Life Is Meeting by John Hunt (Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine).
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1978. 286 pages, 28 photographs and
11 maps. Price £ 6.95.
This book tells the story of how John Hunt has managed to combine outstanding mountaineering with an outstanding professional career. Perhaps no climber hitherto has been so doubly successful. In Life Is Meeting, though the principal focus is his professional career, Hunt takes us from his early climbs in the Alps in 1923 (at age 12) to climbs in the 1970’s. In between there are spirited attempts on Saltoro Kangri, a fine first ascent of Kolahoi and post-monsoon climbs in the Kangchenjunga area. In 1935 he was turned down as a member of the Everest expedition because of a heart murmur, but in 1953 he led the Everest team that achieved the famous first ascent, a climb dealt with only briefly here. His Army career was significant right from the time he was a top cadet at Sandhurst. During many assignments he was able to initiate rough country or mountain training for troops. This practice helped his men on the Sangro front in World War II when Hunt commanded first a battalion and later the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade. He won the DSO and CBE during the war years for special achievements in Italy and Greece.
Lord Hunt’s second career, public service, has been equally spectacular. After leaving the Army as Honorary Brigadier in 1956, he was for ten years director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. Later he became Personal Advisor to the Prime Minister during the Nigerian civil war and was for seven years chairman of the Parole Board for England and Wales. Other major assignments continued but he usually managed some climbing. While visiting one prison, for instance, he couldn’t help noting that the wall could be climbed and demonstrated how. On another occasion an inmate remarked to him, “I did some climbing, Guv.’ That’s why I’m here.”
During the 1960’s especially Hunt had much to do with climbing exchanges, particularly with the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, and he took part in some difficult and dangerous climbs. He also helped to develop the philsophy adopted by Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound of using mountains as a medium for challenging and training young adults. Through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, he took award winners with him to Greenland, Greece and other mountain areas.
One cannot read Life Is Meeting without admiring the character of John Hunt, his judgment and initiative, and the splendid partnership with Joy, his wife, a tennis champion who became his climbing companion in areas as diverse as the Yukon, the Sinai and the Pindus. Hunt has lived up to his high ideals of community service but perhaps his greatest achievements have not been in the Army, the Award Scheme or the House of Lords but in developing friendly relations among climbers of opposing countries and among his countrymen of apparently opposing generations. His serious, modest biography will be of special interest to older members of the Club.
Robert H. Bates