Up Close and Personal

Up Close and Personal is a new series of short informal interviews with members of the Alpine Club. The articles are designed to profile the breadth and depth of a ‘typical’ AC member and are first published in the Alpine Club Newsletter. 

Back issues of the newsletters can be found HERE.

Up Close with Klaus Thymann

Up Close with Klaus Thymann

Danish explorer and AC member Klaus Thymann is a walking multi-hyphenate. We caught up with him in December 2023 to discuss his work as a climate activist, his interest in equatorial glaciers and his thoughts on the failures and future of science communication.

To kick off, could you tell us a little about what you do professionally?

That is going to be a very long answer. I do a lot of things professionally. I have more hats than I have hair. So I used to work as a photographer, I've been a filmmaker my entire life and I’m an explorer. But my main focus is mapping. Without maps, we can't navigate. And without navigation, we can't actually solve some of the pressing issues. So for me, that's a logical first step.

I grew up as a teenager taking pictures and I became a professional photographer when I was 15. Then I became a filmmaker and the great thing about photography and filmmaking is that you can do whatever you’re interested in. If you like food, you photograph food. If you like adventure, you photograph adventure. And I've moved through a lot of different genres and themes in photography, but around 2008, I set up a charity called Project Pressure with a focus on triangulating climate change action, art and science. And, later, in 2010, I started a science degree. So I have a degree in Environmental Science and nowadays I would say that what I do professionally is focus on activism that is grounded in science and communication. I think, when we look at climate change specifically, science has failed on communication.


A lot of your climate change communication work has focussed on glaciers. Is there a reason for that choice?

When I founded Project Pressure, we wanted to create communication around climate change. At that time, climate change deniers were called “sceptics” and the media gave equal billing to deniers as to scientists even though 99% of scientists said that climate change was happening. That created a public perception that climate change was up for debate and we're still seeing the results of this now.

So when we started Project Pressure, we wanted to communicate in a way that was undeniable, scientific and bulletproof. Glaciers react to long-term warming trends. Glacier mass balances and mass balance losses are not part of the weather cycle, so showing their retreat illustrates climate change. And from an artistic perspective, it's one of the classic forms and so it made sense to create work around them.

The past and the present - recreating historic glacier photos in Uganda

2023 Meltdown Exhibition at  Kühlhaus, Berlin

You talked earlier about the failure of science to communicate, particularly in the early stages of climate change awareness. Do you think scientists failed because of false balance in the media, or was it a wider failing?

It's not a binary, it's not one or the other. The media played a big role in the problem and that’s also because most journalists are not trained scientists and most scientists are not trained in media. So you have two groups that are trying to do things that they're not trained to do.

The precautionary principle in science is part of it too. When you write scientific reports, it's a guiding principle. You cannot prove something, you can only disprove a lot of other things. So you cannot go out and say categorically what is. You can say something would have a certain likelihood.

When it comes to the environment, I think you have to look at the precautionary principle in a different context. Not from a scientific context, but from an environmental context. In an environmental context, that precautionary principle says that you don't destroy something without absolute certainty that you will not damage the systems. So one should take a precautionary approach to how we treat the environment. If there is a risk, the approach has to be changed.


I noticed that, perhaps in contrast to a lot of Alpine Club members, you’ve undertaken a lot of expeditions in equatorial regions. What is their appeal to you?

Mapping has always been a driving force for me. So going to the white spots on the map where it’s less documented was a big interest for me. I also have to say that when it comes to ice and mountaineering, there’s such a huge focus on the poles and Everest that it's not interesting. There's been so many other people there. I'm not going to be able to contribute anything.

By contrast, some of the equatorial glaciers are not named, they're not documented and they can be difficult to get to for a number reasons; conflict, logistics and so on. It’s an event just to get there and you come back with something new.

It also offers a different perspective. Those equatorial glaciers only have height. Once the temperature increases and the freezing point goes higher, they melt. It shows the effects of climate change on a global scale in a way that's maybe a little bit surprising to people.

View from inside a cave towards the dive entrance.
Tannic acid in the water creates the remarkable colours seen here

Thymann carrying a dive tank in Mexico

You’ve also done a lot of diving as part of your work. Do you think that there are similarities between mountaineering and diving?

