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Book Reivew: Quest into the Unknown

Tony Howard made the first British ascent of Norway’s Troll Wall

In 1965 but one great north face lay unclimbed in Europe, the imposing thousand metres of the Troll Wall. Over the course of five long days, three young climbers from a then obscure climbing club in northern England succeed that that summer to establish the Rimmon Route; their club’s name (taken from mythology).

Among the first ascensionists, Tony Howard went on to write the unassuming Walks and Climbs of Romsdal, Norway which encouraged many to explore the U-shaped valleys of the region.

Quest into the Unknown traces Howard’s life as a global adventurer from his arcadian postwar childhood in the Peak District to establishing the Jordan Trial (that runs the length of the country) in the 2000s. The quality of writing reflects the values of someone deeply committed to both exploration and involvement in the communities they travel, climb, and develop outdoor tourism in.

Among the things going for the Rimmon team in Norway was the fact that they felt right at home (much more so than in Yosemite) on the dark dank stretches of run-out climbing not far from the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t so different from the sea cliffs of North Wales, they thought.

The other was that they machined the first pieces of what we now call nuts and hexes. Their seminal work in passive protection manufacturing lead to the establishment of Troll Climbing Equipment whose most iconic product, the Mark V sit harness, established the belay loop design that’s used on all climbing harness today.

Tony Howard describes a restless sense of being somewhere far away while working at Troll, a thought that will no doubt resonate with any generation of climber. This wanderlust takes him to parts of the world that hadn’t been climbed much then.

The area (and country) that Howard connects with most is Wadi Rum in Jordan, which he sees as an immense area to explore and establish new routes in. As with Romsdal, he writes the first climbing guidebook to the area.

At this point he establishes a cultural-adventure tourism consultancy focused on long distance trail development in such a way as to involve local guides and homestays that is promoted to a world wide travel audience. Intrinsic to this far flung life is Howard’s partnership and eventual marriage to Di Taylor, an early member of Rimmon.

Together, they play a key role in developing the Jordan Trail, an outstanding legacy somewhat more accessible than a vertical kilometre of gneiss near the North Sea. (Quest into the Unknown by Tony Howard and published by Vertebrate Publishing, 2019)

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