Friday, 6 August 2010

A solo ascent on Craig Lloer.

Colin Fletcher Kirkus-1910-1942 remains one the great iconic pre war climbing figures in the UK. A brilliant technical climber and bold explorer of new ground which allied to his calm and measured disposition saw him create an astonishing list of classic climbs which still enchant and entertain to this day.
A Merseysider like his great friend and contemporary rock genius Menlove Edwards- of whom he was the senior by a single day- Kirkus and Edwards between them took Welsh climbing to a new level.
Despite Kirkus's explorations and creative developments in areas like Helsby and the English Lake District it was in North Wales where his main achievements lie. Great routes like The Great Slab VS-4c (US 5.8) on the Clogwyn Ddu Arddu. Colin gave the name 'Cloggy' to the UK's most famous cliff, a term by which it remains universally known. Lots Groove HVS-5s (US-5.9), West Buttress of Craig Lloer (Kirkus Route) VS-4c, The Great Slab,VS, Cwm Silyn- another route now known as Kirkus Route and one of the earliest routes on the East Buttress of Scafell...Mickledore Grooves.
His achievements on the rock were well noted by the climbing establishment in the UK and it was expected that he would be invited to join the 1933 Everest expedition but the appallingly class ridden hierarchy which governed climbing in the UK at the time, took fright at including a non university educated civilian amongst the Oxbridge military and professional elite. Committee chairman, Hugh Ruttledge went on record as saying...' We must beware of the north British school of rock climbing.....individually they are probably good men but they are a very close corporation with it, it seems to me, a contempt for everyone outside their own clan'. This attitude sadly saw other great climbers like Arthur Dolphin and Joe Brown rejected in similar circumstances by the upper class 'Hooray-Henry's' who controlled British mountaineering at the time.
At least Kirkus with Marco Pallis could swallow his disappointment by making the first British ascent of the Himalyan peak of Bagirathi III in Alpine style with Charles Warren.
A serious accident on Ben Nevis curtailed his climbing career at the cutting edge for a time. Making a winter ascent on the Ben with close friend Maurice Linnell, they both fell and Linnell was killed by strangulation from their climbing rope. It was in a time of emotional recuperation shortly after that he created his charming instruction book 'Let's go Climbing' from which the following passage is taken.
Colin Kirkus was killed over Bremen in 1942 when he was carrying out his final bombing mission. He was the flight navigator and like so many WW2 flyers,his body was never recovered.

The following winter I managed to join a well-known club,(The Climbers Club) and the next summer, while staying at the club cottage(Helyg) in the Ogwen Valley, I ran into real danger through my habit of climbing solo.
I now had no difficulty in obtaining climbing companions, but this time it happened that I was on my own. I had an urge for exploration, and probably also wished to make a name for myself, so I decided to have a look at Craig Lloer, a crag above Ffynnon Lloer, a lonely little lake set deep in one of the wild hollows of Carnedd Dafydd. I picked on the West Buttress, the shortest but steepest of the three sections of the cliff. It was about 200 feet high and had never been climbed.

West Buttress (Kirkus's Route) takes a direct line on the left hand section of the face.Three teams of climbers can be seen in action.

The main feature of the route I had planned was a sinister-looking crack, some 80 feet up. So first thing to do was to find a way to the foot of this crack. Things started quite easily but grew much more difficult when I reached the airy crest of the buttress, overlooking the vertical wall that dropped dizzily into the depths of the gully on the left. I climbed straight up the steep edge and gained the sloping ledge at the bottom of the crack by a very awkward movement.
The crack was about 40 feet high and overhung at the top. It looked very difficult. I tied the rope round my waist, with the other end hanging free, and started up. The crack was just about wide enough to fit a boot, and I progressed chiefly by jamming my hands and feet. In places there were small chockstones jammed in the crack and these were a great help, though I had first to test them very carefully to make sure that they were firm.
After an exhausting struggle I arrived at the overhang. I felt tired, because when you are climbing a pitch that is really vertical the arms get no rest at all. And now I had the overhang to tackle, where my whole weight would come on my hands. There was a convenient little stone here, jammed firmly in the crack, and I threaded the whole length of my rope down behind it, hanging on meanwhile with my left hand only. Then I tied myself on to the chockstone and was able to rest my arms, hanging more or less bodily on the rope.

Malcolm Fraser approaching 'the sinister crack' Now graded 5a (US-5.9)

Before I started off again I untied the rope from the chockstone but still left it hanging down behind, hoping that it might jam and hold me if I did happen to fall off the next section. Then I started up the overhang. It was very strenuous, and I struggled frantically. Then, just -at a crucial moment, my rucksack jammed in the crack. With a despairing effort I worked it off my shoulder and abandoned it, precious camera and all. Another blind struggle and I was up, surprised and relieved to find the rucksack still hanging over the other shoulder.
Conditions looked much easier above and I continued gaily. There was an innocent-looking bulge ahead, and I got half-way up without thinking very much about it. Then I realized that it was much more difficult than it had seemed. I could see a good handhold a little higher and made rather a grab for it. That was all very well, but there were no footholds, so that I was hanging from my hands alone. There were no holds above and I could not descend. My arms were getting tired. I looked down and saw a sheer drop of nearly 200 feet below me. My arms were aching now and I felt that I could not hold on much longer. I just hung there and waited for the end.

John Appleby approaches 'the innocent looking bulge'.

Then I got into a panic and made a sudden convulsive spring round the corner on the left, where my hands mercifully landed on a hold.
I count that as one of my narrowest escapes. It was a foolish affair, because I don't think it was really such a very difficult place. I made the mistake of acting first and thinking afterwards.
Always remember that the strongest man cannot hang for long on his arms alone. So when you make an arm-pull, be sure that it will land you on a foothold where you can rest.

Colin Kirkus: Lets go Climbing: 1941