Friday, 15 February 2019

The North West Circuit

Stuart Island is remote. Situated twenty miles off the Antarctic end of New Zealand, it is home to about four hundred Kiwis of both the human and the bird variety. It stands in the way of the winds that circulate the southern oceans and has a reputation for weather - lots of it. A friend told me he'd experienced twenty eight inches of rain in two days so I'd purchased a brand new Gore-tex anorak as insurance in the half price sale at the outdoor shop in Nelson before heading south. There are nine so-called 'Great Walks' in New Zealand of which the well groomed, duck boarded, Milford Track is the most famous. The North West Circuit, some-times referred to as 'The Muddiest Walk in the World', is not one of them. It follows a mountainous coastline and has a reputation for length and toughness. The Lonely Planet Trampers guide says 'Hard - one hundred and twenty five kilometres', and suggests ten to twelve days - twice the time needed for anything else in the book. A quick calculation and you realise that this means an average of eight miles per day. What, I wondered, do you do after lunch? Getting first hand information was difficult. Everybody knew someone who had done it but nobody had actually done it themselves.

When I disembarked from the ferry from Bluff to Half Moon Bay, I had already walked the Keplar Track, hiked the Routeburn, the Greenstone back to back and `tramped', as the Kiwis say, the Milford Track. I was not only fit, but had got my food requirements and cooking routines sorted out and my gear honed down to a comfortable minimum, except, that is, for my Voigtiander and lenses and my Leica, which formed an awkward weight beneath the lid of my pack. I had also rented a special radio beacon that would alert the authorities to my whereabouts if I hit the panic button. So on the morning of the 25th January I set off down the metalled road which soon gave way to a good grassy path shared with the Rakiura Great Walk. I had lunch at Port William Hut which marks the end of the first day of that much shorter and easier route. Thereafter, a less well made, and increasingly difficult path took me along the coast to Big Bungaree Beach where I arrived shortly before five pm. It had taken me six and a half hours for what the guide book reckoned twelve to fourteen hours. I was cruising. I had the hut all to myself and so was somewhat annoyed when a couple of hours later I saw a lone figure heading along the rocky beach towards the hut. I like to think I hid my irritation at having to share the simple accommodation with Anna, a very fit, bronzed, nineteen year old from Australia.

The next morning I was just a tiny bit miffed to find, on waking up, that Anna was ready to leave - but I'd soon catch her up. When I arrived at Christmas Village Hut, five hours later, (the book said nine hours), Anna was finishing lunch. I had confided to her the previous evening, that I hoped to climb Mount Anglem, at 3180 feet the highest point on the island, and best approached from Christmas Village. Had I been by myself I would have left Mount Anglem for the next day, or possibly even for ever, but it was quite clear that Anna was intent on the summit and after cup-a-soup, salami, black bread and coffee I found myself climbing a very steep path which involved root pulling and tree climbing. The way was difficult to follow and the only mitigating factor was a very light pack with minimal gear. It was a tough climb and even after emerging from the trees the path, if you could call it that, was intermittent and difficult to follow. It was agreed that, come what may, we would turn back by 5.00pm. At 5.40 we reached the summit and spent twenty minutes admiring a view of the whole island and had to chase the daylight back to the hut which we reached just before dark. 

It had been a particularly hard day and when I look my boots off I was dismayed to discover blisters on my toes, something I'd not had for years. They were big and messy and I couldn't believe I hadn't felt them developing. I spent a couple of hours next morning trying to protect my toes and didn't get off till ten thirty. It took me four hours to get to Lucky Bay, a real misnomer, where I had the utmost difficulty leaving the beach by way of a very steep sand slope, and a fight with an aggressive tree which had fallen across the path. I couldn't climb over or round it. There was not enough room to get under it and climbing through it just seemed to bring out the worst in it. I considered hitting my panic button, but there is a hefty fine for anything less than a broken leg. I reached Yankee River at five thirty with my blisters in shreds and flu like symptoms. There was no sign of Anna. 

I slept well and felt much better the next day which started with a big climb followed by a lot of scrambling on tree roots leading to Smokey Beach, which was defended by sand dunes amongst which I succeeded in loosing the path. The beach itself was about a mile and a half long. The sand was too soft for easy walking, and at the end a river-crossing led to an interminable section of steep and densely wooded ridges and gullies. The day ended with another long descent which reduced my blisters to a bloody mess. Long Harry is the smallest but on the route with just three double bunks and is famous for its colony of Yellow Eyed Penguins which showed up at sunset. Perhaps there is a God because the next day was short - the guide book said four hours whilst I took five, but my feet now had a chance to recover. The powerful healing qualities of the juices of the tea tree plant were working their magic and the walking itself was becoming easier with good views out to sea and to offshore islands.

I shared the hut at East Ruggardy Bay with two DOC (Department of Conservation) workers. Throughout the walk the weather had been warm and summery, and at this but I had to go in search of water - normally unheard of on Stuart Island, but the rain water tanks contained only a few inches of brown, brackish water.

The next two days were perhaps the best. My feet felt better, my pack was lighter, the walking, whilst hilly was more straightforward, the views were great and the isolation and remoteness were very real. West Ruggardy Beach was the first place I'd been able to walk, uninterrupted by vegetation, mud pockets or boulders for five days. On West Ruggardy Beach I met a fit looking Australian travelling very fast and light and who, I later learned over a welcome pint, completed the walk in four days. Before leaving the beach a small plane circled overhead. It then flew down the length of the beach at about twenty feet before finally, to my amazement, landing and deposited a family of campers on the far end of the beach. My route took me up the long ridge line of the Ruggardy Mountains and eventually to Hell Fire Hut, high above the sea with views across to Codfish Island where the rare Kakapo flightless bird receives special protection and where I was treated to a great sunset.

The Port William Hut: Image-Tramping.Net NZ
An early start was rewarded by a fine dawn and temperature inversion across the wide expanse of the Freshwater valley. The hilly ridge continued to Mason Bay where ropes provided hand holds down the steep descent to the beach. A thunder storm was brewing out to sea and rain drops chased me down the three miles of boulders to the accompaniment of raging surf and thunder claps. At Duck Creek I turned my back on the sea and soon arrived at the well equipped Mason Bay but where suddenly the world became a different place. The hut was full of people - tourists who had arrived by air and walkers who had hiked the easy track from Freshwater Bay, where they had been delivered by water taxi. Because I'd arrived the hard way, I was treated with a degree of deference. One couple insisted that I share their two litre wine box, something I felt obliged to do, rather than have them carry it back the next day. A party of hikers quizzed me about the route that now lay behind me, but ahead of them. Perhaps it was the wine, but I was persuaded that the best way to finish was to take the boat from Freshwater rather than join day three of the Rakiura Track.

