Jack Geldard: the rock climber with a passion for words

WE TALK to Jack Geldard about life as a rock climber, mountaineer, instructor and journalist.

Jack Geldard

Jack Geldard grew up in Yorkshire and was just a cycle ride away from the opportunity to climb.


JACK GELDARD lives in Chamonix, in the French Alps, but first became passionate about climbing when he was a boy living in West Yorkshire. He has climbed around the world and has a long list of climbing achievements to his name. He is currently training to be an International Mountain Guide and looks forward to the new experiences and challenges the qualification will bring.


Here Jack talks to us about how he caught the climbing bug and goes into detail about some of his highlights in the sport. Read on to find out more about his passion for writing and the plans and ambitions he has for 2017 and beyond.


Tell us about where you grew up and how it influenced what would become your passion for climbing?


I grew up in Keighley, in West Yorkshire. The local climbing is small gritstone outcrops, and many of them were cycling distance from my house, so I enjoyed exploring them, often by bike or walking, or if I was lucky I would cajole my mum in to giving me a lift. I guess these early days were a mixture between actually climbing and just kind of playing on the rocks, as I started quite young, at around 13. All my rope techniques were self-taught and looking back my friends and I actually did a pretty good job of getting things right, after a bit or practice!


Jack Geldard

Jack moved to Chamonix in 2011 to further his climbing career.


I wasn’t really introduced to a ‘climbing scene’ until I was about 16 when I met Adrian Jebb, who is still one of my closest friends. Until that point I had pretty much climbing either on my own or with a couple of school friends, so it was great to meet another teenager from the same area who was really in to climbing. Adrian was a much better and more experienced climber than me and he pushed my standard and it was a real turning point in my climbing.


Then a climbing wall opened in Leeds, which was about a 45 minute train ride and a 30 minute walk away from Keighley. I climbed there occasionally and met a lot of other climbers including Finnish champion climber Juha Saatsi, who was also instrumental in developing me as a climber.


I guess my early days exploring the local crags, many of which are not documented climbs, they are simply small outcrops I found on a local OS map, has stayed with me, and my favourite type of climbing is still exploring unclimbed crags and new routes. I like the fun of finding things, and how that can take away the focus on grades and performance.


How did you find yourself living in the French Alps and how far are you from completing your training to become an International Mountain Guide?


I moved to Chamonix in early 2011 simply because I wanted to climb several Alpine north faces in winter, and I figured the easiest way to get that done was to live in the Alps. Chamonix was an obvious choice as it is a real climbing hub, and the huge influx of international visitors meant it was easy to get established without any foreign language skills, and back then I was a very typical English climber who could just about order 2 beers in French. I have now pushed my French language skills up a bit and can order up to 10 beers at once!


I am around 1/3rd of the way through the Mountain Guide qualification, and the whole thing takes a minimum of 3 years. I’ve been instructing and teaching climbing my whole adult life, and with a few years of skiing in the Alps under my belt I felt that it was a natural step to take – I had enough experience to join the mountain guide training scheme without having to specifically go out and tick routes or bag summits, I’d just naturally climbed and skied all the things you are required to do by being a keen and active Alpinist, which is nice.


Where in the world has the sport of climbing taken you and what have been some of the highlights?


I’ve climbed almost all over the world really, including several trips to South America, Africa, North America, Middle East, all over Europe and across to the Himalayas. The highlights for me aren’t the summits or the hardest routes, but just the experiences I have had with the amazing people and close friends I have made along the way. Climbing can be pretty uncomfortable, it can be tough going, essentially pointless and at times it can be very dangerous. I think all of these experiences can help give you a broader understanding of the world and of life, and of the futility of it all, in a kind of positive sense.


Some personal highlights have been eating a pizza on ‘Death Bivvy’ on the Eiger north face, getting lost on the summit of Jebel Rum in Jordan, getting in to the finals of a climbing competition that I was there to cover as a journalist and I just entered for a laugh, and well, I don’t know, but seeing the sunrise or just being out in the mountains all night, is always pretty memorable.


Jack Geldard

Jack also has a passion for writing and has written many articles about the sport.


What inspired you to go out and set first ascents and which of these do you see as your biggest achievements?


I think the idea of a first ascent is always appealing as it just adds a bit more character, a bit more adventure to what you are doing. With classic routes there is always history and information and all sorts of things that can add up to get you interested and inspired, which is great, but with first ascents then it is more about the personal journey of discovering the route, working it out, and then climbing it. It is a bit more personal.


I don’t really see any of my climbing achievements as big achievements to be honest. I’ve never pushed the sport of climbing in the way that some of the best climbers in the world have, and nothing I have done is of interest to people outside the world of climbing. I’ve taught climbing to a lot of people over the years, and perhaps some of the safety instruction I have imparted has, somewhere down the line, saved someone’s life, or stopped an accident. Who knows, you’ll never know, but certainly some of my clients are much safer climbers after a course with me than before, so I guess that is an achievement!


Jack approaching Kothe.

Jack approaching Kothe.


Tell us more about your climbing style and how long has it taken you to be as confident in the sport as you are today?


It’s taken me pretty much my whole life to be honest. I started young and have been climbing ever since. I actually like this question – I like the term ‘confident’. I agree, I do feel confident with my climbing. I don’t mean that when I am way above a poor piece of gear I don’t get scared, of course I do, but what I mean is that I feel like I’ve kind of got to a stage now where I’m pretty competent at all types of climbing, which I do feel is fairly rare for UK climbers. I can go on a sport climbing trip to Spain or wherever with some of the UK’s top sport climbers (if I’m fit!) and of course I won’t be the best climber, but I can hold my own, climb some of the same routes, maybe fire off an 8b if I’m lucky. But the same goes for winter Alpinism – I’m confident that I can rope-up with Nick Bullock or whoever and get on a large Alpine North Face, ski in and out, etc. The same goes for big walls and expeditions. So, to get to this stage I would say has taken me 23 years and counting! And of course I still have things to learn.


When did you realise you had a passion for writing and where can our readers read some of your work? How important is it to you to be able to translate some of what you do on the mountains into words for other to enjoy?


I’ve always been interested in books and writing, since a young age. I wrote my first climbing article aged 15, and although it was never published (and I never sent it anywhere to be published) I can still remember it and the gist of the piece. I think sharing information, ideas, passion, images, is now easier than ever before with the internet and amazing technology. But what can be lost is quality. The difficulty these days isn’t a lack of media, it is filtering the wheat from the chaff!


You can read some of my chaff at UKClimbing.com and on my website jackgeldard.com, as well as in most of the world’s climbing magazines at some point.


What challenges are left for the year ahead and what are your biggest goals and projects planned for 2017 and beyond?


This year has been mainly about getting myself through the Guide qualification, and that will continue in to next year too. Climbing-wise I don’t have any major personal plans for the next 12 months, but I am looking ahead to 2018 and thinking about a trip to Alaska. I just need to persuade my friend and ex-expedition partner Rob Greenwood to come out of retirement!


Find out more about Jack at www.jackgeldard.com.

Reader Comments

Share This Article