Al Rouse: mountaineering legend remembered

Posted by Peter Burnside on 26/06/2018
Rab Carrington and Brian Hall at the unveiling of the Blue Memorial Plaque for Alan Rouse.

The Friends of The Breck have paid homage to the legendary mountaineer Al Rouse – the first British man to summit K2 – with the creation of a memorial garden and the unveiling of a Heritage Blue Plaque.

In 1986 Al Rouse became the first British mountaineer to summit K2, the world's second highest peak. His tragic death from exposure just days later as he attempted to descend in a fierce snow storm takes nothing away from the awesome achievement that formed the literal pinnacle of an impressive climbing career.

Al's career as a mountaineer saw him scale some of the most iconic peaks in areas as diverse as the Andes, Nepal and China during which time he formed climbing partnerships with some of the greats of British mountaineering; including Rab Carrington and Sir Chris Bonington. However, his extraordinary career began as a teenager in his hometown of Wallasey where he first learned to climb 50 years ago at his local crag, The Breck.

But despite his undoubted achievements there has until now been no memorial to him in the town he was born. The Friends of The Breck, who have been working with Wirral Parks & Countryside Rangers to turn an overgrown corner of Wallasey into the well-loved and used Green Flag Award winning park it is today, decided to rectify this oversight. Over the course of a year they cleared, restored and replanted two raised beds at the main entrance on Breck Road to create a memorial garden. With the support of Peter Bolt from Conservation Areas Wirral the Friends of The Breck were able to have a Blue Plaque installed as the centrepiece of the garden.

The plaque was unveiled on 21 June at a ceremony attended by The Friends of The Breck, Conservation Areas Wirral, representatives of The Old Birkonian Society, local councillors, climbing partners Rab Carrington and Brian Hall and members of the Wirral based Gwydyr Mountain Club.

Friend and partner Sir Chris Bonington, said: “Al was one of the most brilliant of a group of very talented British climbers that emerged in the seventies to push the level of climbing to new limits. He was multi-talented; not just a brilliant rock and ice climber, he was intellectually bright, got himself to Cambridge, studied mathematics and was capable of getting a good degree, but his passion for climbing and living life to the full in every respect meant that he just scraped through. He was a very good chess player, a great talker and party goer and incredible fun to be with.

“He had a meteoric climbing career starting at the age of 16 with bouldering here at The Breck, before moving on to Wales where he pushed the limits in solo climbing, then on to the Alps and greater ranges, a year-long campaign in South America, then the Himalaya. He was the driving force in a series of Himalayan adventures, to attempt the West Ridge of Everest in winter in 1980. He had joined me on Kongur for a recce earlier that summer and then the main expedition in ‘81. It was at that time the second highest unclimbed peak in the world and proved a complex climb.

“He went on in 1986 with the biggest challenge of all, conceiving and leading an expedition to attempt a new route on K2. They weren’t successful but Al was determined to climb it and after the other team members had gone home he had one more try on the original route with a group of eight other climbers. He made it to the top but they were caught by a savage storm, tried to sit it out in the top camp and of the eight only two Austrian climbers survived.

“Al, mercurial, brilliant in so many ways, warm hearted and kind was one of the great characters of British climbing and it’s very appropriate that he is remembered in this lovely, peaceful park where, for him, it really all started.”


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