On that last day I eventually saw a Kiwi - the bird, that is - in broad daylight. The walking was level and my pack hardly weighed anything. One section provided a photo opportunity through a tunnel formed by tall Manuka plants - like walking through giant heather, twenty feet high. At Freshwater Landing I lay in the sun for a couple of hours, waiting for the water taxi which whisked me back to Half Moon Bay and a hot bath. I ran into Anna and the speeding Australian, who took me to the caravan on the sea front where we had the best fish and chips in the world, washed down with beer from the pub across the street. 
Mark Vallance with his highly acclaimed autobiography-Wild Country. Image-Vertebrate Publishing

On my way back north I tramped the Copland Track, the Inland Pack Track and finally the Heaphy Track, a total of thirty days of hiking. During all that time I only put my anorak on once. All the walks were good. The variety was amazing and I'd recommend them all, but the one I'll remember for ever is the North West Circuit. 

Mark Vallance: 2005. First published in Loose Scree.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Big in the UK........ Royal Robbins, Jeff Lowe and Warren Harding.

L to R- WarrenHarding, Jeff Lowe, Royal and Liz Robbins. Images WH/RR-Glenn Denny- JL-Lowe Alpine

Ah, but I was so much older then’ 
 Bob Dylan

I cannot remember now how it came about, but in the latter part of the summer of 1965, Liz and Royal Robbins arrived in Leeds and stayed at my parent’s house in Cookridge. By that date we knew about Yosemite and its big wall climbs; the Nose route of El Capitan and the Salethe Wall, but in 1965 none of my friends had met any of the climbers involved in pioneering these epic routes: that is until Royal put in an appearance. But when he did it did not disappoint, for earlier that summer partnered by John Harlin he had climbed the American Direttissima on the Aiguille du Dru, and the rumour mill had painted Royal as having a professorial demeanour, tall, spry, quiet and contemplative. This held good at the start of the Robbin’s visit as Royal took on my chess playing friend and Almscliff guru Tom Morrell, sitting in my parent’s living room working out how to checkmate his opponent shortly after settling in.

The next day it had to be Almscliff, and as we toured around the outcrop and I recounted the long history of the Crag and its previous generations of pioneer climbers, Slingsby, Botterill, Frankland, Dolphin etc I realised what grabbed him most were the boulders. I had contacted Tony Barley about our guests visit and with him in the lead we ascended the Green Crack, Demon Wall and the Overhanging Groove. I then led my party piece Great Western and Royal enthused that our climbs ‘were intrinsic miniature masterpieces’ but then he was not to be denied in getting to grips with the boulders. 
Ascending such classic problems as The Crucifix, the Niche, Fisher’s Stride, Pothole Direct, Royal was enjoying these, but then near the Black Wall he asked ‘Where are the no hands problems?’ Tony and I were stumped for we had none of these in our playlist. And so our visitor began to work one of the classic slab problems nearby to show us how it was done, confessing that this was something he practised whenever possible. We quickly realised he was an expert at this, for after a few tries he could balance up and then descend the problem he had selected to illustrate this technique. Neither, Tony or I could match him and gave up trying after many failures. In fact it took us some more visits and lots of attempts before we could emulate the American master.

Both Royal and Liz were easy to be with, for she was also a climber, and to hear from Robbins first-hand about Yosemite and its climbs fired my imagination. I also learnt about his early climbing career, starting out on the outcrops near Los Angeles and at Tahquitz. In 1952 he had pioneered his first major new route as a 17 year old at that cliff, a 5.9 graded climb the first of that difficulty in the USA, ‘The Open Book’ but he had already two years before visited Yosemite as a participant on a rock climbing trip organised by the Scouts. He told me that he had gazed up at El Capitan and was informed that such would never be climbed by their course instructor.

But 1957 was to be Royal’s breakthrough year for with Jerry Galwas, and Mike Sherrick they pioneered the first ascent of the North West Face of Half Dome. This with Warren Harding’s ascent of El Capitan by the Nose Climb the following year ushered in The Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing. For the next two decades Robbins was one of the climbers at the forefront of this, and the list of his first ascents is awe inspiring. To put this into some context however, there was a group of other climbers, some who joined up with Royal who are equally deserving of recognition, and such in 1961 as the first ascent of the Salethe Wall accompanied by Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt was made by a team of equals. 

Another key figure in the Yosemite revolution was Yvon Chouinard, who along with Frost and Robbins pioneered in 1964 The North America Wall Route of El Capitan. Chouinard was a key developer of the hardware that made some of the Yosemite climbs possible.Unfortunately just as I cannot now recall how Liz and Royal fetched up in Leeds I cannot remember where we travelled to next except that we stopped off in the Peak District at Curbar Edge. I wanted to see how Robbins would deal with the Right Eliminate on that outcrop. A type of off width crack that are meat and two veg to Yosemite climbers and he did not disappoint for he ascended it with some ease.

In 1966 when I was hitch hiking from Mexico City to Yosemite solo, I carried with me an invitation to stop off at Royal’s mothers home in Barstow, California. Which I did, and she fed me, washed my clothes and as mother’s do told of her son’s early life battles, with a not too impressive school record, but how he had found his true self in the outdoors. For besides climbing he had been a junior ski champion attested to by the trophies on his mother’s sideboard.

Over the next decade Royal established himself as one of the most outstanding pioneers in the history of our sport. Making the first solo ascent of El Capitan (the 2nd ascent of the Muir Wall in 1968), soloing the North Face of Mount Edith Cavell in the Canadian Rockies, the second ascent of the Dawn Wall in 1971 with Don Lauria and so much more. Early in his climbing career he had been converted to boltless, piton less clean climbing, and using nuts only for protection along with Liz he had pioneered a demonstration route to illustrate his ethics in Yosemite, the ‘Nutcracker’. ‘Robbins exerted a moral leadership in both deeds as well as words’ observed Ken Wilson in his role as editor of Mountain Magazine.
In 1971 he published the first of his instructional books; ‘Basic Rockcraft’ followed in 1973 by a second such, ‘Advanced Rockcraft’. These were best sellers and in that era they were perhaps the finest expositions of where the sport was technically. Liz and Royal also founded a clothing company in Modesto, originally named ‘Mountain Paraphernalia’ which morphed into the ‘Royal Robbins Clothing Company’ and eventually this was bought out by City investors, but which despite the demise of one of its founders is still trading strongly with Liz as an advisor.

