Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Coming Up: Steve Dean's ' A Winter day at Harrison's' exclusive.

A young Gordon Stainforth tackles Harrison test piece 'Niblick in 1968: G Stainforth©

"At the Kendal Mountain Festival in 2008, Jim Curran had an excellent exhibition of his paintings and drawings that included many images of the Sussex/Kent outcrops. I thought it very significant that Jim, who has travelled extensively amongst the great mountain ranges of the world, should find such inspiration for his work in a return to his own climbing roots. As I’ve already said we never forget first loves and Jim’s work was of great charm and captured much of the essence of Harrison’s and the nearby High Rocks. One of the paintings was a large work about 20ft x 10ft, of the wall at Harrison’s between Long Layback and The Limpet. It dominated the gallery and I joined other sad sandstone refugees who were picking out the lines of the various routes much to Jim’s amusement! It seems that early Sandstone addiction has this effect on many devotees. Gordon Stainforth started visiting Harrison’s in the mid sixties with his brother John, cycling down regularly from boarding school at Tonbridge. On one very funny occasion in a pub in Derby when we were shall I say somewhat well refreshed, Gordon stood up and commenced to enact every single move on the Harrison’s classic Niblick. His attention to detail was astonishing and  gave a clear indication not only of a healthy level of slight insanity, but a deep level of affection for the place just like my own. I’m pleased to report that no beer was spilt during Gordon’s performance! People in the pub looked on bemused as all this took place, but I know that such behaviour is not unusual among southern sandstone addicts.'

This Friday...a Footless exclusive. Steve Dean's beautifully evocative piece which looks back fondly at formative years spent at Harrison Rocks...darn sarf !

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Abraham Brothers Photographing the past

Harry Griffin climbing on Dow Crag in the English Lake District.
In an age when most successful outdoor writers find themselves jetting off to report from some exotic location; Harry Griffin was of a bygone era when most outdoor writers and activists were firmly based in a particular area. In this case, AHG was very much a man of the Lakes in the same way as his contemporary Showell Styles found most of his adventures and material in North Wales. Despite both men venturing abroad on occasion, it was in their back yards that they crafted their most important works..Born in Barrow in Furness, Harry began his writing career as a cub reporter with the Barrow Guardian before moving to the Lancashire Evening Post. It was at the Post where he began to get his teeth into outdoor writing. Penning a column. 'Leaves from a Lakeland Diary' which ran for nearly thirty years. Putting even this achievement in the shade,his Guardian 'Country Diary' column ran for over fifty years, something of a journalistic world record for consistent output!
To compliment his journalism,Harry began writing books about his beloved Lake District home.
In 1961 came Inside The Real Lakeland. Two years later, In Mountain Lakeland, then Pageant Of Lakeland (1966), The Roof Of England (1968), Still the Real Lakeland (1970), Long Days In The Hills (1974), A Lakeland Notebook (1975), A Year In The Fells (1976), Freeman Of The Hills (1978), Discovering Lakeland (A Motorist's Guide) and Adventuring In Lakeland (1980), A Lakeland Mountain Diary (1990) and The Coniston Tigers (1999). 

As an outdoor activist AHG found material in every corner of his home turf. Delighting in exploring every facet of the Cumbrian uplands and describing in rich detail everything from rescuing a crag fast sheep to skiing across the frozen cols under a full winter's moon.Added to his Hillwalking and skiing experiences was a devotion to rock climbing. Amongst his charming Lake District routes are some little gems such as Sadgill Wall and The Tiger's Traverse on Dow Crag. It was in the Dow Crag area that he found himself most actively engaged. Exploits detailed in his beautiful climbing autobiography The Coniston Tigers.
Amazingly, Harry was still climbing into his 80's and completed his last route-a V Diff far above Buttermere when he was 85. He died in 2004 aged 93.


The Abraham clan.Father G P Abraham at the back with Ashley, John and George L to R

THE ABRAHAM BROTHERS of Keswick, born a hundred or more years ago, are due for a reappraisal. It has long been accepted that they were the first popularisers of mountaineering and the first to take photographs of rock climbers in action but they were also climbing pioneers of vision and distinction. Keswick Brothers on Scafell, New West on Pillar, the, Crowberry Ridge in Glencoe, Cioch Direct in Skye, and the Monolith Crack in Wales indicate the, scope. of their discoveries, and this is only a small selection. Seventy years ago the brothers were, looking at the East Buttress of Clogwyn du'r Arddu, and George, the elder of the two, once told me he believed there was an aiguille above Chamonix that used to bear their name, although I've never been able to identify it. Clearly, they were adventurous men who lived for mountains—and, to a considerable extent, made their living out of them. Early this century this was held by some to be not quite proper. Today, with scores, or even hundreds of people doing much the same thing, it would be applauded.
Ashley, the younger brother who died in 1951 at the age of 75, I knew only slightly; George, who died in 1965 in his 94th year, I knew fairly well. Our last meeting in his home that looked out on to one of the. finest views in England, took place only a few months before his death. For a couple of hours the old man, perhaps the oldest living mountaineer but still quite sprightly and clear-minded, looked back over his memories of sixty, seventy and nearly eighty years before and slowly the old photographs came to life.
For 30 years, from 1890 to 1920, the Keswick brothers pioneered new climbs in Lakeland, Scotland and Wales and with their photographs and writings, did more than anybody else to popularise the sport. They were boy­hood heroes of mine in the late 1920s and their photo­graphs outside their Keswick studio my early inspira­tion, as they must have been for many others. George was not only the very last of the deerstalker and Norfolk jacket pioneers, but the man who took the first real climbing pictures while his "The Complete Mountain­eer" and "British Mountain Climbs" were among the first climbing books. I regard it as a great privilege to have known this genial link with the earliest days of our sport. He climbed with nearly all the legendary figures—W. P. Haskett Smith, Owen Glynne Jones, Geoffrey Hastings, W. C. Slingsby, J. W. Robinson and many more—outlasted them all and was still climbing in his seventies. Even in his eighties he was flying to Switzerland to visit old friends and do modest walks, but his last memory of the Alps was of an ascent by mountain railway at the age of 87.
The two brothers were the eldest of the four sons of George Perry Abraham, the founder of the family firm, who took early photographs of Lakeland scenery and snapshots of the tourists walking down to the, lake. The third brother, Sidney, became a bank manager in Keswick and died before the last war while the youngest son, John, who at one time was acting Governor of Tanganyika, died in 1939. George was born in Keswick in 1872 and Ashley four years later. The early ambition of the elder brother was to paint Lakeland scenery rather than photograph it—he studied at art school in Manchester and there was a splendid oil painting of Skiddaw done when he was only 14 in his study—but both George and Ashley later went into the family business.
Their first day's "real" climbing—after scrambling at Castle Head near Keswick—took place about 90 years ago and George told me all about it as we sat in his study one November day in 1964. They took their mother's clothes line and went off to climb Pillar Rock. "There were some Alpine Club men on the Rock that day," George recalled, "but instead of frightening us away or laughing at us they offered to lend us a proper rope and gave us all the help they could. I remember thinking at the time 'What wonderful men!' and I made up my mind to become a climber."

