Friday, 3 September 2010

The Good lads always have two...part two.

Don Whillans on the first ascent of the Cromlech girdle.' Don is moving across to join Joe (Brown) in Cenotaph Corner'.Roscoe Collection©

The ever resourceful Ray Greenall was also responsible for the Rock and Ice ceremonials. It was Ray who made and awarded the famous 'Brewmaster Certificate'. This certificate was awarded to outstanding tea makers and was traditionally written on the back of a Woodbine cigarette packet. He also made the Iron Cross, the highest Rock and Ice award for valor, awarded for taking a long leader fall without screaming. I won this award outright one cold, February day with a ninety-foot fall when my numb fingers uncurled from the very top of Cenotaph Comer This fall left me slightly bruised around the waist, as we did not have harnesses then, but otherwise unharmed.
Ray also crafted beautiful alloy pegs for our aid-climbing sessions. One day at Stanage, Ray's talents for improvisation really came into their own. When he came to erect his tent he discovered that his tent poles were six inches longer than they were the previous week. Obviously there had been some sort of a mix up but, nothing deterred, Ray produced a hack­saw and took six inches off the bottom sections of his poles. He had just got his tent nicely erected to his satisfaction when Charlie Vigano, the only man ever to be a member of both the Rock and Ice and the Creag Dhu,
arrived and said: 'Oh. by the way. Ray. we got our tent poles mixed up last week .Shortly afterwards. Ray was to be seen putting his engineering skills to further use in cutting and fixing short lengths of tree branch to Charlie's poles. Much of our gear was modified or home-made and Ray and Pete Greenall did not endear themselves to their mother when she discovered the sleeves missing from her fur coat: they had been taken to make much needed hats and gloves.
It is not possible to introduce all the early members of the Rock and Ice in an article of this length; legendary characters such as Harry Smith and Nat Allen merit articles in their own right. However, no account of the Rock and Ice would be complete without a mention of Morty. One day my mother said that a neighbour's son was interested in rock-climbing and would I take him out. I correctly interpreted my mother's request as a com­mand and the lad was duly taken out.
Joe Brown asked him what his name was and he said "Joe Smith." To which Joe replied: " We can't have two Joes in the club: you're Mortimer.' And the name stuck. An amusing incident occurred very late one night when Joe and Morty were returning from a winter weekend armed with ice axes and looking decidedly disreputable. As they walked through central Manchester they were stopped and questioned by a policeman. "What's your name? " he asked Joe.
"Joe Brown." came the reply.
"And what's yours?"
'Joe Smith.' replied Morty. The policeman looked at them thoughtfully for a moment and then said: "It doesn't matter to me if you don't tell me your right names you know."
Morty had the difficult task of holding his own in a group of very competent climbers who did not see themselves in the role of nursemaid. Like many teenagers he was incredibly clumsy and while he learned the "ropes' we also learned to avoid disasters by keeping boiling billies of water and other potential sources of mayhem well of his range. Fortunately he had a great sense of humour — which was virtually a prerequisite of Rock and Ice membership — and he was very strong and a quick learner.
His confidence and resourcefulness became evident when he hitched to Chamonix with £16 in his pocket for a fortnight holiday. While there he purchased the obligatory pair of Terray boots (£7) and returned home with £2 in his pocket. Soon he was leading the fierce gritstone classics and ap­peared all set to be a top class leader but an unfortunate accident put paid to his aspirations. While trying out a friend's motor cycle and side car com­bination, (tricky to drive if you are not used to them), he lost control of it outside Plas y Brenin and fractured his femur on one of the iron posts which used to surround the garages. This accident effectively marked the end of a very promising rock-climbing career.

Don Roscoe and Eric Price weild their 'five bob' ice axes on Yellowslacks. Roscoe Collection©

