Rab Carrington has been involved with climbing and mountaineering for more than 50 years and with the BMC since 2005. He's been a keen mountaineer, founded an internationally renowned outdoor gear brand, and now he's become the BMC's latest Patron.
It's over 50 years since I started climbing. I must have been 15 or 16 when a couple of friends invited me up to Glencoe and we found out I was quite a good climber. When you’re good at something, you think “this is the first sport I’ve ever been good at”. Really, I started climbing because I was good at it, and that was it. But, as I say, I’ve been climbing for 50 odd years, so there must be something about it that keeps me going back.
I was brought up in Glasgow and went to university at the age of 17, not long after discovering climbing. It so happened that I'd been put in one of the top classes because I was good at my sums and things like that. But the climbing bug had well and truly bitten: as my climbing improved, my academic prowess dwindled. I scraped through a degree and became a teacher as it meant another year without having to do anything but climb. If I hadn’t been climbing, I might have been a mathematical academic; but that wasn’t to be.
It took about a term to realise that teaching wasn't for me, and I gave up after a year. I must have spent the next decade, the ‘70s, climbing as much as possible. Working six months and then taking off for the rest of the year, going to the Alps and all over the world, just going climbing.
In the 80s it started becoming difficult finding jobs. Family was there and a house had been bought, so I had to find a proper job. It was then that Sue and I decided to set up a company called Rab. We did that for 22 years before selling it in 2003, and have been enjoying retirement ever since.
When I was younger, my friends and I weren’t really influenced by any particular climbers. We might look back now and think otherwise, but at the time it was more about the group I’d be going climbing with. Over the years, through climbing, I’ve met so many people that have become my friends that have influenced me, even though they probably wouldn’t want to by typecast as role models.
I’ve always said that the enjoyment of climbing is three-fold. There’s the pleasure in the movement, the camaraderie of the people you’re with, and the joy in the locations you venture to. There’s no one aspect that is more important than the other, they’re all equal parts of a whole. If you can get two of them on a day out, it’s a great day. And when you experience all three you have that rare magical day where everything seems to come together perfectly.
Climbing and mountaineering continue to evolve and will probably develop regardless of what everyone thinks at present. We’re seeing it change in the press all the time. Climbers continue to push the limits of what’s possible – James Pearson and his new E10 7a in France, Maddy Cope and her send of Bat Route in Malham – it’s all phenomenal compared to when we started out back in the 1960s and dreamt about climbing Vector (E2 5c).
One thing I’d like to see change is more recognition for the achievement of trad climbers in the media. It’s very easy for them to slip into the numbers game, say with sport climbing and all the 9as and 9bs reported, which make good headlines. Whereas somebody onsighting an E5 6c, which I think is a massive achievement, might not get the same recognition.
Mountaineers will always seek out their own challenges. But it would be nice to see more of the top climbers join the alpinists to push the grades, standards and make great achievements.
I had a very busy life: climbing expeditions, running a business, and more. And as a climber I was always pretty anarchic – I didn’t want to be involved with organisations. But after I retired, I happened to meet Henry Folkard completely by chance in the waiting room of a bank. He asked if I’d ever considered doing something for the BMC, and I considered it and thought it was a pretty good idea actually.
The rest is BMC history. I became vice president for three years, and then did another three as president, after that I worked with Mountain Training England, and since 2005 have been very connected with the BMC.
I’d like to see the BMC remain as an all-inclusive body. It should look after and represent all aspects of climbing, mountaineering, hill walking, indoor climbing, competition climbing, and all the rest. All these different facets should continue to fall under the BMC umbrella, but all while retaining their own voices. The key thing is to hold everything together.
We need to be a strong organisation representing the views of its members, with more members involved in the decision making process. The number of members that attend Area Meetings and interact with the BMC is a tiny percentage: it’s hardly democratic in that respect. At the moment, there are more than 82,000 members, and they have to be listened to. But our membership is a very small percentage of the approximately half a million people that participate in some form of walking, climbing, and mountaineering – the people that the BMC represents.
To be appreciated by its members, the BMC has got to be recognised for the great work that it does. Stuff like protecting access to crags, keeping footpaths open, and all the basic work that the BMC does every day but gets very little recognition for.
It's a great honour to be made a BMC Patron. Since 2005, I have been very active within the BMC, even if my name hasn’t always appeared in the literature. Hopefully being a Patron will allow me to continue to have an involvement and help by giving a different perspective on the direction it's heading in.
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