Abraham Bros shot of their great friend O G Jones on Kern Knotts Crack. Fell and Rock Club©

The first new climb discovered in Lakeland by the Keswick Brothers, as they came to be called, was Sandbed Ghyll  in St John's in the Vale which they climbed in 1890 when George was 18 and Ashley only 14. George remembered that day 74 years earlier, very well—how they had had a drink from a waterfall about half-way up and at the top of the pitch, had found a dead sheep lying in the water. He couldn't remember what they had called the climb, except that it wasn't Sandbed Ghyll. "People often altered the names of climbs and even put our own names on some of them
including­ those two buttresses on Dow Crag—but we never did that," he told me. He clearly remembered, too, their first ascent of Walla Crag Gully in Borrowdale in 1892 and once asked me nearly 60 years later, whether the withered root of an old holly tree they had used as a foothold, was still there. When I told him that it was, although now worn thin by hundreds of climbers' boots and creaking ominously, he was delighted.
George was more often the leader and the instigator of new climbs. He had a wonderful eye for a route and spent some time in studying the problems before­hand. He was a very neat climber on rock—not nearly so agile on snow and ice—and, although daring and inventive in rope tactics and the like, was a most cautious climber. His daughter, Mrs Enid J. Wilson of Keswick, tells me he never fell from a climb although he once broke a collar bone in a motor car accident in 1901—the brothers were also pioneer motorists in Lakeland. Ashley on the other hand, was very strong and, as often as not, was the trustworthy second, always ready to give a shoulder or other help. The brothers were of about equal height but Ashley was much heavier, weighing about 15 stones. George, was slim and wiry all his days. Their personalities were complementary
George, rather quiet and unassuming, Ashley, a great talker, full of charm and good humour. They shared the photography but George did most of the writing while Ashley went on his lecture tours. Ashley was the first president of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club—in 1907 —and George an early honorary member, held office in many clubs, but was chiefly proud of his hon. member­ship of the Alpine Club, conferred in 1954. He was also the founder president of the little Keswick Mountain­eering Club and walked up to the club hut high above Honister, for the opening ceremony, when he was over 80. George was proud, too, of a signed photograph of the late Prince Consort of the Netherlands. Many years ago he was asked to take the Prince for a walk over Scafell Pike—he and his wife, the former Queen Wilhelmina, were holiday-making in the Lake District at the time. They went up from Seathwaite and came down to Langdale and when they had come down Rossett Ghyll they found the Queen sitting sketching, George remembered, "in a tatty old woollen dress," not far from the sheepfold in Mickleden.
The brothers' companion on many first ascents was Owen Glynne Jones and one of the most important of these climbs was Walker's Gully on Pillar Rock—"the last big, unclimbed gully in Lakeland." Jones, George Abraham and A. E. Field were the party on that occasion and they walked to Pillar on a January morning through a storm of rain and sleet. The climb was iced with a waterfall splashing down between the icicles and the party was wet through and frozen before it reached the limit of previous exploration. Jones led with George as his second and to climb the crux, took off his boots and his Norfolk jacket and used a rope loop to help him up the worst corner. Perhaps this ended the gully era in Lakeland and opened the way for a start on the great face climbs.
Moss Ghyll: Fell and Rock Club©
The combination of Jones and George Abraham, in particular, was one of the most formidable in British mountaineering at that time and, between them they privately laid plans for an attempt on Kangchenjunga. But, before these could be finalised, Jones fell to his death on the Dent Blanche and the development of British climbing was probably held back for years as a result. George once told me that Jones was the finest climber he had ever known—extremely strong in the arms but also immensely neat in his footwork.
The Abrahams' favourite climb remained the 'New West on Pillar, discovered by George and Ashley in 1901, and the last climb the two brothers did together —in 1936, when Ashley was 60 and George 64. In his 70th year George took his second wife, up the Crowberry Ridge on Buachaille Etive Mor—one of his most famous first ascents. "When we were about half-way up," she told me in the 1960s, "George said he knew of a good place where we could have our sandwiches but it turned out to be a ledge about nine inches wide overlooking a vertical drop." This was one of George's last climbs in Britain.
Owen Glynne Jones had been introduced to the Abraham brothers at Wasdale Head during Christmas, 1895 and the following Easter called on them at Kes­wick after a night journey from London. He had in mind a book of Lakeland climbs and thought the brothers might be able to provide the pictures while the Abrahams with their eye to the main chance, quickly realised the potential of the idea. Jones "Rock Climb­ing in the English Lake District," illustrated by the Abraham brothers, was published in 1897 had a big success and later became a minor classic. The brothers were the first to take heavy plate cameras on to the crags and photograph rock climbers in action but there was some criticism from the old school who did not like the publicity. It was even alleged that some of the pictures had been sensationalised by tilting.
On that Easter meeting in 1896 the Abrahams and Jones went up Eagle's Nest Ridge on Great Gable by the West Chimney, came down the Arrowhead Ridge, ascended the Needle Ridge and finished down Needle Gully—a good day 80 years ago, only ten years after Haskett Smith's first ascent of Napes Needle. A few days later the three made the first ascent of what is now known as Jones Route from Deep Gill on Scafell ­using combined tactics at one awkward point. The Abrahams often provided Jones with extra footholds on their shoulders or heads and were also among the first to make rope belays although their practice of paying the rope across rock projections would not find favour today. George has told me that the Lake­land crags looked quite different in those days. "There wasn't a scratch or a mark on them," he said "and you could climb almost anywhere and be on rock where nobody had ever been before. But there was a lot more grass and lichen about and we had to do a lot of gardening to find the holds."
The Abrahams first visited Wales at Easter, 1897, making the first direct ascent of the Slanting Gully on Lliwedd, where George made early use of a thread belay. Two years later with Jones, they were there again, making the second ascent of the Devil's Kitchen and also of the Devil's Staircase. They also discovered the Milestone Buttress and a few years later, made the first ascents of the Hawk's Nest Buttress on Glyder Fach and the Monolith Crack. Their climbs gave them the material for their new book, "Rock Climbing in North Wales," and two years later George wrote "The Com­plete Mountaineer," following it with "British Mountain Climbs" and "Mountain Adventures at Home and Abroad." Ashley's contribution was "Rock Climbing in Skye," published in 1908. The brothers had made their first visit to Skye in 1895, following it by several others and putting up several first ascents, including the Cioch Direct, climbed by Ashley and H. Harland in 1907. At the beginning of the century the brothers, with E. A. Baker and J. W. Puttrell, had made the first ascent of the Crowberry Ridge in Glencoe which George had considered equal to the North Climb on Pillar and Eagle's 'Nest Ridge on Gable combined. George had spent his honeymoon in Glencoe round about this time and Winifred's Pinnacle on Aonoch Dubh was named after his first wife who was a cousin of Owen Glynne Jones.
In the Lake District the Abrahams' first ascents in­cluded Keswick Brothers on Scafell, a bold lead for 1897 and their fine route on B Buttress, Dow Crag, which they climbed in 1903. Between them they were involved in at least 50 first ascents in this country, George being the leader on about 30 occasions. They also climbed a great deal in the Alps, first visiting Zermatt in 1897 and climbing mostly with guides, as was the, fashion in those days. Being more interested in rock than in snow and ice they were particularly active, among the Chamonix Aiguilles and in the Dolomites. The brothers were also 'interested in several other sporting pursuits and rather naturally, their pioneer motoring included some adventurous hill climbing by car.
Their photographs fall into three categories—exciting pictures of climbers balanced on tiny holds above tremendous drops or jammed in dark gullies, studies, of the giants of the Alps, or restful pictures of the Lakeland fells taken at all seasons of the year. Their most suc­cessful picture from a commercial point of view—copies have gone all over the world—was a photograph of Crummock Water, with a rowing boat in the fore­ground, taken on a quiet November day 70 years ago.
To take their early pictures on the crags the brothers had to handle heavy equipment up the rocks and some­times did their own developing and printing in the open in shaded tents close to running water. Ashley often carried the equipment on the crags, although in the Alps they used porters for the work. The never used filters or carried an exposure meter, but the light always had to be exactly right and coming from the correct angle. Sometimes the climbers tended to merge into the background and, to correct this, some later photographers dressed their climbers in white sweaters. Ashley became the lion of the lecture halls, travelling the country with his lantern slides.
The brothers lived in adjoining houses at Chestnut Hill, Keswick—Ashley at "The Screen" and George at "Idwal." Throughout their life they were the closest friends—both genial, kindly men, although contrasting, complementary characters. They lived to survive early criticism that they made money out of their climbing and have become accepted throughout the climbing world as distinguished pioneers and men of high pro­fessional integrity. They remained perhaps a little old-fashioned in their attitude to the sport and in their writings but to the end were devoted to the hills. Both were always ready with help or encouragement for the young mountaineer and quietly modest about their contribution to the sport. They will always be remem­bered for Keswick Brothers climb on Scafell, the two climbs on Dow Crag that bear their name, many fine routes in Lakeland, Wales and Scotland, their writings and, most of all, their photography. Climbing owes a great debt to these adventurous Cumbrian brothers who by their artistry, energy and courage, first lifted up so many people's eyes to the hills.


















