This is the second post in a blog series dedicated to catching up with past recipients of the Polartec Challenge Grants. Read the series introduction post.
Mick Fowler began climbing over five decades ago when his father introduced him to the sport at 14 on the slopes of his first 4,000 meter peak, the Bishorn in Switzerland. He's been mountaineering ever since and, despite a major health scare that necessitated the use of a colostomy bag, has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I enjoy it so much—and it's the one thing I find that I'm motivated to do that keeps me fit,” says the British explorer. “But it's more than that. I enjoy the cultural experience. I enjoy visiting new places. We always try to go to a place that I've not been to before.”
For Fowler, that includes climbing in some of the most remote places on earth.
“I enjoy going to places that very few people have been before and preferably places where no Westerners have been,” says Fowler. ”Climbing spectacular features on preferably unclimbed mountains. Just the sense of adventure and going where nobody has been before. Getting higher and higher up in the mountains, with absolutely nobody else around… It's a very, very special feeling, and it's something I have to do once a year.”
Fowler has gone on mountaineering expeditions across the globe, including most of the Himalayan countries from India and Nepal to China and Pakistan.
“I've organized mountaineering expeditions almost every year, continuing to this day. We had to miss out in 2020 (due to COVID-19), and I missed out in 2018 as well with a health problem,” Fowler explains. “Those years aside, I think I've been (climbing) every year since 1982, and I am still as inspired by it all as ever, just getting older, and gray hair."
While he never likes to visit the same spot more than once, Fowler has regular climbing partners, including Paul Ramsden, who accompanied Fowler on his ill-fated Polartec Challenge Grant-funded trip to Nepal.
“It was very crowded, and there was lots of rubbish about,” recounts Fowler. “We looked at the mountain and the line that we had intended to climb and just dismissed it immediately as being too dangerous. So we never actually set foot on Peak 43, which I think is the only time that has ever happened in 40 years of greater range climbing.”
The partnership with Ramsden has sustained through the years, however.
“As far as partners go, I tend to climb with the same people that I've tried and trusted, if you like, over the years. So Paul Ramsden, I climbed with him very regularly for about 15 years, and he's quite keen to go to some higher peaks, peaks above 7,000 meters,” says Fowler. “And I've started climbing with an old climbing partner of mine, Victor Saunders, who is older than me, he’s 71 next month, but he is just absolutely amazing. In terms of climbing partners, it's been largely the same small group of friends that have been climbing over the years.”
Fowler has also benefited from another kind of partner, unique to his mountaineering career. After undergoing an operation to remove a cancer in his lower digestive tract, Fowler has used a colostomy bag while climbing. He has since teamed up with Braun, the German industrial and medical device design company. As a Braun brand ambassador, Fowler uses his own story as a source of inspiration for those at the outset of their own personal journey.
In 2008, Fowler teamed-up with Berghaus, a UK-based climbing apparel and equipment manufacturer. As a brand ambassador, Fowler gives input into design and tests clothing in extreme greater range situations. “It has been a good working relationship and they have stuck with me through my health problems.”
Fowler documents his expeditions with photographs and published works, including three published memoirs about his climbs. He's mulling the possibility of a book on his experiences climbing with a colostomy bag.
Regardless of where he has climbed in the past or where he plans to climb in the future, Fowler will continue to seek those unprecedented ascents and new adventures. “An important part of the climb for me is that it is adventurous and unclimbed,” says Fowler. “My perfect route would go up the mountain one way and come down a different way.”