Unfortunately as the 1970’s decade progressed Royal was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis which as it developed prevented him from serious climbing, so he took up adventure kayaking instead. Within a short period of doing this he had gained a reputation as an outstanding performer in that sport, making descents of some of the most challenging rivers in the Americas. In 1992 Pat Ament wrote a biography of Robbins according him, in spiritual terms ‘The Spirit of the Age’.
In his last years Royal also wrote a three volume biography of his life, published in 2009 (To be brave. My life), in 2010 (Fail falling) and 2012 (The Golden Years). For some reviewers these were seen to be too matter of fact, too straight laced but they are an important historical record I believe by someone who wrote honestly about his life and how it was to be at the sharp end, a leader in the development of climbing in one of its most creative periods. Royal died in March 2017 and in an obituary published in the New York Times written by John Branch, he was accorded as ‘Royal Robbins, the conscience of rock climbers’. And I feel that more or less sums him up as the person I was lucky to have shared a rope with.
In the winter of 1974/5 I learnt Jeff Lowe was paying a visit to climb in Scotland, and via friends I managed to get a message to him with an invitation to travel to Manchester to give a public lecture before returning back to the USA. I also suggested if he had the time available we could arrange a visit for him to do some outcrop climbing on gritstone. I think it was the latter which appealed and by return I received a message to agree to take this on. At that date Jeff was already one of the most accomplished climbers in the USA, pioneering rock routes at the highest standards of the day but also by 1974 specialising in ice climbing, and the pictures then circulating of his first ascent with Mike Weiss of the Bridal Veil Falls at Telluride were truly inspiring.

Jeff eventually arrived in Manchester and his lecture enjoyed a full house and a rousing reception, post which I started out to drive him to my home in Yorkshire. All went well until we were nearly at our destination, but just as we started up the Hollins Hill out of Shipley my terrible Russian car started to splutter, choked out and stopped. ‘Oh my God’ I had run out of petrol. And as to be expected in a grim up north story it was a terrible night of weather, cold with driving rain. What to do, what to do? There were no garages nearby or open in those days at midnight. I explained to my passenger the problems we faced, but as a commentator was to write in tribute to Jeff at his demise, he was a ‘pathological optimist’. ‘How far is it to your house, could we push the car there?’ he enquired ‘It will take about 30 minutes on foot’ I gasped out. ‘Ok let’s go’ and after kitting ourselves out we set forth and walked to my home, by which time we were like wet rags. But Jeff never complained and once arrived and sitting in our kitchen grasping a mug of tea he laughed at my stories of the trials and tribulations of driving a Russian made car.
Early next morning Jeff and I retrieved my car and despite it being a very windy and cold day he still wanted to go climbing. At least it was not raining, but on arriving at Almscliff it was so wild I thought we could not snatch a route. But once again, his optimism was infectious and after battling against the wind whilst tramping around the different faces of the outcrop, we found that down in the rift by Square Chimney and below the Whisky Crack the wind was not so strong, and so we roped up. I decided to ascend via the Pigott’s Stride (4c) to reach the Crack and when I explained this had been pioneered by C D Frankland in the 1920’s Jeff was also keen to climb this. Looking at my partner he was every Yorkshireman’s idea of a USA climber, tall, blond and athletic. I wondered if he would like to lead the Whisky Crack if I managed the Stride. To do this you first climb the sheer side of the Matterhorn Boulder then from near the top of that bridge spectacularly across onto the main rock face. Having climbed this many times I managed this despite the conditions and then belayed below the Crack.
 Almsciffe: Image The Climbers Club

Jeff enjoying the gymnastics came swarming up to me; ‘Would you like to lead the Crack’ ‘Sure sure!’ and up he went. Pulling over the top the wind was so strong it nearly blew him back down the face. Once I joined Jeff we ran down and around into the rift from where we had started to get out of the gale, and then after packing raced back to my car. A retreat to a cafe in Otley was followed by a trip to the Cow and Calf above Ilkley, but the wind was even worse there than at Almscliff and after some attempts to boulder on the Calf we headed back to my home in Guiseley. To spend a pleasant evening, dining and over a few brews talking about climbing and mutual friends. Jeff had heard of ‘The Legend of Joe Brown’ and I had to play and sing it for him. The next day he was heading south to London and I bid him good bye at a drop off at the Leeds City Station. I never saw Jeff again but followed his subsequent incredible climbing career with keen interest.
I use the word incredible to describe Jeff’s record of ascents over the next decades correctly, Will Gadd no slouch himself wrote about these as follows; ‘There is not one sector of climbing that Jeff has not excelled in or helped to create!’ I will highlight here just a few, for he made more than 1000 first ascents. To do that you had to start young and he did with his father Ralph and brothers Mike and Greg. With them he climbed the Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton at 7 years of age. By his teens he was pioneering 5.10 and 5.11 routes such as ‘Air Time’ and ‘Pass or Fail’ in Ogden Canyon, Wasatch Mountains Utah and later he visited Yosemite to make early ascents of the Salethe Wall (7th), North America Wall (5th) and ‘The Triple Direct’. Born in 1950 he revelled as a young climber in his home state environment, tackling the high sandstone cliffs of Zion and southern Utah, his most famous route being the ‘Moonlight Buttress’.

It was however in the high mountains that he made his most impressive ascents, in the Canadian Rockies, the European Alps and the Himalaya. In the latter a solo of the South East Spur of Pumori, a solo in winter of the South East Pillar of Nupste, a solo attempt by a new route on the west face of Makalu, climbing with Caterine Destiville a repeat of the Slovene Route on the Nameless Tower of Trango, with Alison Hargreaves the North West Face of Kantega, and a solo new route on the South Face of Ama Dablam. His 1991 direct route on the North Face of the Eiger, ‘Metanoia’ climbed solo in winter over 9 days was more than a stand out climb. It was finally repeated after many failed attempts in December 2016 by Thomas Huber, Roger Shaeli, and Stephan Siegrist. A film was made in 2014 about this route and its history, ‘From mountain top to wheel chair’ for by that date tragedy had struck its pioneer. 
There is so much more to the Jeff Lowe story, his equipment innovations such as Hummingbird Ice tools, Foot Fangs, Snarg ice pitons, his development of winter clothing, originally working with his brothers Greg and Mike at Lowe Alpine, then on his own at a company he founded Latok. In the 1990’s he was responsible for developing ‘Mixed Grade’ climbing, with routes like Octopussy M8, he introduced these M grades for climbs that require both ice climbing and dry tooling. In the same decade he organised one of the earliest Sport Climbing Competitions at Snowbird, Utah and in 1996 he founded the Ouray Colorado Ice Climbing Festival. He also produced three books about ice climbing, its history and techniques, of which ‘The Ice Experience’ is classic. He also produced three instructional videos on this subject.