The original Abraham Brothers studio in the Keswick town centre. Now the George Fisher Outdoor shop.

AH Griffin©

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Coming up: Photographing the past.


Wasdale Head Inn: Abraham Brothers.Fell & Rock club©

"The two brothers were the eldest of the four sons of George Perry Abraham, the founder of the family firm who took early photographs of Lakeland scenery and snapshots of the tourists walking down to the lake. The third brother, Sidney, became a bank manager in Keswick and died before the last war while the youngest son, John, who at one time was acting Governor of Tanganyika, died in 1939. George was born in Keswick in 1872 and Ashley four years later. The early ambition, of the elder brother was to paint Lakeland scenery rather than photograph it—he studied at an art school in Manchester and there was a splendid oil painting of Skiddaw, done when he was only 14 in his study—but both George and Ashley later went into the family business.
Their first day's "real" climbing—after scrambling at Castle Head near Keswick—took place about 90 years ago and George, told me all about it as we sat in his study one November day in 1964. They took their mother's clothes line and went off to climb Pillar Rock. "There were some Alpine Club men on the Rock that day," George recalled, "but instead of frightening us away or laughing at us they offered to lend us a proper rope and gave us all the help they could. I Remember thinking at the time 'What wonderful men!' and I made up my mind to become a climber."

This Friday, Harry Griffin considers the legacy of George and Ashley Abraham. 'The Keswick Brothers'.Universally recognized as the original climbing action photographers.

Friday, 18 June 2010

The climb that time forgot.

Llyn Hywel betwixt Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr.

