Obituary: David Prentice, mountaineer & orienteer

Mountaineer and orienteer who developed his love of these pastimes to benefit many communities. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 23 July 1944, in Nottingham. Died: 21 January, 2015 in Uganda, aged 70.

Dave Prentice was an old-fashioned Romantic, a man who would always take the less travelled route, spontaneously go off at a tangent to discover something new and who never failed to take the time to pause and appreciate the world around him – a sunrise, a snowscape or an encounter with a complete stranger.

His sense of adventure, thirst for exploration and love of the beauty of nature stretched back to his youth, when he first experienced continental travel, and it permeated his life from his university years when he became a formidable rock-climber, to expeditions in remote mountain regions across the world, the completion of Scotland’s Munros and an abiding affection for love for Africa.

And it is there, in Uganda, where he died after falling ill on an ascent of Mount Elgon, as well as at home in Perthshire where his legacy is most keenly appreciated: in the significant work he did voluntarily to promote community ecotourism ventures, to better the lives of those living around the African peak and here within education where he nurtured the development of orienteering, particularly among children, by mapping the grounds of almost every primary school in Perth and Kinross.

Always a traveller, never a tourist, he enjoyed fairly adventurous family holidays as a boy in the 1950s with his parents Malcolm Prentice, a hosiery factory managing director, his wife Gladys and his younger brother James.

Their travels encompassed the high passes of the Alps, the Jungfrau railway, visits to Norway, Denmark and through France to Sorrento, returning from Naples on an almost empty Australian emigration liner.

Educated at Mansfield’s Moor Lane Infants and Junior Schools, he went to Brunts Grammar School the year after complications from an operation to remove his tonsils resulted in him having part of a lung removed.

In 1962 he went up to Birmingham University where he studied for a BA in Commerce and joined potholing and climbing clubs, leading some pioneering ascents of difficult climbs on the North Wales crags and attending winter ice-climb meets on Ben Nevis.

During the 1960s he also visited Cairo – where he had to dodge security guards after climbing a pyramid before dawn to see the sunrise – then travelled steerage to Mombasa before hitch-hiking alone from Nairobi back to Cairo, a trip that may well have sparked his love of Africa.

After university he began working for British Leyland as a computer programmer and analyst, going on to work for the GKN engineering company, Simplicity Patterns and General Accident in Perth as a systems analyst. However the day-to-day working life was secondary to his love of the wild outdoors, the high hills and remote spots.

Constantly planning the next adventure, his urge to explore took him to many far-flung areas of the world – trekking, camping and climbing in the Alps, the Dolomites, the Pyrenees, the Rockies, Sierras and the Himalayas. However, he always returned to the Scottish hills and finally completed all the Munros at Knoydart in 2013.

Despite his childhood lung operation, he ran mountain marathons and had been planning to enter his 40th this year, taught himself to ski and was an enthusiastic mountain biker. He was also a gifted photographer, always in pursuit of the perfect shot, amassing a catalogue of thousands of slides.

He first became involved in orienteering in the late 1980s while working for General Accident where a fellow employee was Steven Hale, a British orienteering champion. Together they helped to found Perth Orienteers, now Tayside Orienteers, and Prentice held almost every office of the organisation, bar chairman.

His enthusiasm and tireless efforts in the field, developing and mapping courses and administering events, plus his work, through Perthshire schools, introducing young children to the sport, helped to turn orienteering into a more family-orientated pastime. That work formed the basis of a highly successful annual schools festival which last year marked the milestone of 10,000 participants.

Easy-going and gregarious, with a natural ability to engage with people, he had a huge network of friends and acquaintances, many of them in Africa, where in recent years he had become involved in supporting a number of people and organisations, alongside his climbing interests.

Always interested in others, and adept at striking up a conversation with strangers, he helped those he met in practical ways which sometimes extended to paying school and university tuition fees of young African students out of his own pocket.

He had been visiting Mount Elgon in Uganda for the past decade, supporting the guides there by organising fundraising for the capital they needed to set up a series of camps on the 14,177-ft peak, through which they could develop their climbing tourism businesses and secure a livelihood for their families.

He had conquered the mountain several times, always by a different route, and summited five of its six peaks. He was making his last trip to the mountain, ascending the sixth peak with local guides, when he suffered breathing difficulties at high altitude.

The Ugandan Wildlife Authority and management of the Mount Elgon National Park later paid warm tribute to the man and his work, citing him as an inspiration in the field of conservation and tourism management, and acknowledging that his name will live on for many years to come.

Back home, Prentice, who lived in Tibbermore and who was jointly awarded Scottish Orienteering Association’s President’s Medal a few years ago for his services to the sport in Scotland, was regarded by some as an unsung hero but one whose unbounded energy, enthusiasm and expertise are now recognised for hugely advancing the development of the sport in Scotland.

He is survived by his wife Liz, whom he married in 1970, daughters Rowena and Laura, son Roland and two granddaughters.

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