And the extreme dangers of mountaineering were put into sharp focus when he was part of an epic story of survival which became the basis of the Bafta-winning Touching The Void.
But climbing is still Simon Yates’ first love and he has vowed to continue until something insurmountable stops him like a serious injury, ill health – or death.
Clinging on to the sides of mountains thousands of metres from the ground he is well aware of the dangers of his pursuit and has accepted that it might one day kill him.
The 55-year-old told Weekend: “I don’t worry unduly because we’re all going to die of something and if that happens to be on the side of a mountain I don’t see it any differently to sitting on your sofa at home.
“I enjoy every aspect of it whether I’m sat in the tent at the base camp or climbing the mountain.
“I feel very comfortable in those places now. I’m actually able to enjoy it more now than I did when I was younger because I had more fear and anxiety in the mountains than I do now.
“Having reached a reasonable age in some ways you haven’t as much to lose. If I die tomorrow I’ve still done a great deal with my life – a lot more than some other people get around to doing so I’m very lucky.”
Becoming a dad to 12-year-old Lewis and 14-year-old Maisy has been the only thing that has given him pause.
Simon added: “The main reason you don’t want to get snuffed out when you’re a 20-year-old is that you don’t want to die.
“The main reason you don’t want to as a 55-year-old with young children is that you don’t want to leave them.
“Then again my children seem remarkably casual about who I am and what I do.
“My wife knows the danger I’m in but then again she’s lived with it for a long time and she was a climber so she has an understanding of why people do it.”
Simon will be at Warrington’s Pyramid centre on Friday, November 23 to talk about his adventures.
His career has been in the spotlight since a climb in 1985 went down in mountaineering legend.
Simon and Joe Simpson made history when they climbed the west face of Siula Grande, a 6344m peak in the Peruvian Andes.
But on the descent, Joe shattered his leg.
Simon attempted a tricky rescue by lowering Joe down the mountain a bit at a time on a 90m rope.
The plan was working until Simon unknowingly lowered Joe over an overhang, leaving him suspended in mid-air with no way of communicating his desperate situation.
Not knowing whether Joe was dead or alive, Simon’s eventual decision to cut the rope saved both their lives.
Joe miraculously survived the fall after crashing through a glacier and spent three days dragging himself five miles back to their base camp just as Simon had all but given up hope.
Simon said: “It was not a pleasant thing to live through but the good thing is we did live through it.
“I’ve lost quite a number of friends and people I’ve known over the years. That puts it in perspective.
“If you get away with it you’ve done alright because a lot of people don’t, particularly something like that.
“The outcome could have been an awful lot worse. There was a situation there where we both could have died.”
Nevertheless, for a time, Simon was vilified by some other climbers and British tabloids as ‘the man who cut the rope’ – despite Joe always vehemently defending his actions.
Simon added: “I’d come to terms with that. The thing is not everybody outside of the world I’m in understands what happened – and it’s then that people get upset about it.
“But anybody that completely understands what I did won’t have a problem with it basically.
“I wasn’t used to the spotlight but it was manageable. It goes away. The ‘circus’ moves to another town with media events.
“They’re only there for a little while and then something else happens.”
If the infamous Siula Grande climb – which was turned into a book by Joe and documentary by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald both named Touching The Void – took an emotional toll on Simon it did not show.
Within a few weeks he was back in the Alps, which was where he met Joe, and he climbed the north face of the Eiger the end of that summer.
Among the places he has climbed in are Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Canada, the US, Kenya, Tanzania, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the Alps, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
He still does three or four trips a year and on the top of his wish list for future expeditions is South Georgia, the mountainous island in the south Atlantic.
So, while most people look at a mountain and see the danger and the gruelling challenge, what makes Simon see something else?
Simon said: “Most people, although they may see it like that, also find mountains incredibly beautiful and millions of people travel to the mountains on holiday.
“They ski and do all these things in mountains so people do understand the aesthetic. But I enjoy the mental and physical challenge in that environment.
“It’s gruelling but you do get more of a return from something that is difficult.
“A certain part of it is the management of fear. Because you’re in an environment that for sensible reasons we naturally find fearful.
“But if you are afraid all the time you won’t function very well. There’s a happy medium. You have to manage fear but at the same time you don’t want to get rid of it completely because that then becomes dangerous.
“If you’re totally fearless you’re then likely to get yourself in more dangerous situations.”
Simon knew he wanted to be a climber when he was 15.
He added: “I got taken on one of those outward-bound type school trips to the Lake District.
“During the week we did all the usual stuff like hiking and kayaking then one day one of the instructors asked if two students wanted to come climbing with him.
“I stuck my hand up and that’s basically how it all started.”
So that was it – he conquered the 778m fell – and that was what inspired everything that followed.
The highest he has been since then is 8,350m near the peak (he did not manage to get to the top due to frostbite) of Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world on the border of China and Nepal.
Simon said: “I remember an amazing feeling of freedom and space.
“The position you’re in is quite dramatic with the drop and the height so I remember feeling euphoric in that sort of environment.”