How quickly do times change. The following article was written and published in 1996 and detailed a mysterious mountaineering route in the heart of the wild Rhinog range. At the time of writing, this was a remote and uncharted territory for climbers. The only details offered of the route in question was in a 1960 climbing book by Edward Pyatt called Where to climb in the British Isles and tantalisingly suggesting that a route on Rhinog Fach was 'Once but no longer,the most interesting mountaineering route between Snowdon and Cader Idris'. Little did the author know at the time that the Rhinogs were on the cusp of an explosion of activity led by a super-charged trio of climbers which consisted of the King of Mid-Wales climbing, the late great John Sumner; someone who had already made a remarkable impact on Mid Wales climbing,Terry Taylor and the extraordinarily talented Martin Crocker who it seemed-despite living in the South West of England-could sniff out unclimbed Welsh crags from hundreds of miles away !
The gritstone of Y Rhinogau was about to yeild hundreds of new climbs.
During this period, The Climbers Club were in the process of compiling a new guidebook for the Mid-Wales area which turned out to be a regular 'bumper fun book' of 500 pages. Covering a huge swathe of Mid Wales stretching from Cader Idris to Betws y Coed and including entire mountain areas including the Rhinogs and Arenig Fawr for the first time. Martin Crocker found himself covering the Rhinog area for the guide and quickly discovered the the mysterious route was in fact 'The South Ridge of Rhinog Fach', put up in 1935 by that indefatigable Welsh explorer, Showell Styles accompanied by George Garrard. Incidentally, As I write in 2010; The new CC Ogwen guidebook publishes another 'lost' Showell Styles mountaineering route- 'Eaglet's Nest Ridge' on the Eastern side of Gallt Yr Ogof. One can but wonder when the next obscure Showell Styles mountaineering route will turn up !
In the current guidebook, Martin Crocker essentially uses the route description I offered in the fact-file acompanying the article but has nudged the grade up to 'severe' and awarded it a star.In the intervening years, South Ridge appears to have attracted a fairly regular and favourably inclined clientele.
It should be noted with relation to the history of Rhinog climbing that in fact former Plas y Brenin instructor Nick Gough established first ascents in the area-more especially on the table top plateau peak of Foel Penolau- in the 1960's. These were unrecorded so at the very least Nick should be accorded Rhinog pioneer status with the likes of Showell Styles.

john appleby 2010.

Scott Lloyd on the crux 4th pitch of the route

Once though no longer, 'the most interesting mountaineering route between Snowdon and Cader Idris. This intriguing extract from Edward Pyatt's 1960 regional climbing directory Where to Climb in the British Isles, describes a mountain­eering route which time and the fickle hand of climbing fashion had conspired to erase from the pages of contemporary climbing literature. It de­scribed an unnamed ridge climb on the South Face of Rhinog Fach, by Welsh standards a fairly remote mountain, which offers its 2,500ft peak as the northerly high point of a long mountain ridge which takes in two other distinct peaks of around the same height, Y Llethr and Diffwys. It is an area held in special affection by walkers and wild country campers who savour the wilder­ness experiences amongst the peregrine-echo­ing cliffs and the rugged heather moors which tumble down upon the myriad pools and deep black lakes which sparkle beneath the crags like diamonds in a necklace.
Despite the area's unique character which had always drawn the more discerning walker and backpacker away from the seared and cluttered mountains and valleys of northern Snowdonia, the area has never been renowned as a climbing arena despite the abundance of outcrops and unclimbed faces.
The only crags which have ever gained a men­tion in the Rhinog range are Craig y Cae on the East Face of Y Garn and Craig Bodlyn which stands above Llyn Bodlyn on a western spur of Diffwys. The central section of the range is to­tally excluded from all current guides including John Sumner's current Climbers' Club guide to Mid-Wales.
I was intrigued to discover why this unnamed mountaineering route had totally disappeared from view and keen to discover why it had once been deemed 'the most interesting mountain­eering route between Snowdon and Cader Idris'?
Trawling through my memory banks I recalled an impressive cliff face high above Llyn Hywel on the south side of Rhinog Fach. A delve into my photographic record revealed a reasonably an­gled, stepped ridge which ran parallel to a steep boulder field above the Llyn. The south face of the ridge looked as if it offered the potential for some fine, steep climbs on clean rock although, of course, the rock quality could not exactly be gauged from an old photograph. At its greatest height the main face dropped 300ft to the boul­ders and scree below. However, for much of its length the ridge lacked the depth or exposure that marks out most classic ridge and arete climbs.
Further news filtered through from one of my climbing partners, Dave Williams, who had just returned from climbing on the unique' gritstone slabs just to the south of Rhinog Fach beneath the ridge connecting Rhinog Fach with Y Llethr. A system of gritstone slabs of between 50 and 100ft apparently offered a wealth of easier graded climbs including a unique slab climb of no more than Severe which began just a few feet above the deep, black waters of Llyn Hywel it­self. Dave enthusiastically described tension tra­versing across the foot of the slab before he climbed directly up the centre of one of the long­est slab climbs in the vicinity.*( Walking on water: severe *) Dave had also stud­ied the long, broken ridge of Rhinog Fach and registered it as something to take a closer look at in the future.
With the August sun beating unmercifully down upon North Wales's solar sated citizens, Scott Lloyd and I set out from the pine shaded car park at the edge of the gloomy conifer forest of Coed y Brenin. Our sweat-stained sacs were weighted down with camping and climbing gear as we began the long tromp through Brenin's northernmost plantation towards the deep, barren pass of BwIch Drws Ardudwy which separates Rhinog Fach from Rhinog Fawr.
One and a half hours later we collapsed beneath our destination on the inviting shore Llyn Hywel. As I swam on my back in the refreshing mountain waters I studied the ridge in detail, picking out the best line which began more than 200ft above the lapping waters of Hywel and terminated just before the summit itself. It looked steeper from this angle with one or two awkward looking sections to overcome, However, what detracted from its charaacter was the area of grass, rock and heather to its left,an area which was always going to provide an escapable option from the main ridge. Notwithstanding this undermining feature, I had to conclude that the same could be said for many traditional mountaineering routes in Wales. Notably on Tryfan, where escape from the true line as an option was usually the rule rather than the exception.
With the cooling waters of Llyn Hywel behind us we wound our way through the jumbled boulders which lay beneath the mountain and were soon standing within a small alcove which seemed the best of the various options in the vicinity to begin our climb. A short, cracked slabby wall ran up to an overhang. With one of those `cowbell' hexes that could hold a number 69 bus inserted just beneath the overhang I over­came the barrier on the right and found myself on the right edge of a hanging slab. A step on to the slab and then pleasant, easy climbing up the slab ended on a spacious stance.
The climbing was never hard but the pull around the overhang was awkward. Despite that it never felt more than V Diff and as Scott puz­zled his way around the overhang I studied the next pitch. Some easy climbing brought Scott to a short cracked wall detached from the steeper wall behind. By torqueing his right leg in the deep crack he managed to overcome the paucity of handholds and pull up on to the flat top. Despite its lack of stature this short boulder problem was a lot harder than it looked and was difficult to grade. After easy climbing up the next short wall we were faced by a much steeper section. This offered really enjoyable climbing on perfect rough rock with good protection throughout.

