On The Hill With … Tom Anderson

Welcome to “On the hill with…” a series of short interviews with members of the Rucksack Club.

This edition features Tom Anderson, honorary member and hut warden (retired) of High Moss.

Skye, Tom on the Dubh Ridge in characteristic attire.  Photo Geoff Gosling

How did you get into walking and climbing?

This was one of the defining moments of my life!  I got married!
This prompted me to retire from playing rugby union, as I was picking up injuries, mainly knees and left me without an outdoor hobby. 
I had met Anne on a holiday in Hassness in Buttermere hillwalking, we decided to continue with this, and as we lived in Surrey, country walking as well, because mountains are a long way off for a climb from there.
I also joined the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) about this time, which also added an element of competition on the fitness front, to add to my gym work, more about this later.  
I had started on my route to join the Rucksack Club.

Anne looking down The Ogwen Valley towards Tryfan on one of our early walks on the hills. Uncredited photos from the Anderson Collection

Who has had the most influence on your mountain experiences?

Three people have helped to focus my mind on the hills.

First my school teacher Les Welham, he taught me how to keep fit and gave me a regular exercise program that I keep up to this very day.

The person who most influenced me was Hamish Brown.  I went on a course with him at the Smiddy hut, Dundonnell, Wester Ross, we had a visit to the Fisherfield Forest and stopped in a bothy.  This changed my outlook completely on mountaineering and hill walking.
I found Hamish very organized, as you would expect, for living and walking in the Scottish hills.  His mantra was for leaving things as you find them – leave nothing but your footsteps.  He was also very knowledgeable about the Highlands, their history, geology and flora and fauna.  His courses were very practical, about cooking and gear and so on – the most costly is not always the best – a real Scotsman’s outlook. Friendly, but kept to himself some evenings with Kitchy (his dog), writing his first book, Hamish’s Mountain Walk.  But I think he liked his own company as well. I think knowledge is power, Hamish certainly gave me courage to try the Hills.
There were several pivotal moments in my life and this was one of them.  It was very good introduction to hill craft.

The third person was Ray Lee, a club member, who I met on a holiday in the Zillertal Alps, more of him in the next question.

Coire Ghrunnda from Sgùrr nan Eag.

How did you come to join the RC?

I met Ray Lee on a holiday in the Zillertal Alps, Austria.  Ray was leading the group (wayfarers) I think.  This was supposed to be a hut tour, but Ray had other ideas.  We spent a lot of time climbing some of the peaks in the group.  This was as well as walking between huts!  This was a great trip for me as I had not climbed in Europe before.  One of the peaks was called the Olperer where we had to join a queue to reach the summit.  But it was a stand-out peak!  The trip was a great success and Ray suggested that we had a reunion at High Moss, so I volunteered to organise the details.  During the meet Ray suggested that he sponsor me to become a member.  So after a meet on Rum and a work meet I was elected in 1987.  During this time I met Walter Riley and Taffy Davies, two doyens of the club, who educated me on club lore.  It was a short apprenticeship and an enjoyable one. 

Ray Lee in the Zillertal Alps

What does a perfect ‘hill’ day consist of?

I think a perfect day out is difficult to quantify as each day is different.  I myself think that a crisp sunny day in winter, with good snow to climb on, and interesting climbing requiring crampons, takes some beating. Or a day on the Coolins (in good weather) is another.  As members know I am a great fan of Skye!  I have also had memorable days out with my wife Anne, not so difficult, but very good. I have had several companions over the years, but I usually walk alone.  Further on this subject later.

Skye, Tom with Geoff Gosling and party on the Dubh Ridge.  Photo Geoff Gosling

Anne on Pen y Fan

Over many years in the ‘hills’, what have been the most memorable times?

This is a tough one to answer as over 50 years on I have had many great days out.  But on reflection I think the evening and night on the Galdhøpiggen to be one of my top 5!  The view I got was so surprising I stood on the summit for quite a while.  It was nearly midnight so the lighting was different than if I had been there earlier. The descent was easy as there was almost no darkness.  It was an uplifting experience well remembered!  Norway is very beautiful mountain wise, but a very costly place to live.  I am sorry I can’t afford to visit now. 

