Home > Mountain

Influential British Climber and Writer Ken Wilson has Died

Ken Wilson influenced a generation of climbers through his books and as the editor of Mountain magazine. In 2015, he received the Boardman/Tasker lifetime achievement award, as “a long-time influencer of outdoor media and global climbing and mountaineering politics.” His critiques of the British climbing world helped shape the future of the area’s approach to climbing. He was an important role model for those who established some of Canada’s greatest climbs.

After Wilson’s death, mountain writer Ed Douglas wrote on the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) site, “He may not have been a leading climber, but he helped shape climbing, and almost always for the good. He was without question the pre-eminent publisher and editor of the British climbing scene in the 20th century. He was also deeply committed to his family, his wife Gloria and his two sons. If there is any comfort to be drawn from his last battle, with dementia, then it’s that they were there to support him.”

Ken Wilson on Everest in 1972. Photo Doug Scott
Ken Wilson on Everest in 1972. Photo Doug Scott

Wilson was an important part the publication and distribution of climbing writing in the 1960s and 1970s. It was from 1969 to 1978 that he was editor Mountain, which has influenced many climbing publications around the world. Wilson believed climbers should use minimal impact traditional gear. Legendary climber Doug Scott wrote in his book Up and About, “He was a passionate and sometimes vociferous supporter of the traditions of British climbing and an inspired mountaineering magazine editor. Mountain and its editor, Ken Wilson, had quite an influence on my climbing, especially during the late sixties and early seventies. It captured the profound changes affecting climbing at that period and Ken proved a relentless guardian of the soul of mountaineering – as he saw it.”

After his time with Mountain, Wilson founded two publishing houses, one called Diadem (co-founded with Ken Vickers) and the other was Bâton Wicks. Wilson wrote a number of much-loved climbing books, including Canoeing Across CanadaClassic Rock, Hard Rock and Extreme Rock. He collected a number of top stories for his anthology The Games Climbers Play, and was one of two editors for The First Fifty Years of the BMC.

He was an honorary member of the BMC, of which the chief executive officer Dave Turnball said, “Ken was one of the great characters of the last half century of British and world mountaineering – knowledgeable, passionate, committed, inquisitive, loud, annoying, blunt, unstoppable, bombastic, pure and proper grassroots with a deep-rooted conviction as the self-appointed champion of climbing ethics; without Ken British climbing would be in much poorer place than it is today.”

Wilson once said, “I felt that Mountain magazine should have a position on the key issues of the day and my editorial word only had authority as I spoke for a range of advisers, contributors and supporters who were (I tried to ensure) among the main figures in world climbing. I could not have pushed views had they not been the general ethos of the climbing world. Obviously when new issues arose or new trends, they had to be incorporated and a position developed. Lightweight alpinism as opposed to conventional expeditions being one of the evolutions during my stint.” Read what Alan Hinkes, the first British climber up all 8,000-metre peaks, had to say about Wilson here.