He was a boy of 10 when he held the world record for the youngest person to scale Orkney’s Old Man of Hoy.
Twenty-three years later Leo Houlding did it again, this time with his 80-year-old climbing pal, mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington – the first man to top the giant sea stack 53 years ago.
Now 38-year-old Leo’s children are following in his footholds. Five-year-old Freya and two-year-old Jackson have already summited Slovenia’s highest peak Triglav, towering at 9,393ft.
They were in safe hands. Their dad is one of the world’s top climbers. He has stood on the roof of the world after retracing the fateful 1924 Everest expedition of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine for the documentary-film The Wildest Dream, starring Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson.
And the veteran of epic ascents even took on Jeremy Clarkson for Top Gear’s Climber Versus Car Cliff Race – speed climbing a 1,312ft overhang in the French Verdon Gorge with a dramatic base jump to the bottom. He won.
Now Penrith-born Leo – who honed his skills in Scotland – has just released a film of his latest adventure – a record-making 1,242-mile unsupported trek in the Transantarctic Mountains in -60ºC degree temperatures, hauling a 200kg load and scaling the world’s most remote peak, Spectre.
Leo, who came close to death when he was dragged into a crevasse, said: “It was four expeditions back-to-back. Doing any one of them is challenging, doing four consecutively was the greatest challenge I have ever set myself.”
Equally tough for Leo was being away from his family for the two-month trip. He said: “The cold and the fear are one thing, but being away from little kids for so long without the ability to speak to them was tough.
“We have actually started doing stuff as a family together. We did Triglav in Slovenia. It’s a technical summit. Freya was roped to me on the difficult parts but she made it all the way up and down by herself. It was amazing. My wife carried Jackson.”
Reliving his own childhood climbs, the climber, backed by Berghaus, added: “I was 10 when I started climbing properly. I have climbed loads in Scotland. In winter it is hardcore and means British climbers punch beyond their weight and are good at climbing in bad conditions.”
Spectre Expedition: To The End Of The Earth is at Zimeo.com
Scaling Scotland’s best
Leos hails the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney as one of Scotland’s best climbs.
He said: “I climbed it with my dad as a kid and held the record back then for being the youngest person to reach the top.
“My father and I still get out together and I hope one day to be able to climb The Old Man of Hoy with my own kids. It would be great to share that experience with them.
“I am good friends with Chris Bonington and occasionally we go climbing together. We climbed the Old Man of Hoy together, which was cool because he was the first person ever to stand on its summit in 1966.
“Just after his 80th birthday, in 2014, we went back and did the Old Man of Hoy again.
“We had a celebratory hug at the top. It was a well-earned pint at the end of it.”