This brilliant photo by Kelvin Kent of mountaineering icons Dougal Haston, Mick Burke and Doug Scott enthralled by a game of Scrabble was taken during the 1972 Everest South West Face Expedition.
Three years later Burke was to lose his life on Chris Bonnington’s 1975 ascent of Everest’s South West Face. He was a son of Wigan, a true legend.
BIO: Wigan-born Mick Burke cut his climbing teeth in his mid-teens in the Langdale area of the nearby Lake District. But he was already leaning towards the stiffer challenges of the big mountains and it was in the Alps that he first came to prominence. He made an early ascent of the North Face of the Dru in 1964 followed by the Bonatti Pillar and second ascent of the American Direct on the Dru in 1965. The following year Burke was involved with the audacious but controversial rescue of two German climbers trapped high on the Dru which made world headlines. Following this, he made new alpine summer routes, and first winter ascents of established climbs which were influential in spurring on interest amongst British climbers in winter alpinism. He graduated to expeditioning, combining his mountaineering skills on Patagonia’s Cerro Torre in 1968, followed closely by big wall climbs in Yosemite where he made the first British ascent of El Capitan’s Nose with Rob Wood. Although hard climbs had been achieved in Yosemite previously, it was this ascent more than any other which really flagged up the growing international importance of the region to British climbers. Invitations to join Chris Bonington’s trips to Annapurna, South Face in 1970, and the South-West Face of Everest on 1972 followed. In between Burke also expeditioned to Baffin Island in 1971, where he began experimenting with filming climbing, shooting footage of some of the earliest big-wall explorations of the Arctic island’s awesome cliffs by Doug Scott’s team. By this time, Burke had developed skills in, and an affinity for, the moving image and was making his name as a climbing cameraman (Burke had moved to London in 1968 to train as a TV cameraman). After a bout of freelance filming he joined the BBC and covered many climbing-related events for them. This led to an invitation to join Bonington’s 1975 expedition to the SW Face of Everest. High on the mountain, Burke was paired with Martin Boysen and during their summit attempt, Boysen’s oxygen apparatus became faulty and he had to turn back. Burke audaciously decided to carry on solo, chasing after the lead pair of climbers, Peter Boardman and the Sherpa Pertemba, in order to gain unique footage of the final section of the climb. Burke met Boardman and Pertmeba coming down from their successful summit climb, not far from the top. Although the weather was closing in, Burke decided to carry on and disappeared into the clouds, never to be seen again. It is thought probable that he reached the top but may have fallen through a cornice on the descent.