Cliquez ice pour version française. Introduction

In memory of Dave Steel and Rog Scull

It was now nearly two years since our return from the Hindu Kush, I had finished my degree (just!) and left Imperial College but I was still in regular contact with the climbing club, particularly the “bar meets” every Tuesday evening. Paul Bunting was still at IC, in his final year, and was organising an expedition to the Cordillera Real in the Bolivian Andes for the summer of 1972. One of the team dropped out for personal reasons and, when Paul asked me if I was interested, I jumped at the chance.

The Cordillera Real in Bolivia had been chosen as it promised conditions similar to those we had known with such success in the Hindu Kush in 1970. The climbing season there was winter, corresponding handily to our summer holidays and the climatic and topographical conditions appeared to be altogether suited to our planned Alpine style of climbing. It had worked well enough in Afghanistan, why not in Bolivia? We were, alas, to find out that what looks fine on paper is not necessarily so in practice, and also to be reminded of that essential factor for allDave and Rog on the docks at Puno, Peru. successful climbing outings; a large dose of good luck.

Unfortunately, luck ran out for two of us and Dave Steele and Rog Scull died on Illampu. This tragedy affected us all profoundly and, even thirty years later, made me hesitate before writing up the expedition: how does one present the loss of such a close friend as Dave, and someone as easy going as Rog? However important a hobby may be, it’s not worth losing one’s life for. I also had reserves about whether it wasn’t exploiting a tragic event, as so many newsreels do these days. On the other hand, it can also be seen as a way of keeping their memory alive, a complement to the copper plaque in the Imperial College Student’s Union staircase. Finally, the latter argument seemed the most convincing, if I am wrong and any of their friends or family are hurt or offended, I apologize, and invite them to contact me by email. I will, of course, make any changes they deem necessary.

Dave Steele and Rog Scull were from Bristol. They both had that soft accent and manner that is typical of the area. They were without doubt the strongest rock climbers by far in the group, and were at ease on the Avon Gorge where the rest of us were mere timid visitors. I had spent a lot of time with Dave, climbing, drinking and I even went to my first ever demonstration, against the Vietnam War, with him. We were not as “politically aware” as the caricature of students of the time would have it, but we did have a vague consciousness and one of our projects was to stay on in South America after the expedition, maybe go down to Chile for a while, fate chose otherwise.

Dave was also a leading enthusiast for our night time forays, usually on a Tuesday, either scrambling through the miles of asbestos riddled tunnels under South Kensington, visiting the Science Museum from below was one of his feats, or, more in keep with climbers, scaling the numerous monuments of the capital. I have vivid, and frightening, memories of when we discovered a way from below up, by the ventilation ducts, into the Prince’s Tower, which dominates the IC campus, and then to the top. Here there is a sort of cupola on a copper dome, the game was to walk round the dome outside the balustrade. For me it was the thing nightmares are made of, being a dome the edge was virtually flat, but the smooth metal quickly sloped away. Dave, Steve and Rog at Chacaltaya, Bolivia - 5 400 m.Maybe I was sobering up, but I didn’t dare do it, Dave did, but didn’t push me to join him. It is easy to get on with one who respects your decision without a fuss, such friends are hard to find.

Rog, who lived in Bristol, was a close friend of Dave’s and they climbed together regularly. I can’t claim to have known him that well but I did spend one season in Chamonix with him and Dave. It’s from here that I have my favorite memory of him. In the famous “Bar Nationale” they had one of the only video jukeboxes I have ever seen, and Rog had discovered a comic musical clip of a song called “Wanita Banana”. In spite of the 10 Franc charge per play, he insisted on playing it, over and over again, each time seeming to find it funnier than the time before. Climbing club in Llanberis Pass 1971 _ Dave is 4th from left in top row.

I have included the only photos I have of them both, one on the docks at Puno in Peru, next to lake Titicaca, and the other on Chacaltaya, the ski “resort” of La Paz, claimed to be the highest in the world. Symbolically, I haven’t got any others of both of them: we thought we were immortal, and of course, we aren’t. I do have one more with Dave (4th from left, back row) on it, taken by Ken Jackson in the Llanberris Pass, below Cenotaph Corner, and given to me by a Japanese friend, Eiki Omata (middle front). The copy isn’t very good but the atmosphere brings back happy memories.

So, that’s it, my memorial to Dave Steele and Rog Scull, who came from Bristol and died climbing Illampu, Bolivia in August 1972.