Mourning for the Scottish climbing legend Hamish MacInnes

Hamish MacInnes
Hamish MacInnes (1930-2020)

And again one of the greats of mountaineering has passed away. The legendary Scottish climber Hamish MacInnes died on Sunday at the age of 90 years in his hometown Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.

He climbed the Matterhorn at the age of 16. In 1953 Hamish traveled to Nepal with his Scottish climbing partner John Cunningham. Their goal: the first ascent of Mount Everest. It was an “audacious two-man affair”, MacInnes later recalled: without visas, without a permit, with almost empty coffers. They wanted to live on food that a Swiss expedition had left behind during the failed attempt in 1952. When MacInnes and Cunningham arrived at Everest, they found that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had beaten them to it. The Scots attempted to scale the then unclimbed seven-thousander Pumori located vis-à-vis Everest, but had to turn back 400 meters below the summit due to the danger of avalanches.

Three times to Everest Southwest Face

Everest Southwest Face

In the 1970s – MacInnes had long been one of the best British climbers, with numerous first ascents to his credit – he took part in three expeditions to the mighty and extremely difficult Southwest face of Mount Everest. In spring 1972 Hamish reached a height of 7,900 meters as a member of a German expedition organized by Karl Herrligkoffer. MacInnes left the team prematurely because he did not feel accepted in it.

In fall of the same year he was back again, in a British team led by Chris Bonington. This expedition also failed, this time MacInnes climbed up to 8,075 meters. When the Southwest Face was finally mastered for the first time in fall 1975 – by Doug Scott and Dougal Haston – MacInnes was the deputy expedition leader alongside Bonington.

Hamish participated in over 20 expeditions, not only in the Himalayas, but also in New Zealand, the Causasus and South America. He also worked on several Hollywood mountaineering films, as an actor double or in belaying the crew.

Inventive spirit


In his homeland Hamish MacInnes is considered the “father of Scottish mountain rescue”. He founded an avalanche information service and an organization that trained search and rescue dogs. The “MacInnes Stretcher” designed by him is in use worldwide in mountain rescue. MacInnes also developed the first ice axe made entirely of metal and was later involved in the design of the ice tools commonly used today.

MacInnes was once asked why he was addicted to mountain climbing. “Undoubtedly for the freedom,” Hamish replied, “Climbing started for me, as with most people, as the pursuit of pleasure, and that kind of developed into a way of life.”

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