View from Galdhøpiggen in the Jotunheimen mountains (highest peak in Norway)

Tom on Slogen in the Sunnmørsalpane

Have you had any mishaps in the ‘hills’?

We all get it wrong sometimes and mine was a fall off the Pillar traverse, which at the time was snow covered.  However, what I did not recognise was the fact that it was one layer of snow on top of another i.e. there had been two falls, the top one being unstable!  So some way along the normal walking route the upper layer slid off with yours truly on it so I had to ride it down!  Luckily the slide was fairly short, but I hit a protruding rock before I stopped in a snow drift.  As I was alone I was in a difficult situation of not knowing the extent of my injuries.  So I did a check on the damage.  I had a cut on my head, caused by the ice axe, and a back injury, caused by the rock.  The head cut was bleeding a lot but it was a minor cut on my scalp, which I stemmed by putting on my balaclava.  My back injury was much more trouble as it was very painful.  Movement was very difficult but I managed to get upright and traverse along the slope to find the Pillar ride, a fire break in the forest, which I found easily as I was just above the tree line by now.  The next problem was climbing the stile into the forest.  It was low, and normally I would have had no difficulty in crossing it but my back was giving me jip by this time.  I descended onto the forest track and sat down to rest a bit before continuing.  But now my luck changed, another climber appeared climbing up and he immediately took over.  He put me in his bivi bag and rushed down to phone the mountain rescue.  Liam, as I found out later, was an Irishman working in the area.  He did everything right to facilitate my rescue and organise my journey home.  I had three days in Whitehaven hospital, where my back injury was diagnosed as a cracked rib close to my spine.  It was a lucky escape well remembered! Lessons learnt: 1 check the ground with care; 2 don’t believe all the tall tales about the Irish.   

Pillar from Gable showing the area of Tom’s fall

What is your dream ‘hill’ objective?

I don’t think I have a dream hill objective!  At 81 I think it’s a bit late now to have one, but completing the Munros comes close.  [Editor – Tom completed in May 1991 on Ladhar Bheinn.]  I have always felt that enjoying the hills was my first priority.  I have, however, completed the Welsh Threes and the English Threes solo and unsupported.  [Editor again – Tom has also completed the Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds amongst other lists.]

Tom with Anne on his last Corbett, Beinn nan Oir on Jura, May 1999

What makes a great ‘hill’ partner? Has anyone come close?

This is a difficult one.  My wife probably comes into this question, Anne is the most regular companion and is very good company, but not the most daring!  She was my companion on several long treks in Scotland and England.  The route from Mallaig to Montrose was the most memorable.  

Three other people, club members Pete Addinell and Richard Jewell, plus Ian Robertson, who I met in the Cairngorms many years ago.  

As for the ideal companion, they all were good company for different reasons, I had some very hairy moments with them all and was glad to have them with me.  But on balance I think I pick Anne, she is a good cook as well!

Tom and Anne on Galtymore, Ireland

Pete Addinell, John Arkel and Paul Riley

Tom with Ian Robertson

Richard Jewell, top, with Les Watt. Photo Tim Taylor

How do you keep active in the hills?

I have always done gym training and running to keep fit, in fact I ran a class down south (with others), it kept me motivated.  I also ran two full marathons as well, and two 100 mile LDWA challenge walks.  London is a long way from the Hills.

What future ‘hill’ plans do you have?

As I said I am in my declining years, at 81 I think I will keep going as long as possible.

Do you have any regrets/missed opportunities?

Regrets, I have only one – that I did not start earlier on the hills.  
I played rugby union until I was 30, I enjoyed it mostly but was never an England contender!  But it was not too late, I did finish the “2000+ hills in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland”, including the Munros and Furths. So I was not too late starting!  I am still some hills short in Ireland, about 50, so I can’t see myself finishing them? 

Tom with Anne on a summit in Ireland

What have been the benefits of RC membership?

Firstly, friendship.  I was made very welcome, despite being a Southerner!  Plenty of chaff, but nothing serious.  

Secondly, access to a lot of info on the hills from members is most useful if you are a bit green. Access to the club huts, all in great places!
I was even made warden on one in a moment of weakness! I jest, well maybe.
Again I always think that the members are the club’s most valuable asset and the huts second.

I was very pleased that Ray Lee recommended me for membership.


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