The author tackles the steep little rib on pitch three

The rib was not more than 30ft in length and technically no more than Severe. It provided the hardest sustained standard so far. Pitch four of­fered nothing more demanding than 150ft of scrambling but with some exposure high above the scree fan below. The next pitch proved to be the penultimate and the crux of the route be­ing high above a deep, blind gully which cuts into the ridge close to the top. Climbing a steep, clean slab I was forced out right into a grassy bay by a large, overhanging roof. From the bay I was forced further right on to a blunt rib which was steep and exposed. The climbing felt precarious as for the first time on the route the rock felt some­what suspect and the protection was not overabundant. At this stage the climbing was no more technically demanding than Severe but the steepness and lack of protection made it feel more serious throughout its 60ft than anything previously encountered. With the fifth and final pure climbing pitch completed we were left with 200ft of scrambling to top out within spitting distance of the summit.
With the late afternoon sun still searing in its intensity, Scott and I drank in the vast tapes­try which lay beneath us. To the west the gentle sheltered waters of Tremadog Bay. To the east the sombre, dun hills and valleys of the Migneint stretching towards Bala. To the north, the rag­ged mountains of Rhinog Fawr and Moel Ysgyfarnogod reached out towards their more respectable Moelwyn neighbours beyond and to the south, the high mountain ridge switchbacked its course towards the peerless Mawddach Estu­ary and the ice cream parlours of Barmouth.
We had climbed the 'lost' ridge climb of Rhinog Fach and I pondered my conclusions? Apart from the obscure comments which Edward Pyatt repeats in his 1960 guide I have no idea when the climb was first done, who were the first ascensionists and how it was graded. Be­cause of its remoteness and with the area suffer­ing from extreme underexposure as a climbing ground it is clear that the Rhinogs were never going to draw a regular clientele to the area when there is so much better climbing to be had in the mountainous heart of Snowdonia to the north. The South Ridge of Rhinog Fawr is cer­tainly no Grooved Arete or Amphitheatre Buttress. As mountaineering routes go it is somewhat artificial,­
escapable and lacking technical continu­ity. Nevertheless, there are certainly worse re­corded routes receiving regular attention by tra­ditionalists in the more popular climbing honeypots of North Wales.
The route does throw down some interest­ing challenges at stages throughout the climb. Despite a lot of scrambling involved there is some good climbing to be had on four out of the six pitches and the outlook is never less than out­standing. If you can survive the strength-sapping walk in then the one thing you can be certain of, you won't find yourself queueing with other par­ties at the foot of the climb!

The south ridge of Rhinog Fach: First ascent-Showell Styles/George Garrard-1935
















John Appleby©

First published in HIGH: Oct-96. 


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Coming up: The mystery of the lost mountain route in the Rhinogs..solved!

The south ridge of Rhinog Fach pulls out of the shadows.

" Once, though no longer, 'the most interesting mountaineering route between Snowdon and Cader Idris'. This intriguing extract from Edward Pyatt's 1960 regional climbing directory Where to Climb in the British Isles, describes a mountain­eering route which time and the fickle hand of climbing fashion had conspired to erase from the pages of contemporary climbing literature. It de­scribed an unnamed ridge climb on the South Face of Rhinog Fach -by Welsh standards a fairly remote mountain- which offers its 2,500ft peak as the northerly high point of a long mountain ridge which takes in two other distinct peaks of around the same height, Y Llethr and Diffwys. It is an area held in special affection by walkers and wild country campers who savour the wilder­ness experiences amongst the peregrine-echo­ing cliffs and the rugged heather moors which tumble down upon the myriad pools and deep black lakes which sparkle beneath the crags like diamonds in a necklace.
Despite the area's unique character which had always drawn the more discerning walker and backpacker away from the seared and cluttered mountains and valleys of northern Snowdonia, the area has never been renowned as a climbing arena despite the abundance of outcrops and unclimbed faces.'

How times change! This Friday John Appleby recalls climbing a mysterious mountain route in the wild Rhinogs before the area underwent a new routing explosion.




Friday, 11 June 2010

The Assault

George Leigh-Mallory (second left back row) with the 1924 expedition party.

In 1921,three years before his death on Everest, George Leigh-Mallory played a leading role in The British Reconnaissance Exhibition organised by the Mount Everest Committee. Despite being plagued by logistical problems and several members of the party including sherpas, succumbing to various health problems including altitude sickness; the party did succeed in several respects.
His party were almost certainly the first Westerners to view the Western Cwm at the foot of the Lhotse face, as well as charting the course of the Rongbuk Glacier up to the base of the North Face. After circling the mountain from the south side, his party finally discovered the East Rongbuk Glacier-—the highway to the summit now used by nearly all climbers on the Tibetan side of the mountain. By climbing up to the saddle of the North Ridge (the North Col, 23,000-ft, 7000m) they observed a route to the summit via the North-East Ridge via the legendary Second Step.
What follows is Mallory's first hand account of those trials and tribulations.


