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Sheffield

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Born in Glasgow in 1947, Rab Carrington found a passion for the outdoors and walking early on. However, it wasn’t until University that he found an interest in climbing that would change the course of his life. Rab recalls that, as his interest in climbing grew, so his studies in mathematics increasingly began to suffer. The hills became his passion, climbing ice and snow in Winter and rock whenever it was dry, frequently neglecting his books in favour of the mountains.

The Scottish weather being what it is, dry days were often a hard commodity to come by and to facilitate even more climbing, Rab soon moved South to Sheffield where he quickly fell into the thriving mountaineering scene for which the city was known. It was here that Rab made one of his most important friendships, meeting and regularly climbing with Al Rouse. Before meeting Al, Rab’s ambitions in climbing had been small, but Al’s passion for exploration and adventure opened Rab’s eyes to the wealth of climbing that lay beyond the UK’s borders.

In 1973 and 1974 the pair spent extended periods in the Alps, arriving in Chamonix with little knowledge and even less experience. Talented and daring young men that they were, they quickly progressed through the grades and were soon making impressive ascents, achieving the second summit of the Droites in winter amongst numerous other achievements. With little money and a desire to complete as many routes as quickly as possible, Rab often tells stories of how they would pare down their trip essentials to the absolute bare minimum of food and clothing. More out of necessity than design, their own particular version of fast and light alpinism was born.

Their goals didn’t stop at the Alps and in 1975, Rab and Al once again set off, this time to South America. They planned to climb throughout the continent and in particular to visit Patagonia. When they left Sheffield in the grip of the three-day-week, they may have thought they were escaping the troubles back home, but the pair were not beyond the reach of Britain’s industrial disputes. A dock strike in Liverpool delayed the arrival of their climbing gear.

With little to do in Buenos Aires until their kit arrived, Rab soon found that he didn’t much like just sitting around. Local climber and craftsman Hector Vieytes took the beleaguered Scotsman under his wing and invited Rab to help him with his textiles work. Hector was bidding for kit orders from the Argentinian army and with Rab as his assistant, the pair designed and produced numerous sleeping, bags, jackets and coats for use in cold weather climates. These skills in design and manufacture would later form the foundation of Rab’s own work.

The kit bags, delayed in Liverpool, did eventually arrive and over the next few years, Rab and Al climbed together, not just in South America, but all over the world, eventually parting ways in 1979. Not long after this, Rab discovered that he was soon to become a father and, with sleeping bag manufacture one of the few skills he possessed, Rab began sewing in his evenings to put aside extra money for his new family. Back in Sheffield, he would work on a building site by day and sit at the sewing machine long into the night, the down feathers floating down the stairs from his attic workshop.

A career as a “maker of things” had never been Rab’s plan, but he soon found himself with more demand than he knew what to do with. His small company grew and grew, the sleeping bags and jackets bearing his name becoming popular first amongst the climbing community and then the wider British public. As the years passed, the business expanded steadily and soon Rab was exporting to the continent and beyond. What had begun as an attic workshop was now a global name with Rab’s innovation and passion at the fore.

Rab’s climbing achievements were what first made his name and, following his retirement, he not only returned more to climbing in a personal capacity, but also began looking for ways to give back to the climbing community. A Vice-Presidency of the BMC, supporting their work on access, conservation, education and inclusivity soon lead to the top job with Rab, at a sprightly 58, seen as a “young voice” and great modernising force within the BMC.  His Presidency took the organisation from strength to strength and, shortly after his appointment and just before his 60th birthday, Rab achieved what few climbers manage when he clipped the chains on his first 8a, ‘New Age Traveller’ at Malham, Yorkshire.

Today, Rab still supports the work of the BMC, climbs as much as he can in his spare time and is a frequent fixture around our offices, advising on design and catching up with his former employees.

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