Tom Patey One Man’s Mountains.
Tom Patey

Thomas Walton Patey was a Scottish climber, mountaineer, physician, and writer. He was born on February 20, 1932, and passed away on May 25, 1970. During his time, he reigned as the most accomplished climber in Scotland, particularly when it came to winter climbs. His death occurred at the age of 38, and it was a climbing mishap. His funny songs and writings about climbing, many of which were released after his death in the collection titled One Man’s Mountains, were arguably the things that brought him the most popular recognition.

In my life, Tom Patey has always been someone I look up to and consider to be a hero. I was introduced to climbing by those who familiarized themselves with him and climbed with him. The tales he tells about his many adventures and ascents are truly remarkable. The fact that I was able to climb a number of his routes over my climbing career brought me a great smile. There are many classics. It is my responsibility to leave it up to Adrian to evaluate this fantastic addition to any mountaineering library. Have fun:

An Account of the Life of Mike Dixon

From the moment I became aware that this book was being created, I have been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to enjoy reading it. The delivery of the book was significantly delayed as a result of postal strikes and an inaccessible road leading into Glen Brittle, which is where we live. Despite being stuck at the end of a steep and winding road that had not been ploughed or grated, it was extremely aggravating to watch messages on social media as the book was being delivered to buyers all across the country.

It is sufficient to state that the wait was well worth it, and the book was above anything that could have been anticipated. Despite the fact that Tom Patey passed away at the young age of 39, he left behind a tremendous legacy that has not been completely recorded up to this point in time. Sure, there was “One Man’s Mountains”, a compilation of Patey’s works put together and published after his death but it has taken over half a century before a biography has been produced.

This is not simply any biography; rather, it is the model for how biographies ought to be written. The character of Patey is enhanced by the significant amount of research and interviews, as well as by the excellent writing and the unique collection of photographs. This is not a dull piece of academic writing; rather, it is an engrossing read that, once opened, is difficult to put down.

A larger-than-life character, any biography of Tom was going to be on the big side if it was to do justice to a man whose attitude to life meant “packing as much as possible into 24 hours….Ordinary mortals look on reverentially and perhaps enviously at individuals who can burn the candle at both ends and still excel in various spheres; we wonder what drives them…Although their life spans are frequently shorter than normal, they are able to pack more into their lives than the sum of the lives of numerous persons.

A warts and all biography that tells it exactly how it was is what the author has written as a consequence of many years of study. This is not a hagiography, but rather a biography that tells it exactly how it was. The beginning of things gets off to a good start with a fantastic cover image taken by John Cleare of Tom, his cherished mountains, and the ever-present cigarette. When the dustwrapper is removed, the book is neatly finished with simply Tom and his cigarette. The SMP logo is the only allusion to conventionality; there is no title, and there are no author details. The design is more than just a surface level.

When you open the book, you are welcomed by a foreword that was written by none other than Mick Fowler, another climber who is able to cram the maximum amount of climbing into a single day and has a history of developing new routes in the northwestern region of Scotland. There is a great deal of significance in the fact that Mick refers to Patey as “Hero Thomas” in addition to “hero Christian” (Bonnington) and “hero Joseph” (Brown), amongst other characteristics.

In order to gain access to the seemingly enormous collection of Patey documents that was compiled by Tom’s eldest son, Ian, the author was granted permission to do so. A visual feast has been produced as a result of this, which includes not only photographs of Patey from his early years (when he was just one year old at Neuburgh beach), but also photographs of his hill and mountain excursions, drawings, and even the occasional cartoon. To illustrate some of the places in which Patey was involved, the archival photographs are complemented with a number of photographs from the collection of John Cleare as well as more contemporary photographs taken by individuals such as Mick Fowler and Robert Durran.

A solid introduction to Patey is provided by early excursions and bothy legends, and it is via them that you will come across “The Horrible Hielanders.” Specifically, adventure, unconventionality, and exuberance were the very elements that were missing from our scholarly conception of mountaineering, which had led us with mathematical precision up and down the weary list of Munro’s Tables. Patey was inspired by Malcolm Smith and Bill Brooker, who called themselves “real mountaineers” and lived by an ethos that he was going to adopt.

