When you have become the first and only Briton to climb through the death zone to reach the world’s 14 highest peaks there is only one thing left to do – move to the Lake District.

On any chosen day, if you monitor the Instagram account of veteran climber Alan Hinkes, you will find him on top of a mountain somewhere in Cumbria, or climbing a frozen waterfall, ice axes in hand crampons on his rigid climbing boots. At 65 there is little sign of the outdoor expert slowing down, but then after more than 50 years in the wilds of the world it is very much his norm.

After being brought up in the shadow of the North York Moors, Alan’s introduction to the delights of Cumbria was a wild one – he was nearly blown off Striding Edge in a storm as he tackled Helvellyn for the first time.

“It was a bit of a gnarly experience and I loved it,” he recalls. “I loved geography at school and still love it now and to come to the Lakes and see the glacial topography that I’d read about in textbooks was brilliant. After that I was back virtually every weekend with my mates and would even hitchhike to Keswick to camp in Borrowdale. We also used to stay in Denton House Outdoor Centre and sneak out for a pint at the Twa Dogs and the George Hotel, though I was a bit of a lightweight and could only manage two Jennings.”

After leaving Northallerton Grammar School, Alan trained to be an outdoor education and geography teacher in Newcastle and worked in schools in Cockermouth and Whitehaven before becoming a member of The Fell & Rock Climbing Club. “So you could say that my whole mountaineering career was fashioned in the Lake District,” he says.

When his mountaineering took off with a vengeance it took Alan 27 attempts to conquer all the world’s peaks over 8,000m, including Everest and K2 and every expedition in his eyes was a success – because he came back alive.

“Coming back from a mountain is a success and the summit is just a bonus,” he says. “No mountain is worth your life – in fact, no mountain is worth a digit. And after 60 expeditions, many first ascents of new routes, I still have all my fingers and toes.

“A lot of climbers don’t manage all the 14 8,000ers because they either stop or they get killed. No one in the world lives above 5,000m and very few live above 4,000m. In the death zone above 8,000m you cannot survive for more than a few hours because of the temperatures, lack of oxygen and the air pressure.

“Most of the time you feel like hell – but then I’m a Northerner so I like a bit of suffering, it’s good for you.”

Expeditions take months of planning and weeks of acclimatisation as the party treks higher and higher. All this effort sees only the fortunate few stand at the top of the world – generally for just 20 minutes before having to make the even more perilous descent.

“I’m quite good at descents and always manage to keep some strength in reserve,” says Alan. “Some people can get complacent and they are tired which makes it very dangerous. I also have a sixth sense about the weather. I did Annapurna in record time and didn’t even take my sleeping bag. The weather held or I would have died.

“When I did K2, a peak that’s called the savage mountain and has seen only 300 ascents but recorded 90 deaths, I spent a bit too long at the top filming. It’s much steeper and more technical than Everest and I was suffering from a bit of acute mountain sickness. I was in a bit of a reverie, a bit of a dream and just couldn’t move. I had to shake myself out of it and set off down.

“I left at 6pm and had left a tent lower down which I reached at about 10pm. It was still too high but it was dark and I was too tired to continue, then I set off at first light. If I’d had to stay there any longer, if the weather had come in, I would have died.”

Alan also accompanied actor Brian Blessed on his attempt on Everest. “He did well but didn’t get to the top as he got summit fever,” says Alan. “Conditions are debilitating, you can lose ten kilos on an expedition and it even affects your bowels. At its worst you can get pulmonary or cerebral oedema, which is fluid and swelling in your lungs and brain and you can die really quickly. I don’t know why I do it really, but it is what makes the Lakes so nice.”

For that reason Alan has relocated to Patterdale. “Cumbria is the finest place to hill walk and climb in the world,” he says. “There is something about the Lakes where you can have such a value-for-money day out. The whole of the North is unique and the Alps are great. But it is difficult to have a ‘short day’ in Scotland and in Austria you seem to be constantly using cable cars. Any mountaineer in the world would rank the Lake District in their top ten.”

So Alan spends as much time as possible in the county’s great outdoors, testing gear for a variety of manufacturers. He has written a book, 8000 Metres Climbing the World’s Highest Mountains, published by Cicerone, and gives inspirational talks at corporate and charity events.

He is a qualified mountain guide, uses the walls at Keswick and Kendal Climbing Centres and is working on a TV series called Mini Mountains with the company Walks Around Britain.

He has also just been made patron of Mountain Rescue Search Dogs replacing founder Hamish MacInnes. “This is such an honour as Hamish was a true legend,” he says. “As a valuable part of search and rescue, dogs are important for finding casualties in any type of terrain. These dogs are highly trained to locate missing people or casualties efficiently and quickly, which can mean saving a life. I also help train them by being a ‘dog’s body’, lying in remote locations sometimes for hours waiting to be ‘rescued’.”

Alan is a big supporter of Search and Mountain Rescue teams, both in Cumbria and North Yorkshire.

“They do a great job,” he says. “I was out on a rescue with them recently, an ex-Royal Marine in his 70s had broken his leg at Haweswater. Penrith and Kirkby Stephen turned out and it was hard work taking about five hours to get him down.”

When Patterdale MRT member Chris Lewis suffered life-changing injuries in a rescue incident near Kirkstone it was Alan’s worst fear come to light.

“This tragic incident highlights why MRT needs the public’s support because, while they are unpaid, money is constantly needed to pay for vital training and equipment, so people can venture into the mountains safe in the knowledge that help will be on hand should anything go wrong.”

Alan likes to blow off steam at Haverthwaite Railway, in South Lakes, where he is a trainee fireman, hoping to become a driver one day.

“It’s not just shovelling coal into the firebox, it’s a real skill putting it in the right place to burn efficiently,” he says. “It’s hard work but very rewarding and I love steaming up and down between Haverthwaite and Lakeside.”

Alan is convinced of the value of having passions in life to benefit mental health. At a time when more people are developing mental health issues he is working with the charity Every Life Matters and has made several videos on suicide prevention.

“We are trying to make people realise that they are not the only ones feeling this way and it is more common than they think. Covid-19 has made things worse and somehow we have to give them hope, show them there is something worth living for.”

He also supports the work of Sherpa Aid UK, which looks after workers in the mountains all over the globe, and works with Ullswater Outward Bound, which has a ‘Hinkes group’ named after him.

He says: “I feel like I have done all I want to do in life and everything else is a bonus – and that is why I live in Cumbria.”