In the agreeable climate of Kharta we were sufficiently occupied with the results of
photography and preparations for the future and there was time besides for unmixed idleness, which we knew how to appreciate. Our thoughts turned often to the weather. Local lore confirmed our expectations for September, and we looked each day for signs of a change. It was arranged, in hope if not in confidence, to move up on the first signs of improvement. Already before we came down to Kharta our Advanced Base Camp had been moved up ; it was now situated at about 17,300 feet on a convenient grassy plateau and only a reasonable stage below our 20,000-foot camp, where some light tents and stores had also been left. At these two camps we had, in fact, left everything which we should not absolutely require at Kharta, so that few mountaineering stores would have to be carried forward from the Base when we came up again. Our first task would be to supply the Advanced Base with food and fuel, and a start had already been made by collecting here a pile of wood, nominally thirty loads. Transport in any case was not likely to be a difficulty in the early stages. Local coolies could easily be hired, and Howard-Bury was to follow us up after a short interval with all available strength to help in every possible way.
 The first object which our plans must include was, of course, to reach Chang La ; by finding the way to this point we should establish a line of attack and complete a stage of our reconnaissance. Secondly we must aim at reaching the North-east Shoulder. In so far as it was an object of reconnaissance to determine whether it was possible to climb Mount Everest, our task could never be complete until we had actually climbed it ; but short of that it was important to have a view of the final stage, and could we reach the great shoulder of the arete we should at least be in a better position to estimate what lay between there and the summit. Finally we saw no reason to exclude the supreme object itself. It would involve no sacrifice of meaner ends ; the best would not interfere with the good. For if it should turn out that the additional supplies required for a longer campaign were more than our coolies could carry, we would simply drop them and aim less high.
In organising the assault we had first to consider how our camps could be established, at Lhakpa La or perhaps better beyond it at a lower elevation, at Chang La, and finally as high as possible, somewhere under the shoulder, we thought, at about 26,500 feet. From the camp on Chang La we should have to carry up ten loads, each of 15 lb., which would provide tents enough, and sleeping-sacks and food for a maximum of four Sahibs and four coolies ; sixteen coolies were allowed for this task ; twelve therefore would have to return on the day of their ascent and sleep at Chang La, and on the assumption that they would require an escort of Sahibs who must also sleep at this camp, four small tents must remain there, making six in all to be carried up to this point  The same plan could be adopted for the second at Lhakpa La ; only one journey there, I calculated, would be required before we started in force from the 20,000-foot camp to go straight ahead without delay. The crux would lie in the stage from Lhakpa La to Chang La. This plan was never executed in its later stages, and we cannot know for certain whether it would have held good. But it may be conjectured, in view of our experience, that the weakest link would have broken ; either an extra day would have been spent between Lhakpa La and Chang La, or, if we had reached Chang La according to the programme with the minimum of supplies, the coolies would not have been brought to this point a second time and the climbing party would have been cut off from its reserves. And, granted the most favourable conditions for the attempt, in asking the coolies to carry loads of 30 lb. on two consecutive days at these high altitudes, we were probably expecting too much of them. It must be concluded, if this opinion is correct, that we had not enough coolies for what we intended.

On the last day of August, Bullock and I were established once again at our Advanced Base. The weather had not yet cleared, though it was showing some signs of change. At Kharta, where they found little to amuse them and no work to employ their time, they had sought diversion with the aid of liquor and become discontented and ill-affected. They were badly in need of a routine, which at the Advanced Base was easily enough provided. Besides, I wanted to be ready, and it seemed not too soon to begin carrying loads up to the next camp. There was no occasion for hurry in the event. We were obliged to wait nearly three weeks, until. September 19, before moving forward. The delay served no useful purpose, the work of supplying our present needs and providing for the future was sufficiently spread over the long tale of days, but interspersed with more rest and leisure than anyone required.In some respects life at the Advanced Base compared favourably with our experience at other camps. The place had a charm of its own. The short turf about us, the boulders and little streams reminded me of Welsh hillsides  and these high pastures were often decorated by the brilliant blues of Gentiana ornata and by the most exquisite of saxifrages, which, with the yellow and ochre markings on the cream glaze of its tiny bowl, recalls the marginal ornament on some Persian page. Whenever the weather cleared for a few hours we saw down the valley a splendid peak in a scene of romantic beauty and by walking up to a stony shoulder only 2,000 feet above us, we had amazing views of Everest and Makalu. And it was an advantage during these days of waiting to be a larger party, as we soon became.Bury and Wollaston, and  Raeburn whom we rejoiced to see again, had come up on the 6th, Morshead and Wheeler on the I Ith, and for two nights Heron was of our company. We made little excursions to keep ourselves fit, and on one occasion enjoyed some rock-climbing. But it amused nobody to watch the procession of clouds which precipitated sleet by day and snow by night, and our appetite for adventure could not be stimulated by making time pass in some endurable fashion and counting the unhopeful signs.Under these circumstances I became more than ever observant of the party's physical condition. I find a passage in one of my letters written during this period of waiting in which I boast of finding myself ",still able to go up about 1,500 feet in an Hour—not bad going at these altitudes "--­a reassuring statement enough but for the one word " still," which betrays all my anxiety. In fact there was too much cause to be anxious. Three of our strongest coolies were ill at this camp ; others seemed to be tired more easily than they should be. And what of the Sahibs ? At least it must be said that several of them were not looking their best. Bullock, though he never complained, seemed no longer to be the fit man he was at the end of July. And for my part I began to experience a certain lack of exuberance when going up hill. I came to realise that all such efforts were unduly exhausting ; my reserve of strength had somehow diminished. The whole machine, in fact, was running down ; the days continued to pass with their cloud and rain and snow, always postponing our final effort to a later date and a colder season  and with them our chances of success were slowly vanishing.

Mallory and Irvine set out on their ill fated summit attempt.

