Mountaineer and editor of guidebooks;
Born: November 6, 1928; Died February 7, 2013.
Donald Bennet, who has died aged 84, was a respected mountaineer who devoted much of his life to serving the mountaineering community, particularly as the author and editor of guidebooks and most notably the editor of the Scottish Mountaineering Club's highly successful guide to the Munros. His day job was teaching engineering at Strathclyde University, but mountains and mountaineering were the shaping force of his life.
Brought up in Edinburgh, he attended Melville College and as a boy explored the Border fells and the Highland hills in strenuous tours by bike. He started climbing while a student at Heriot-Watt College and quickly amassed a formidable record of Scottish climbs. In 1951 his first visit to the Alps yielded a choice selection of serious classic peaks. Even his national service in the RAF from 1952 to 1955 was turned to good account: an RAF Mountaineering Association expedition to the Himalaya gave him the opportunity to make six first ascents of peaks of up to 21,000ft in Kulu and Lahoul.
Back in civilian life, he took up an instructor post at the Outward Bound school at Eskdale in the Lake District. This was where he met his wife Anne; when he resumed his teaching career at Strathclyde University, they set up what became their life-long home in Bearsden. Their two sons, John and Allan, became keen outdoorsmen, one a climber, one a cyclist.
Into the 1990s his climbing and skiing ranged across the world. He climbed in Greenland, the Rockies, Peru, the Alps, the Pyrenees and Tatras, and Kenya. He has the first ascents of about a dozen peaks to his credit. Ropemates attest to his strength, determination, organising ability and sheer competence and efficiency as a mountaineer.
A matching passion was photography, to which Dr Bennet brought a sensitive vision and intense application. His 1980 collection of photo-essays, Scottish Mountain Climbs, is imbued with deep feeling for the hills.
But the energy he devoted to climbing was more than matched by his extraordinary record of service to the outdoors community over more than 40 years. From the mid-1950s onwards he served the Scottish Mountaineering Club in a range of roles, most notably as honorary secretary for 12 years. In 1969-70 he was one of the prime movers in the formation of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the aim being to give a stronger voice to mountaineering concerns and to mountain conservation; later he served for five years as treasurer of the council.
In 1982 he served two terms on the Countryside Commission for Scotland, an advocate for recreation and access interests. Access became a major concern for 20 years; he was closely involved in the National Access Forum and its work on the Access Concordat, which in turn did much to foster the climate in which our current positive access rights could be formulated.
On the same theme he served as a director of the Scottish Rights of Way Society from 1989 to 1993, and as its chair until 2000. Driven on by his energy and insight, the society acquired an office and a professional staff, undertook a campaign of signposting of rights of way across Scotland (not a few of which he planted) and upgraded and computerised its inventory of Scottish paths. He also edited two revisions of the Society's guidebook The Hill Tracks of Scotland.
Perhaps the high point of his efforts was the writing and production of a wide range of mountain guidebooks. He first ventured into writing guides in the early 1970s, with a guide to the Staunings Alps in Greenland. He then wrote new editions of the Scottish Mountaineering Club's regional hill-walking guides to the Southern, Western, and Northern Highlands.
Building on those books, in the mid-1980s he played a central role in the SMC Guides to the Munros, and later to the Corbetts. These books have been a major force in the upsurge of participation in hill-walking of the past three decades. From 1987 onwards, after retiring from Strathclyde, he became production manager for Scottish Mountaineering Trust publications, responsible for a wide range of guides, histories and conservation books.
In well-deserved recognition of all these efforts he was made OBE in 2001, an honorary member of the SMC and honorary president of the Rights of Way Society.
In June 2001 all this energy and commitment was brought to an abrupt halt when he suffered a stroke and it fell to Anne to keep the light in his life through more than a decade of unflagging care and resilient cheerfulness.
That sad coda may mean that for many walkers and climbers in Scotland, Donald Bennet has become no more than a remote respected name, but all of us who enjoy the hills are greatly in his debt. His was a life of strenuous enjoyment of mountains and of selfless service to mountains and mountaineers. He is survived by Anne and their two sons.
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