University Hill-walking, Caving/Pot-holing, Rock-climbing clubs

I eagerly joined the Southampton University Hill-walking (and Rambling) Club at Freshers Week at the end of September 1977; before the end of the first I had made it to Snowdonia, then in January 1978 faced my first blizzard! Whilst I enjoyed local day-walks, such as along the river Itchen to Winchester much preferred weekends away in Wales. These represented good preparation for my expeditions to the Himalaya (as did the rigours of life aboard the University of Southampton's Royal Naval Unit's Inshore Minesweeper, H.M.S. Isis,( see:; outings with the University Caving & Potholing Club (these were mostly to the Cheddar area, Somerset, such as Priddy, if my memory serves me correctly). However, there was a major problem. I could not afford the necessary equipment such as a wet-suit and suitable foot-wear, helmet and so on, which meant one could only go as far as the first sump. It was also clear that the second and third-year male cavers had no interest in inexperienced (beginner in my case) male students - whereas attractive fresher girls were fawned over. I briefly joined the Rock-climbing Club, undertaking my first ever basic climbs on sea-cliffs at Swanage, instructed by a more experienced student, which was helpful towards the subsequent scrambling I would do on cliffs in the Himalaya, searching for high-alpine plants. Much the same applied as for the Caving Club with ropes, foot-wear etc. required to move beyond a certain point. Since I was already over-doing things at weekends and evenings with an assortment of clubs, such as the Natural History Society (I went on to be Secretary for a year), the Biology Society (I got roped into becoming President, requiring me to organising speakers and social events), the Royal Naval Unit (involving a Thursday evening a week during term-time, weekend cruises and a week cruise in the summer or spring; I was treasurer for a year, which introduced me to the demands of double-entry book-keeping, taking over, as a novice, a week before the Unit's Accounts were examined closely by a Royal Naval Reserve Officer at H.M.S. Wessex (see: - this former Royal Naval Reserve Shorebase at Southampton Docks has now closed) - this was the most severe grilling I had ever received, all useful in toughening myself up for what life was to throw at me); I set-up a University Conservation Volunteers (along the lines of my school one) organising practical days tidying sites in Southampton but the response was minimal - I learnt a lesson, that university students(perhaps it is just biology ones) cannot be relied upon, initially agreeing to participate in a week's conservation camp in Somerset and then all crying off , so called a day on this new University Club - pity I did not take more notice of this warning, as 4 biology students and a geographer were to let me down badly on my first expedition to Ladakh (see: .... As I was neglecting my academic studies, no bad thing that I focussed on fewer clubs! Nevertheless, overall, these experiences were to help me be able to lead numerous scientific expeditions along the Himalaya over a period of 30 years.

Black Mountains, Central Wales (January 1978)

What I thought after having to walk for miles during a blizzard on Offa's Dyke path!! This was arguably the most important experience of several hill-walking excursions. It was bitterly cold and my 'cheap & cheerful' clothing was woefully inadequate for the extreme conditions. I had been camping a lot with my parents as a child and teenager but only during summer holidays, so although we visited Wales, Scotland and coastal Devon & Cornwall, I had never walked in hills, let alone mountains. The thin, yellow 'water-proof' had no means of preventing the wind penetrating up my arms and down my neck. My over-trousers also failed to trap air. Neither my walking-boots nor gloves were up to the job. Part of the problem was that the arrangements on the day meant we were obliged to "carry on" to the pick-up point - it would have been safer had we turned back and re-traced our steps. There were no mobile phones in those days to communicate with the driver of the mini-bus. Turning back is often the best option!

Offa's Dyke under blizzard conditions in January 1978 - the closest I have come to suffering from hypothermia...

Conditions below Offa's Dyke were OK (the above would have been feasible in a blizzard), it was a mistake to stick with the original plant to follow the route due to the high winds forecast (was the weather checked - by then I had already learned about shipping forecasts, which though for coastal areas, would give warning of high winds and rain (or snow) in the day to come) and lying snow, which would contribute to the blizzard. The experience-levels/clothing/equipment of those participating in the walk were not checked... However, one learns so much more from getting oneself into serious conditions.... Unless one has experience of winter-conditions and hills or mountains, it is impossible to anticipate the severity of what lies higher up.

Snowdonia, North Wales (October 1977)

Scrambling up Crib Goch; Heading down from Snowdon

Waterfall heading up to top of Tryfan; view looking down from Tryfan

Southern Ireland (April 1978)

Chris on Purple Mountain; Killarney Lake

O'Sullivan's Cascade, Killarney lake; Loo Bridge Youth Hostel (food supplies were shockingly limited in the local shop: potatoes, sausage & black pudding, so our self-catering ran to stew only)

Killarney Lake; River Loo