When at last the weather cleared, it was evident that the fate of our enterprise would be decided by the sun's power to melt the snow. In a subsequent chapter I shall have more to say about the snow's melting ; it may suffice to remark here that, before we left the Advanced Base, I had good reason to expect that we should meet adverse conditions, and was resolved at the same time that nothing was to be gained by waiting.  On the 20th, therefore, leaving Bullock to accompany Wheeler, Morshead and I set forth to get fourteen loads up to Lhakpa La. Though our prospects of reaching a high point on Everest were already sufficiently dim, I intended to carry out the original plan until obliged by circumstances to modify it ; it might prove necessary to spend an extra day in reaching Chang La, and in that case we could perhaps afford to stop short of Llia-lipa and establish our camp below its final slopes. But if the strain on this first day was likely to be severe, I argued that the coolies could rest to-morrow, and that the second journey in frozen tracks would be easy enough. That we should be passing the night a few hundred feet higher (at 22,500 feet) was a relatively unimportant consideration. The great matter was to put heart into the coolies ; it would be infinitely more encouraging to reach the crest with a sense of complete achievement, to see the clear prospect ahead and to proceed downwards on the other side. 
Our start at an early hour on the 20th was propitious enough. It was the same moonlit glacier of our expedition a month before as we made good our approach to its surface. But the conditions were altered. For the first time since we had come to these mountains we experienced the wonderful delight of treading snow that is both crisp and solid. We walked briskly over it, directly towards Mount Everest, with all the hope such a performance might inspire. The night was exceedingly cold and there was no untoward delay. In less than an hour we were at the foot of the icefall. We were determined on this occasion not to avoid it by the rocks of the left bank, but to find a quicker way through the tumbled ice. At first all went well. A smooth-floored corridor took us helpfully upwards. And then, in the dim light, we were among the crevasses.
To be seriously held up here might well be fatal to our object, and in the most exciting kind of mountaineering adventures we had the stimulus of this thought. We plunged into the maze and struggled for a little time, crossing frail bridges over fantastic depths and making steps up steep little walls, until it seemed we were in serious trouble. One leap proposed by the leader proved too much for some of the laden coolies and a good deal of pushing and pulling was required to bring them over the formidable gap. We had begun to waste time. Halted on a sharp little crest between two monstrous chasms Morshead and I discussed the situation and thereafter gravely proceeded to reconnoitre the ground to our left. In ten minutes we came to another corridor like the first, which brought us out above the icefall. We were well satisfied with our progress as we halted at sunrise, and it was a pleasant change to get our feet out of the snow and knock a little warmth into chilled toes. But our confidence had ebbed. Even as we entered the icefall our feet had occasionally broken the crust as we came out of it we were stamping a trail. Dorji Gompa, our unladen coolie, and perhaps the strongest man of all, took the lead when we went on, and plugged manfully upwards. But already the party was showing signs of fatigue. One coolie, and then two others, fell out and could not be induced to come further. I sent Dorji Gompa back to bring on one of their loads. Morshead, Sanglu, and I took turns ahead and soon came to the worst snow we had encountered anywhere. In it no firm steps could be stamped by the leaders to save the coolies behind, and each man in turn had to contend with the shifting substance of fine powder. The party straggled badly. It was necessary for some of us to press on and prove that the goal could be reached. Many of the men were obliged to halt at frequent intervals. But time was on our side. Gradually the party fought its way up the final slopes. As we approached the pass I looked back with Morshead over the little groups along our track and saw some distance below the last moving figure another lying huddled up on the snow. I soon learnt the meaning of this : it was Dorji Gompa who lay there. He had carried on not one load as I had asked him, but two, until he had fallen there dazed and exhausted.

At length eleven loads reached the pass and two more were only 800 feet lower. If we had not done all we set out to do I was satisfied we had done enough. We had established tracks to Lhakpa La which should serve us well when they had frozen hard, and not too many loads remained below to be brought up two days later. We now obtained a clear view of Climig La; it was possible to make more exact calciflations, and it was evident we must modify our plans. We saw a wall of formidable dimensions, perhaps 1,000 feet high the surface was unpleasantly broken by insuperable bergschrunds and the general angle was undoubtedly steep. The slopes of Everest to the South were out of the question and if it were possible to avoid a direct assault by the North side the way here would be long, difficult and exceedingly laborious. The wall itself offered the best chance, and I was in good hopes we could get up. But it would not be work for untrained men and to have on the rope a number of laden coolies, more or less mountain sick, conducted by so small a nucleus as three Sahibs, who would also presumably be feeling the effects of altitude, was a proposition not to be contemplated for a moment.
We must have as strong a party as possible in the first place, simply to reach the col and afterwards to bring up a camp.With this idea I selected the party. Wollaston felt that his place of duty was not with the van ; only Wheeler besides had sufficient mountaineering experience, and it was decided that he alone should accompany Bullock and myself on our first attempt to reach the col. Nevertheless, it seemed undesirable to abandon so early the hope that Bury and Morshead would be of use to us later on  and Wollaston clearly must start with us from the 20,000-foot camp where all had gathered on the 20th.I had hoped we should have a, full complement of coolies on the 22nd, but when morning came it was found that three, including two of the best men, were too ill to start. Consequently some of the loads were rather heavier than I intended. But all arrived safely at Lhakpa La before midday. Visited by malicious gusts from the North-west, the pass was cheerless and chilly ;however the rim afforded us some protection, and we decided to pitch our tents there rather than descend on the other side with the whole party, a move which I felt might complicate the return. I was not very happy about the prospects for the morrow. 
For my own part I had been excessively and unaccountably tired in coming up to the col. I observed no great sparkle of energy or enthusiasm among my companions.There was no question of bustling off before dawn on the 23rd, but we rose early enough, as I supposed, to push on to Chang La if we were sufficiently strong. Morshead and I in a Mummery tent had slept well and I congratulated myself on an act of mutilation in cutting two large slits in its roof. The rest had not fared so well, but seemed fit enough, and the wonderful prospect from our camp at sunrise was a cheering sight. With the coolies, however, the case was different. Those who had been unwell overnight had not recovered, and it was evident that only a comparatively small number would be able to come on ; eventually I gathered ten and of these ten it was evident that none were unaffected by the height and several were more seriously mountain-sick. Under these circumstances it was necessary to consider which loads should be carried on. Bury, Wollaston and Morshead suggested that they should go back at once so as not to burden the party with the extra weight of their belongings, and it seemed the wisest plan that they should return. Certain stores were left behind at Lhakpa La as reserve supplies for the climbing party. I decided at an early hour that our best chance was to take an easy day ; after a late start and a very slow march we pitched our tents on the open snow up towards the col. It might have been supposed that in so deep a cwm and sheltered on three sides by steep mountain slopes, we should find a tranquil air and the soothing, though chilly calm of undisturbed frost. 
Night came clearly indeed, but to all no gentle intentions. Fierce squalls of wind visited our tents and shook and worried them with the disagreeable threat of tearing them away from their moorings, and then scurried off, leaving us in wonder at the change and asking what next to expect. It was a cold wind at an altitude of 22,000 feet, and however little one may have suffered, the atmosphere discouraged sleep. Again I believe I was more fortunate than my companions, but Bullock and Wheeler fared badly. Lack of sleep, since it makes one sleepy, always discourages an early start, and hot drinks take time to brew ; in any case, it was wise to start rather late so as to have the benefit of warm sun whenever our feet should be obliged to linger in cold snow or ice steps. It was an hour or so after sunrise when we left the camp and half an hour later we were breaking the crust on the first slopes under the wall.  Apart from one brief spell of cutting when we passed the corner of a bergshrund it was a matter of straightforward plugging, firstly slanting up to the right on partially frozen avalanche snow and then left in one long upward traverse to the summit. Only one passage shortly below the col caused either anxiety or trouble ; here the snow was lying at a very steep angle and was deep enough to be disagreeable. About 500 steps of very hard  work covered all worst of the traverse and we were on the col shortly before 11.30 a.m. By this time two coolies were distinctly tired, though by no means incapable of coming on ; the third, who had been in front, was com­paratively fresh. Wheeler thought he might be good for some further effort, but had lost all feeling in his feet. Bullock was tired, but by slicer will power would evidently come on—how far, one couldn't say. For my part I had had the wonderful good fortune of sleeping tolerably well at both high camps and now finding my best form ; I supposed I might be capable of another 2,000 feet, and there would be no time for more. But what lay ahead of us

