On 14th January 2006 Ian Angell died from a head injury sustained after a fall while hillwalking on A’Chrois in Arrochar. He was 66 and his death stunned all those who knew him.
Mountaineer, alpinist, rock climber, ice climber, ski mountaineer, skier and hillwalker, Ian was all of these because of his love and enjoyment of the great outdoors. Ian was excellent company while pursuing any of these activities.
He was born on the 18th January 1939 just a few tense months before the Second World War and was brought up in Sheringham in Norfolk. An area not renowned for its hills, although Ian claimed to have climbed Beacon Hill (105m) the highest point in Norfolk. He never knew his father who was tragically killed in an industrial accident when he was two years old. His mother was a council clerk who later ran a tobacconist and confectionery shop in Sheringham High Street.
Ian was educated at King Edward VII Grammar School in Kings Lynn and clearly started climbing when at school as, it is rumoured, his initials can still be found at the top of the bell tower, which was reached at night from the dormitory and along the roof. His first recognised rock climb was in 1956 on the Idwal Slabs. The following year he attended a rock climbing course run by Hamish McInnes.
On leaving school he went to Rugby College of Engineering, and while there worked as an apprentice electrical engineer at the AEI works in Rugby. He achieved a Diploma in Electrical Engineering in 1962 (aged 23) and was a Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. While a student in Rugby he was a founder member of the Rugby Mountaineering Club.
In 1961, as “a slim 22-year-old student,” Ian did a solo ascent of the Hornli ridge of the Matterhorn in 3 hours 25 minutes, a post-war record. As befitted his modesty he was astonished and possibly embarrassed that the event became national news on the front page of the Daily Sketch. In a dispatch from Zermatt the headline read – “Mad dog Ian climbs it solo!” The report quoted the Zermatt Chief Guide Godlieb Perren, “a splendid effort which only an Englishman would dare. He is a first class mountaineer.”
His mother was also quoted, “He’s climbed the Matterhorn? Oh my goodness that’s quick! I feel terribly proud. He does a lot of climbing, but he’s never done anything like this. At least not that I know of…”
However, trips were not without incident and while skiing from the Valsorey Hut, up the Plateau de Couloir on the High Level Route in the mid 1970s he was avalanched. Frantic digging by various parties, including a following German team, revealed a cyanosed, lifeless form, and swift, effective resuscitation restored him in what one companion described as “the nearest thing he had seen to the resurrection.” Interestingly Ian restarted the tour only 24 hours later, having recovered from both the trauma and hypothermia, and the group successfully finished in Zermatt.
Ian was devoted to his wife Shirley who was also a climber and a successful author who wrote the definitive history of the Pinnacle Club. On page 178 she relives the first time she set eyes on her husband to be, which was up a tree outside the Vaynol Arms in Snowdonia! As she wrote in her book, “Later he danced the polka with me up and down the road. It was love at first sight.”
He worked and lived in Cumbria for the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and established many new rock routes in the area, publishing a guidebook to St Bees Head and a number of articles about the crags. As was typical the articles he wrote listed the established climbs but also directed others to areas where new climbs might be found. Both Ian and Shirley were members of the Wyndham Mountaineering Club, based around a school in Egremont which had a climbing wall. He was also a member of Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team. In the late seventies he moved to Ayrshire to work at Hunterston.
Ian qualified in 1978 as a British Mountain Guide when he was 39. However, it was not something he publicised, although, he always took great delight in reminding climbing partners he was entitled to a free pass when skiing or climbing in the Alps. He served as treasurer for the British Mountain Guides in the late eighties and early nineties.
Ian retired from the UKAEA in 1996 and more recently he successfully ran his own independent business working in various nuclear power stations. This gave him more time to head for the hills and in recent years he successfully climbed all of the VS rock routes on Buchaille Etive Mor and achieved his ambition of a winter ascent of Orion Direct.
Bell ringing was another activity Ian enjoyed. Starting in 1962 in Markfield, Leicestershire but mainly in Irton, West Cumbria, he was an enthusiast for nearly 25 years. Ringing was less frequent in Largs as there was no tower nearby but whenever he was back in Cumbria he would try to visit Irton and join in on practice nights; he enjoyed these visits and would comment that it was as if he had never been away. Despite the absence of bell towers in Largs he put his climbing skills to good use by carrying out maintenance work on many church towers, most recently at the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.
Ian always retained a boyish enthusiasm for the hills and continued to plot and plan his trips for the coming years with youthful vigour and anticipation. His easy going manner and quiet nature masked a steely determination when it came to getting up climbs. He kept himself very fit and was always a willing companion. He led generations safely up classic routes they would otherwise not have managed. However, he always remained modest and unpretentious with no airs and graces. His phone calls and his conversations were always short and to the point – not much time for small talk, and would go along the lines of: “Hey Ho are you coming out to play?” It was little wonder he had such a wide circle of climbing friends. In recognition of his contribution to UK mountaineering he was made an honorary member of both Rugby Mountaineering Club and Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team. He became a member of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club in 1972 and from 1976 until 1980 was assistant warden at Brackenclose, the club hut in Wasdale.