So far the Jeff Lowe story is one of marvellous success, one of the most influential climbers ever, recognised as a leading proponent of Alpine style climbing, and because of that he was made an honorary member of the Alpine Club and the American Alpine Club. But then personal disaster struck in the early 2000’s, for he developed co-ordination and balance problems, and fell victim to a neuro degenerative process similar to motor neurone disease. This he faced bravely and somehow managed to keep in touch with a wide group of friends around the world at climb fests like Kendal and Ouray, despite being wheel chair bound and by using social media. His death in August 2018 made many of us who had been lucky to have known him to accept the example he exhibited throughout the long fight against his illness to carpe diem, and fill every day with hours well spent! 
In 1980 at a Buxton Conference the celebrity lecture on Saturday; ‘The Reflections of a broken down climber’ was by Warren Harding. I had tried to persuade him to do this for some years, for I had met him in 1966 in Yosemite and felt that he would in theatrical speak, ‘knock ‘em dead’. His approach to climbing was in keeping with the British one at that time, and he was known in the USA for his doggedness, drinking and farcing as reflected in his motto ‘semper farcisimus’, which indicated truly his exuberant and iconoclastic character. His lecture was thankfully well received post which as with Jeff Lowe I persuaded him to travel with me to my home in Guiseley, and to try some gritstone climbing.

The day after our arrival there I took him out to Caley Crags, and post some easy soloing I led him up the Central Route a Very Severe on the Sugar Loaf Boulder, a local 5a classic. This made him think, and he stopped almost half way at a delicate move to observe, ‘You know Dennis I am going to need to do a lot more of this or a lot less’. I realised his problem was a lack of reach, for he was short, squat and powerful, but this was a balance problem. If you are not used to gritstone climbing it takes some time to realise how good in dry conditions the friction is. Warren put a foot high, rocked over and he was up...... and in joining me, was laughing loudly at a new found ability. 
For me to be climbing with the pioneer responsible for the most famous rock climb in the USA, the Nose route of El Capitan was truly memorable, and in talking with him I realised although he was a central figure in the development of multi-day big wall climbing in Yosemite, public recognition of this meant little to him. Harding was born in 1924 and grew up in California near to Lake Tahoe and after meeting a climber in the late 1940’s who persuaded Warren to accompany him to make ascents of Mount Witney, the Palisades, and the Minarets in the Sierra Nevada he started to climb seriously himself. It was he observed the first thing he had found that his brute stupidity made him successful at!

He went on to pioneer 28 first ascents in Yosemite, but the Nose of El Capitan in 1958 and the Dawn Wall in 1970 remain the most recognised; although Harding unlike Robbins was prepared to push his routes by any means he felt necessary, to do which he freely used pitons and bolts despite the strictures of those he dubbed the ‘Valley Christians’. The Nose climb was an impressive feat of endurance, partners came and went, sections were climbed, retreats followed, and in all Harding spent 45 days on the route, but finally accompanied by Wayne Merry, George Whitmore and Rich Calderwood he was successful. The Dawn Wall was different, Warren and Dean Caldwell spent 27 nights on the wall, there was no yo-yoing, and Harding was given the appellation of ‘Batso’ in deference to his remarkable ability of being able to live life on such vertical cliffs. To do this he had developed specialised equipment such as the ‘B.A.T’ tent and the ‘B.A.T’ hook. 

Typical of Warren when he was queried about his use of such naming, he explained that this acronym meant ‘Basically Absurd Technology’. Noting how these climbs were achieved, a modern tyro might think spending so many days and nights on these routes is not impressive, but with the knowledge and equipment then available they were outstanding achievements.

In 1975 Warren was persuaded to write a book ‘Downward Bound’ which spelled out his rebellious and charismatic character. It contains anecdotes and stories from his ascents of the Nose and the Dawn Wall, but also farcial instruction in basic climbing techniques, and humorous accounts of the climbing controversies and life styles in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I thought the title was a tilt at Outward Bound, but no he chose that because it reflected the failure of his career as a responsible wage earner, due to his urge to go rock climbing. Success for Harding in an establishment world was always just out of his reach, beginning with him being rejected by the draft board due to an identified heart murmur, and after working through the World War ll as a propeller mechanic, he formally trained as a land surveyor. He held a Union card all his life, and worked on construction jobs in Vietnam and Alaska, in one such contract he was hit by a truck which resulted in an injured leg and a limp for the rest of his life. 

Warren loved to tell stories against himself, and one he told me as I drove him the next day after climbing at Caley to catch a flight back to the USA, was that once in Yosemite he had teamed up with a visiting British climber who was short in temper. They managed to get their ropes in a tangle and this became worse as Harding tried to untangle them, at which the Brit exploded ‘My God Harding you cannot do anything right!’ Warren’s response was classic, ‘Yes I know, but I can do it forever’. After the 1980’s he did little climbing, retiring to the northern hills of the Sierra Nevada, drinking cheap red wine and hot-air ballooning with friends. He died in 2002, but on the 50th Anniversary of the Nose climb, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution honouring the achievement by Harding and his party. So despite all, he finally was recognised by the establishment! 

Dennis Gray: 2019 

Friday, 18 January 2019

The Avon Party

The Old Feller is as regular as clock-work. My bus usually tears past with the conductress laughing fit to bust doing a Harvey Smith on the platform, while I ruin my lungs chasing it to the stop. But not him. No, he's always waiting there in plenty of time, same seat every night and home at the same time. He hangs his "mac" behind the kitchen door and washes his mucky hands over the pans in the sink. Twenty five years he's been running swarfy Lifebuoy all over my mam's saucepans and if twenty five years black looks haven't stopped him he won't change now. Why his hands aren't clean already I don't know 'cos I know for a fact that he and his mates spend half an hour in the bogs waiting for the hooter to go. He sits in the front room on the settee reading the Evening Star, even though he's read it on the bus. Mam shouts him in for his tea and they start whether me and 'Reen have got home or not.

Straight after tea he goes out to the pigeons for an hour or two, comes back in to watch the telly until nine and then on the dot, he's off to the Club. He has a couple of pints, a game of darts and he's back by half past ten. He plays hell if I'm home before him for laking off work. Laking. My God, who uses words like laking nowadays? He plays hell about Jim's hair an all. "Idle young layabout." "Long-haired twillock." I've tried telling him that it's nowt to do with him how long Jim's hair is, and he's lucky it's not green, but he doesn't listen. 'Reen fancies Jim. She saw him in his athletic shorts once. She says they make him look like Ron Fawcett. Steve Bancroft more like, and who'd want that, but they got our 'Reen's chest heaving. Back at home I told 'Reen I was thinking of getting a pair. "Of what?" she said and had hysterics. She said my legs would frighten the natives on the Common. They'd think it was Allah's camel or summat. 

