I know some people found my previous post a bit heavy. And if you’ve been following events on K2 this winter, you will know that since I posted it, things have got heavier still with a certain K2 inevitability. So to cheer everyone up at the end of a dark season in difficult times, and to prove that this isn’t just another serious climbing blog (hell, it isn’t even a climbing blog), I’ve decided to post something a little more light-hearted.
A few people have commented on the resemblance of Mingma G, one of the leaders of the first winter ascent of K2, to the actor Charles Bronson.
In fact, Mingma G isn’t the only person to make a winter ascent of K2 with a celebrity lookalike. Many talented 8,000m peak mountaineers also have famous lookalikes. I’ve highlighted just a few here, but I’m sure there are more, so feel free to post in the comments. To qualify, they must have climbed at least one 8,000m peak and be talented (hence why my own photo doesn’t appear here alongside that of Karl Pilkington).
1 Mingma Gyalje Sherpa / Charles Bronson
As owner of the Nepalese mountaineering operator Dreamers Destination, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa has climbed seven 8,000m peaks, including Everest multiple times. In 2015, he made a solo ascent of a new route on Chobutse in the Rolwaling valley.
But Mingma Gyalje’s is best known for being one of the Magnificent Ten who made the first winter ascent of K2 last month. This is fitting, given his striking resemblance to Charles Bronson who, of course, starred in that great western The Magnificent Seven, as one of seven gunfighters guarding a small village from bandits.
2 Nirmal Purja / Lewis Hamilton
Mingma Gyalje’s teammate on the first winter ascent of K2 last month was former British special forces soldier Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja. Nims shot to fame in 2019 after completing all fourteen 8,000m peaks in little over six months, a feat that put him firmly in pole position among high-altitude mountaineers.
This is also fitting, given that Nims could easily have been separated at birth from Lewis Hamilton, who has won more pole positions than any other Formula 1 racing driver, as well as a record seven drivers’ championships. To put the icing on the cake, Nims even wears a baseball cap that looks like he is advertising some Formula 1 racing team.
3 Doug Scott / John Lennon
In 1975 Doug Scott made the first British ascent of Everest, and in 1979 he made the first ascent of the north ridge of Kangchenjunga. He was known as the hard man of 1970s Himalayan mountaineering. After his ascent of Everest by the south-west face, he and climbing partner Dougal Haston bivouacked on the south summit, and in 1977 Scott crawled down The Ogre, a 7,285m peak in Pakistan, with two broken legs.
But in real life, he was a gentle soul, just like his doppelgänger, the Beatles legend John Lennon. He founded the charity Community Action Nepal, which builds schools in Nepal, and appeared tirelessly at fundraising lectures throughout the latter part of his life. Give peace a chance, man, and don’t be a jealous guy!
4 Hermann Buhl / Graham Chapman
When he completed the first ascent of Nanga Parbat solo in 1953, after a 40-hour summit day, Hermann Buhl was considered something of a climbing messiah. But Monty Python fans will know that Graham Chapman, seen here in Life of Brian, wasn’t the messiah but a very naughty boy.
Hermann Buhl also made the first ascent of Broad Peak in 1957. He reached the summit a few hours behind his teammates after suffering a frostbitten foot. One can imagine the discussions they had about whether or not Buhl should make the ascent. It must have been something like the conversation the black knight had with Chapman’s King Arthur.
‘It’s only a flesh wound,’ said Hermann.
‘But your foot’s gone,’ his teammates replied.
5 Krzysztof Wielicki / David Niven
Polish mountaineer Krzysztof Wielicki was the fifth man to climb all fourteen 8,000m peaks, but he is best known for his winter ascents. He made the first winter ascent of Everest, and winter ascents of both Kangchenjunga and Lhotse.
David Niven also made a name for himself as a swashbuckling adventurer, if only on the silver screen. He played James Bond in the first Casino Royale movie, the Phantom in the Pink Panther movies, and had other rip-roaring roles in The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Prisoner of Zenda and The Elusive Pimpernel.
