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Forgotten and unsung heroes: DMFF 25-6.11.11

We (Rucksack Readers) supported the Dundee Mountain Film Festival again this year. It's the UK's longest-running such event and next year (23-4.11.2012) will be its 30th. I enjoy being out of the office, meeting people and selling direct to real customers in the intervals, but I also greatly enjoy the lectures and movies that make up the main programme. The big names for 2011 were Mark Beaumont and Peter Habeler, neatly addressing both younger and older generations.

In contrast to the global fame of those two, a theme of forgotten and unsung heroes emerged. The 2002 Irish film which came second in the People's Choice vote was about Tom Crean (1877-1938) – the unfailingly cheerful hero of so many Antarctic expeditions with Scott and Shackleton. He retired to run a pub, the famous South Pole Inn of Anascaul, which I visited while working on our Dingle Way book. I bought Michael Smith's brilliant biography at his pub and reread it after seeing the author in this movie on Friday night.

I'd never heard of Alexander Kellas until his biographer, Ian R Mitchell, gave a lively lecture about him the next day, based on Prelude to Everest. In 1921 Kellas was the first to die, tragically young, on an Everest expedition. Born in Aberdeen and weather-hardened on Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms, he was the first ascender of several Himalayan peaks over 20,000 ft. In addition to his mountaineering records, he was a pioneer of high-altitude physiology. He had predicted that exceptionally acclimatised, fit humans would be able to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. He even predicted correctly how much slower the final ascent rate would be than the climbing rate at sea level.

This was a perfect cue for my question to Peter Habeler, who gave a superbly illustrated lecture about his climbing life on Saturday evenin. "In 1978, when he and Messner became the first men to summit Everest without oxygen, did they actually know whether it was possible? Medical opinion at the time was divided, but did they know about Kellas's work?" His answer was emphatic: he had never heard of Kellas until Mitchell's lecture that very afternoon and he had been fascinated by this prescient prediction from 60 years ago. So kudos to DMFF for assembling such an interesting programme and finding contributions from which the great Peter Habeler learned something new!


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