So the diving I do is technical diving and a lot of it is cave diving. I would say the expedition mentality and the expedition planning is something that is similar. But ultimately it's very different. There are people in mountaineering who are risk averse and there are people that are absolutely not risk averse. In cave diving you die very quickly if you take risks, and in cave diving, we say “two is one, one is none”. Preferably there's a backup and then maybe there's a backup of the backup. If you're several kilometres into a cave, there’s no other option than getting back out the same way. And, if you know what you're doing, the limits are very well known. And I think, when you look at the way people treat mountaineering, people are forgetting the risks in a way that you can’t in cave diving.


To come back to photography and filmmaking - film and video are so ubiquitous now, how do you, as someone who uses it professionally, find what Werner Hertzog refers to as “the new image”? Something that's not been shown to people before.

Photography doesn't really interest me so much anymore. I think it's a medium that has done a lot, but as a standalone unit, it isn't a great vehicle for storytelling. Comparative image photography still does create a narrative. But if we accept that most people will consume their media on a digital device, it's the whole device that's much more interesting. You know, different mapping platforms different 3D environment and so on.

Project Pressure's 'Voices for The Future' Installation at the United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit


Lastly, is there anything you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to highlight?

For a long time, I've been working on a story about the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Congo (DRC). And we’re currently seeking archival images of these mountains. So if anyone has something lying around in their drawers, please get in touch. We're trying to build a database of what the glaciers have done in this region and we have some of the historic photographs that were published by the first expeditions in 1906. But there are huge gaps in the ’50s and ‘60s and there’s very little from the ‘60s up until 2012.


You can learn more about Klaus’s work and get in touch with him via his website: https://www.klausthymann.com/

This interview originally appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of the Alpine Club Newsletter. Previous issues of the newsletter are available to read here.





Up Close with AC Aspirant Hannah Mitchell

Hannah Mitchell is an Aspirant AC Member, an outdoor journalist and the driving force behind ‘Tidy Climbers’, a new initiative aimed at cleaning up our crags. We sat down with Hannah to learn a little more about her, her work and her penchant for litter picking.

Hannah climbing at Castle Rock of Triermain - Andy Milton


Hi Hannah. Could you kick off by telling us a little about what you do for work?

I’m primarily an outdoor and adventure journalist. My work is for adventure magazines and websites and I also do copywriting for outdoor brands.


And how long have you been doing that for?

I’ve enjoyed writing most of my adult life in one way or another. I was working in a Youth Hostel in the Lake District and during the COVID lockdowns I wrote an article for the BMC magazine and realised that this was the sort of thing I liked doing most. And I feel like if you can do what you like for a living, then brilliant!

I decided to take the leap and I did a Master’s degree in Journalism which I just finished at the end of last year and I’ve been writing for a living for a couple of years now.


Obviously you’re focused on the outdoors, but are there any topics within that field that you’re particularly interested in writing about?

That first article I wrote for the BMC was about disparities in financial support for outdoor workers and guides during COVID. The outdoors is the underpinning theme in just about everything I do, but I like to hone in on social and environmental issues. I’m also really interested in championing women in outdoor and mountaineering spaces and amplifying the voices of people you don’t typically see in those areas.

Speaking of environmental issues, that leads us quite nicely to Tidy Climbers. Could you explain what it is?

So I think with issues like litter at crags, it’s very easy to get bogged down and feel helpless, or frustrated, or angry, or even sad. And whilst I think it's really important to acknowledge those feelings, I think sometimes a far more positive way of tackling issues like this is to amplify the good stuff that's going on.

I was aware that a lot of climbers like myself were habitually picking up rubbish when they went climbing. Having a little clean up, either of the parking area or the crag. It’s something that quite a lot of people do already. One element of Tidy Climbers is to celebrate the good work that people are doing. Whilst they're probably not doing it for recognition or anything like that, I think it's really important to thank people and celebrate the positives.

The second, and probably the most important element, is to inspire behavioural change in people who perhaps don't already do that. It’s hard to force yourself to pick up someone else's mess, but hopefully by seeing other people doing it, more of us will just habitually take two minutes out of our climbing day to have a little root around the bushes or the car park and pick up any crisp packets or finger tape, or whatever we happen to find there.

Access to a lot of crags is a privilege for climbers and if areas are being trashed, it jeopardises that access, even if the rubbish isn't being left by climbers. So it benefits the entire climbing community if we all just do that little bit. And finally, it’s important to remember that these places aren’t just there to serve us as a recreational space – they’re habitats and ecosystems that we have a duty to take care of if we want to share them.


