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Leo Houlding, Mountain Heritage and Facial Hair…


The first time I heard Leo Houlding speak was on a dark, rainy night at the Buxton Opera House.  He had quite literary just returned from free climbing The Prophet in Yosemite and the excitement showed.  He danced on the stage like a marionette, (reminding me of my childhood TV favourite Thunderbirds) which made for a strangely unnerving evening.  Though we should bring emotion into our speaking, there is a time, a place and then a need for some control.

Leo kindly offered to speak as a fundraiser for the Mountain Heritage Trust. I wasn’t sure if I could attend, as there was a chance I’d be leading on a trip in Ladakh, but when that fell through I loaded up my VW Camper and headed north into the Lake District.

Time changes everyone. As we grow older, responsibility sits on our shoulders and much of the impetuousness of youth diminishes. Leo’s speaking has improved, his pace has steadied and his presence grown. He had recently returned from climbing the Mirror Wall in Greenland and though some of the nervous excitement was still there, he was more rounded and considerably clearer.  As with all of us speakers,improvement is possible and we must never rest on our laurels.

His pictures were a bit all over the place due to his recent return, but presenting isn’t all about what a machine projects, it’s about what you project.  Expedition presentations generally benefit from good quality images, but there’s no need to batter your audience with droves of them.  Unless vital to the story, they must be top quality, as no one wants to squint into a poorly focused view.  Some of the best presentations I have ever seen however have used no visual media at all.  I distinctly remember Dr. Charles Houston taking the stage at the Kendal Mountain Festival and opening with the fact that he had entered the modern world, as all his slides on K2 has been digitised onto DVD.  The problem was that the DVD failed, but in a split second he instinctively discarded them from his mind and told his story in his own words.  He gave one of the most riveting lectures I think I have ever heard.  At times, the digital age fails, but the human voice goes on and Houston gave a prime example of delivering to the highest quality, whatever happens on stage.

Leo covered much of his climbing life and provided an entertaining evening for all.

Besides being a fundraiser, events such as this are good places to get people together. Life is full of ‘we must meet again soon’s’, but they rarely happen and I’d like to thank Jeff and Fiona Ford for hosting the evening, all the sponsors, everyone at the MHT, Sir Chris Bonington for opening and Leo for speaking.

As ever with fundraisers, there was a raffle (which miraculously I won) and hours of stories, smiles and laughter.  £1600 was raised..!

Before we know it, the Kendal Mountain Festival will be upon us again. Hoards of climbers, cyclists, divers, base jumpers, mountaineers and lord knows who else speaking about their exploits, films galore being shown and importantly, friends meeting. I just hope they can perform with or without the digital age if they have to…

On a final note, I think all mountaineers (well, then men anyway) should sport some facial hair.  My moustache has grown icicles on numerous expeditions and Leo is now sporting a fine beard.  If your reading Leo, it suits you very well..!


Images courtesy of Nicole MacGregor/MHT

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