Professional explorer and climber Leo Houlding has marked his 40th birthday by introducing the next generation of his family to the kind of adventures that he has become renowned for. The Houlding family spent four-days climbing the iconic alpine peak Piz Badile, with his children becoming two of the youngest climbers to stand on the summit.
Leo Houlding has been climbing since the age of 10 and he is already a veteran of more than a dozen major expeditions that have taken him around the world, from the summit of Everest to remote Arctic and Antarctic peaks, via Yosemite, the jungles of South America and the Old Man of Hoy.
Leo and Jackson Houlding at camp during their adventure on Piz Badile. Photo: Houlding Collection
For his 40th birthday celebrations in the Alps, Leo was joined by his wife Jessica and their children, seven-year-old Freya and three-year-old Jackson. Freya, seven, climbed the 10,853ft (3,350m) peak herself, becoming the youngest person to do so unaided whilst three-year-old Jackson, who was carried in his mother's backpack, is believed to be the youngest to get to the top. Together, they spent four days on the round trip to climb the north ridge of Piz Badile, on the border of Switzerland and Italy, carrying all of their equipment and supplies, and staying overnight in alpine huts and bivouac shelters.
Recalling the family outing, Leo recounts on his social media, "My beautiful Freya, who just turned seven a week ago, carried herself up and down the whole mountain up on her skinny little legs without any assistance! What a star. Little Jackson, three, had a bit of help from his Uber-Mum Jess who climbed with him harnessed up inside his carrier for most of the route although he broke free for a few pitches."
Leo adds, “I have always encouraged everyone to engage with adventure at any level and I'm very proud to be a trustee of the Outward Bound Trust, which last year introduced 30,000 young people from mainly underprivileged, urban backgrounds to the joy of outdoor action. As I’ve matured a bit and with a good deal of experience, I’m enjoying taking a mentoring role and sharing some of what I’ve learned with the next generation of adventure climbers, and of course my own kids.
“We were planning an excursion into the wilderness of the Wind River Range, Wyoming this summer but due to USA travel restrictions we changed plans to a campervan trip around the Alps. The north ridge of the Piz Badile is unique in its astounding quality, great length and lack of objectives hazards. I was confident that if we had a stable weather window, we could make a family ascent and lucked out that the good spell saw us summit on my birthday. Watching the dawn above the clouds, surrounded by everything I love the most was magical. It was a very special family adventure – as important and memorable as anything that I have done before.”
The Houlding family in the bivouac hut near the summit of Piz Badile
Leo Houlding secured his first sponsorship deal with Berghaus when only 17 and has been one of the company’s key brand ambassadors ever since, alongside the likes of fellow of fellow climbers Sir Chris Bonington, Mick Fowler, and, more recently, Anna Taylor. Leo completed a range of spectacular climbing expeditions of the last 20 years, which have included new routes and first ascents such as The Prophet on El Capitan in Yosemite, on remote peaks Ulvetanna and the Spectre in Antarctica, Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, and, late last year, the Prow of Roraima in Guyana.
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Leo has also climbed extensively in the UK, from locations near his home in the Lake District, to classic routes in Wales and Scotland. For many years, he was the youngest person to have scaled the Old Man of Hoy on Orkney, which he first climbed at the age of 11. In 2014, he returned to the famous sea stack with Sir Chris Bonington. Almost 50 years after Sir Chris made the first ascent of the Old Man, they marked his 80th birthday by climbing it again together. In his most recent major expedition, late in 2019, Leo led a team to successfully complete the first free climb of a route on the Prow of Roraima in Guyana. He invited 21-year-old Anna Taylor to join his crew, introducing another generation to the world of big wall climbing.
This proud Dad celebrated his 40th birthday in the summit Bivi hut of the Piz Badile, (3308m) following a family ascent of the 1000m North ridge, the finest route of its grade I've yet to climb. My beautiful Freya, who just turned 7 a week ago, carried herself up and down the whole mountain up on her skinny little legs without any assistance! What a star. Little Jackson, 3 had a bit of help from his Uber-Mum Jess who climbed with him harnessed up inside his carrier for most of the route although he broke free for a few pitches. We paced it out over 4 days, a gruelling 6 hour hike up the new trail to the immaculate and welcoming Sasc Fura Hut, a shorter day with a bit of scrambling to an awesome bivi spot on the shoulder beneath the start of the climb, the massive and continously brilliant rock climb to the wildly exposed summit bivi hut and finally half a dozen abseils and long descent into the beautiful Val Masino valley where Jess and I spent our honeymoon 14 years ago. Employing tactics usually resevered for more extreme ascents I first led with a heavy bag then rapped down and we all climbed the fixed rope on micro-traxions enabling us to climb together and allowing me to show Freya the hidden fairy staircase. Huge kisses to @jesscorrie for being the most amazing wife and mother, to Freya and Jackson for being such brave, strong children and to the weather gods for granting us the stable forecast we needed for our family outing. #familyfun #Bregaglia #kidsarestrongerthanyouthink #socialdistancing #pizbadile
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