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Rouse, Alan Paullocked

(1951–1986)
  • Anita McConnell

Alan Paul Rouse (1951–1986)

by Doug Scott, 1979 [Nuptse N Ridge team at Everest base camp, autumn 1979: (left to right) George Bettenburg, Al Rouse, Brian Hall, Doug Scott]

Alpine Club Photo Library, London

Rouse, Alan Paul (1951–1986), mountaineer, was born on 19 December 1951 at Highfield Maternity Hospital, Wallasey, the son of John Arnold Rouse (1924–1971), a clerk with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and his wife, Eve Kathleen, née Turner. Rouse, who shared a talent for mathematics with his father and younger sister, won a scholarship to Birkenhead School, and from there entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1970 to read mathematics. His interest in climbing began about 1968 with local rock-scrambling, but he soon developed the strength of hand and the techniques which, as a member of the local Gwydir mountaineering club, introduced him to numerous climbs in north Wales. By the time he arrived in Cambridge, where he became president of the university mountaineering club, Rouse had already conquered some of the hardest solo ascents in north Wales, had ventured into the Alps, and was forming climbing partnerships which endured throughout his life.

The energy and enthusiasm he displayed in climbing were matched by Rouse's passion for life generally. His friend Geoff Birtles described his transformation at Cambridge:

From a clean-cut bespectacled pride of school he entered the freedom of that flower-power age bedecked with all the long hair and trappings of Sgt Pepperdom, went wild for a while dabbling in the cults and grey customs of his time, climbing all the while, emerging at the end of growing up a respectable sort who still liked a good ‘wheeze’, which was his word, borrowed from a childhood comic, for having a good time or getting a good deal.

Birtles, Obituary, 16

Unfortunately his preference for weekend climbing and 'ardent womanising' (Hall, 21) over study deprived him of the grade to which his ability would have entitled him: having taken a second in part 1A of the Cambridge mathematical tripos in 1971, he graduated with an ordinary pass degree.

On leaving Cambridge in 1973 Rouse worked periodically as a schoolteacher, but increasingly spent his time on expeditions to remote parts of the globe. As a student he was already tackling serious winter climbs in Scotland, working his way round the Alps in both summer and winter, and had travelled to California to climb in Yosemite National Park. In Patagonia in 1973 bureaucracy proved more of an obstacle than the peaks, but plans were laid for another year. By this time Rouse was earning his living as a lecturer and writer, and as a consultant to the suppliers of mountain clothing and equipment. From time to time accidents and broken limbs briefly suspended his activities, but he was never deterred or prevented from joyously meeting further challenges.

The major expedition to South America took place in 1977. Rouse, with a party of five climbing friends and several girls, climbed new routes in Patagonia, before rounding off their trip with a visit to Yosemite, after which Rouse did some guiding work in the Palisades. Turning east, he continued the alpine-style approach to high-peak climbing which he had pioneered in the Andes with his ascent of Jannu (25,295 feet) in the Nepalese Himalayas after the 1978 monsoon season. In the following summer a group climbed in the Peruvian Andes, and Rouse immediately went back to Nepal and continued to the Everest base camp, joining with others to force a new route up Nuptse. In 1980 he and Chris Bonington went to China, where they prospected Mount Kongur (25,325 feet) in the remote north-western Xinjiang province, and were the first to scale Sarakyaguqi (20,340 feet). Rouse led the British expedition attempting Everest under severe winter conditions, without oxygen or Sherpas; it failed to reach the summit, but an assault during the summer of 1981 on Kongur was successful.

In 1983 an international group spent a considerable time in the Karakoram region, essaying various new routes, and with Rouse making his first attempt on K2 (28,250 feet, climbed by an Italian team in 1954) by a new route up the south ridge. Rock-climbing in Jersey during April 1984 was followed by a disappointing season in Pakistan, where Rouse's ambitions were defeated by bad weather. In 1985 a lecture tour of New Zealand provided the opportunity to climb in the New Zealand Alps. He was also elected vice-president of the British Mountaineering Council.

The strong British team which went out to K2 in 1986 intended to attempt the first ascent of the north-west ridge, but was driven back by bad weather. It was a disastrous season, with several deaths already logged. Rouse and the film-maker Jim Curran stayed on after the rest of their team went home, and met people of other nationalities who were still on the mountain, tackling various routes with and without oxygen, and with one couple engaged in filming. On 4 August 1986 Rouse became the first Briton to reach the summit of K2, followed two hours later by Julie Tullis, but on the descent he and others were trapped by storms at camp 4, at about 26,250 feet, and were forced to spend several days at this dangerously high altitude without adequate supplies. When the weather improved, Rouse was too ill to move; on 10 August 1986 he was left there and is presumed to have died later that day. He was survived by his mother and sister, and by his girlfriend Deborah Sweeney, who gave birth to their daughter, Holly, three weeks later.

Sources

  • G. Birtles, Alan Rouse: a mountaineer's life (1987)
  • J. Curran, K2: triumph and tragedy (1987)
  • R. Carrington, address given at memorial service, Alpine Journal, 92 (1987), 304–6
  • B. Hall, Mountaineering, 112 (1986), 20–21
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.
  • archives, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Likenesses

  • D. Scott, group photograph, 1979, Alpine Club, London [see illus.]
  • photographs, repro. in Birtles, Alan Rouse

Wealth at Death

£46,427: administration, 16 Jan 1987, CGPLA Eng. & Wales