I’m deeply saddened to hear of the death of Alan Blackshaw, OBE, a mountaineer, conservationist and friend.
Alan lived in the same village as me and he became a good friend over the years, particularly during the time I served as President of Ramblers Scotland. At that time Alan acted as an adviser to the Ramblers on access issues and his knowledge and political skills were crucial during the debates leading up to the creation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.
Like many mountain folk of my generation Alan’s name was well known as the author of the textbook Mountaineering – from Hillwalking to Alpine Climbing,, published by Penguin in 1966. Despite the proper title, everyone knew it as “Blackshaw’s Mountaineering.”
In the fifties Alan made significant climbs in the Alps including the North-East Face of Piz Badile, the North Face of the Triolet, and the South Face of Pointe Gugliermina. Later in his career he became a passionate ski mountaineer and in 1972 made a continuous ski traverse of the Alps (Kaprun-Gap). Between 1973 and 1978 over a series of visits, he skied Scandinavia end-to-end (Lakselv-Adneram). He also climbed in the Caucasus, Greenland and Garwhal.
I don’t think I’ve known anyone who has served mountaineering in such a deep and diverse way.
In 1985 Alan joined the Mountaineering Commission and six years later became its President (1991-97). This was at a time of great change within mountaineering with the introduction of climbing competition and an explosion in the popularity of indoor climbing walls. Recognising the importance of these changes Alan helped introduce competition climbing and ski mountaineering competitions into the UIAA, the world governing body for mountaineering.
Under Alan’s presidency, the Mountaineering Commission proposed the UIAA Summit Charter for the International Year of Mountains (IYM) 2002, during which two key seminars were organised by UIAA colleagues in Trento and Flagstaff. At the Trento seminar, Blackshaw presented his keynote paper ‘Human Rights and Access Freedoms: is Nature the Missing Link?’ In 1996 Blackshaw had become a member of the United Nations (UN) Inter-Agency Group on mountains, and Vice-Chair of the Inter-Governmental Conference on Sustainable Mountain Development. It was therefore quite natural that he should become the UIAA Special Representative to the UN International Partnership that was launched during the IYM2002 with the support of UIAA.
Amongst his leadership roles Alan served as President of the BMC, the Alpine Club and the Ski Club of Great Britain. He also served as Chairman of the Committee for Plas y Brenin, and Chairman of the British Ski Federation and the Scottish National Ski Council but it was during a period leading up to the creation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, when Alan acted as an adviser to Ramblers Scotland, that he made his keynote contributions to the outdoor world, particularly in Scotland.
Working closely with Dave Morris of Ramblers Scotland, Alan used his political skills and detailed knowledge of the legislative process to help achieve some of the best access arrangements in the world for Scotland. A formidable researcher, with detailed notes of every access campaign that had been launched, Alan fervently believed that England and Wales should also benefit from such open access arrangements. Many outdoors folk would later attribute the success of the Scottish legislation to these two men.
In the world of conservation politics Alan Blackshaw was a giant, and many of his skills had been honed from the long years he worked as a civil servant.
This included a senior position in the UK delegation to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), acting as the Principal Private Secretary to three Ministers of Power, including Tony Benn, and other senior postings connected to coal, North Sea oil, and manufacturing of iron and steel.
Only a few weeks ago I had dinner with Alan, his wife Elspeth and mountain guide Sandy Allan. We had a convivial evening and Alan enthusiastically told us of plans for mountaineering and sailing trips. It’s hard to believe he’s not around any more.