Wednesday, 9 March 2016
Ian Sykes (Spike) gave me a copy of his new book ‘In the shadow of Ben Nevis’ which is just out. Spike is a household name in the Lochaber area due to his founding of Nevisport, the Nevis Range ski resort as well as his involvement in the climbing and mountain rescue scene over many decades. So this, his life story is pretty essential reading for Lochaber locals to understand the cultural history of the development of outdoor sports in the area. But it’s also well worth reading for everyone else, for a few reasons.
First, his stories of epic mountain rescues before the age of helicopter assistance, good communications, organised rescue teams and enforced drink driving laws are riveting. Somehow rescues always seemed to come on Hogmanay when every mountaineer in Scotland seemed to be legless. In Spike’s defence, the call to rescue stricken fellow climbers also came when Spike had just returned from epic climbs of his own, or other rescues. Despite these problems, they achieved daring and spectacular rescues, feats of endurance with or without a hangover. I was impressed and enthralled by the struggles they had to save lives. Particularly impressive was the ethos of taking personal responsibility to give as much as you can to help those in danger, and that rescue was part and parcel of mountaineering adventures rather than a ‘problem’ in our sport.
His stories of starting and developing his primary businesses of Nevisport and Nevis Range were also fantastic as stories in their own right, as well as vehicles to explore Spike’s approach to life and business which is to be much admired in my opinion. Through local knowledge, I’d heard snippets of many of the stories already, but it was great to read the full narratives. Even his stories of his many seasons exploring Antarctica and various remote big walls around the world taught me much about a spirit of adventure in a different age.
Like any autobiography, the best of it is the exploration into the person and their approach to their life’s challenges. I don’t know if was Spike’s approach, his style of describing it, or both, but I enjoyed this a lot and reflected on my own view of how to approach challenges. Spikes challenges (losing fingers, big business disasters or near disasters, and failures to save fallen climbers among them) seemed to be something that Spike found his own way of dealing with, even though they clearly affected him a lot. I liked that he was not a robot personality of ego and bulletproof drive— he spoke of lingering upset about events and thoughts of how they could have panned out differently. Yet his approach led him to many successes. By the end I felt a renewed sense of the possibilities for what can be done with a brave approach and an acceptance that life will bring renewed rewards even after some dark moments.
I decided to buy some copies in for my webshop. You can find In the Shadow of Ben Nevis here.