Mike Burt was a long-standing member of the Climbers’ Club and the Wolverhampton Mountaineering Club, and was liked and respected by everyone in the climbing world who met him.
As with others of his age, the start of his climbing career was curtailed by the second world war. Shortly after the war, he was called up for national service, where he was employed for two years in a bomb disposal unit of the army. Being obliged to do such work would not have been entirely to his liking, but he had the innate courage for it, and it was excellent training for the future perils of climbing and mountaineering.
After a few years instructing in the Lake District, he moved to Wolverhampton where he spent the rest of his working life teaching in schools. I met him through our membership of the WMC. He spent a number of years as booking secretary for the CC huts. During this period, he also became booking secretary for the WMC’s recently acquired hut. This arrangement had an ulterior motive: If Mike received a booking request for a CC hut which he could not accept, he’d ask the club if they would be interested in trying another hut he knew of: the WMC hut. This benefitted both clubs, the CC did not have to disappoint the visiting club so they would be more likely to try again next year, and the WMC got an extra booking.
I fondly remember many climbing trips with him on British mountains and crags, and hugely enjoyed his company. His physique was tall and ram-rod straight, with a fine moustache, giving him a military bearing, which was belied by his easygoing manner.
On one occasion, on Stanage, he led me up a stiffish VS jamming crack, in impeccable style. I knew I’d struggle with this, so I followed in an over-aggressive jam-heaving style, otherwise I’d scarcely have had the strength to finish it. On reaching the top, I thanked him in a breathless sort of way, and reached down to untie the rope only to find the rope threaded through my harness loops, but no knot! Mike looked at this but said not a word, giving me a look which somehow combined the stern condemnation of his mouth with the sparkling amusement of his eyes.
On a trip to Glencoe, we went as a team of three, the third member being Mark, a young student. I had asked Mark to get food for the whole trip, as he had time to spare, being a student. On mentioning this to Mike, his reply was “can he be relied on not to just buy twenty tins of baked beans?” We climbed on Crowberry Wall, Aonoch Dubh and Gharbh Bhein of Ardgour.
When it came to winter climbing, I got my revenge on him by taking the lion’s share of the leading, including on the Ben: Comb Gully, Gardyloo Buttress, and the first direct ascent of Observatory Buttress Left Edge. These were spread out over twenty years or more.
On a trip to Creag Meaghaidh, we found an idyllic campsite on the shores of Loch Laggan. Mike had agreed to provide the breakfasts. On the first morning, I asked “What’s for breakfast Mike?”
“Well, we’re British, aren’t we?… It’s bacon and eggs of course!” This traditional meal was served every morning. We climbed The Pumpkin and The Wand.
Climbing in the Ecrins. Photos: Stew Muir
Of course, all things come to an end, but Mike remained active to the last, and when over the age of 90, he could still be seen cycling on the roads of Wolverhampton. During his very last year, he rediscovered climbing, at the Wolf Mountain climbing wall, where the younger climbers stood and watched with amazement and delight … but sadly no longer.
Written by Dave Wilkinson.