Was there a particular inciting incident that inspired you to start Tidy Climbers?

Oh, there have been plenty! I live in the Lake district, and it tends to be that I find less rubbish at crags, particularly high mountain crags, just because they're less visited areas. It's usually on the walks in and out that you come across all sorts of awful stuff like abandoned camp sites . A friend and I walked off Needle Ridge in The Napes and we found a completely abandoned campsite by the tarn and we basically just bagged and gathered everything up that we possibly could and then enlisted the help of some walkers to carry it all down. I guess that was the final straw!

Climbing on Dow Crag - Garry Smith

How would you most like other people to get involved with Tidy Climbers?

What's really putting a smile on my face at the moment is the fact that I'm getting contributions from people from all over the UK. I've had people send pictures from north Wales, from the Peak District and from Scotland. So it's really nice that it's kind of uniting people up and down the UK. I think just having people get involved and experience that feeling of community is one of the most important parts of it.

I'm constantly on Instagram trying to get people to send pictures of what they've picked up over the weekend, even if it's just like a handful of sweet wrappers. I just want people to get involved and engage with it.


How did you discover climbing?

I've always been outdoorsy, but I came to climbing relatively late in a bit of a baptism of fire. I’d maybe been indoor climbing a handful of times and then ended up going on a sport climbing trip to Spain and was just sort of thrown in at the deep end. But luckily I was surrounded by lots of people who were far more experienced than me and really willing to stand by me and hold my dead rope!

On the summit of the Dent du Géant following a successful Aspirants' Meet

I believe you’re heading to the Aspirants’ Meet this year. Is that part of why you joined the Alpine Club?

Since joining, I've spoken to a lot of people, particularly women, who've said “Oh, no, I couldn't join. They wouldn't let me in. I've not done X or Y.” And it's kind of like that thing where you apply for a job and they say “Well, you haven't got any experience…” and you reply “Well, where do I get the experience if I don't get the job?” So I think it [the Aspirants’ Meet] is great, because, for me, I've done a lot of mountain trad climbing and I've done odd bits of alpine style climbing, but nothing like what I'm about to go and do next week. So it's amazing to have that opportunity and to be able to get a real grasp on the very important skills that you need to be a safe and reliable partner.



You can follow Tidy Climbers on Instagram and Facebook.

This interview originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 issue of the Alpine Club Newsletter. Previous issues of the newsletter are available to read here.




Up Close with AC Vice-President Nick Kekus

Alpine Club Vice-President Nick Kekus has been at the heart of the British climbing scene for several decades. He’s climbed with a host of famous faces and attempted some of the most sought-after lines in high-altitude mountaineering. We caught up with Nick to talk about his ‘80s expeditions, his career as a mountain guide and his plans for his time as VP.

The North Face of Shivling - © Nick Kekus Collection

Hi Nick. Thanks for sitting down with us. I’m always interested to ask this question of mountain guides: what did you do before you started guiding?

So I started out as a Civil Engineer working in construction and then got into guiding, but I’ve always kind of run the two in parallel. Sometimes I’ve done more guiding than my “proper job”. I always refer to myself as being “semi-retired from guiding” but the last two years I’ve probably done more guiding than I have for a long time.


And do you still find guiding rewarding?

I think if you’re doing an awful lot, it can be very physically demanding and quite stressful. But doing the bits that I do now makes a nice contrast to my other work. So yeah, I think I find it more rewarding now than when I was always looking for the next job.


When people ask you about it as a career, what do you tell them?

Many years ago I worked in Canada and the guy who ran the business, a Kiwi called Dave Begg, he always said: “When you get into guiding, you have to have a plan for how to get out”. Because it has a finite life. You’ve got to have a plan for the future.


© Nick Kekus Collection

© Nick Kekus Collection


In the 1980s, you went on a lot of expeditions to the Himalaya – the NE Ridge of Everest, the SE pillar of Annapurna III – were you consciously seeking out these routes that are often referred to as “last great problems”?

I probably was [seeking them out] but I don’t think it was that conscious. There was a great groundswell of enthusiasm at the time with what people like Boardman and Tasker and Alex Macintyre were doing. And I always had this idea of aspiring to take alpine climbing, in its purest sense, to the Himalaya.

