08 September 2014

Tony Streather - accidental mountaineer.


One of those people I have never met and would have liked to have met because of his amazing life is Tony Streather a colonel in the "Glorious Glosters", a regiment so named because of their heroic performance on a hill, now of that name, in the Korean war. Streather was posted to Afghanistan where he became fluent in the language of the area. In 1950 he was appointed as a Transport and Liason officer to a Norwegian mountaineering expedition to climb Tirich Mir, then one of the highest unclimbed summits. They were successful with Streather also summiting. The story goes that after the summit party departed for the summit from their top camp, Streather put on his 'golf jacket' and followed them to the top.

This was followed in 1957 by his leadership of an Oxford University expedition to climb Haramosh II in the Karakorums. On the summit ridge two of the climbers fell when a cornice broke. Their fall stopped when they arrived in a snow basin about 300m below the summit ridge. So began, at 22,000 ft, one of the greatest rescue epics in the history of climbing; filled with irony and pathos. Streather, who was one of the rescuers, survived and the book about the expedition and the rescue efforts, by Ralph Baker, "The Last Blue Mountain", became one of the classics of mountaineering literature. If you haven't read it, do so. One who perished was New Zealander, Rae Culbert.

Streather was turned down for the 1953 successful Everest expedition but was selected for the American attempt on K2 the second highest and one of the most difficult mountains on earth. When descending, high up on the mountain, one of a group of six lowering a seventh ill climber fell, pulling Streather from his stance. The whole party became entangled and one climber, Pete Schoening, managed to put in a firm belay, thereby holding the whole group of falling climbers. This has been described as "The Belay", one of climbings great moments.

About four years later Streather was a member of an expedition led by Charles Evans that made the first ascent of Kanchenjunga. Streather and New Zealand's Norman Hardie made the second ascent of the mountain the day after the first ascent by George Band and Joe Brown. Their climbs were by different routes - the two parties taking routes which played to their respective strengths.

Later Streather took an army mountaineering team to climb several eastern peaks of Manubiting. For his active climbing time Streather was one of the most accomplished climbers - almost an accidental climber. And he later led a UK army team to Everest.

Quite an interesting climbing career!
Tony Streather (left) and Norman Hardie