LEGENDARY mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington is to use his 80th birthday year to highlight a debilitating condition which claimed the life of his wife Wendy.

The Cumbrian-based climber turns 80 tomorrow (Wednesday) and plans to use the coming year to improve awareness of motor neurone disease (MND), for which there is no cure and about which there is very little known.

He and his family are also raising funds online for three organisations, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which funds research into MND and provides support, along with Hospice at Home and Cumbria Crossroads, which both gave care and support to the family during Wendy’s illness.

Sir Chris started climbing in 1951, at the age of 16, and it has been his passion ever since. During over 60 years of adventure, Bonington has undertaken and led 19 Himalayan expeditions, including four to Everest. He has made numerous first ascents around the world, while also continuing to indulge his love of hillwalking and rock climbing when back at home in the Lake District or exploring other parts of the UK and Ireland.

He made the first British ascent of the north wall of the Eiger and led the 1970 expedition that completed the first ascent of the south face of Annapurna, the biggest and most difficult climb in the Himalaya at the time. He went on to lead the successful expedition that made the first ascent of the south west face of Everest in 1975, which also saw the first British mountaineers reach the summit of the world’s highest peak in Doug Scott and Dougal Haston.

In 1977, Sir Chris and Scott made the first ascent of the Ogre in Pakistan. Their dramatic six days long descent, during which Scott broke both legs and Bonington broke ribs, has become the stuff of climbing legend. The peak was not climbed again for another 24 years.

He finally reached the summit of Everest at the age of 50 in 1985, as a member of a Norwegian expedition. He is still active in the mountains, climbing with the same enthusiasm as he had at the beginning of his career.

Sir Chris has written 17 books and fronted numerous television programmes, and was a key participant in the ground-breaking live television broadcast of the first ascent of the Old Man of Hoy in 1966. He has also lectured to the public and corporate audiences all over the world. He received a knighthood in 1996 for services to mountaineering.