She said the Race Relations could 'ave me if I didn't darken 'em, or the Obscene Publications Squad or Mary Whitehouse. Did I want to borrow her tights, and how about a handbag to make me look a bit more normal? She went on for half an hour. She offered to sell me a nearly full tube of leg browning for £5 to make me look sexy. I said that I wasn't going to pay £5 a tube for Marmite and in any case I preferred mine in sandwiches and she said why not come to Mum's make-up party and buy my own, and don't forget to come in my athletic shorts, it could get the evening off to a really good start.

Eventually she stopped and I thought nothing more about it until that particular Wednesday night. Jim and me were going to the wall in Leeds so I went up to town and bought a new chalk-bag and my pair of shorts. I spent an hour or two reading all the magazines in Tanky's and trying to talk the assistant into selling me karabiners at half price. No chance. Tanky's got their brain waves inked to a computer that rings up "No Sale" and puts you on his black list for slipping 10% on your bill. I was home early even though I spilt my box of , light magnesium all over a zebra crossing and had to go back to Boots for another. When the Old Feller came in I was sitting at the table ready. You should have seen his face when Mam took his Star off him, put it in his mac pocket behind the door, sat him down at the table, put his tea in front of him and said, "Come on eat up, I've got a make-up party starting at seven and I've got to clear up after you lot and get the refreshments ready.

And don't hang about before you go out. Nor you neither" she said, banging my tea down on the table. I got a stream of red-hot tomato juice all down the front of my Colorado University tee-shirt. When 'Reen came in she thought I'd cut me throat and did I want a neck ointment as well as the leg browning. There was a discount for big orders! The Old Feller said nowt — nowt ah tell you — nowt. We were hustled out by six o'clock and I walked along with him because the Club is on the way to Jim's. He said nothing until we were opposite The Norfolk. "Ah reckon nowt to this" he said. And at the Club door he added "We's have to do summat abaht it, so think on — and get that mate o' yours thinking. He can't be all that daft." "He's had his hair trimmed" I said. "She wants her hair trimming" he said. "Ass rely on yer." Jim bet me that the Old Feller'd be kalied by ten o'clock and have to be helped home. He was wrong because he was back by 9.30, being charming to the make-up lady and saying she'd have to come again, and why didn't she fix a date now so as to be certain.

'Reen says the old lady looked gobsmacked and had to sit down in case her knees gave way. Must have been a funny feeling, thinking you've won after 25 years. There's an old, stone-built Methodist Church down Furnival with a big yard where the kids at the youth club play at football under floodlights. On fine Thursdays Jim and I go and traverse along the wall on the lumpy holds and then go and cast an eye over the birds at the pub disco. I never knew that the Old Feller had got my habits sorted out but as I went out he was right behind me. "Your mother's having another of them parties" he said, underwear, December 1st, so the stuff'll be here in time for Christmas". "Don't tell me you're going" I said. "No" he grinned, "but you are." "Hold on, hold on" I said. "Nay, you 'old on and listen to this." I was supposed to go to the next party and find out how they were organised ready for his master plan. "No way" I said, "I'm not sitting through two hours of that like a fairy.

Besides Mam'll smell a rat. Besides 'Reen already knows how they're organised". "She'll not tell us though, will she" he said. "No" says I, playing my trump card, "but she'll tell Jim." "Dust know" said the Old Feller "there's hope for thee yet, tha's inherited some brains." "Aye" I said "Mam's side of the family is fairly sharp." "Gerroff wi' thi, and set Jim on to get it sorted." And so we briefed Jim. I pointed out that she wasn't a bad looking lass and he'd only need to waste one or two evenings, perhaps three, to make it look subtle. "And listen, keep your animal instincts under control, after all she is my sister." "That's what you think," he said, "last time I was alone with her she acted more like Dracula's" — which was two bits of news for me, but still, "Put up a good defence then," I said, "and get the low-down on the uplift party."

Jim looked a bit peaky for a day or two but we got the party plans and the Old Feller gave us our orders. Jim enrolled Browett, who's a very smooth operator, and between them they got Lomas and Naylor's to put on a climbing gear do at our house. I was sent out to rake in a list of climbing mates, all instructed to buy at least a karabiner. "And here" said the Old Feller, "what happened to that lad as used to come round — him wi' the stick-out ears that could imitate someone being sick." "Pukey Porritt? — but he's not a climber." "Never mind, invite him. Tell him he gets a free supper and a free ticket on t'Pigeon Club's trip to t'illuminations." "And tell 'em all to bring a couple of empties apiece." And so took place Sheffield's first climberware party.

I felt a bit rotten about it because Mam made a stack of sandwiches and borrowed a tea urn from the chapel. They came in droves and it went quite well. They downed sandwiches and tea, rattled the empties, ordered gear like men with three arms and every ten minutes or so we put an armful of empties outside the back door. Pukey kept borrowing different folks coats and sweaters and shuttling to the toilet. His retching and heaving was a masterpiece. Albert Finney couldn't have done better the Saturday Night before Sunday Morning. Mam could see visions of half the city's climbers being sick in her front parlour. "There won't be any more will there?" she asked the Old Feller. "No luv" he said "Not until the pubs turn out." And she turned pale and sat down and went quiet. "You'll have to get rid of 'em" she said "before then, you will, you will." "All right luv" he said "Ah'll go and sort it out." 

He came into the front room and gave us the thumbs up and they all surged off to get a few in before the pubs shut. It was next day that Mam gave me an ear-wigging about inviting that crowd of drunkards to her house. I was struck dumb and the old hypocrite sat beside her looking suitably serious. A week later he told me that she'd decided not to have any more perfume parties and such. It didn't seem such a good idea. "You bloody old fraud" I said "don't you feel ashamed." "Nay lad, our 'Reen knows your Mam's size and wheer that underwear woman lives." "She's gone round to order a wardrobe full o' stuff. Thi Mam'll be oer t'moon. Mind you" he said "you're not in very good odour. You'd best be on your best behaviour for a bit, and" he added "you might need to be looking for a new climbing mate. Thi Mam says that ahr 'Reen's started looking in jeweller's windows." 

