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Sir Chris Bonington and Leo Houlding on the summit of The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands
Photo by Berghaus
Sir Chris Bonington and Leo Houlding in front of The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands
Photo by Berghaus

Sir Chris Bonington climbs the Old Man of Hoy for 80th birthday

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On 20 August British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, together with Leo Houlding, climbed The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands, UK. The ascent celebrates Bonington's 80th birthday and is aimed at raising awareness and funds for motor neurone disease (MND) charities.

On 20 August British mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, together with Leo Houlding, climbed The Old Man of Hoy, Orkney Islands, UK. The ascent celebrates Bonington's 80th birthday and is aimed at raising awareness and funds for motor neurone disease (MND) charities.

"I’m definitely not as lithe or flexible as I was in the 1960s!" This was one of the first comments of Sir Chris Bonington, the UK’s best known mountaineer, on reaching the summit of The Old Man of Hoy, one of his most famous climbs that ascends the well known sandstone sea stack in the Orkney Islands.

Bonington reached the summit a few days ago and, above all, just a few weeks after his 80th birthday, together with another exceptional British climber, Leo Houlding. Bonington made the climb to mark his 80th birthday and to raise awareness and funds for motor neurone disease (MND) charities in memory of his wife Wendy, who died of the condition last month.

The Old Man of Hoy is an iconic route for Great Britain, first climbed by Sir Chris Bonington together with Rusty Baillie and Tom Patey 48 years ago, in 1966. This climb is legendary not only for its extraordinary and wild beauty, but also because Bonington and Patey returned to repeat the route a year later together with Joe Brown, Ian McNaught-Davis, Pete Crew and Dougal Haston who put up a further two routes on the same tower. There's little point underlining that these six alpinists were considered some of the best of their generation. So much so that the BBC transmitted the ascent live and The Great Climb as it was called reached an auudience of 15 million people: a feat never seen before or since.

Bonington and Houlding have climbed together in the past and for the recent ascent they had to wait for a 24 hours for a weather window, something which the Orkney Islands rarely concede. They set out early on Wednesday 20 August and climbed the circa 180m high stack, encountering many wet sections. They reached the summit at around 5.00pm, in deteriorating conditions.

"It was a very emotional moment at the top." recounted Bonington "I was delighted to have completed the climb, but of course I was also thinking about Wendy, who was my rock during all of my previous trips, whether near or far. I hope that people who hear about this climb will take the time to find out a bit more about motor neurone disease and help us to raise some money to fund research into finding a cure."

Houlding, who had first climbed this sea stack when he was just 11, added "the old man was amazing on the Old Man. Chris was a hero of mine as I grew up and I’m now lucky enough to be able to call him a good friend. I’ve seen the footage of the 1967 outside broadcast – it was one of the iconic moments in British climbing and fired the imagination of the public, of people like me. It has been a great privilege to return to Hoy with Chris, who never fails to amaze me with his appetite for adventure. Oh, and he can certainly still climb very well. Is he really 80?"

Fundraising in memory of Wendy Bonington
In July, Sir Chris lost his wife Wendy to motor neurone disease (MND) and will use his 80th as an opportunity to improve awareness of the condition, for which there is no cure and about which very little is known. He and his family are also raising funds online for three organisations, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which funds research into MND and provides support, along with Hospice at Home and Cumbria Crossroads, which both gave care and support to the family during Wendy’s illness.

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