July 7, 2021 Evelina Satkevic

An interview with Alpine Club president Victor Saunders

Victor Saunders is mountaineer, author, and president of the Alpine Club. We spoke to Victor about his well established career as a mountaineer, Everest guide and more.

1. How did you get into climbing? 

Very  simply, it was an extension of small boys climbing trees for adventure and fun.  So many of our obsessions in adult life have their roots in our childhood.
Victor Saunders

Victor Saunders

2. You have guided multiple times on Everest. What do you enjoy about the experience?

I enjoy helping people attempt their ambitious goals. Sometimes that includes succeeding, sometimes it involves learning to accept the mountains are not always so very compliant. 

3. Because of Everest’s height, people assume it must be the most difficult to climb. Is that true? How do professional mountaineers see climbing Everest?

The answer to the first part of the question is both yes and no. Yes: Everest poses the altitude question more than any other mountain. So, in terms of dealing with that, it is the most difficult mountain. No: In terms of technical difficulty, the normal routes to the summit, from Tibet or Nepal are really not that hard. There are many harder routes on other mountains as well as on Everest itself.
The second part is more complex. I cannot say how other professionals look at their work. For me the working goals are to bring everybody back safe and sound, and while doing that, try as hard as we can to get up the hill. In some ways the goal is very simple; we are going to try and climb that mountain. The complexity comes from the logistics and the physical and mental preparation; there are so many moving parts it hurts the brain!

4. What does it take to be a professional climber and sustain the career?

Again, I cannot speak for other mountain professionals, but for me there is a passion and love of climbing that goes far beyond this being a mere sport: it is closer to a religion, and I am an evangelist for this strange little cult.  I have always been aware that if guiding were to become just another 9 to 5 job, the reason for doing it would vanish. So I made a personal contract that in addition to professional work, I would continue to climb for myself. This way I would not lose the passion for the mountains. If I could share that passion, so much the better.
Structured Chaos by Victor Saunders book cover

Structured Chaos by Victor Saunders 

5. How does being president of the Alpine Club fit in with your climbing career? Are there particular experiences that you bring to the role? What are your key aims?

Of course, being president does not help my personal climbing career, far from it. I should be out in the hills more and in front of the computer less. But the Alpine  Club is also a club of like minded folk and working within a role in the club has brought me into contact with many interesting people who I would have not had the opportunity to work with.  I think that’s a good thing. The club is a social  construct and if I can help the team spread the sense of community a little by the time I finish my term, I will feel I have achieved something valuable. If we can do this, we will have added to this ephemeral thing; this rather magnificent culture built by enthusiasts over a hundred and fifty years. We follow in the footsteps of giants and if we can add just one more step, we will also have contributed, we will have done our bit.

6. You are also an accomplished author, and we believe you have a new book out. What is it about? (Well, climbing, but….)

Ha!  Very kind of you to mention the book. It is called Structured Chaos and describes a very personal path from childhood in Malaysia to semi retirement in France. It has been translated into French with the title Une histoire d’échecs. This is not so much a book about climbing as about how the people I have climbed with have given substance to, and altered the direction of, my life: they have saddled me with both structure and chaos.

Find out more about the Alpine Club here. Victor’s new book Structured Chaos can be purchased here.

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About the Author

Evelina Satkevic Eve is passionate about communicating exciting innovations in STEM to wider audiences. With a background in Biomedical Sciences, photography, and music, Eve loves when science is presented in a new and creative way.