Wild Country

The man who made Friends

Author: Mark Vallance

Series title:

Paperback publication date: 01 Apr 2016

Paperback ISBN: 9781910240816

SHORTLISTED: Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2016

Wild Country tells the remarkable story of Mark Vallance, climber, influential outdoor retailer and founder of the company that made Friends, which helped to make climbing safer and to push the limits of the possible. A fresh perspective on the role of the outdoors in British life and the development of climbing in its most revolutionary phase.

In early 1978, an extraordinary new invention for rock climbers was featured on the BBC television science show Tomorrow's World. It was called the 'Friend', and it not only made the sport safer, it helped push the limits of the possible. The company that made them was called Wild Country, the brainchild of Mark Vallance. Within six months, Vallance was selling Friends in sixteen countries. Wild Country would go on to develop much of the gear that transformed climbing in the 1980s. Mark Vallance's influence on the outdoor world extends far beyond the company he founded. He owned and opened the influential retailer Outside in the Peak District and was part of the team that built The Foundry, Sheffield's premier climbing wall - the first modern climbing gym in Britain. He worked for the Peak District National Park and served on its board. He even found time to climb eight-thousand-metre peaks and the Nose on El Capitan. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in his mid fifties and robbed of his plans for retirement, Vallance found a new sense of purpose as a reforming president of the British Mountaineering Council. In Wild Country, Vallance traces his story, from childhood influences like Robin Hodgkin and Sir Jack Longland, to two years in Antarctica, where he was base commander of the UK's largest and most southerly scientific station at Halley Bay, before his fateful meeting with Ray Jardine, the man who invented Friends, in Yosemite. Trenchant, provocative and challenging, Wild Country is a remarkable personal story and a fresh perspective on the role of the outdoors in British life and the development of climbing in its most revolutionary phase. Mark Vallance (1945–2018), the man who made Friends.

Mark Vallance was born in Cheshire. After watching the film of the 1953 ascent of Everest, he developed an obsession for climbing and exploration. Educated at Abbotsholme School and Goldsmiths, University of London, he spent two years in Halley Bay working for the British Antarctic Survey. In 1977, he formed Wild Country to manufacture Ray Jardine’s revolutionary climbing protection device, called Friends, launching one of the most influential outdoor brands in British history. In 1987 he built and opened Outside, a new kind of outdoor retailer in the UK. Having sold his businesses, Vallance planned a long and action-packed retirement, but was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease aged only fifty-four. He went on to serve as president of the British Mountaineering Council. Mark died in 2018, aged 72, and the climbing world lost one of its greatest heroes.

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