Dave Gregory: Cartoon drawings by Nichols.First published in Climber and Hillwalker-September 1988 

Published in tribute to the author who died this week.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Dirt Bag Climbers

Plas y Brenin.Just don't ask if they do 'Just Desserts' in the bar when certain people are around!

‘Once upon a time’ (anonymous 1595)

Post a bruising experience at a recent Alpine Club AGM when a motion I had put to the meeting (seconded by Stephen Venables) was roundly defeated, I visited the next day, two of my oldest friends Val and Joe Brown. The latter is now like myself; old and infirm, but we swapped memories and talked of absent friends (alive and dead) for some hours. By the time I departed his company, the doubts that had overtaken my thinking about how stupid I had been to ignore the pleas of the Alpine Club Committee to withdraw my motion, these were dissipated by a dose of common sense from Joe, and I realise that it is so right to try to defend the basic tenets developed over the two centuries of our sport.

It is derisory to now dismiss the climbers of our generation, active in the immediate post war years, and the 1950’s /1960’s as ‘Dirt Bag Climbers’, sorry participants in a ‘dark age’ of climbing, when there were just a few simplistic indoor walls, no organised competitions and no olympic recognition. As I left Joe we both agreed how lucky we had been to be active in that period.
Labour’s ‘1949 Access to the Countryside Act’ had allowed for the first time the freedom to climb undisturbed at some of the finest outcrops and mountain crags in the country, and Joe who was at his commanding best as a new route pioneer in those decades, enjoyed this on a scale not previously seen in British climbing. Do not misunderstand, some of my friends continued to climb and explore for all of their physically able lives, I am not sure the last time Joe climbed but my own was in the Fuling mountains of Yunnan, China and I ‘discovered?’ at the age of 74, Keketuohai, the Yosemite of that country in North East Xinjiang in 2009. So I think we maybe have earned a right to offer a view on Quo Vadis British climbing?

There are influences at play now that there never was previously, one is an unbridled commercialisation leading to unalloyed vested interests, and another is an assertive new style Sports Council, which has morphed into Sport England. The Sports Council/s were set up in 1972 with Royal Charters to enable government to have a role in the funding and development of sport, (there are such for each GB country, plus a UK one to meet the demands for Olympic and International participation) brought about mainly through the initiative of the first Minister of Sport Denis Howell (a former senior football referee). It took us time when I was at the BMC to convince the officers of those new bodies that rock climbing and mountaineering were unique, they were not games like netball or football and that our participants were taking part in a high risk activity. This was evidenced by an independent voluntary Mountain Rescue Service, providing help and support for free to anyone in distress or injured in our hills, which originated historically and is still administered and operated by members from within our sport. 

We were lucky that in the early years of The Sports Council/s we could call on the advice and standing of Alan Blackshaw, an Under Secretary in the Civil Service. It was a joy to go to meetings with officials alongside him, for he out ranked them in the peculiar grading system they work under (EO, HEO, SEO etc). And so we built up mutual confidence and personal contact, and thus what has happened in recent years liaising with Sport England, their actions would have been both unthinkable and unacceptable in the 1970’s/ 1990’s. Using funding via grant aid they are forcing National bodies to do their bidding in relation to constitutions that meet their criteria, which is about having influence on how sports organisations are administered in this country. The intention is for them to become business orientated, and administered as market dependant bodies, an ideology that has caused decline in some of the UK’s most essential services? 
At the setting up of The Sports Council it was constrained by the body which pre-dated it, the Central Council of Physical Recreation. This a none governmental organisation, was the initiative of a Physical Educationist Phyllis Colson, which at the inauguration of the Sport Council/s by agreement, handed over its staff and hard won properties which had been set up for individual sports to use such as Bisham Abbey, Lilleshall, the Crystal Palace, Holme Pierrepoint and Plas y Brenin. These were handed over to the Sports Council to further develop and administer, whilst the CCPR became the forum for the National bodies of sport. At this event in 1972 the CCPR was written into an agreement that it was to be the consultative body to The Sports Council, and as it had surrendered properties worth millions of pounds, each year this body had to agree a level of funding for the former to help support its work representing the National bodies of sport. The CCPR has now been superseded by a new body, the Sport and Recreation Alliance which as someone who used to be a member of the formers Executive Committee seems to be less of a force in its dealings with Sport England and Sport UK. The CCPR was not just a London based operation, for it had regional offices including one in Leeds, who in cooperation with the Yorkshire Mountaineering Club organised beginner’s rock climbing courses at Ilkley.
A first future policy review of the BMC was held in 1974 under the Chairmanship of Alan Blackshaw and it was of a different order than the present Organisational review, and it was subsequently updated on two more occasions. Furthermore in 1974 there was no direction to follow via the Sports Council as there is for the present BMC Org review by Sport England, who have demanded that National bodies of sport who wish to be recognised by government and receive grant aid have to meet their demands as spelled out in a Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 format. These are designed so that bodies can be delineated between the ones that merely seek recognition (Tier 1) and those that wish to apply for large sums of taxpayer support (Tier 3). The latter is what the BMC has now decided to become and which to qualify for it has transformed itself from a body, totally answerable for its actions to elected representatives, into an organisation administered by a mainly none elected Board of a Company Limited by Guarantee. Sport England even required for one of the Directors to be an independent (not a climber) and for the Chairperson of the Board not to be the elected President but a separate appointment. This has been agreed and achieved by a new set of Articles, which are actually the Constitution of the BMC. And this will mean a down grading of the role of the National Council; in the past (in my day it’s Management Committee) this has been its democratic forum made up from the Areas.
The Venerable Venables. Photo SV

So why bother, just let Sport England and the new style BMC get on with it, but historical contacts will not allow me to. My own rebirth of interest began in 2014, when arriving home from China my house ‘phone rang as I walked through the front door; it was a long time climbing acquaintance, a Harrison’s Rocks legend Malcolm ‘The Wizard’ McPherson. ‘Did I know what was happening at the Harrison’s complex?’ ‘No’ I responded. ‘There has been a total break down with no maintenance for months, the ablution block has been closed and that means the Julie Tullis camp site is also shut, and the Car Park is breaking up’. This was disturbing news to me for besides being a past member of the Harrison’s Rocks Committee, I had also been a member of the Julie Tullis memorial appeal, and it had taken us ten years to obtain planning permission for a campsite alongside the Car Park. (We also set up and funded the Julie Tullis award, which is handed over each year to a pioneering female climber). The Officers of this appeal, its Chair Barney Lewis and its Secretary Doug Stone had found that their most difficult task had not been in dealing with such as the local Groombridge Council, surprisingly it had been in attempting to work with our own support body the BMC. I listened in disbelief when they confessed this to me; they had found trying to liaise with the Manchester Office, inefficient and time consuming.

