Q&A with Berghaus Mountaineer Mick Fowler

We sit down and chat with a real pioneer of British rock climbing. 

Outdoor sponsored athletes come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ve even had some working with us here at GO Outdoors, but when we were given the chance to sit down with a real British favourite of the climbing world in Mick Fowler, we couldn’t resist.

For those who might be new to the name, Mick Fowler is an award-winning mountaineer and author. He was voted the ‘Mountaineer’s mountaineer’ by The Observer, and has picked up prestigious awards such as the Piolet d’OR and the Golden Piton for his climbs. He was one of the first people to rock climb at E6 difficulty, and winter climb at grade VI – it’s no doubt that Mick Fowler is a real pioneer when it comes to adventurous climbing.

While he’s not conquering the cliff face, Mick works full time for HM Revenue and Customs, and while not in the office he has been working as a Berghaus-sponsored athlete since 2008.

We asked you to send in your questions for the man himself, and here is how it went:

Mick Fowler climbing Kishtwar Kailash

So on to those questions:

Q. Who inspired you to climb? (Kate Grundy, Facebook)

A. Well, it was my father who introduced me to climbing in the first place or, to be more accurate, he took me hill walking in places where I saw rock climbers and thought – ‘wow that looks a lot more exciting than walking.’ After that I persuaded him to take more regular visits to the Southern Sandstone outcrops and the friends I made there, people like Mike Morrison and John Stevenson, were inspirational in that they were really keen to get involved in exploratory climbing. And as I read up more on climbing myself it was the exploits of characters such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans that really caught my eye and made me want to climb more.


Q. We’d like to know how Mick Fowler trains when he’s not on a mountain? (High Sports Brighton, Twitter)

A. I don’t really train as such but I try and keep an acceptable level of fitness by fell racing, rock climbing, caving, kayaking …… any outdoor activity really. As the children have grown up I have allowed myself one evening a week out doing one of these activities and over the last few years I have entered a fell race perhaps every other weekend. The only running I do is the races as I just can’t motivate myself to go out running on my own.


Q. What is the best/most radical new product that has been developed over the time you have been climbing?  (not necessarily Berghaus!) (Jim M.)

A. Kernmantle rope has to be up there. When I first started hawser laid ropes were still used by most people. I remember leading Cenotaph Corner on one in about 1972. Despite the fact that it is a completely straight pitch the rope drag was horrendous. Moving from Ventile jackets to Goretex was a big change too. In recent years, water resistant down as used in the Berghaus Ramche jacket has made a big difference.

On Prow of Shiva wearing Ramche Jacket


Q. What climb made you feel most alive (C.Neville)

A. Ooh that’s a difficult once. I think it must have been my first greater range success which was the South Face of Taulliraju in 1982. It was just all so new to me, I had never flown before, never travelled outside Europe, never climbed higher than Mt Blanc. there were so many new cultural and climbing experiences that I was completely blown away. We spent longer on the climb than any other up to that point and the retrospective pleasure still flows over me today, 32 years later.


Q. What is your favourite place (rather than route) to climb, if it’s possible to choose. Weather included. (Jon Hill, Facebook)

A. The remote mountain ranges of the world populated by ethnically interesting people have to be top of my list. I’d say East Tibet is where I would most like to climb at the moment. I was lucky enough to climb there in 2005 and 2007 but haven’t been able to persuade the Chinese authorities to grant a permit since.


Q. What is the most famous route in history you wish you had been first to climb? (Jim M.)

A. I think the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses in the Mt Blanc area. It has been a sort of benchmark of mine. I did it in 1979 when it was supposedly in awful condition. In fact though it was plastered in climbable snow and ice and there was no-one else at all on the face. It was absolutely brilliant and the qualities of that climb are what I seek in my mountaineering. It is a very obvious line, visible from afar, objectively safe (well, it was then being nicely frozen with no-one else on it), leading direct to the summit and with a different descent route. Ticks almost all the boxes for me.

Mick Fowler climbing on Mugu Chuli


Q. What advice would you give a seasoned rock climber who would like to have a go at ice climbing (I.Mackintosh)

A. Invest in some stainless steel tubular ice screws and go for it. Ben Nevis is the most reliable winter cliff in the Uk and I’d recommend heading up for a few days and working up through the grades. Take care, start cautious and you can’t go wrong. It’s brilliant!


Q. When you did your pioneering first ascents of Linden, Ludwig and Cavemen (amongst others) did foresee people actually achieving climbs at the grades of E10/E11? Do you think people will continue to push the grades or will it plateau sooner rather than later? (I.Mackintosh)

A. I don’t think we really thought about it. I have always been attracted to new routes and we were just trying to climb the most obvious lines in the best places we knew. The climbs weren’t broken down so much by grade in those days. I recall the top level was Extremely Severe and that was broken down into Mild XS, XS and Hard XS. And for winter climbing the Scottish grading system topped out at IV unless the route was more than 500ft long. There were some desperate Grade IVs in those days! And without the emphasis on technical difficulty, grades, indoor climbing competitions and suchlike there wasn’t any competition that i can recall to climb the ‘hardest’ graded climb. If anything the tendency was to under grade and sandbag would-be second ascentionists. As to the current situation and whether standards will continue to increase I think the answer has to be that they will. I can’t see how myself (can’t get off the ground) but then every generation surprises the previous one with what they manage to achieve and I’m sure that the current one and the next are no different.


What’s next for Mick Fowler?

Adventure is never far away for Mick – it was announced recently that he and his climb partner Paul Ramsden will attempt a never-successfully-ascended route in the Himalaya. The two intend to take on the daunting Hagshu North Face which defeated an ex-SAS member in the late 80’s. We wish Mick and Paul the best of luck!


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All images courtesy of Berghaus.