I first met Pete Bibby late in 1997, when he and Helen were among friends old and new who showed up for my 100th ascent of Ben Cleuch. Helen and I had swapped the occasional letter since the early days of The Angry Corrie, but we had never met until then. I liked Pete immediately, and from that day until his death he and Helen were pretty much first on any list of invitees for parties, meals out, hill events and the like. There were also innumerable meals either at their place or at Tessa's and mine, and they were the only people to attend my Shrove Tuesday pancake shindig eight years in a row.
Pete Bibby (left) and John Woodrow, Blencathra (photo: Richard Woodrow)
As to why I liked Pete, it wasn't something I gave much thought to at the time: it just worked. He was kind and thoughtful, for sure, and excellent company: a quietly social animal. I had not long left Glasgow, and Pete was the kind of bloke with whom I would have got on well in that most gregarious of cities. So to have met him in the less chaotically convivial east, when I was trying to refind my feet and adjust to a quieter-but-still-sociable life, was a godsend.
If forced to pin down particular aspects of why I liked him, high on the list would be a complete absence of ostentation. He was well read and well versed in music - something of a Wagnerian - but he didn't throw his cultural weight about, preferring to gently prod the conversation. And although he worked as a chemical engineer at Grangemouth, his and Helen's house felt like the homely tenement flats of my friends in Glasgow, friends who held down jobs as teachers, care workers and the like.
I liked this roundedness and humility in Pete (and in Helen, whom he had first met in the early 1980s through Bracknell District Caving Club). It seemed to bring with it an innate awareness that careerism and the pursuit of worldly wealth didn't come close to the root of what life was all about. Far better to focus on particular interests (e.g. hill expeditions) and spending time with friends.
For all that we first met on a hilltop (we climbed Ben Cleuch separately that time in 1997), and for all that a love of the hills formed the basis of much of what we shared and discussed over the years, Pete and I hardly ever ventured on to the slopes together - and never as a twosome, always in the communal crowd of social hill events. This was partly because Pete was much more capable than me in terms of technical ability, given to serious expeditioning in hefty ranges overseas. Big stuff climbed included Cotopaxi in Ecuador in 1992, Denali in Alaska in 1997, Huascaran - the Peruvian highpoint - in 1998, and a ski-mountaineering trip to Greenland in 2002. These expeditions were undertaken with companies such as High Places and Out There Trekking, while climbing tended to be done with various friends, e.g. Martin Howson and Roy Phillips, who will have their own memories of Pete. He racked up 35 Alpine 4000ers, around 20 of them with Helen: serious mountains (e.g. Mont Blanc solo, Matterhorn, Jungfrau), tackled safely and competently and quietly relished.
Neither did I play any part in Pete and Helen's Munro rounds, which ended on Beinn Alligin in 1992 - well before I knew them. Pete was around 20 hills away from Corbett completion when his health started to break down in 2004, and the nearest I came to an ordinary day out with him was when providing a lift from Lairg to Loch Merkland in July 2004, from where I climbed Ben Hee while he went to Beinn Leoid. He was first off the hill, flagged down Helen (who had been on a boat-trip up Loch Glencoul), and was snoozing contentedly in the back of the car when I returned, worrying about being late. It seemed to embody his cool resourcefulness.
Hillgoing is a curious mix of the solitary and the social, and another aspect I liked in Pete - indeed identified with - was an unfussy matter-of-fact-ness, coupled with a firm determination. Just because A climbed hills and B climbed hills, and A and B were friends, it didn't mean that A and B should necessarily climb hills together. Better to do things separately, then compare notes over a few pints and a meal. Neither was he a pushy, I'm-in-charge frontman: on the hill with a mixed-pace crowd he would always be at or near the back, coaxing and encouraging those for whom it was more of an effort.
And there were a lot of days with mixed-pace crowds. Rummaging through hill diaries for Pete's name feels like reading a CV of sociability. We stood together on some summit or other on 13 days, and each was an occasion rather than an orthodox let's-just-climb-something jaunt. He was there for three of Rob Woodall's landmarks: his 1000th Marilyn, his final Graham, and his final mainland Marilyn, Dumyat. He was also there when Alan Dawson and Roderick Manson completed their Donalds on Whitehope Heights, and on perhaps the most obscure completion in modern times: the end of Phil Cooper's round of Scottish council tops on the giddy spire of Cort-ma Law East Top. There was Richard Webb's 1000th Marilyn, Well Hill, and mass ascents of a couple of small but rugged Marilyns during the 2001 Morar meet. Earlier that year, foot-and-mouth strictures annoyed him enough to venture out a couple of times with the Reclaimers, to Cruachan and the eastern Ben Vorlich. Then there was the Ochiling inevitable for someone living so close to those hills: not only was he was there for my 100th Ben Cleuch, but for my 200th and 500th as well, and a night outing in January 2001 to watch a lunar eclipse. Others will have memories of Pete at completion parties and the like. He rarely refused an invitation, and was always welcome at a gathering.
Sometime after he died, Helen came round with a bag of Mars Bars and biscuity things - snacks Pete had bought to eat on the hill and which Helen now had no use for, but which she knew I would scoff, given that Pete and I shared gannet-like tendencies. I said to myself that I would make a point of remembering Pete each time I tucked into one of these, but in truth it hasn't needed that level of rigour: I think of him on a near-daily basis anyway, as will surely be the case for many of his friends and family. He was the kind of person for whom the phrase 'much missed' could have been coined.
It's easy to trot out quality-versus-quantity platitudes when someone dies young having crammed a lot into their years. Yet platitudes or not, that's true here, of Pete. He died far, far too early - he ought, by rights, to have been the ideal companion for Helen and a good friend to many for decades to come. But in the time he did have, he did a great many good and interesting things, and added substantially to a lot of people's happiness. In short, he used his years well. I'll miss his company and his wise counsel a while yet.