To understand why this was so shocking you have need to understand the modern history of Harrison’s Rocks. They were purchased in 1958 by Nea Morin, Ted Pyatt, and Dennis Kemp and handed over to the BMC. But the Council as an unincorporated body could not then own land so a solution to this was found by the CCPR holding the outcrop in trust and a joint Management Committee was formed to administer the crag. This may seem bureaucratic to those who have never visited ‘Harrison’s’, but probably only Stanage can be compared in terms of popularity. Funds were obtained for both a car park and an ablution block which became necessary as parking in the nearby Groombridge village became a serious problem due to a growth in car ownership, and an ever increasing number of climbers visiting the outcrop. At the setting up of the Sports Council in 1972, that body became responsible for the funding of the Harrison’s complex, a task they inherited from the CCPR and from there on its Management Committee was extended to include their representative/s.
At the ‘phone call from ‘The Wizard’ I advised him to contact Bob Pettigrew, a former BMC President and Chair of the CCPR, who unlike me had kept close contact with the hierarchies of those bodies. Bob picked up on this Harrison’s Rocks problem and travelled to meet the CEO of the BMC in Manchester. He was surprised by the information he received at this for he was informed that as the land on which the complex stood was held under lease by Sport England from The Forestry Commission, and as the date for renewal was approaching, they had taken the decision not to do this and to pull out of their financial commitment to fund the facilities. 

There was nothing that could be done to change this situation. When Bob reported this to me I could not believe how such an outcome had been allowed to develop by the BMC, and Malcolm was not appeased when he learnt the news. I pointed out to him that The Forestry Commission also had a brief to support access and countryside recreation, so maybe he should contact them to try to involve that body in solving the Harrison’s difficulties. Which he did, supported by another local climber Sarah Cullen. Malcolm is an impressive persuader, and soon he and Sarah had the ear of the concerned officials at the Forestry Commission, and they agreed with some caveats, e.g. over Parking charges, that they would take on the Management of the Harrison’s complex. At which point the BMC became back and a new Committee was set up to administer the facilities which is now being run to local climber and visitor’s satisfaction. 

However one wonders at what might have been the outcome without the intervention of two locally committed activists? This Harrison’s development should have been a warning as to the changing nature of the administration and funding of sport in this country. It seems that elite participation has become paramount, and medal chasing is more important to the politicians than the encouragement of grass roots sport, despite health problems due to the large increase in overweight children and adults, as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. Leading on to a massive increase in the NHS needing to deal with the results of this; namely an alarming growth in the cases of diabetes and cancers. Some Local Authority leisure centres and swimming pools have been closing or their access limited, yet £345 million’s is being made available by UK Sport to fund the living/training/coaching costs of participants who might win medals at the Tokyo Olympics or show a potential to do so in future. Do not misread me here, I am a supporter of the Olympic movement and have attended at a Games. I founded the Chevin Chase fell race in 1979 (in which Olympic medallists and many climbers have taken part), I was one of the originators of The Leeds Wall, and I am a former Board member of the Association of British Sport Psychologists. But what is under debate here is it a mistake to allow grass root sports facilities to decline, while generously funding elite participants, which surely poses a question as to what should be the priority in view of the above?
I brought the problems of the events at Harrison’s to the notice of an Alpine Club AGM held in November 2014, maybe that seems a surprising action to take, but the AC founded the BMC and in fact some of its past Presidents began their climbing careers at the outcrop, so there was an interest in my report. I suggested that in view of the way these difficulties had developed that a new future policy review of the Council was needed? The meeting agreed that this was so and invited its President Lindsay Griffin to discuss this with the Officers of the BMC. Which he did, but the response by them was that such a review was not needed! Fast forward to 2016 and the failed attempt by the BMC to rebrand and name change which resulted in further criticism, as to how policy was being formed at the Council. A large grant to facilitate this had been obtained from Sport England (£75,420) and this had resulted in a serious breakdown in relations, as this money was now seen to have been ill used. Once again some members of the Alpine Club were involved in this criticism, and so the Officers of that organisation decided to circulate the membership to ascertain their views on the matter. It being mid-summer 2016 when this occurred many of the members were away climbing in the Alps and Greater ranges, but over 300 replies were received and overwhelmingly they were unreservedly critical. This very much worried the Officers of the Club and I was invited to write a short paper to go to the membership at the November 2016 AGM, and having outlined the difficulties, seconded by Bob Pettigrew, we recommended the Alpine Club request once again a BMC future policy review. 
A new Alpine Club President John Porter was elected at that AGM and he took part in the discussions re the need for a review, which involved several other interested bodies and included the BMC Officers; it was subsequently agreed by the National Council that an Organisational Review would be held during 2017/18. I believe that this was a mistake and it was a Future Policy review that was needed, for under the cloak of the former, major areas have either been passed over or ignored; particularly staffing which is the largest cost centre within the Council’s budget, research into the possible effects of Olympic recognition, the best geographic location for the Council, the future of the relations with Sport England and Sport UK, and a long term view of financing.
However over that period of time more information spilled out about the failed name change. The grant aid to carry this out had been received from Sport England in February 2016, and as someone who had negotiated such grants for special projects from The Sports Council/s for many years I noted this must have been applied for quite some weeks previous? Yet at the BMC AGM in March 2016 no attempt was made to seek approval for such a fundamental decision as a possible name change. Subsequently once this proposed action had become wider known it was overwhelmingly rejected by the membership. 

At which some former BMC senior members decided to take action and openly demonstrate their criticism of how the Council was being administered, and two ex-Presidents Bob Pettigrew and Mark Vallance agreed that they would do this by putting a motion of No Confidence in the Executive at the BMC AGM of April 2017, which was signed by 30 members. I was one of the signatures and had no thought that this motion would be successful, but following on from what had happened at Harrison’s and contradictions in the few other areas in which I still kept an interest, namely the Constitution of the International Federation of Sport Climbing which the BMC had acceded to, which includes the possibility of competitions being held on outdoor crags, this in direct contradiction to the long agreed policy of the Council in opposing any such action. And at the first suggestion that climbing might be recognised by the IOC as an Olympic sport, I had contacted the BMC and advised this might be a game changer. Believing it needed a full investigation of how it might impact our sport for good or bad? I was assured that this would be forthcoming, and a paper prepared which would be widely circulated. That was some years ago now and nothing as yet appeared. So I felt justified in signing the motion and like the others involved believed that this was a plea for properly functioning AGM’s, where all important developments and proposals are put before the membership. 
 Author Dennis Gray and Pete Boardman: Photo DG
Unfortunately in this age of instant report, and social media the reaction to the Motion of No Confidence put to the BMC AGM held at Plas y Brenin in April 2017 was argued about completely out of hand. At least it assured a large turnout, but in the fog of a badly structured debate fences were not mended. I was sorry this led on to the President Rehan Siddiqui resigning. Someone I had known as a friend since he and his brother started to climb; and their father likewise who faithfully attended at the National Mountaineering Conferences in Buxton when I was at the BMC. An event that happened that evening in the PyB bar is without precedent in my own association with the Council, for Bob Pettigrew was physically assaulted by the Hon Secretary of one of the BMC Areas who believed that this was his just desserts for his part in the Motion of No Confidence! 

