My Father, Frank

Unresting Spirit of Everest

Author: Tony Smythe Doug Scott CBE

Series title:

Hardback publication date: 01 Oct 2013

Hardback ISBN: 9781898573876

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SHORTLISTED: Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2014

Frank Smythe's mountaineering achievements before the Second World War are part of climbing history. In 1933, climbing alone and without oxygen, he got to within 820 feet of the summit of Everest. Fifty years after his death in 1949, his son Tony has written a full account of his father's life. My Father, Frank is an extraordinary story he believed was worth telling.

Frank Smythe's mountaineering achievements in the decade before the Second World War became a part of climbing history. His intensive Alpine climbing, followed by two Himalayan expeditions - to Kangchenjunga in 1930 and success the following year on Kamet, the highest summit then reached - became the prelude to Everest. And in 1933 on that great mountain, climbing alone and without supplementary oxygen he got to within 820 feet of the top, a record height before efforts were resumed post-war and Everest was climbed in 1953. And as a superb Himalayan finale, in 1937 he returned to the Indian Garhwal to climb difficult peaks up to 24,000 feet in a rapid lightweight style. The expeditions were central to his lifetime's work as a writer and photographer - 27 books and albums, together with numberless newspaper and magazine articles, intensive lecturing, radio broadcasts and a film. It was an output that made him a celebrity, a rare feat in the days before television and the internet. He had tens of thousands of readers and his name was familiar to perhaps millions of the general public. It was an incredible career, especially since he died at the early age of 48 after a serious illness in India. Frank Smythe was resolute in keeping his home life private, and few details of it emerged in his writings. It was a turbulent life, even from earliest childhood, and remained so, with ambition and impatience almost overwhelming him at times, and eventually this volatile mix, apart from alienating some more traditional members of the Alpine Club, would lead to the break-up of his marriage. Yet when he was among hills he became tranquil and inspired. Some fifty years after his death in 1949 one of his three sons, Tony, decided to write a full account of his father's life, an extraordinary story he believed was important historically and well worth telling. This book is the result.

Tony Smythe was born in 1934. After leaving school he joined the RAF, serving for eight years as a pilot, flying Canberras and Javelins before resigning to devote more time to climbing and travelling. He made numerous journeys, climbs and expeditions, giving lectures to schools and societies about his experiences in the Alps, Eastern Europe and Russia, Canada and Alaska, the Himalayas and South America. In later years he became a potter, making hand-thrown tableware on a wheel at his workshop in Oxfordshire before moving to the Lake District, where he could indulge his passion for paragliding more intensively. To see more of Scotland he set about completing the Munros, summiting the last in 2005, just 50 years after the first. He is the author of Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia, a 'cult' book of the 1960s jointly produced with his photographer friend, John Cleare, and has written extensively for journals and magazines about his adventures. He is married, and he and his wife have a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren.

Born in Nottingham in 1941, Doug Scott began climbing in Derbyshire when he was thirteen and without any obvious plan in it was soon discovering the cliffs of Snowdonia, Scotland, the Alps and the Dolomites. He completed his first Alpine season at the age of eighteen. In 1965, aged twenty-three, he went on his first organised expedition, to the Tibesti Mountains of Chad. It was to be the first of many trips to the high mountains of the world. On 24 September 1975, he and his climbing partner Dougal Haston became the first Britons to reach the summit of Mount Everest, via the formidable South-West Face, and they became national heroes. In total, Scott made forty-two expeditions to the high mountains of Asia, reaching the summits of forty peaks. With the exception of his ascent of Everest, he made all his climbs in lightweight or alpine style and without the use of supplementary oxygen. Scott was made a CBE in 1994. He was a president of the Alpine Club, and in 1999 he received the Royal Geographical Society Patron’s Gold Medal. In 2011 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Piolets d’Or, during the presentation of which his mountaineering style was described as ‘visionary’. In 1995 he founded Community Action Nepal (CAN), a UK-based registered charity whose aim is to help mountaineers to support the mountain people of Nepal. Up until his death in December 2020, Scott continued to climb, write and lecture, avidly supporting the work of CAN. He is the author of six books, including Up and About and The Ogre. Kangchenjunga is his final book.

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