John Hawkridge and me

Today seems like an appropriate day to pen (/type) a few reflections on a man few of you have heard of, but who was a source of great inspiration to me and who was an honour to get to know a little.

John Hawkridge was born with Cerebral Palsy, and a man full of stoicism and good old fashioned Yorkshire grit.  In a time where disabled people were afforded far fewer opportunities than today, and when expectations among disabled people and of disabled people were far lower than today, John refused to accept that status quo.

In the mid to late 80s, I was just becoming aware of my disability and it was at that time that I saw a documentary about this disabled man from Yorkshire who walked to the Everest basecamp, and climbed the peak Kala Patthar, the summit of which affords the best view of the highest mountain in the world.  This, now famous and popular adventure is generally known as the Everest Trek.  The man in question was the same John Hawkridge and I believe he was the first person with Cerebral Palsy ever to do so.

So inspired was I by the story, and the adventure portrayed, that I wrote to BBC Points of View not expecting anything but wishing to convey the impact the programme had on me.  Sure enough though, my letter was read out on the programme!

A few years later I was fortunate enough to go on an Outward Bound Personal Development course, a three-week ‘Summer Standard’ at Eskdale in the Lake District.  Alongside these courses and a range of other programmes, they also ran an Outward Bound Personal Development course, specifically for disabled people. It was called a Hawkridge course, named as such because John had been involved in developing the programme, and tried to go along for a day or two whenever it was running.

Eskdale’s Operations Manager at the time, Howard, would instruct on the Hawkridge course, and while I was on my three week programme, he invited me to join and help out on one of these Hawkridge courses the following summer, and I leapt at the chance.  The highlight of the week, alongside the treks, camping, and abseiling, was actually meeting John.  I told him I’d written to Points of View and he remembered my letter being read out.   He also presented me with a signed copy of his autobiography, Uphill All The Way.  It’s still available to buy from Amazon.

In the following years I had the pleasure of seeing John from time to time when our paths crossed, mostly at the Wasdale Head Inn, over breakfast or dinner.

He was one of my biggest inspirations in the mountains, and probably the biggest influencer behind my expedition to Kilimanjaro in 2008.  I may have set a record in doing so, but it was always on the shoulders of giants.

So why am I sharing my reflections today?  A week ago I had a message from Howard, our mutual friend, saying that sadly John had passed away.  Today is his funeral.

Rest in peace John, and enjoy the greatest mountain range in the sky.