Subsequently the police were involved and the woman carrying out the attack was interviewed and then apologised. However she was not the only person who should have been brought to book over this, for it had been pre-planned earlier that day by a group which surprisingly included several persons who held positions of influence. Equally to be criticised is the social media activity of those with close connections at the Council, trolling and attacking those they disagree with, hiding under pseudonyms from which they were subsequently ‘outed’ by other computer geeks, confirming their insider positions. From which a picture emerges of an organisation that in the recent past has not been efficiently administered or monitored, particularly the senior staff and some of the elected officers. At least Management by a Board of Directors might be expected to make sure that best practice now ensues over such matters as process and organisational procedures.
Peter Boardman warned when he was the National Officer of the BMC that ‘we were creating a monster!’ And once again long term friendships involved me getting embroiled in a manner I had not intended. I was copied into correspondence by a Climbers’ Club member, for worried by the recent data protection legislation he was not willing for his personal details to be sent on to the BMC, fearing that with its new market philosophy his data might be misused? Currently within the Council’s Articles, each club must pay and affiliate all its UK members at a cost of £14.25 each. The response of the CC President and Treasurer to their member’s refusal to do this surprised me, they declared that the BMC ‘is our governing body and there is no alternative to not affiliating’. So the climber involved found himself parting from a Club he had been a member of for many years. It is not true that the BMC is a governing body in such matters (it is only so for its competition activities), it is a representative body. 
There had been previous debate about the need or not for Clubs to affiliate all their UK members. And in 2008/9 this was discussed within the then recently formed Clubs Committee but ended by not resolving the issue to everyone’s satisfaction. An amount of the £14.25 affiliation fee is handed over to its Brokers by the BMC to provide each Club member with Public Liability insurance. Over the last five years £1.25 million in premiums has been so handed over for the whole Council membership (currently 85,000 approximately), but Individuals who pay more than Club members are also covered for accidents. The claims for these in the last five years amounted to £86,500. There have been no (so far) Public Liability ones.

Once again I felt I had to act, I do not believe that Club members should be forced into affiliation of the BMC, it should be by choice. The majority will, but a sizeable minority for various reasons do not wish to do so! I decided to put forward a motion to that effect at the Alpine Club AGM held this last November, but because the Committee felt that Public Liability insurance for its members is important, they decided to oppose this and advised the members to vote against my motion claiming that if any UK members were allowed to do this it would undermine the PL insurance for all the other members. Frankly that is not true, as the person who with Fred Smith set up the original BMC insurance scheme in 1975/6 and who attended subsequently many meetings with the brokers and on occasion underwriters over the years, I know that such schemes are not so inflexible. Interestingly Mountaineering Scotland Clubs do have the ability to do as I was requesting, namely if any member moves away or becomes inactive in their Club, they can keep up their membership without affiliating to that representative body. I have already reported my motion was roundly outvoted, despite it being seconded by a former President, Stephen Venables and supported by a roll call of distinguished climbers, including an honorary member and former President of the BMC.

So the moving finger writes and moves on! The problems as I see them at the BMC are not going away; an indicator of this is that fewer active climbers with good organisational skill and experience are coming forward to take up the vacant positions of Area Secretaries and Chairs. A list was recently circulated of these, and I have never previously seen so many vacancies. It is also difficult to persuade nationally known figures to take on such as the Presidency. In passing I have spoken to some of these and they are not willing to take on this task, for they realise it has now become the kind of commitment that would be too demanding of their time. However Alan Blackshaw could do this whilst master minding an answer to the countries energy crisis in 1973/4 and he was later in charge of the Offshore, North Sea Operations. In between times he was writing the Penguin Guide to Mountaineering. Something that Alan noted on several occasions, warning his successors to BMC Honorary Office, is that if you professionalise too much of the Council’s operation, and maybe with a staff of 30+ this is now the case, it will become ever harder to recruit qualified volunteers, who will not be willing to take on tasks that lie within the job description of the Pros?

A final word, I believe the danger now facing the BMC (and Mountaineering Scotland) is that a large tail is wagging what is in reality a much smaller body. Many thousands of people, including children on a basis similar to gymnastics, are now taking part in indoor climbing, and sport climbing is now more popular than trad and bouldering is more so than both of these two activities. Competition climbing I believe will enjoy a massive fillip from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and noting current developments where in my own City Leeds we now have seven indoor walls, four of which are bouldering only, a phenomena that is happening UK wide; many of these developments having occurred in recent years. It might make sense to these innovators to break away and form a new National body, covering competitions and sport climbing. This is what happened at the UIAA (the world representative body of mountaineering), where the IFSC broke away and is now recognised by the IOC as the world body of Competition Climbing. I do not wish for this to happen, but when I note how the BMC is currently promoting itself, I have just watched their Christmas TV YouTube, and as Phil Bartlett has previously observed, their presentation is child like (cbeebies comes to mind?), it may be inevitable? 
A major new indoor climbing centre is a big bucks operation, and those behind these developments are no longer just amateur climbers turning their hands into something new, they are now in most cases seriously involved investors and entrepreneurs. I know some of these personally, and they are acting in a separate parallel universe. There is a lack of updated BMC policy guidelines and no overview of where these developments are leading? I was once Chair of the British Administrators of Sport, and at that time climbing unlike most other sports had only a single national body in England and Wales. 

Some sports like Martial Arts had many, and unless the BMC appropriately covers, and administers efficiently all the present activities under the umbrella of ‘Climbing’ it may suffer the same fate? It is up to a new generation of climbers to organise a body that meets these criteria whilst preserving the long standing traditions/history of our sport, so widely admired by other countries activists, whilst not being so cowed as to disagree with Sport England about their undemocratic modus operandi. Who at the end of the day are answerable to politicians, and they are more interested in the views of their constituents and preserving their seats, than if the BMC President chairs the Council’s management board or not! 

Dennis Gray: 2019