Naturally, Patey and his climbing are the primary subjects of the book. The book focuses on how climbing controlled a significant portion of Patey’s life, perhaps not from birth to death but certainly from childhood to death. Through the use of words and photographs, a distinct age is skillfully depicted. It is incredible that Patey was able to maintain such excellent mountain fitness despite the prevalence of cigarettes. It is John Cleare’s cover photo of Tom smoking a cigarette that establishes the mood. There is a plethora of classic stories about Tom getting his nicotine fix either before or during a climb that broke new territory. On the way to climbing Deep Cut Chimney on Hell’s Lum, Patey demanded that he and Dave Holroyd stop at Jean’s Hut for a smoke. This was when they were on their way up the mountain. “I insisted on having a second cigarette because the wind and heavy snow would make it impossible for them to smoke when they crossed the plateau,” Patey said about the situation.

He used nicotine and booze to satisfy his voracious thirst for climbing, and there are several stories that describe how he sustained himself in this manner. When he was in the Marine Corps, it appeared that his hurried breakfast consisted of a dram or a little amount of brandy on a regular basis.

Maverick in all aspect of his life, Tom’s medical profession was no exception to this rule. Patey was necessary to check a patient who was complaining of stomach pain when he was serving in the Royal Marines as part of his National Service. The examination was performed at the dining room table in their hut, which also served as the examination table. However, what was peculiar was that Tom continued to smoke while he was working. When the patient needed both hands free, he would occasionally flick ash into the belly button of the patient, and he would insert the filter end of the cigarette into the belly button.

After Patey had completed his medical training, his first patients were two climbers who had fallen from the Aiguille du Plan. They had “careered head first over a 100-meter ice wall and continued for another 1000 meters before plunging into a crevasse.” Patey’s first patients were two climbers who had fallen off the Aiguille du Plan. Patey’s climbing career was intricately intertwined with his profession as a physician, whether it was during his time in the marines or later when he worked as a general practitioner across Scotland. He managed to integrate his unconventional climbing lifestyle with his work as a general practitioner, which appeared to be a cornerstone of the establishment.

Naturally, Patey’s ascents play a significant role in the narrative of the novel. His early adventures in Scotland were followed by climbs in the bigger ranges and outcrops in the south when he was doing his national service obligation. Some of the outcrop and sea cliff climbs were particularly interesting to me as someone who had lived in the south-western region of the country. Among these, his initial climb of Wrecker’s Slab is without a doubt the most notable. The talent of Patey and the other members of the team was summed up by this slab climb, which is a massive one for the south-west region and is known for its looseness. “When Zeke Deacon realized that some of the holds slid out like cupboard drawers, he replaced them for the next person,” the author writes. “He had not gotten very far up the first pitch during that time.”

Patey was never the most elegant rock climber, but he came into his own on mixed terrain and everything wintry. He left behind a lasting legacy of winter routes, which many climbers will either have done or will want to do in the future. The book is packed with cutting-edge routes, many of which have a really adventurous bent and frequently feature other climbers who were well-known at that time period. Although the book includes contributions from Hamish MacInnes, Bonington, Joe Brown, and others, Tom is the primary focus of the narrative.

It is a story about climbing, but it is also a story about singing and dancing, about a life that was lived to the fullest, and about black humor and ribaldry. An accident that occurred when Tom was abseiling at The Maiden resulted in his death. Perhaps it was unavoidable that Tom would eventually reach his day of destiny at The Maiden. In spite of the fact that Patey is an excellent climber, he appears to have had a reputation for avoiding ropes and difficulties, opting instead to climb alone to the point where he is physically challenged. He was never very good at managing ropes, and it appears that he abseiled using a single snap link karabiner during the entire process.

The legacy that Tom Patey left behind was enormous, and it was not just comprised of climbs but also of a multitude of stories. Some of these stories are reflected in his own writings and songs, but many more are firmly ingrained in climbing legend. This book does an excellent job of capturing Tom’s life and personality. Because it is a book that contains everything, you should anticipate reading about Tom the sinner just as much as you will about Tom the saint…but you already knew that.

The Scottish Mountaineering Press is certainly on a roll, and this volume is a perfect conclusion to the year 2023 publishing year. Keep an eye on this space, but I would be shocked if this does not make it into the prizes for the next year. Perhaps it will be at Banff, or perhaps it will be the Boardman Tasker.


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