In 1981 Ian joined the Scottish Mountaineering Club and played a full and active part in Club activities. He first served on the committee from 1983 until 1988 and then as a Trustee of the Scottish Mountaineering Trust. In 1998 he became the Honorary Club librarian. With his fondness for mountaineering books and journals, this was a role he enjoyed. With it came a lot of hard work; however he approached this role with characteristic vigour and the club benefited from the long hours he put in to catalogue and organise the library. Without doubt he has left it in good condition and will be a hard act for anyone to follow.
Ian was a willing contributor to work parties at huts and was one of the stalwarts during the construction of the Raeburn hut at Laggan. His name was always at the top of the list when volunteers were needed.
As a worthy and valued member of the SMC Ian had a lifetime of achievement in the mountains – extending from the local outcrops close to the many places he lived, to the debilitating heights of the Himalaya such as Mera Peak. He was generous with his time taking people out and showing them the ropes whether it was on his local crag near Largs, the Quadrocks, or on the higher mountain ridges. Over the years he climbed with many in the SMC and most of the Glasgow JMCS showing his youthful enthusiasm and sense of fun. Friends would regularly receive post cards from him detailing his exploits and those fortunate to receive these will appreciate that they normally took some time to decipher.
Perhaps it was a skill developed working for UKAEA but he always impressed with his ability to organise. He loved adventure and 1992 saw the first of his visits to the Staunings Alps in East Greenland, to enjoy ski touring, climbing and living in Arctic surroundings. He returned in 1994 and again in 1996, achieving first ascents on each visit and naming one Shirley’s Peak after his wife. He enjoyed these Arctic trips and in 1996 he also visited Spitzbergen, where he freely admitted that his characteristic calm was finally disrupted by the discovery of polar bear tracks all around his tent. But it did not put him off. He was busy planning his return to Greenland to go ski touring this year.
Ian cared passionately about the mountain environment and was dismayed by the recent proliferation of radio masts and wind turbines. He objected to the wind turbine erected at the CIC hut and because of his high principles was not slow to tell the Club. He believed that the only responsible approach was to take only photographs, leave nothing but footprints and he took great care to ensure he left no trace of his visits to wilderness areas.
He enjoyed a good few laughs over the years both as the subject and perpetrator of many jokes. People were never slow to pull his leg about his fancy light-weight skis and bindings and the unique skiing style which he had perfected. It was called “a stem and a wheech.” This obviously touched a nerve and of course backfired. When in the Alps and trying to follow him down a steep descent in soft snow with a heavy sack on, Ian had adapted his technique for such conditions but others had not. Those that ended up in a heap were admonished with the comment, “Now, you’ve been spending too much time on the pistes young fella-me-lad, you must learn to stem and wheech.” This anecdote captures the essence of Ian and his interaction with the mountains. Ian was effective.
Over the years he climbed to high standards both in summer and winter. There are few classic routes in Scotland he had not done. His enthusiasm amazed. Normally if he was repulsed on a route he would be back up at the first opportunity, often with another partner for another crack at it. He didn’t like unfinished business.
When Ian moved into semi retirement he decided the time was right to do the Munros. Previously he had steadfastly refused to become a Munro Bagger. As was his style, once he decided to do it, the routes and outings were planned to maximum effect and in April of 2005 he was joined on Sgor Gaoith in Glen Feshie by a group of more than 50 family and friends. Such was the man nothing was left to chance. To ensure there were no surprises on the day, Ian reconnoitered the route to within a few metres of the top beforehand. For once the weather behaved and he was cheered on to the summit as Golden Eagles flew below over Loch Einich. It was his day and a grand event, celebrated in style both on the mountain and also later in the evening down in Kincraig.
Ian was also very involved in the local community and church though he rarely spoke about his Christian Faith. It did allow him to show his concern for those who were less well off. At his death he was chairman of an effective group which had successfully lobbied to make Largs a Fair Trade town and he was a member of Largs Churches Together. At the funeral on the 25th January, seldom has a church been so overflowing with family, friends and colleagues paying their last respects.
Ian is survived by his wife Shirley and three sons, Timothy, Adrian and Stephen. He also took great delight in his 2 granddaughters Bethany and Megan. He had a wide circle of friends who climbed with him over many years. They will all cherish memories of excellent days on the hill, with fond memories of a fine man of the mountains.
Ian died from a simple fall while doing what he loved, in the hills. The inquest report suggested his injuries were such that he died instantly, a finding which may bring some comfort to those who knew him.
C M Jones
This obituary first appeared in the Scottish Mountaineering Journal and is reproduced with the kind permission of the editor