The route on Shivling in 1982 with Richard Cox, which sadly ended tragically when Richard was killed, it was such an aesthetic peak and such an aesthetic line, that north face. I think for me it felt like a logical step from things I’d done in the Alps.

The previous year I’d been to the Nanda Devi sanctuary and 3 of us climbed Kalanka by the regular route. We climbed light. It wasn’t very technical. But it set my ambition to try harder things in the Himalaya in lightweight style.

I went to Ganesh II with Rick Allen in ‘84 and that was kind of the epitome of what I’d been trying to do. Just the two of us on this great face that had quite a lot of technical climbing. And we basically went with minimal gear; 2 ropes, a big rack and a bivvy tent.


You climbed quite a lot with Rick, who was tragically killed on K2 in 2021, do you have any particular memories of him you’d like to share?

Rick was a member of the Midland Association of Mountaineers, and they had a hut down in Coniston, and we always used to arrange quite a few pre-expedition meetings there. And on a few of these occasions Rick, coming down from Aberdeen, would bring this very talented young Aberdonian climber. But I don't think Rick wanted to climb with him because he was always wanting to do really hard routes. So Rick would always point at me and say: “you go climb with the brat”, and “the brat” would drag me up these horrendous routes on Scafell and Dow Crag.

There were lots of aspects to Rick's life. He was a committed Christian and he had lots of interests in charities and other organizations, not just in the UK, but around the world. He was certainly not a one-dimensional person by any means.

 The team below south face Ganesh II in 1984, Rick Allen on the right, Nick on the left, with their Sidar, LO and Cook - © Nick Kekus Collection



You’ve recently become one of the Alpine Club’s Vice-Presidents alongside Adéle Long. Is there anything in particular you’re hoping to achieve in your time in post?

I'm taking my steer from Simon [Richardson] and Simon's obviously very enthusiastic and really looking to take things forward. One of the areas where he's really keen to do something is in developing the future direction of the ACG. It’s not really as dynamic as it used to be and lots of people have talked about wanting to resurrect it or to develop another organisation that speaks to young alpinists. A group of young climbers, not necessarily people climbing at the cutting edge, but people who have just got a real passion and interest in alpinism. I think both Simon and myself are really keen to encourage and develop that.


I think I’m right in saying that you originally met Simon in the infamous Snell’s Field. Do you have any stories of our President from that time that you could share?

We always used to call Simon “Mr Mega” because whenever he talked about something it was always “mega”. He did some amazing things with all sorts of people, and he was really enthusiastic at recruiting people to his objectives and his ideas.

When Simon was working for Shell in Holland, myself Mark Miller and Sean Smith got the ferry over and Simon picked us up. The idea was to do the north face of the Eiger, which we didn’t do, but we did climb a super route on the Mönch – the Lauper Rib.

We drove into Grindelwald really late at night and parked the car in the railway yard. We had nowhere to sleep and there were these old railway carriages, like cattle trucks, in the sidings and someone noticed that they were open. So we all jumped in, got our bivvy bags out and slept in there, because this was the middle of winter.

And then, in the early hours of the morning, we felt this carriage start moving. And we all panicked, thinking the train was off to Interlaken. And we open the door and we’re all throwing our sleeping bags out and trying to get our shoes on. And we suddenly see that there’s no train attached to the carriage. It’s just this little old man pushing the carriage, getting everything marshalled in the yard as we’re trying to get out!



This interview originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of the Alpine Club Newsletter. Previous issues of the newsletter are available to read here.




Up Close with Guidebook Author Lina Arthur

Up Close with Guidebook Author Lina Arthur

Lina Arthur is a guidebook author and editor based in the Lake District. In this interview, conducted in December 2022, we dig into Lina’s experience of writing a selective guide of British winter climbs and discuss some of the current challenges facing the publishing industry.

Lina Out and About for Work - Photo: Steve Broadbent

How did you start climbing?

I've always loved walking and scrambling in the hills, but for some reason it never occurred to me to try climbing, despite a long-since-forgotten climbing session at Cheddar as a child. When I started my DPhil, a friend suggested joining the Oxford University Mountaineering Club and, undeterred by initial trips to the Peak District in November, I've been climbing ever since.


Can you tell us a little about your job?

