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Mountain Equipment

16th October 2017

Mountain Portraits | The Art of Alpinism

Words by Mountain Equipment

Throughout Autumn and Winter, we will be showcasing a collection of commissioned portraits by Lukazsz Warzecha & others, as part of our Mountain Portraits series, an attempt to highlight some of the key characters who give meaning to our work. This time we turn our attention to one of the most influential men in modern alpinism, whose commitment to alpinism transcends art, charity and climbing; Andy Parkin.

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The word ‘legend’ is greatly overused in modern mountaineering, but in Andy Parkin there is a man to whom the term may truly be applied.

From alpine style climbing on 8000m peaks without supplementary oxygen to some of the most difficult and ephemeral lines in Patagonia and the Alps, Andy has left a swathe of hard, bold and visionary routes around the world, the majority far from the glare of mainstream publicity.

Andy Parkin ascends Broad Peak, 8047m, 1983

In 1984, a rock fall whilst guiding on the Riffelhorn in Switzerland left Andy virtually crippled. A lengthy period of rehabilitation followed and led to even greater immersion in his art, a field in which he is now as well regarded in as for his climbing. With reduced mobility from his injuries he fought his way back to fitness over many years with countless ground-breaking ascents following, often solo and always in the best possible style.

Andy Parkin works in his Chamonix studio, in 2015

“I first went to Nepal in 1988, four years after the accident. I was hobbling around up there on crutches, painting. I threw myself into the art, because I’ve got to do something 100%, and I could no longer climb. It was a very different life from the one I envisaged when I moved to Chamonix in ’83. I was going to become a mountain guide, set up in the valley with my girl and earn us a living.”

Over the decades Andy has spent considerable time in Nepal, both climbing and working with local communities. This has led him to become a director of Community Action Nepal [CAN], a charity set up by the mountaineer Doug Scott that aims to help local people improve their quality of life and strengthen indigenous culture.

Andy Parkin teaches local children to draw in Nepal, as part of Community Action Nepal [CAN]

“Going to Nepal reminds me of when I first came to Chamonix in the 70s. There was tourism here but a lot of people still made a living from agriculture. I didn’t speak French particularly, I just thought about climbing, but slowly I got drawn into the culture. Learning the language, friends; it all opens up and you’re drawn into everything. It’s not just about the climbing any more, it’s being part of the community. Certain parts of Nepal are now in a transition phase towards tourism so I’m seeing it all over again.”

Based on the outskirts of Chamonix, Andy Parkin was served a bitter blow last year when his art studio, part of a 16th century former saw and grain mill that acted as a community hub dubbed Moulin des Artistes, “Artist’s Mill”, was destroyed in a devastating fire. A close-knit community, Chamonix locals have rallied together in an act of solidarity and defiance to help the artisans who lost their studios, work and artistic hub.

“The ironic thing is, it wasn’t just an art studio; we used it as a community and fund-raising centre, and now the community is rallying round to help us. I teach kids to paint there. They don’t get that at school. We open it up for events. It provides things that Chamonix would lack otherwise. Exhibitions, meetings, lectures, charity and community get-togethers.”

The following quoted excerpts were part of original interviews by Sarah Stirling for Summit Magazine and the BMC.

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