Don Whillans


Quick Info

Nationality: GB
Date of birth: 18th May 1933
Date of death: 4th August 1985
Hardest Trad (Onsight): E4
Notable Partnerships
Joe Brown
Chris Bonington

Pat Ament:

I loved Don. I never saw him be mean-spirited, though I did know he drank and had his frustrations. He was especially intolerant of people who overrated themselves or simply did not know what they were talking about. I respected that quality in him, although he could have tempered his opinions, certainly, at times. I don't think I ever saw him get wrankled with someone who didn't deserve it.

He was incredibly funny, incredibly brilliant, not -- in my opinion -- a tragic figure. I saw greatness. I mean, think of all he achieved, the successes run through memory, glimpses of deep winter with Haston on the Eiger Direct, or on various mountains of the Himalaya, such as Annapurna.

He was like Joe [Brown] in that, coming from a rock climbing background, it was astonishing he could switch to mountaineering as though it were nothing. In younger years, he and Joe were in their element and climbed so beautifully, so boldly, with such limited gear they mostly invented as they went along. Sure, like all of us, he had his challenges and his imperfections, had some personal trials. He wasn't about to be pushed around.

Not so many will deserve a wonderful biography by a wonderful author. I climbed with Don in Eldorado in 1966, when Royal brought him to America. He ran out one difficult pitch on sight, nothing to it.... We hit it off. After his visit to Yosemite, where he walked up the Crack of Doom with Pratt, followed the difficult off-width on Crack of Despair, and showed that, even out of shape, he could climb with the best of them, Don returned to see me in Colorado. He gave me the small gift of some British coins that were of no use in America. I still have those, still cherish them and his memory. Some 18 years later, when I was guest speaker at the Buxton conference, I was sitting at a mirror backstage, and he suddenly was standing behind me. He took me for a shandy, and we talked and laughed. He was, by the way, one of the stars of that conference, dressing up like a woman.

He could have fun. Life is short. Few, at least in the climbing world (but perhaps in any world) will -- at the end -- be able to say they did as much with their time and accomplished as much as Don Whillans. [2]

Bernard Tamworth:

I went to the Dolomites with Don in July 1985. We climbed a pinnacle near Lecco called 'Il sigaro' which was a grade 5.8 on UIAA scale - about HVS. This was a 4 pitch climb with an abseil off the top. The crux was 10 feet from the summit - a sloping ledge with a bulge pushing you onto your left foot. Don lead this part and overcame the obstacle with a bit of puffing and panting. It was a honour to be the last person to climb with Don. We spent over 2 weeks together in the Dolomites, travelling down on motor bikes. unlike some of the stories, I found Don easy to get on with as long as you were upfront with him and gave him no bulls**t!!! I think I was the only person to ever owe money to Don. He lent me 100 french francs for petrol on the way back, but unfortunately he died before I could pay him back!! [1]

References

[1] Bernard Tamworth, comment on Don Whillains' Last Climb

[2] https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=4384744478304277&set=a.230171883761578

[3] https://www.facebook.com/climbing.in.the.80s/photos/a.270388289694020/948094701923372

[4] With Chris Bonnington on the Central Pillar of Freney https://www.instagram.com/p/CO5502uDiQU/

[5] With Joe Brown https://www.instagram.com/p/B_a_U0Rjqgs/

Contributors: remus

Quick Info

Nationality: GB
Date of birth: 18th May 1933
Date of death: 4th August 1985
Hardest Trad (Onsight): E4
Notable Partnerships
Joe Brown
Chris Bonington

Pat Ament:

I loved Don. I never saw him be mean-spirited, though I did know he drank and had his frustrations. He was especially intolerant of people who overrated themselves or simply did not know what they were talking about. I respected that quality in him, although he could have tempered his opinions, certainly, at times. I don't think I ever saw him get wrankled with someone who didn't deserve it.

He was incredibly funny, incredibly brilliant, not -- in my opinion -- a tragic figure. I saw greatness. I mean, think of all he achieved, the successes run through memory, glimpses of deep winter with Haston on the Eiger Direct, or on various mountains of the Himalaya, such as Annapurna.

He was like Joe [Brown] in that, coming from a rock climbing background, it was astonishing he could switch to mountaineering as though it were nothing. In younger years, he and Joe were in their element and climbed so beautifully, so boldly, with such limited gear they mostly invented as they went along. Sure, like all of us, he had his challenges and his imperfections, had some personal trials. He wasn't about to be pushed around.

