A daredevil Lake District climber has marked his 40th birthday by introducing the next generation of his family to the kind of epic adventures he has become renowned for.
Leo Houlding, who was brought up in Appleby, took his wife and young children on a four-day climb of the iconic alpine peak Piz Badile on the border of Switzerland and Italy.
His seven-year-old daughter, Freya, became the youngest person to reach the summit of an 11,000ft mountain unaided. Her three-year-old brother, Jackson, was carried up by his GP mother, Jessica, aged 41, while Leo, who is sponsored by Berghaus and now lives in Staveley, carried their supplies on the expedition.
The family reached the top of the treacherous peak on the 153rd anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain by W.A.B. Coolidge with guides Francois and Henri Devouassoud. It was also Leo’s milestone birthday which the family celebrated in a bivouac high on the mountain.
Leo was confident that he could get his family to the top of the mountain, which in 2004 claimed the lives of British climbers Jules Cartwright, aged 29, and 43-year-old Julie Colverd, providing the weather held out.
“We were planning an excursion into the wilderness of the Wind River Range in Wyoming this summer but due to USA travel restrictions we changed plans to a campervan trip around the Alps,” said Leo, who has been climbing since he was 10.
“The north ridge of the Piz Badile is unique in its astounding quality, great length and lack of objectives hazards.
“I was confident that if we had a stable weather window, we could make a family ascent and lucked out that the good spell saw us summit on my 40th birthday.
“Watching the dawn above the clouds, surrounded by everything I love the most was magical. It was a very special family adventure — as important and memorable as anything that I have done before.”
Leo is already a veteran of more than a dozen major expeditions that have taken him around the world which have included new routes and first ascents such as The Prophet on El Capitan in Yosemite, on remote peaks Ulvetanna and the Spectre in Antarctica, Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, and, late last year, the Prow of Roraima in Guyana.
He has also climbed extensively in the UK, from locations near his home in the Lake District, to classic routes in Wales and Scotland.
For many years, he was the youngest person to have scaled the Old Man of Hoy on Orkney, which he first climbed at the age of 11.
In 2014, he returned to the famous sea stack with Sir Chris Bonington from Caldbeck. Almost 50 years after Sir Chris made the first ascent of the Old Man, they marked his 80th birthday by climbing it again together.
In his most recent major expedition, late in 2019, Leo led a team to successfully complete the first free climb of a route on the Prow of Roraima, a huge tepui (‘table-top’ mountain) in Guyana. He invited 21-year-old Windermere climber Anna Taylor, who had just been sponsored by Berghaus, to join his crew, introducing another generation to the challenge of a big wall expedition.
“I have always encouraged everyone to engage with adventure at any level and I’m very proud to be a trustee of the Outward Bound Trust, which last year introduced 30,000 young people from mainly underprivileged, urban backgrounds to the joy of outdoor action,” said Leo.
“As I’ve matured a bit and with a good deal of experience, I’m enjoying taking a mentoring role and sharing some of what I’ve learned with the next generation of adventure climbers, and of course my own kids.”