Need someone to climb up Mount Everest? Sir Chris Bonington is your man. Or, someone who will brave blizzards, broken ribs, and near starvation? Bonington has you covered there, too. But don’t ask him to use a hang glider to escape from a remote mountaintop. “I think it’s terrifying,” says Bonington, who’s been climbing mountains for 50 years but has yet to strap on a hang glider. The only thing more terrifying to Bonington would be life without his Mac. The Hampstead, England, native takes it everywhere — even when he’s scaling the world’s tallest mountains.
Q: Do you have any upcoming excursions?
A: My expedition (this) year is to a completely unexplored group of peaks in Ladakh, in the northwest corner of India. The highest peak there is about 6,700 meters (almost 22,000 feet). We’ll be taking satellite communications with us and running a Web site from there.
Q: Is your Mac coming with you?
A: Oh, yes, I never go without it.
Q: Which one do you have right now?
A: The one I use for absolutely everything is the 500MHz PowerBook G3. I do my business presentations on it. I do my e-mail on it. It goes everywhere with me. And I do my books on it. I’ve got my life on it.
Q: How long is this excursion going to take?
A: It’ll be seven weeks.
Q: So what do you use your laptop for during excursions?
A: It goes no further than base camp. If we’ve got satellite communication, we use it to run my Web site (
www.bonington.com ) — which means, of course, that you need a satellite phone, and you also need some means of powering up batteries. Sometimes I use just solar power. The problem with that is if you have a long period with very bad weather, you run out of power. Or you can take a small generator, but it’s taking that much more [equipment] into base camp.
Q: You mentioned your Web site. What’s on it?
A: I’ve got a whole load of stuff on it. There are autobiographical details, a picture library, a diary of my various expeditions, stuff from the past that people can use as reference. And then, on any trip, I bring it up to date every day or so with pictures and stories.
Q: What’s the thrill of mountain climbing for you?
A: I love the exploratory side. I love climbing to places where people haven’t been before, where you have to ferret out the route for yourself rather than follow someone else’s route. I love the physical process of climbing. I love the leisure in expeditions. You read a lot of books, and you play a lot of bridge, which I enjoy. You laze around a bit, think, and get a perspective on the world. I love the beauty of the mountains. And I love the comradeship.
Q: What’s the most frightening experience you’ve had on an expedition?
A: The most recent was two years ago when I was climbing in Scotland. We were 600 feet up an ice gully. I was at the top of this long pitch, and I was climbing with my brother. He fell off at the bottom, and he pulled off my stance and pulled my anchors out. So down I went. I desperately thought in that ten seconds, or whatever it took to get to the end of the rope, “There’s no way we’re going to come out of it.” But we were lucky. The two of us were left dangling off this one little piece of metal jammed into the ice.
Q: Was it easy to keep climbing after that?
A: I had a couple of broken ribs, so that stopped me for a while. But I was back climbing as soon as I possibly could be.
Q: When did you get your first Mac?
A: I got an Apple IIe in 1984. I used it for my writing and everything else. But I also planned the logistics of my climb to Everest. And then we took an Apple IIc — which was arguably the first portable computer ever produced — powered by some special batteries, and I took it with me to base camp. The amazing thing is that Apple IIc would have had probably a 1MHz top speed and a 128K floppy disk.
Q: Why do you prefer Macs to other computers?
A: I hardly use Windows. But when I have used Windows, I’ve gotten mixed up. I think compared with the Mac, it’s incredibly clumsy. I mean, the Mac interface is lovely. The beauty of having a Mac is that with most applications, you can actually get away with not reading the instructions.
Q: How do you use your Mac when giving motivational speeches?
A: I use my ascent of Everest in 1985 as a sort of model or metaphor to talk about leadership and teamwork. I tell the story with a combination of scanned slides, imported video, animated diagrams, and recordings actually taken during the expedition. Originally I did this all on slide projectors, which is bloody complicated. I just carry my PowerBook around with me, and I’ve got a video projector. But these days, with digital projectors, the PowerBook will talk to them with no problem at all.
Q: What’s the most ordinary thing about you?
A: I snore — my wife would tell you with a groan.
Q: What would you wish you had taken with you if you were stranded on a mountaintop?
A: A paraglider so that I could fly off it. I have to say I’ve never done it. I think it’s terrifying. I’d need an instructor, as well, to tell me how.