I write and edit climbing guidebooks and mountain literature, primarily for the Oxford Alpine Club. This means that some of my job involves heading out into the mountains with a camera, checking routes and walk-ins, taking topo photos and so on. This can be brilliant if the weather is nice, but in fact, the majority of my job is computer-based, transforming all the information and images I and others have gathered into written book form.

In the Office - Photo: Dave Arthur

On Tower Ridge in Winter - Photo: Steve Broadbent

Your own guidebook 'Snow & Ice' came out in 2021. What were you hoping this guide could offer that other winter climbing guides don't?

When I first started winter climbing, I found that many guidebooks omitted “easy” routes entirely or offered limited detail, particularly about things like descents. In Snow & Ice, I wanted to highlight the brilliant range of lower grade routes that the UK has to offer and to inspire people to climb them, but I particularly wanted to make winter climbing as accessible as possible. I wanted to create a guide which provided all the information needed to get to a route, climb it, and descend on one page, and which was as helpful as possible to the climber.


Are there particular challenges to writing a selective guide? 

Narrowing down what goes in it! That was very tricky, and continued to change right up to the last minute. I wanted to include popular routes, but also to include lesser-known ones that are just as good. Inevitably I couldn’t include all my favourites, let alone anyone else’s, but I hope there is something for everyone.

Another challenge was that where a definitive guide focuses on one area in detail, my selection had me crisscrossing the country, chasing conditions. With limited space, it was a challenge to do justice to so many different areas. 

'Snow & Ice'

Making the First Ascent of 'Don Turquoise' (HVS, 4c), Akaltine Edge, Tafraout 
- Photo: Steve Broadbent

What are you working on at the moment?

One of the nice things about my job is that it's so varied. Since the publication of Snow & Ice, I've worked on the second edition of The Alps, A Natural Companion (by Jim Langley and Paul Gannon, which was published in June) and I'm currently nearing completion of a guide to UK dry tooling, which should be available early in 2023.


It feels like publishers are currently going through quite a tough time with the price of paper, inflation, postal strikes...etc. Do you think this difficult period will pass or does it herald wider changes for the industry? Is there anything customers can be doing to help?

These are certainly tricky times. The guidebook industry suffered massively during the COVID travel restrictions, and paper prices have been rocketing ever since. I think that things will stabilise; while postal strikes are hugely detrimental to sales, particularly as this is the busiest time of year for bookselling, they are a temporary issue. More generally, publishers will have to adapt. That will mean that some great books are simply not financially viable to publish so there may be less variety, but I believe that there will always be demand for high-quality books.

The most helpful thing customers can do is to buy guidebooks! And, if possible, buy them directly from the publisher so that as much of your money as possible is directly helping to pay the costs of producing the book, thus ensuring that more books will be published in the future. Pre-orders and reviews are also very helpful and are always appreciated.

Lake District Days - Local Ice Climbing - Photo: Aileen Robertson

Lake District Days - Climbing 'Free Falling' (E4, 6s) on Steel Knotts Crag - Photo: Steve Broadbent

You're based in the Lake District. How important is it to you to live in one of the UK's mountain regions?

It's incredibly important, both for my spare time and for my work life. One of the main reasons I moved to the Lake District is that I was spending a lot of time driving to and from the mountains, and I wanted to reduce that. Being based here makes it much easier to get out into the mountains and I feel very lucky to be able to do so. The Lake District is relatively central; not only is there climbing practically on my doorstep, but North Wales and Scotland are also very accessible. It would have been impossible to write Snow & Ice while I was living in Southern England, but from the Lakes I was able to snatch good weather days whenever they occurred, and the odd day-trip to Scotland made a big difference in completing the book.


You're a fairly active Twitter user (going as far as live-tweeting a route earlier this year). Is social media something you enjoy using to share your climbing or is it more of an obligation as a writer?

I feel I should say that live-tweeting a route was a one-off way of appreciating the absurdity of a very tedious situation until I could escape onto an adjacent route! One of the things I love about climbing is that it lets me get away from a screen and focus on enjoying the moment, so I'd hate social media to be a distraction from that. That said, I love talking about climbing and sharing the wonderful places that it takes me and it's hugely rewarding to hear from people who are using and enjoying my books, so I definitely don't see it as an obligation. My job can be quite solitary, but Twitter has introduced me to many fellow outdoor writers and it's lovely to be part of an online community that shares my passions.