Among mountaineers, his name is synonymous with adventure and discovery. But few in the general public have even heard of Eric Shipton – a discrepancy that the climber, writer and broadcaster Stephen Venables aims to put right with his entertaining talk The legend of Eric Shipton, coming to the Radlett Centre next week.
Stephen says: “You’ll hear the life story of the most inspiring man who followed his dreams. People have really warmed to the story of this extraordinary explorer and my journey following him.”
Mixing readings from Shipton’s books with stories of his own journeys in the explorer’s footsteps, Stephen’s talk blends historical detail with personal experience and is illustrated with stunning pictures and film clips and recordings.
Shipton was born in 1907 in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and is widely considered to be one of the greatest mountain explorers of the 20th century. He took part in five expeditions to Everest, finding the route that Hillary and Tenzing would follow in 1953 – an expedition that Shipton was famously sacked from. He then dedicated his life to exploring untouched mountain ranges, from East Africa to the ice fields of Patagonia in Tierra del Fuego.
“Anywhere you go amongst the world’s mountains,” Stephen says, “you can be sure he was there first. He made many first ascents. On one expedition he climbed over 20 new mountains.
“He had an amazing curiosity. It was always ‘What’s over the next ridge?’ He continued his wandering until his death at the age of 70 [from cancer].”
Shipton inspired a generation of mountaineers, Stephen included. “He wrote a book, That Untravelled World , that I read when I was 17 when I was starting to climb and it confirmed in my mind that this was what I really wanted to do.”
One of Britain’s best-known mountain explorers, Stephen, now 57, was the first Briton to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. “Everest isn’t the hardest but it’s the highest,” he says. “It’s very difficult to do anything because the air is so thin. To my mind, if you do it with oxygen equipment that defeats the point of climbing it!” Even today, very few people make the ascent without extra oxygen.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s historic ascent and he is marking the occasion by travelling to Antarctica by boat from Argentina. “It’ll be the first time I’ve done it by boat – it’s always nice to do things a new way.”
The Legend of Eric Shipton with Stephen Venables is at the Radlett Centre, Aldenham Avenue, Radlett on Wednesday, March 28 at 8pm. Details: Box Office 01923 859291, www.speakersfromtheedge.com.