Ian Howell on Mt Kenya; by Terry Burke (June 20th 1987)

Ian Howell on Mt Kenya; by Terry Burke (June 20th 1987)

It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that Ian Howell has passed away surrounded by family on November 26, 2018 in Bath, UK at the well-earned age of 82.

Ian pioneered many climbing routes in Kenya, including at Lukenya, Hell’s Gate, and Mt. Kenya. Astonishingly, he single-handedly built the bivouac hut on the summit of Nelion, in the process completing 13 solo ascents of Nelion in a few week period of 1970.

Longtime climbing partner Iain Allan writes: “He was a climbing force, such as we’ve never witnessed here before… I was privileged to share so many of these climbs with him.” Ian’s impact on Kenyan climbing was enormous and will continue to be felt for generations to come.

We are deeply indebted to Ian for his contributions to climbing in the country, and saddened by the loss to his family, his friends, and the MCK Community.

Please feel free to share stories or testimonies about Ian Howell below. We will keep this page on the MCK website.


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Robert Denny from Barcelona wrote on December 2, 2018:
Ah, Ian Howell: now there is a legend.

I found him something of a puzzle. Most climbers, after all, look like climbers: muscly and squat, or lithe and agile, or tall and rangy etc. But Ian always had the look of a semi-retired accountant, or an unemployed librarian, with his slight frame usually draped in old sweaters, rumpled trousers, thick glasses and straggly hair. You wouldn't guess the magnificent climber underneath. But I knew the reputation, and like so many others before and since, I was simply grateful for his friendly welcome and ever-ready advice.

And the climbing! I remember on a trip up to the Ndotos, stopping by Ololokwe to have a go at a climb on Cat and Mouse. We aimed for Mouse. From a distance it looks hardly significant, a mere speck alongside the crouching Cat. But close up, it is a 120-ft vertical pinnacle of dreadful loose rock. Ian had told us there was a route he had put up there, with old pegs. Too right they were old; and, even worse, of that variety that look like twisted tent pegs. Ian claimed to have put them in on lead. When I saw them, I thought he must be mad, or lying. The rock was gradually exfoliating, with huge boiler plates ready to come loose. It was terrifying. I was equally scared of falling off myself, or pulling down some giant plate on to the heads of my trusting companions Bill, Jess and Kathleen. There was no natural pro, and I was desperate. Arriving at each peg was a grateful clip and rest. For Ian to have put them in from the ground up, as he claimed, he must have been standing on top of one peg and wielding a drill above his head to put in the next. I thought he must be a fantasist, at best. I still think so! But it is a mark of the man that he put up so many hundreds of wonderful routes that he will not be remembered for this nothing climb on scrappy rock, on Mouse. Except by me.

For me too, he was always the welcoming jinni of the MCK club-house: how appropriate that he lived there, alongside all the gear and the memories, maintaining the building and offering free advice to anyone who needed it. Truly a generous spirit. Much missed.