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The Limit of My Courage

Annapurna III. The Southest Ridge ascends the central peak.
Annapurna III, the limit of my courage.

Early one morning in April 1982, having recently found the limit of my courage halfway up an unclimbed Himalayan ridge, I lay in bed and pondered my future. The radio was on. The Falkland Islands had just been invaded. A detachment of Royal Marines, although hopelessly outnumbered by the invaders, shot down a helicopter and damaged a ship before surrendering without a single casualty. It became known as the Battle of Grytviken. The officer in charge was only twenty-two years old—the same age as me. His name was Keith.


Keith’s heroic example inspired me to join the Royal Marines. I’d lost my courage in the mountains and believed that I, like Keith, might find it on a battlefield. Could I have done what he did at the Battle of Grytviken?


My father was a conscientious objector. He refused to take up arms during his national service, but there was no prouder parent at my pass out parade—his itinerant alpinist son had finally done something worthwhile. I was posted to Cyprus, to A Company, 40 Commando, whose second-in-command was a certain Lieutenant called Keith. For the next two years we were brothers in arms.


Keith and I became good friends. We worked hard and played harder, and sometimes we shared a climbing rope. When my time in the military came to an end our friendship continued. Ten years after he earned his medal of valour he drew his sword at my wedding and I walked beneath it with my bride.


My father died penniless, but he left me a coin—a Falklands Crown—minted in solid silver. I kept it for years before taking it to the UK with the intention of selling it. While there, I visited my old friend Keith. We sat in the kitchen of his country home, sharing wine and memories, when I had a better idea for the Falklands Crown. I fetched it from my bag.


Keith took the crown and stared at it. ‘Why are you giving me this?’ he asked.


'Because, Keith, I don't know if I could have done what you did. Your example forty years ago inspired me to join the Royal Marines.'


Until that moment, I’d never told him.


Unlike Keith and most of those I'd trained with, I never saw action. Instead, the military led me back to the mountains, with expeditions to Africa, India, Tibet, and Nepal, including two attempts on Everest’s West Ridge. And on the back of those expeditions, I rediscovered my courage and built a mountaineering company called Jagged Globe.


Had I not been inspired to join the Royal Marines, my life would have been very different. Surely that’s worth five shillings in silver?


Thank you, Keith. Per Mare Per Terram.


Falkland Islands Commemorative Crown

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