Photo and story by James Woodford
I can’t claim to have known Lincoln Hall, whose death from mesothelioma was announced today, very well. In fact for most of my adult life he has just been someone I have admired from afar through his writing, his adventuring and his several scrapes with mortality. But in 1997, for a fortnight, he and I were allocated a shared cabin on a Russian icebreaker bound for an iceberg and mountain climbing expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula.
It was strange to be in such close proximity to someone who had been a major hero of mine for over a decade. He was intriguing and enigmatic and I must have seemed like a pest, nagging him for details about this or that amazing adventure as we pounded across the Roaring 40s.
Once we arrived on the continent and began our climbing, the days turned into a physically exhausting and utterly marvelous blur. Lincoln’s calm, his knowledge and his immense patience with people and the environment was almost as great a spectacle as the mountains, the ice and the wildlife. I remember spending long hours watching his eccentric approach to EVERYTHING and envying the bond between Lincoln and his great friend and fellow climber, Greg Mortimer.
On top of a a mountain, unclimbed until the day we reached the summit, I watched him as he sat and took in the view, the way that someone else might enjoy a great coffee or a fabulous beer. I remembered his words about why Greg Mortimer climbed mountains. He recounted that Greg had said there was a moment for a mountaineer, exactly the same as when a tennis ball is thrown into the air. When the ball reaches it’s highest point there is an indefinable moment when it is neither going up nor down. I consider myself very privileged to have witnessed him enjoying exactly that moment.
The climax of the trip was a day spent climbing an immense iceberg. Lincoln was the man primarily responsible for our safety on that slipperiest of climbing challenges…An iceberg may look rough and snowy but they actually feel exactly like a cube from the freezer. They are covered in streams of melting water and I found it one of the most terrifying places I had ever been. Lincoln summited first and anchored the ropes so the rest of the climbers could follow. I came up to the top second and found Lincoln on his head doing a very long, very impressive and very strong headstand. In any location a head stand is a cool party trick. But on the pointy end of an iceberg, surrounded by a sea full of cruising leopard seals and thousands of kilometres from medical help it was a sight that will stay with me as long as I live. Someone who can do stuff like that probably never really dies.