Savage Arena - The Joe Tasker Story

Savage Arena has now moved to Keswick. This page will remain as a permanent tribute to Joe.

This exhibition tells the story of the life of former Ushaw student and world famous mountaineer, Joe Tasker.  The exhibition contains many of Joe's personal photographs and possessions and also tells his story through film.

The Early Years

Joe’s early years and education sparked a passion that went on to shape his future. Adventurous and independent as a child, his initial experience of rock climbing at Ushaw began a life-long fascination.

Born in Hull in 1948 Joe was the second of ten children in a close-knit and supportive family. When Joe was seven years old, Tom and Betty Tasker moved the family to Teesside, where Joe attended St Thomas’ Primary School in Port Clarence. After a move to Billingham, Joe developed an interest in the outdoors when he joined the Scouts and was taken on trips to the Lake District and the Cleveland Hills. Friends and family also recall childhood antics such as climbing up lamp posts and on the gates of Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge.

Life at Ushaw

Joe attended Ushaw from 1961-1968, ages 13-20, where he excelled academically but remained rebellious and an individualist. One of the lecturers at Ushaw, Father Barker, began taking students rock climbing; Joe was among the first five students he took but Joe never stood out beyond his peers until he began climbing mountains. It was at Ushaw that Joe developed the discipline he later needed to perform difficult, technical climbs.

After leaving Ushaw, deciding that he did not have a vocation, Joe earned a sociology degree from Manchester University but did not undertake a traditional career. Instead he held a variety of jobs—ranging from supply teacher to dustman—earning just enough to support him on his next climb.

High Fact:

The Ushaw College quarry lies half a mile behind the Main House and was created when sandstone was dug out for building works to the College. The quarry, only twenty feet high with two walls only thirty feet across, was the focal point of Joe’s early training in rock climbing.


In the early 70s Joe and his initial climbing partner, Dick Rickshaw, began ascending difficult Alpine mountains including the Bonnatti Gobi on Mont Blanc, the North Face of Dente Blanche, and the North Wall of the Eiger in winter—a challenge that took two attempts, but gave him credibility in the professional climbing circle.


The first Himalayan mountain Joe and Dick chose to ascend was Dunagiri. Running the climb on £1,500, the pair came close to death: Dick had severe frostbite in his fingers, and they ran out of food and fuel on the way up. They descended for four days with very little food and without water entirely.

The following year he ascended the very challenging West Face of Changabang with Peter Boardman, whom he went on to have a great friendship with. In 1978 he became part of an 8-man team ascending K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Following this successful climb, he then climbed Kachenjunga with Boardman, then returned to K2 with both Boardman and Rickshaw in 1980. It was on this climb that Joe had another very close brush with death when his tent was swept by an avalanche. After retreating, the trio made another attempt to reach the summit a few days later. They later attempted Everest in the winter of 1980, but did not complete the climb. Once he returned, he wrote his first book Everest the Cruel Way, then departed again to climb Kongur.


Joe wrote his second book, Savage Arena, directly before departing to climb Everest on a six-man team in late spring 1982, whose goal was to be the first to attempt the East North East ridge from the Tibetan side. The team was close to the summit on 17 May when Joe and Boardman began the final ascent on the East North East ridge, where they were last seen through a telescope. The other members of the exhibition waited for a radio-call and searched the ridge and surrounding valleys for signs of descent, but had to conclude that the pair had died.