W.H. Murray

W.H. Murray was a Scottish mountaineer, writer and conservationist. Born in Liverpool in 1913, he grew up in Glasgow and began climbing in the mid-1930s, soon making numerous trips to Glen Coe and Ben Nevis. Captivated by winter climbing, he made a number of first ascents and early repeats of classic routes in the area.
War interrupted Murray’s climbing: ‘To me and everyone I knew at the time, mobilisation spelled the ruin of everything we most valued in life.’ Joining the Highland Light Infantry, he served as a captain in the Western Desert before being captured. A quote from Mountain magazine from 1979 describes the moment after his capture: ‘To my astonishment, he [the German tank commander] forced a wry smile and asked in English, 'Aren't you feeling the cold?' ... I replied 'cold as a mountain top'. He looked at me, and his eyes brightened. 'Do you mean – you climb mountains?' He was a mountaineer. We both relaxed. He stuffed his gun away. After a few quick words – the Alps, Scotland, rock and ice – he could not do enough for me.’
It was during his time in prison camps that he wrote his first book, Mountaineering in Scotland, using the only paper available to him – toilet paper. The Gestapo discovered and destroyed his first draft but, undeterred, Murray simply started again.
After the war Murray lived and worked as a writer in Argyll. Mountaineering in Scotland was published in 1947 and hailed as a masterpiece Four years later came a companion volume dealing with his post-war climbs – Undiscovered Scotland.
In the post-war years Murray took a major part in several Himalayan expeditions, most noticeably as a member of Eric Shipton’s 1951 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition which explored the lower part of the route later used by the successful 1953 expedition. Murray was awarded an OBE in 1966, to go with numerous other awards which included the Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and honorary doctorates from the universities of Stirling and Strathclyde.
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