IN MEMORIAM - DENNIS DAVIS
By Jim Gregson
d. 19 February 2015
KMC HONORARY MEMBER & FORMER PRESIDENT 1964-65
A glance through a KMC Handbook will throw up the page listing the Club's Presidents. The first "baker's dozen" names are, for a club like ours, a compilation of illustrious mountaineers of note and by the time Dennis Davis became our President he had established a very fine reputation as a Himalayan climber.
From 1946 onwards, Dennis had amassed a huge range of experience in the UK and the European Alps, but he also had the drive and ambition that allowed him to make his mark in the Greater Ranges. He had tried to get a place on the expedition which made the first ascent of Kangchenjunga but this was not to be. Instead, Dennis went in the same year, 1955, to the Rolwaling Himal where in a single lengthy trip his expedition team made first ascents of no less than 19 peaks of 20,000 feet altitude. In 1957 he went back to altitude in Nepal on expedition to Annapurna II and then to Distaghil Sar.
A few years later, Dennis was the mainstay of the 1961 expedition which was to make the first ascent of Nuptse, the close neighbour of Everest. Dennis and Tashi Sherpa reached the summit on 16 May, paving the way for repeat ascents a day later by others in the team, among them Chris Bonington. Even today, Bonington refers to this expedition as the most acrimonious of his experiences due to personality clashes, and Dennis persisted to the last in referring to Sir Christian as "idiot boy" (although conceding that he was a talented mountaineer).
Through the 1960s and 1970s Dennis continued to climb regularly, and at high standard in the Alps, where with regular partner Ray Colledge he would blitz one north face or another. He had close links with the Alpine Club, the Rucksack Club and the Wayfarers Club, but when he became President of the KMC he was very active and supported meets very regularly and formed sound friendships - but did not suffer fools gladly.
He climbed a lot and frequently with Nat Allen, another of our fine presidents, making many first ascents in the development of rock climbing in North Pembroke. For many years he would show up to take part in the Club Fell Race, where, fiercely competitive, he would strive to win the handicap class to get his name onto Shelagh Manning's splendid trophy. To his chagrin this ambition was never fulfilled (maybe the handicappers were never lenient enough?) but Dennis did take it seriously. One year in the 1970s the race was based at High Moss in the Duddon Valley. On the Saturday, Dennis and I went to climb on Wallowbarrow Crag where we did a few good routes together until Dennis suddenly announced "That's enough, now, Jim. I'm off to recce the possible course for tomorrow's race" and off he went for some hours. He didn't win.
Dennis, along with Dennis Gray, was generous in helping towards my election into the Alpine Club in 1978, and in later years took a keen interest in my Greenland expedition ventures, supporting grant applications and the like - networking, it's called nowadays. When he turned 70, Dennis made a return trip to the Himalaya in 1996 where he had a joyous reunion with Rita, one of his oldest Sherpa companions from the 1950s. Dennis kindly invited me to go with him on this expedition but to my great regret I had to decline as I had only just returned from a Greenland venture and was flat broke at that time. Although Dennis's companions faltered, he himself did get to the top of a peak of over 19,000 feet, not bad going for a pensioner.
Dennis kept going with his rock climbing to a good age, even after being seduced for a while by the game of golf - although Nat Allen always ribbed him as a "hacker" - but increasing arthritis began to take its toll. Unfortunately, osteoporosis also began to make itself felt and Dennis, never a tall man, began to lose height.
At an Alpine Club Dinner, I was in conversation with Dennis and later another AC friend asked me "Who was that person I saw you talking with?" "Dennis Davis, my old pal". A blank look then "Who's he?" "First ascent of Nuptse in 1961". "What, that little old bloke?" The sort of remark that in 1961 might have got you a punch on the nose!
If you were at the KMC 60th or 70th Anniversary Dinners, you were privileged to be in the presence of one of our noted former Presidents, and if you had got to know him you'd have added a fine friend to your circle.
Adieu, Dennis -- you will be remembered within the Karabiner Mountaineering Club.