Ken Wilson: Mountain man

Posted by Peter Burnside on 13/06/2016
Ken Wilson. Photo: John Cleare

Ken Wilson, one of the most influential voices in British climbing, has passed away. His death leaves a hole in the climbing community, but his legacy will continue to shape British climbing for years to come.

As editor of the classic Mountain magazine, he helped form the ethics of traditional British climbing. As the author of several great climbing books, he was responsible for inspiring many young climbers to dream big and tick-off all the classics. And as a supporter of the BMC and the Climbers’ Club, he made sure the community was working to safeguard the ethos of climbing, and to ensure it was accessible for everyone.

Writing in his book, Up and About, mountaineer Doug Scott said: “Ken was a passionate and sometimes vociferous supporter of the traditions of British climbing and an inspired mountaineering magazine editor.

“Mountain magazine had quite an influence on my climbing, especially during the late sixties and early seventies. It captured the profound changes affecting climbing at that period and Ken proved a relentless guardian of the soul of mountaineering – as he saw it.”

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Ken’s list of literary achievements is, of course, long, but its highlights include: being the editor of Mountain magazine from 1969 until 1978, authoring the timeless compilations Classic Rock, Hard Rock and Extreme Rock, not to forget his take on climbing in his anthology The Games Climbers Play, and establishing two publishing houses: Diadem and Bâton Wicks.

Aside from his contributions to print, Ken’s work to support the climbing world extended far and wide. The BMC gratefully accepted Ken’s opinions, both as a volunteer and a critic, and he was bestowed with the title of Honorary Member of the BMC.

Dave Turnbull, chief executive officer of the BMC, said: "Ken was one of the great characters of the last half century of British and world mountaineering – knowledgeable, passionate, committed, inquisitive, loud, annoying, blunt, unstoppable, bombastic, pure and proper grassroots with a deep-rooted conviction as the self-appointed champion of climbing ethics; without Ken British climbing would be in much poorer place than it is today. Ken made an impact wherever he went, he will be a hard act to follow and will be missed by many."

Furthermore, Ken helped mould the climbing clubs we know today; he was a fierce campaigner for women to be accepted as members in the Climbers' Club, the first of many of the causes he pursued vigorously. In November 2015, Ken’s contribution was honoured and acknowledged when he was bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Boardman Tasker trustees.

Ed Douglas, climbing writer and journalist, said: “He may not have been a leading climber, but he helped shape climbing, and almost always for the good. He was without question the pre-eminent publisher and editor of the British climbing scene in the 20th century. He was also deeply committed to his family, his wife Gloria and his two sons. If there is any comfort to be drawn from his last battle, with dementia, then it’s that they were there to support him.”

Our thoughts, respects and well wishes go out to his family. Rest in peace, Ken.

There is a full tribute to Ken in Summit 82, Summer 2016.

There is also a celebration of his life on Saturday 30 July in Sheffield



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Anonymous User
16/06/2016
I had the pleasure of meeting Ken for the first time on a wet Tuesday evening at Frodsham having just started working for Dave Pearce at Nick Estcourts. Now 30 years later I can still hear Ken giving me the nick name Albanian Sid due to a pair of sportive slippers. He of course was dressed in blue Helly Hansen fleece because it was "worth half a grade." We climbed together many times over the years, he was always entertaining and driven. He forced people to consider their motivations, he was happiest getting last on the crag points and even happier trying to get a group of anarchists to vote democratically on next week's crag. He will be missed, but leaves a legacy of books that has been the underlying excuse for some interesting holidays. Gone but never to be forgotten. Our thoughts are with Gloria and their 2 sons who have lost more than us.
Tim Cumberland aka Albanian Sid
Anonymous User
06/07/2016
It was thanks to Ken calling friends in Llanberis in the sixties that saved the Cromlech boulders in the pass from being dynamited to widen the road!. He was in London at the time, but we all went up and sat on top of the boulders to save them. Thank you Ken. Ann S
Anonymous User
06/07/2016
I met Ken at a BMC AGM in Caernarvon in the early 70's and all that has been written about his passion for climbing and its literature was immediately evident.Rather frightening.Never a good climber,as I became ever less active I compensated by acquiring more and more mountain-related books and still treasure the list of Diadem and Baton Wicks publications that Ken sent me - to make sure I had not forgotten to get them all he said - and a handwritten letter about Frank Smythe biographies.He hoped Tony Smythe would write one and,although he didn't plan to publish it himself, he said it would be good as "Tony is a fine writer".So it proved.We spoke about books several times over the years and he was ever helpful and always had an opinion on what was worth reading - or not! My little library would be hugely poorer in quantity and quality without his immense efforts and personal kindness.

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