Designer of mountaineering equipment;
Born: October 13, 1945; Died: August 31, 2012.
Hugh McNicholl, who has died aged 66, was one of Scotland's foremost designers of mountaineering equipment. His engineering skills gave him the insight and ingenuity to develop pioneering designs for, especially, crampons and ice axes.
He created advanced and very serviceable ice axes which were used worldwide by climbers. In 1981 he set up his own manufacturing company, Mountain Engineering (later Mountain Technology), in Glasgow where he manufactured his original own brand of ice axe.
It was described as "the all-Scottish ice axe" and was used by professionals and enthusiasts: not least because it was easy to handle and sturdy in its design. In the 1980s the business relocated to Balluchulish.
Mr McNicholl was also an early supplier of high quality climbing equipment to Nevisport, which had opened a shop at the west end of Fort William High Street in 1970.
This pioneering and inventive work was recognised with a British Design Award in 1987. In the Durable Consumer & Contract Goods Award Mr McNicholl's ice axe was praised for its style and its "drop forged heads in nickel chrome molybdenum steel, shafts in high tensile aluminium alloy, steel rivets and rubberised cover".
Mr McNicholl was one of the great enthusiasts and characters of Scottish climbing – his advice about mountaineering in the Glencoe and Ben Nevis area was listened to by everyone. His own love of climbing – and mountain biking and running – kept him in touch with the sport and exceptionally fit.
Hugh Stewart McNicholl was born in Glasgow where his father owned a well-known butcher's shop just off Sauchiehall Street. He attended Bearsden Academy and was from an early age a keen cyclist but it was not until his early 20s that he became involved in mountaineering.
Mr McNicholl first worked as an aero-engineer on the Merlin project with Rolls-Royce in Glasgow. He then joined the mechanical staff at Strathclyde University where he prepared and developed machines on which further research was then carried out. While he was there he also did research on various tools to increase safety and manoeuvrability on the mountainside.
Paul Moores, a distinguished Alpine guide, knew Mr McNicholl for many years. He said Mr McNicholl was an exceptional mountaineer and added: "Hugh was a huge character and wonderful to be with. He used his passion for climbing to perfect designs for the sport. He was happy at his home in Ballahuilish, proudly showing off his huge collection of vinyl jazz and blues records.
"I helped him sometimes with practical advice about the technical side of the tools he was developing. That was a joy for me. Hugh was a man I much admired and respected."
Mr McNicholl expanded the business and was a popular presence at trade shows in this country and abroad. He stood at a stall, an avuncular figure, surrounded by axes, picks, crampons and spikes, enthusiastically demonstrating their advantages.
He was involved in the manufacture of stretchers used in ambulance and helicopter rescue. In the 1960s Hamish MacInnes designed new serviceable stretchers and the two became great friends.
For many years that friendship was cemented when both were members of the Glencoe Mountain Rescue team.
The veteran mountaineer recalled: "Hugh had an analytical and keen mind: asking probing questions and finding solutions.
"I will always remember his bearded figure at a ceilidh in his house, drinking home-made wine and laughing. Hugh had something of the swashbuckler about him."
In 2007 Mr McNicholl and his wife, Mary, relocated to Australia and he died in Victoria. She survives him.
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