AS climber Simon Yates prepares to set up his presentation at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, he has a couple of little helpers in daughter Maisy, aged seven, and son Lewis, five, running around the Creative Lounge at the Workstation.
He is to talk about his new book, The Wild Within, which, in addition to recounting trips to unclimbed peaks in in Tierra del Fuego on the Alaskan-Yukon border and in Eastern Greenland, addresses his new-found commitments as a family man and how they have affected his life as a mountaineer.
Yates will always be remembered as the other man in the story of Touching the Void when, on the treacherous descent of the west face of Siula Grande in the the Peruvian Andes in 1985, he was forced to make the decision to cut the rope holding Joe Simpson who wrote an award-winning book about his miraculous survival which became a hit movie.
Yates has told his side of the story on a previous lecture tour but in the book briefly returns to the subject by saying he felt stitched up by the media when the movie hit the headlines.
Now he says: “The experience wasn’t that bad. When the book was released I was away out of the country for a year so it didn’t affect me. Then when the film was being made they took Joe and me out to Peru and any problems I had were because I didn’t get on with the film-makers. They weren’t my kind of people, put it that way. And afterwards I was able to get on and do my own things.”
These have been expeditions all over the world with various other climbing partners such as Andy Cave, Mick Fowler, Andy Parkin, Paul Pritchard and Doug Scott, establishing many first ascents in the process.
He runs his own expedition company, Mountain Dream, leading three or four trips a year (Bolivia and Nepal are next), fitting in lecturing (on a touring schedule managed by Rebecca Varley in Sheffield) and writing, although he admits his third book, The Wild Within, has been a long time coming.
“I had the idea of the theme about wilderness but I didn’t have an ending,” he explains. “That came in 2009 in Alaska. It was one of the best things I had ever done and then there was an incident where we almost died (almost crashing in a small plane) and that gave me a rousing finale.”
The title relates to his experience of the rapid commercialisation of mountain wilderness. “I had noticed changes in telecommunications directly affecting the world I am in. It marks a moment in the passing of time. Mobile phones work everywhere now and satellite phones are affordable.
“Not so long ago I remember lugging these phones and laptops around and being terrified I would damage them, costing thousands of pounds. In 10 years’ time we won’t think of being able to communicate from distant locations as rare or exceptional, but commonplace.”
People who have tried to get a signal somewhere out in the Peak District might care to differ. “The irony is in the developing world, especially the Indian sub-continent, it’s easy. The planning regulations are not the same. If there’s a demand for a mast it gets built. I can see in a few years’ time your iPhone will work all the way up Everest or K2 but not in Borrowdale.”
These days Yates lives in Cumbria with his wife and children. How much has becoming a parent trimmed his sense of adventure?
“I have a very definite idea in my own mind of the level of risk I am prepared to take,” he says. “But by the time I became a father my perspective had changed anyway. I am more concerned about the time I am away from the family so I look for trips of no more than three or four weeks if I can help it.”
Simon Yates lived in Sheffield for 12 years, arriving to do a degree in biochemistry and staying on because of the climbing scene, supporting himself financially by working in rope access.
“A lot of the companies I worked for were Sheffield-based but most of the work was in London because that’s where most of the high buildings are.”
Looking back, Yates says: “Living in Sheffield certainly helped me to become the climber I am now and enabled me to develop my climbing into a successful career in the mountains.
“The city’s role in the UK climbing community can’t be overstated and I always enjoy coming back here and catching up with old friends.
“What I miss about where I live now is being in a city and being able to decide to go climbing whenever you fancied it and be out there in a matter of minutes.”
The Wild Within is published by Sheffield’s Vertebrate Press at £20.