My Weekend: Paul Lambdin

Times Online, June 1, 2007

There can’t be many lawyers who can say they’ve named a mountain, but Paul Lambdin is one of them. The employment law specialist – a partner with Guildford firm Stevens & Bolton LLP – ventured to the wilds of Alaska in spring 2001 on an expedition to climb three virgin peaks. “The form is that if you succeed, you get to christen the mountain,” he says. Having attained one rather airy, 13,020ft summit, Lamdbin named it Jodi’s Peak, after a friend’s daughter who tragically died of a brain tumour when she was 13.

Mountaineering has been a passion for Lambdin ever since he was a child. “As a young boy I would look up at the mountains on family visits to the Lake District, and dream of climbing them,” he says. “My first serious trip was climbing in Norway before university, in the summer of 1976.” Once at London University, where he studied law, Lambdin joined its climbing club and made regular sorties to hills around the UK to hone his skills. Thus the pattern of his life was set: a career in the law juxtaposed with the risks and rewards of serious mountaineering.

Lambdin’s tick-list of mountains climbed is impressive; so too his modesty when asked about his favourite subject. He has climbed extensively in the Alps and Scotland, and taken on peaks in the Andes, the Himalaya, Alaska and Canada. He rates ascending Mt Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain at 22,205ft, as his most challenging climb: “It was very hard work. We spent five days going up, and two coming down. En route we saw two Spanish climbers die. That was a bit unnerving, to say the least.”

Lambdin has also climbed the Eiger, via a knife-edge ridge along its deadly north face - “my most technically demanding climb” - and the Matterhorn. Surely he has also climbed Mt Blanc? “Yes, but via the ordinary, Gouter route; the weather was too bad to try any other route.”

Does he ever get scared? “I had a scary moment in Scotland, when I was climbing on my own,” he says. “The guide book was wrong and before I knew it had taken me to an overhanging rock face. To get over it I had to put all my weight on a tiny nodule of rock. Beneath me was a sheer drop of about 100ft. I couldn’t bring myself to use the nodule, but to go back down was just as unappealing. I ended up traversing back and forth on a narrow ledge, agonising over the right decision to make. In the end I thought logically and decided that if I did fall, it would be better to fall from a lesser height. Also, I didn’t know what was beyond the overhang – the terrain could have been even more difficult. It was a very scary incident but I lived to tell the tale.”

Why, though, would Lambdin – who is planning a climb of Mt Kenya – put himself in such an environment? In Feeding the Rat, Al Alvarez’s testimony to Welsh climbing legend Mo Anthoine, the answer lies in inner compulsiveness. Anthoine explains to Alvarez that he has a rat inside, one that gnaws away demanding a feed. When it is sated – thanks to a tough and perilous climb – the rat stops gnawing and leaves him in peace for a while. This analogy has always seemed compelling, but Lambdin is not convinced.

“I was more obsessive when I was younger, but even then couldn’t really relate to the rat metaphor. To me climbing has always been a romantic pursuit. If you think back to Mallory and his co-climbers on their Everest attempts, you find that they would sit in their tents reading Virgil and the Romantic poets. They were driven by a sense of romance, by a feeling of optimism. For me climbing has always been about the beauty of the mountains. It’s a beauty that means that you can put up with the discomfort.”