Obituary – Peter Walker 1936 - 2019
By Peter Scholefield
Peter was my best and oldest mate. We were born and raised 300 yards apart in Benchill, Wythenshawe which was then the largest council estate in Europe. We attended the same schools, Haveley Hey Primary School and Manchester Central Grammar School, the latter being housed in a converted railway warehouse 400 yards from Piccadilly Station (then called London Road Station.) The surrounding remains of blitz bombed buildings provided an introduction to climbing precariously on dangerously loose, unstable mediums, during exciting lunch breaks!
Peter thereafter went to Borough Road College in London where he qualified to be a Physical Education teacher. He was a gifted teacher dedicated to bringing out the best in all pupils regardless of ability or lack thereof. He was the antithesis of the then current cult of elitism that made puny boys like myself dread P.E. lessons and hide in the corners of dusty gyms! His flair and ability to motivate and include all pupils was early recognised, leading to a series of promotions from back street inner city secondary modern schools to eventually becoming Head of Department and Senior Teacher at the newly built Parrswood High School – the flagship school of Greater Manchester. It was at the first of his inner city ‘back street’ schools that he met his wife Gwen, I recollect him introducing her to me with the words “this is my colleague, Miss Carney”. Subsequently he would introduce Gwen as “this is the present Mrs. Walker” Despite this Gwen tolerated/managed/loved him for 50 odd years! (Some people are just slow learners I guess!)
Thirty something years later he ‘retired’ from full time teaching and transformed himself into a much in demand, part time, primary school teacher role, for which his mercurial, curious mindset, wide ranging repository of recondite, esoteric knowledge, raconteur love of exposition and ability to inspire interest and enthusiasm in others, fitted him ideally! In my early 20’s, lost and directionless, Peter’s love of teaching lead me to agree to his insistence that I should go to college and train to be a teacher. I did – and that changed the whole course of my subsequent life.
It was our love of climbing that brought us close together. We both joined the KMC, me in 1960 and Peter one year later. For Peter the KMC was to play a central role for the rest of his life. For 58 years he was continually active as a member, engaging enthusiastically on meets or joining with other members on a wide variety of adventures. He was the Indoor Meets Secretary for 33 years and served two terms as Club Vice President. Above all Peter was immensely proud of being awarded Honorary Life Membership of his beloved club in appreciation of his lengthy, ongoing, active contribution to the KMC. He was. indeed, KMC to his very bones!
In our youth we both had motor bikes – Peter a Norton 500cc single cylinder and me a Triumph 500cc Sports twin – mine went faster than his – but alas, his was more reliable than mine and I was frequently reduced to riding pillion or even borrowing his to my chagrin!
We often went climbing on Peak gritstone in the evening after work in the summer months. Every weekend, year-round, we were off on heavily laden bikes to the Lakes or Wales – surviving atrocious driving conditions, before enduring desperate nights in flooded, gale wrecked tents and pushing our luck on ever more difficult rock routes with inadequate primitive gear and a conspicuous lack of experience and caution.
In 1962 Peter made his first alpine trip, together with me and Bob and Beryl Astles, all crammed into their minivan. We drove to Zinal in the Val d’Anniviers in Switzerland and without thoughts of acclimatisation set off immediately to traverse the Obergarbelhorn, a 4000-metre peak of aesthetically pleasing conical shape. The ascent up the snowy N.W.ridge started off well but our pace slowed dramatically towards the summit as the effects of altitude kicked in. Our descent of the steep snow-covered knife edged S.W. (Arbengrat) ridge was even slower. Peter, Bob and Beryl were now looking groggy; it was obvious that we would not reach the Rothorn Hut. The rocks of the Grand Gendarme provided a secure bivouac spot. It was a beautiful alpine night; above us the stars, beneath a vertiginous drop to the twinkling lights of Zermat. Idyllic – except for Peter, now suffering severe altitude sickness and the effects of the sun, vomiting over the precipice and groaning volubly! I dozed fitfully to be woken by Peter saying “Scho, I’m dying’’ to which I replied “for God’s sake Walker – die quietly, I’m trying to sleep”! I was never allowed to forget this as Peter would relate the story (suitable embellished) to all and sundry ever afterwards to illustrate my failings as a ‘so called’ friend!
Despite this inauspicious beginning Peter became an extremely competent Alpinist, climbing widely throughout the major Alpine areas until into his 70’s. He completed numerous notable routes with a range of KMC companions including myself, Alan Liverpool Jones, Jim and Sandy Gregson, Keith Williams, Stan Roach, Frank Williams and of course, most importantly to Peter, his sons Richard and Andrew. His final alpine route was accomplished in 2008 on the KMC Bregalia Meet at the age of 72, forty-four years after his initial epic on the Obergarbelhorn. Some career!
In later years Peter discovered the joys of via ferratas, indeed this is one of the many pleasures in my own life that Peter opened up to me. His exploits with other KMC members such as Keith and Frank Williams were recounted to me with such enthusiasm that I agreed to accompany him. I was instantly hooked. Ageing we might have been, but never the less we camped and climbed a wide range of Dolomite routes marvelling that we were still alive, - there - and doing. It was magic! Peter climbed his final Dolomite via ferrata, fittingly, with his son Andy, in 2013 at the age of 77.
From his early schooldays onwards, Peter loved hill walking. From early schoolboy Peak district explorations to KMC classic epics he revelled in walking the wilds. He loved multi day long distance treks – both of the incredible Dolomite Alta Vias in Italy; the traverse of the Vercour in France and the Pico de Europa were completed with KMC friends and various off beat desperate gorge walks in Greece with his wife Gwen.
For 40 years a highlight in Peter’s life was skiing. From joining Boden and Milly Black’s KMC ski trips to taking yearly school parties, skiing became a high point in his life. His sons Richard and Andrew were beneficiaries of an early introduction to skiing which has now become a fixture in their lives. Peter achieved one of the ‘Holy Grails’ in the ski mountaineering world – completing the Haute Route on skis across the difficult and potentially dangerous terrain from Chamonix in France to Zermat in Switzerland in a party that also included Alan Liverpool Jones and Gerald Carradus of KMC fame! Peter’s all-round mountaineering skills and experience, no doubt would have contributed to the success of the adventure. Subsequently, when I was aged 62, my wife died and I was at the lowest point of my life, Peter rescued me once again and insisted that I joined him and son Richard on a ski trip. The fact that I couldn’t ski didn’t deter him and they tolerated my incompetence, pulled me out of snow drifts and gradually showed me how to survive on skis if not exactly how to ski! For the next 18 years Peter, Richard and I had three ski trips a year. Peter’s final ski trip was at the age of 81. We stood together on a high snow ridge, looking across to Mont Blanc, marvelling that two lads from Wythenshawe should have done all that we have and still be alive - here - now! Unbelievable we agreed!
Peter was a ‘mountain man’ with a deep-seated love of the outdoors and adventure. From squelching around the pitiless bottoms of kinder peat groughs to striding the sun glinting snowy summit of Mont Blanc – he was at home – he belonged.
He was my best friend. He was a Man. He was a Karabiner Mountaineering Club Man!