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Adventurer and former SAS legend dies aged 70

Mountaineer 'Brummie' Stokes, lost toes in disastrous Everest climb

Ex-SAS soldier Brummie Stokes on Everest in May 1976

The funeral of SAS legend and pioneering mountaineer John “Brummie” Stokes, who died at the age of 70, has taken place.

Stokes was an avid climber, tackling some of the toughest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest, on which he lost all his toes to frostbite.

This painful expedition was part of a 28-man Army team in 1976 – but he wasn’t put off, making three further attempts to reach the summit.

He was born in 1945 in Hamstead, a mining village then in Staffordshire, just to the north west of Birmingham.

It was as a young boy that he first kindled his love for mountains while on a school trip to Wales. There he first climbed to the summit of Snowdon, sparking a lifelong passion.

He recalled: “As a kid I used to walk along the canal banks in Birmingham and we didn’t have a lot of toys and things, but there were cliffs there and bridges and I started climbing on bridges.”

He was in and out of trouble as a child for stealing and had even acquired a gun by the time he was 13.

A judge suggested that, unless he did something drastic, he would end up in a life of crime and suggested joining the Army.

Stokes agreed, and at the age of 17 joined the Royal Green Jackets, serving with them for three years.

He took to his new life like a duck to water and in 1966 passed the tough SAS selection test and joined the elite unit, which at the time was very little known.

Ex SAS soldier Brummie Stokes on everest on May 16th 1976.

Due to his interest in climbing, it was natural he would join the mountain troop.

He stayed with the SAS for 19 years, serving in Borneo, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and Guyana as well as the Canadian Rockies, southern Germany and the Falklands. While serving in Dhofar Stokes was shot in the leg, and had to have his kneecap removed.

An early climbing expedition was to the Himalayan peak of Nhuptse, which is 25,850 ft high besides neighbouring Everest’s 29,030 ft.

Four men died on that trip, but Stokes and his fellow SAS climbing partner, Michael “Bronco” Lane, weren’t put off.

On a subsequent trip to Everest the pair had set up a camp at 27,000 feet but were hit by a violent storm.

Colleagues further down the mountain thought the pair might be forced to abandon their trip, but Stokes radioed down: “There’s only one way we’re going, and it’s not down.”

They set off early in the morning and by mid-afternoon had reached the summit. At 28,000ft on the way down, the route became impassable owing to “white-out” weather conditions.

Oxygen supplies were running low and they had to make an improvised camp at temperatures of minus 20C.

“We scraped a little hole in the snow,” Stokes recalled. “Bronco hit me to wake me. I did the same to him. We were keeping each other alive.”

Stokes’s vision began to fail as agonising snow blindness set in.

He tried to undo the valve in their last canister of oxygen, but his fingers were too weak for the task.

Lane took it from him and removed his own gloves to open the valve. The decision saved their lives but cost Lane dearly, as he later had to have the five frostbitten finger-tips of his right hand amputated. Both men lost their toes.

Stokes left the mountain three-and-a-half stone lighter, but determined to return nonetheless. He and Lane were awarded the British Empire Medal.

Ex SAS soldier Brummie Stokes

After this ordeal he had to learn to walk again, and in 1982 fought in the Falklands campaign.

In 1984 he was back at Everest, but the attempt ended in disaster when an avalanche killed one member of the team and left Stokes with a fractured neck. He left the army that year and immediately attempted the north-east ridge, Everest’s only remaining un-climbed route, with a team of ex-SAS and top civilian climbers, which was abandoned.

In 1988 another attempt saw Stokes, who was leading the bid, struck down with a cerebral oedema and evacuated home.

In 1991 Stokes founded the Taste for Adventure Centre in Credenhill, Herefordshire, providing activity days for underprivileged children, people with physical and learning disabilities, and the elderly.

In later life the bullish climber was quoted as saying: “I’ve lost all my toes to frostbite. I’ve lost my kneecap, part of my femur, been shot, been blown up, broke my neck and avalanched off Everest about half a mile, four times been paralysed and I’ve got Parkinson’s disease.

“They said I’d got “six months to two years to live” and that was 13 years ago. So that ain’t gonna happen.”

Stokes published an autobiography, Soldiers and Sherpas: A Taste for Adventure , in 1988.

In a foreword, the founder of the SAS, David Stirling, praised his courage, his loyalty to his companions and “moral guts”.

In 2004 Stokes was awarded an MBE in recognition of his work and continued to live in Hereford with his wife and their two sons.

Stokes published an autobiography, Soldiers and Sherpas: A Taste for Adventure His funeral was held on January 22 at Hereford Cathedral.

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