together?

I can't remember what we did at Millstone. The first route I remember was Route 2 on the Ben. I led the first pitch, got lost, fell/lowered down a groove, traversed some very thin slabs and belayed. No idea where I was despite the fact that I had done it before. It must have been a difficult pitch to follow, but Paul seemed to take it all in his stride. I took that as a good sign.

The 2013 Piolet d'Or Awards, where Mick and Paul were honoured for their first ascent of the Prow of Shiva in Himachal Pradesh, 188 kb
The 2013 Piolet d'Or Awards, where Mick and Paul were honoured for their first ascent of the Prow of Shiva in Himachal Pradesh
© Paul Ramsden

Why do you enjoy climbing with Paul?

Firstly because we get on well and think the same way in the mountains. But also because he is solid, dependable, rises to the occasion when things go wrong and doesn't like to go down unless there is a really good reason to.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

So many! If I really have to choose then Gave Ding in West Nepal in 2015 would be up there. Neither of us had been to that area before, no Westerners had seen the face before, the walk-in was beautiful, the mountain was unclimbed, the face was so much better than we could have hoped for, there was an obvious challenging but safe line direct to the summit and a different descent route. It ticked all the boxes for me.

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Enjoy Climbing Together.

Equally I could have chosen: Bivouac Uncomfortably Frequently.

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

I can't think of really being scared climbing. Does walking count? Falling 10m into a bottomless crevasse while glacier walking in Xinjiang was very scary. I was hanging free in water pouring from huge icicles in the lip while Paul was pressed hard against a bank of snow that had built up as he was pulled across the surface. Getting out was quite challenging and the whole incident generally got the adrenaline flowing freely.

If you could change one thing about Paul what would it be?

If he could breathe less heavily (i.e. not snore) on bivouacs that would be good.

What are your plans for the future?

No specific plans but we climb together regularly and anything is possible.

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Paul?

Probably whatever routes we did in the rain at Millstone all those years ago. That's why I have forgotten what they were.

Has Paul ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

No.

What have you learned from climbing with Paul?

I learned how to use Abalakov threads. It seems laughable now, but before climbing with Paul I always used rock anchors whenever possible. Strangely enough I had to replace my rack nearly every year. Now mountaineering is much cheaper. Thank you Paul.



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