Joe Brown

Do you know who Joe Brown is?  I would not be surprised if you answered"no" to this question.  Joe did most of his incredible rock climbing over 50 years ago.  He changed the sport forever, but in today's climbing world little attention is paid to how we got here.  It is said that he was so famous that the Post Office would deliver mail that was simply addressed to: The Human Fly, UK.

In 1988 I was climbing in North Wales.  I was happily perched on a large ledge about 200 feet above the valley floor, carefully belaying my partner up to me when another climber pulled himself up onto the ledge about 10 feet to my left.  It was Joe Brown.  As he busied himself with setting up his anchors and sorting his rope, I mumbled an embarrassed greeting, flushed red cheeks and tried to look like I knew what I was doing.  My partner arrived on the ledge and I whispered "that's Joe Brown, don't talk to him!"  I was determined that Joe would be able to climb unmolested by star stuck groupies, but he had heard my whisper and with a genuine smile said "that's OK, you can talk to me if you want, but I don't have anything clever to say."  What do you say to that?  My partner and I sat there and watched the greatest rock climber in history rack his gear and set off up his next pitch, we didn't say a word, we were speechless.


I was thinking about the passing of Walter Bonatti last week when my thoughts turned to this meeting with Joe Brown. As a result I never wrote about Bonatti, but last week the mountaineering community lost one of its greatest ever members. I never met Bonatti, but I was in awe of him and his accomplishments from my early teen onwards. He always came across as a man of great integrity and in my mind the accusations from the K2 expedition always cast a dark cloud on Italian climbing, because I always thought Bonatti was wronged. It turned out that he was, but he had to wait for death of one of the accusers for the truth to finally come out. Google it if you want the whole story, but also read the accounts of some of his early climbs in the Alps, like the Petit Dru. Unbelievable! Walter, you are a legend, thank you for your inspiration.