Winter for the Rock and Ice meant business as usual; rock-climbing interspersed with long walks and some snow and ice work. Skiing was totally frowned upon as a sport for sissies. Basically, we could not afford even the simple ski gear of the day and I am sure that this coloured our view of the sport to a great extent. Though to be fair we were totally obsessed by rock-climbing. Winter was, In fact, the ideal time to practise aid climbing with an eye to the big alpine routes. Until we started to attempt aid routes on Derbyshire and Yorkshire limestone, nobody had attempted any serious aid climbing in Britain or faced the challenge of the overhanging limestone crags.
To attempt an aid climb we had to pool all our gear to enable the leader to tackle a long pitch and the subsequent sort-out at the end of the weekend was when the day was really won or lost. This gear sort-out led to everyone purchasing name stamps with which to stamp karabiners and other valuables. The simple idea of coloured insulation tape did not occur to us at the time. Much of our gear was home made: Ray made his lovely, alloy pegs at work Joe had a batch of wrought iron pegs made by a black­smith; I made wooden wedges and etrier rungs from oak and we also impro­vised with various lumps of metal of suitable shape to be hammered into cracks. At first we did not use etriers and clipped a sling to each peg but quickly discovered the disadvantages of this system.
Winter was also the social season. The nights were longer and climb­ing was not pursued quite so rigorously although we did have sudden in­spirations which could easily lead to demanding situations. One such occa­sion occurred one winter evening, just about dusk. We were ensconced in our winter quarters, 'The Grand Hotel', which some of you will know as the cave formed by a huge rectangular boulder below Stanage Wall End area, when it was suggested that we go out and climb Goliath's Groove alpine style. A party of about five or six of us assembled at the foot, Joe leading in nails. I think Ron Moseley, Doug Belshaw, Eric Price, myself and maybe Don Whillans made up the remainder of the team. We roped up a few feet apart and set off each carrying a few coils. When we were well strung out up the crack there came an ominous scraping and a shower of sparks from the crucial overhanging section where Joe, barely visible in the gloom, was hav­ing a little trouble staying in contact with the rock. I had visions of the headlines `Climbers Die in Alpine Tragedy on Stanage Edge, but fortunately Joe was equal to the task and we all arrived safely on the top to feel our way down in the dark.
On another occasion, staying this time in the Roaches barn, some­one suggested that we go and bivvy under the Sloth (all these epics seemed to be centred around misguided practice for the Alps). Eventually, Ron Moseley, Pete Greenall and I left the comforts of the barn and climbed the first pitch of Pedestal Route to the ledge beneath the Sloth. Pete and I opted for sitting on the broader part of the ledge and Ronnie lay down on the narrow part with the rope tied around the outside of his sleeping bag. It was certainly a good introduction to how long and cold a bivouac can be and the winter's night passed very slowly indeed only briefly enlivened when Ronnie fell off the ledge with about four feet of slack in his belay and had to be hauled back aboard as, with his hands tucked inside his sleeping bag, he was unable to help himself. At first light we lost no time in finishing the route and heading back to the home comforts of the barn.
One of the great unsung heroes of the club was Nat Allen. He was full of fun and always willing to pass on his vast experience of climbing to oth­ers. We always looked forward to hearing his cheerful "Eh up youth, how's it going?" as he arrived at the weekend venue. Nat, being a member of Derby Mercury cycling club provided our entry into the social event of the year. the Derby Mercury Bonfire and Pantomime held on the nearest Satur­day to bonfire night at Ilam Youth Hostel. This riotous affair was followed, on the Sunday moniing, by the Dovedale Dash. a cross country run of about five miles. The competitors would line up outside Ilam Hall, many with a sausage 'buoy' in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There was some rivalry between the fitter participants but basically it was a fun event intended to shake off the cobwebs from the revelries of the previous evening. Inevitably, and unfortunately, fit-looking chaps with smart running vests soon started to appear on the scene and when the first six places began to be filled by international cross country runners the event started to lose interest for climbers.
As we became more affluent we began to acquire motorcycles and eventually old vans and cars. There are probably more stories about the motorcycling epics of the Rock and Ice and of the Cromlech Club- with whom we have always had a very close relationship- than there are of our rock-climbing exploits. Fortunately the roads were considerably quieter back in the 50s and few of our accidents were serious. No longer reliant on public transport, weekend visits to Wales and the Lakes became possible. Conse­quently the motorbike era heralded a flurry of new routes further afield. The Alps were also much more accessible and for our early alpine ventures we had to equip ourselves with state of the art survival gear: ladies' plastic macs (only ladies' macs had hoods). Ray Greenall relates the story of travel­ling out to the Alps with Fred (Count Fred Neddygough) Gough, The first proud Rock and Ice owner of a car. Fred would drive all day and on arrival at a camp site would consider his day's work to be done, pick up a book and read while Ray made camp and started the meal. After a day or two of this routine Ray decided that a change was due. As Fred picked up his book Ray handed him the water bucket and told him to get some water. Fred looked up stricken, total surprise and horror written across his face, and said plaintively: "What, me? I don't speak the bloody lingo!"
Trips to the Alps were always a great adventure: Eric Price, on his first trip to the Alps, found himself with Joe, Nat and Don, climbing as two ropes in a party of four attempting the first British ascent of the North Face of the Grand Charmoz. Eric, a strong and gifted climber but with a preference for seconding, is normally quiet and reserved. On this occasion, very much overawed by the situation, he was staying very quiet indeed and said virtually nothing throughout the first day and the subsequent bivouac high on the face. On the second day conditions quickly started to deteriorate but the team pressed doggedly on. Don was leading across steep neve when Eric, uttering his first words of any note in two days, shouted across: "Hey, are you keen on this?' at which both teams turned and retreated to the valley. Nothing is to be gained from listing the achievements of the Rock and Ice in Britain or abroad: many are already well-known and virtually all are to be found in the new routes sections of the guidebooks. In this article I have endeavoured to convey the fun and joy of being a young rock-climber in the 50s when rock-climbing as we now know it was just in its infancy. J.M.Edwards, a climber way ahead of his time, had already pointed the way with his audacious routes on The Three Cliffs. Peter Harding, ably asissted by Tony Moulam, pushed the standard in the 40s and re-introduced the grade Extremely Severe for the first time since the Abraham brothers graded rock-climbs, Easy. Moderate and Extremely Severe (a system which holds a great deal of merit). With these examples of what was possible, the Rock and Ice arrived on the scene, spearheaded by Joe and Don and with the collective ability to take climbing into a new era. ......The rest is history.
Ron Moseley on Erosion Groove HVS(US-5.9) Carreg Wasted:N Wales. Roscoe Collection©

Don Roscoe©

First published in the Climbers Club Journal. My thanks to Don for permission to re-publish this article and for the original photographs and to the CC for their cooperation.