David Niven is perhaps best-known for his performance at an Oscars’ ceremony that was interrupted by a streaker legging it behind him as he made a speech. Luckily for Krzysztof, it was always far too chilly-willy for him to suffer that indignity.
6 Ed Viesturs / Chris Packham
In 2005, Ed Viesturs became the first American to climb all the 8,000ers and the fifth person to do them all without supplementary oxygen. He was a leading character in the 1996 Everest IMAX movie, which took place against the backdrop of the 1996 Everest disaster, and was played by Irish actor Clive Standen in the 2015 Hollywood blockbuster Everest.
While the door is still open for me to climb all the 8,000ers without supplementary oxygen (I’m currently on zero), I’m not, sadly, ever going to reach middle age in possession of a full head of hair. I can’t therefore say for certain that I wouldn’t have had a quiff, but I consider it unlikely.
Nor do I know if Viesturs ever gets excited at watching video footage of two insects mating. But one thing I do know is that someone who shares his penchant for crazy hair at a mature stage in life is a man who does: BBC wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham.
7 Ueli Steck / Frodo Baggins
In 2014, the Swiss Machine Ueli Steck made what many people consider one of the greatest ever ascents of an 8,000m peak, when he made a solo dash up the south face of Annapurna in little more than his underpants.
When the hobbit Frodo Baggins made the greatest ascent of his climbing career, the legendary volcano Mount Doom in the bowels of Mordor, he was accompanied by his faithful friend Sam Gamgee. Alpinists argue that the climb doesn’t count because he had to be rescued by eagles on the way down, but others say that if you can free Middle Earth from the evil clutches of the Dark Lord Sauron, then style isn’t really that important.
8 Tom Hornbein / Clive Sinclair
American climber Tom Hornbein made what some people consider the greatest ever ascent of Everest. With compatriot Willi Unsoeld in 1963, he completed a full traverse of the summit by making the first ascent of the west ridge and descending along the standard route on the south-east ridge. On the way down, the pair survived an overnight bivouac on the south summit, and ended up rescuing a pair of climbers who had been sent up to rescue them.
Hornbein has remained highly respected for the rest of his life, unlike Sir Clive Sinclair, seen here clutching a ZX Spectrum. Sir Clive was one of the most highly respected inventors of the 1980s, who made a fortune selling toy computers. Then he invented a toy car-cum-tricycle, the C5, a vehicle so far-fetched that it would have looked silly in the Wacky Races. After that, well… Sir Clive Who?
9 Reinhold Messner / Chewbacca
The one you’ve all been waiting for. Yes, that’s right, the great Reinhold Messner, first man to climb all the 8,000m peaks, first man to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen, and arguably the man who pioneered alpine-style mountaineering on the 8,000m peaks, was always going to be on this list for obvious reasons.
If there’s one thing he’s more famous for than climbing 8,000m peaks, it’s for being so hairy that not only did he have no problem surviving an overnight bivouac at 8,000m but, given a good meal beforehand, could also have gone into hibernation.
Messner could do almost anything in the mountains, but as far as I know, he’s never learned to fly a spaceship, unlike Chewbacca, co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon in the Star Wars films.
10 Phil Crampton / Richard III
The old jokes are the best ones, so I thought I would revive this old chestnut. Phil Crampton, owner of the 8,000m-peak mountaineering operator Altitude Junkies, has climbed Everest seven times, a record for anyone sporting the haircut of a mediaeval monarch. He has also made multiple ascents of Cho Oyu, Manaslu and Makalu.
Crampton hit the headlines (at least in this blog) in 2013, when the bones of English monarch King Richard III were unearthed from beneath a car park in Leicester. This historic find enabled scientists to take DNA samples and reconstruct Kind Richard’s face, which bore a striking resemblance to Crampton.
Crampton has led over 30 expeditions to the 8,000m peaks, but never lost a single client or Sherpa, which just goes to show that climbing 8,000m peaks can be both safe and fun. On that positive note, I hope you enjoyed this blog and do come back again some time.