Not so many will deserve a wonderful biography by a wonderful author. I climbed with Don in Eldorado in 1966, when Royal brought him to America. He ran out one difficult pitch on sight, nothing to it.... We hit it off. After his visit to Yosemite, where he walked up the Crack of Doom with Pratt, followed the difficult off-width on Crack of Despair, and showed that, even out of shape, he could climb with the best of them, Don returned to see me in Colorado. He gave me the small gift of some British coins that were of no use in America. I still have those, still cherish them and his memory. Some 18 years later, when I was guest speaker at the Buxton conference, I was sitting at a mirror backstage, and he suddenly was standing behind me. He took me for a shandy, and we talked and laughed. He was, by the way, one of the stars of that conference, dressing up like a woman.

He could have fun. Life is short. Few, at least in the climbing world (but perhaps in any world) will -- at the end -- be able to say they did as much with their time and accomplished as much as Don Whillans. [2]

Bernard Tamworth:

I went to the Dolomites with Don in July 1985. We climbed a pinnacle near Lecco called 'Il sigaro' which was a grade 5.8 on UIAA scale - about HVS. This was a 4 pitch climb with an abseil off the top. The crux was 10 feet from the summit - a sloping ledge with a bulge pushing you onto your left foot. Don lead this part and overcame the obstacle with a bit of puffing and panting. It was a honour to be the last person to climb with Don. We spent over 2 weeks together in the Dolomites, travelling down on motor bikes. unlike some of the stories, I found Don easy to get on with as long as you were upfront with him and gave him no bulls**t!!! I think I was the only person to ever owe money to Don. He lent me 100 french francs for petrol on the way back, but unfortunately he died before I could pay him back!! [1]

References

[1] Bernard Tamworth, comment on Don Whillains' Last Climb

[2] https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=4384744478304277&set=a.230171883761578

[3] https://www.facebook.com/climbing.in.the.80s/photos/a.270388289694020/948094701923372

[4] With Chris Bonnington on the Central Pillar of Freney https://www.instagram.com/p/CO5502uDiQU/

[5] With Joe Brown https://www.instagram.com/p/B_a_U0Rjqgs/

Contributors: remus

Podcasts


Pics + Vids

Added at 13:12 on 03 December 2023
Added at 12:06 on 14 June 2021
Added at 17:02 on 27 February 2021
View this post on Instagram

Added at 13:09 on 05 September 2022
Cemetry Gates (E1, FA)
Added at 12:06 on 14 June 2021
Slippery Jim (HVS, FA)
View this post on Instagram

Added at 15:12 on 15 December 2021

Ascents

10 recorded ascents.

Year Climb Grade Style Ascent Date
1951 Cemetry Gates E1 Lead | onsight 30th Sep 1951
First ascent.

In Don's later years he and Joe Brown went back to repeat the route together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m_P_RzrQu4.

Vember E1 Alternate Leads | onsight 13th Oct 1951
First ascent.
1952 The Black Cleft E2 Alternate Leads | onsight 4th May 1952
First ascent.
1953 Surplomb E2 Alternate Leads | onsight 1st Mar 1953
First ascent.
1954 Archangel E3 Top Rope | worked 1954

Complete with rubber inner tubes on his knees for added grip! [1]

References

[1] On The Edge Issue 107, page 44.

The Sloth HVS Lead | onsight 1954
First ascent.
1955
1956
1957
1958 Goliath E4 Lead | onsight 1958
First ascent.
Cave Wall E3 Lead 1958
First ascent.

Don jumped off from the lip while attempting to make the first ascent.

Slippery Jim HVS Solo | onsight 1958
1959
1960
1961 Central Pillar of Freney ED1 Alternate Leads 29th Aug 1961
First ascent.
Climb Grade Style Ascent Date Suggested Grade
Climb Grade Style Ascent Date Suggested Grade
Climb Grade Style Ascent Date Suggested Grade
Goliath E4 Lead | onsight 1958
First ascent.
Cave Wall E3 Lead 1958
First ascent.

Don jumped off from the lip while attempting to make the first ascent.

Archangel E3 Top Rope | worked 1954

Complete with rubber inner tubes on his knees for added grip! [1]

References

[1] On The Edge Issue 107, page 44.

The Black Cleft E2 Alternate Leads | onsight 4th May 1952
First ascent.
Surplomb E2 Alternate Leads | onsight 1st Mar 1953
First ascent.
Cemetry Gates E1 Lead | onsight 30th Sep 1951
First ascent.

In Don's later years he and Joe Brown went back to repeat the route together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m_P_RzrQu4.

Vember E1 Alternate Leads | onsight 13th Oct 1951
First ascent.
The Sloth HVS Lead | onsight 1954
First ascent.
Slippery Jim HVS Solo | onsight 1958
Climb Grade Style Ascent Date Suggested Grade
Central Pillar of Freney ED1 Alternate Leads 29th Aug 1961
First ascent.