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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Keswick festival in peak condition

EVERY legendary British mountaineer in history will have visited the Lake District at some stage, being home to the largest peaks in the country.

But for the past five years, the best in the business have been heading here together for the region’s biggest celebration of the great outdoors.

On Wednesday May 16, the five-day Keswick Mountain Festival returns for a sixth year, and the programme promises to be the biggest yet.

You only have to look at the guest names that are set to make an appearance over the course of the event to realise the respect it commands: veteran mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, record-breaking Cumbrian TV presenter Helen Skelton, and Mick Fowler – president of the world’s longest established mountaineering club, The Alpine Club – among others.

Making his debut at the event will be writer and explorer Monty Halls.

More associated with the deep blue sea than snowy peaks, the presenter of several BBC documentary series will be in Keswick to talk about his expeditions in the most demanding environments on the planet.

He says: “My background is in outdoor adventure, but I’m more of a frustrated armchair mountaineer.

“I’ve never done any really high altitude, but I have read all the books.

“I got asked a few years ago if I’d do Everest for a documentary, where they would take a complete novice and see if it was possible.

“I was really excited about doing it and started getting myself mentally prepared, but it fell through.

“That was kind of the end of it for me, and I gave up on it, really.”

Despite his lack of experience in the hills, Monty’s talk will appeal to mountaineers and team leaders from all walks of life.

His new book, The Fisherman’s Apprentice, focuses on his time spent with the fishing communities of Cornwall and the lessons he has learned from them.

“My talk is more about leading teams around the world and working with wildlife film crews, that type of thing, but in a nutshell it’s all about adventure,” he says.

“I am at the festival very much as a mountaineering junkie, because I’ve always been fascinated by it, but there’s a lot more to the festival than mountaineering.

“I’ve spent most of the past year in Cornwall working with fishermen, and I will talk a little bit about that.

“The main crossover is that they are the hardiest men out there, the things they do day in, day out – they are Britain’s last tribe really.

“I’m an ex-Marine, but I don’t think I would be able to do what they do.

“We can all learn lessons from the fishermen.”

The programme of activities and events at this year’s festival is impressive too: over 30 guided Lakeland walks for visitors of all ages and abilities; an extended running programme incorporating the Borrowdale Trail Run and the renowned Latrigg Fell Race; long and short course triathlons; as well as a host of mountain biking, rock climbing and kayaking demos and taster sessions.

There is something for the whole family, and for outdoor enthusiasts of any ability.

Motivational speaker and festival guest Pauline Sanderson was herself just an occasional adventurer.

A London barrister until she was 30, after an Outward Bounds course she was inspired to turn her back on city life and become an outdoors instructor.

In 2006 she was one of seven people who completed The Longest Climb – from the Dead Sea in Jordan at 423 metres below sea level to the summit of Mount Everest.

“I accidentally got onto the expedition, if I’m honest,” she admits.

“The team had spent two years preparing themselves for it, but two members had to pull out late on. The company who were organising it sent out flyers to all the adventure companies and I saw it and went ‘oh my god’.

“I was surprised when they told me I could go, and then I had to convince my husband to follow me about.

“So I missed all the preparation and I only had 10 weeks’ notice to get myself ready.”

Pauline and her team of adventurers cycled through Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Nepal and finally to Everest Base Camp in Tibet.

There, they exchanged their bikes for crampons and climbed the great mountain itself.

Even though she and her husband Phil had lived and worked in the Himalayas for four years leading expeditions, this record-breaking challenge was an impressive undertaking for a relative beginner.

She says: “I’d done a fair few Himalayan mountains, but nothing over 7,000 metres, so getting to grips with using oxygen tanks was new to me.

“The hardest part was the biking, because I was pretty much a novice cyclist, but everything was better than I expected.

“Everest was obviously a big part of the trip, and I was really impressed by the way everyone works together.

“It gets a lot of negative press and I think 11 people had died that year, but if you know what you’re doing and you deserve to be there then it’s an amazing experience.

“The whole thing was incredible though and such a positive journey. I loved every minute, and even though I talk about it almost every day, it’s a story I will never get bored of.”

You can hear Pauline’s story at The Rawnsley Centre, in Keswick, at 6pm on Wednesday May 16.

Monty Halls will be speaking at the same venue on Friday 18, at 9.30pm.

For a full programme of events and to book tickets visit www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk

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