My eyes had often strayed, as we came up, to the rounded edge above the col and the final rocks below the North-east arete. If ever we had doubted whether the arete were accessible, it was impossible to doubt any longer. For a long way up those easy rock and snow slopes was neither danger nor difficulty. But at present there was wind. Even where we stood under the lee of a little ice cliff it came in fiercegusts at frequent intervals, blowing up the powdery snow in a suffocating tourbillon. On the col beyond it was blowing a gale. And higher was a more fearful sight. The powdery fresh snow on the great face of Everest was being swept along in unbroken spindrift and the very ridge where our route lay was marked out to receive its unmitigated fury. We could see the blown snow deflected upwards for a moment where the wind met the ridge, only to rush violently down in a frightful blizzard on the leeward side. To see, in fact, was enough ; the wind had settled the. question ; it would have been folly to go on. Nevertheless, some little discussion took place as to what might be possible, and we struggled a few steps further to put the matter to the test. For a few moments we exposed ourselves on the col to feel the full strength of the blast, then struggled back to shelter. Nothing more was said about pushing our assault any further.It remained to take a final decision on the morning of the 25th. We were evidently too weak a party to play a waiting game at this altitude. We must either take our camp to the col or go back. A serious objection to going forward lay in the shortage of coolies' rations. Had the men been fit it would not have been too much for them to return, as I had planned, unladen to Lhakpa La and reach Chang La again the same day. I doubted whether any two could be found to do that now ; and to subtract two was to leave only eight, of whom two were unfit to go on, so that six would remain to carry seven loads. However, the distance to the col was so short that I was confident such difficulties could be overcome one way or another.A more unpleasant consideration was the thought of requiring a party which already felt the height too much to sleep at least a 1,000 feet higher. We might well find it more than we could do to get back over Lhakpa La, and be forced to make a. hungry descent down the Rongbuk Valley. There would be no disaster in that event. The crucial matter was the condition of the climbers. Were we fit to push the adventure further ? The situation, if any one of the whole party collapsed, would be extremely disagreeable. Such a collapse I judged might well be the fate of one or other of us if we were to push our assault above Chang La, to the limit of our strength. And what more were we likely to accomplish from a, camp on Chang  La ? The second night had been no less windy than the first. Soon after the weather cleared the wind had been strong from North-west, and seemed each day to become more violent. The only sign of a change now pointed to no improvement, but rather to a heavy fall of snow—by no means an improbable event according to local lore. The arguements in fact, were all on one side it would be bad heroics to take wrong risks  and fairly facing the situation one could only admit the necessity of retreat. It may be added that the real weakness of the party became only too apparent in the course of our return journey over Lhakpa La on this final day  and it must be safe to say that none of the three climbers has ever felt a spasm of regret about the decision to go back or a moment's doubt as to its rightness. It was imposed upon us by circumstances without a reasonable alternative.

The Central Buttress of Y Garn in North Wales.First climbed by Mallory and Harold Porter in 1911 and now named Mallory's Ridge: HVS-5a (US 5-9):Al Leary©












First published in Mount Everest Expedition (1921): Howard Bury/Leigh-Mallory/Herbert.Arnold &Co London,1921 





Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Coming up: George Leigh-Mallory: Chronicle of a death foreseen.

Photograph: Durham University Library/Bentley Beetham Trust©

" But what lay ahead of us ? My eyes had often strayed, as we came up, to the rounded edge above the col and the final rocks below the North-east arete. If ever we had doubted whether the arete were accessible, it was impossible to doubt any longer. For a long way up those easy rock and snow slopes offered neither danger nor difficulty. But at present there was wind. Even where we stood under the lee of a little ice cliff it came in fierce gusts at frequent intervals, blowing up the powdery snow in a suffocating tourbillon. On the col beyond it was blowing a gale. And higher was a more fearful sight. The powdery fresh snow on the great face of Everest was being swept along in unbroken spindrift and the very ridge where our route lay was marked out to receive its unmitigated fury. We could see the blown snow deflected upwards for a moment where the wind met the ridge, only to rush violently down in a frightful blizzard on the leeward side. To see, in fact, was enough ; the wind had settled the. question ; it would have been folly to go on.'

This Friday: George Leigh Mallory...in his own words.


Friday, 4 June 2010

Wall End Barn

The Author on Sgurr Alasdair in 1960: G Kitchin collection©  

I started climbing as a schoolboy in Sheffield in the 1940s.  Without an entry into the real climbing world, I just climbed with friends and only entertained the idea of joining a club in my wildest dreams.  Someone had told me that -amongst other things- those aspiring to membership of the Peak C.C. had to lead a 'severe' under the scrutiny of the committee.   As was usual in those days, my progress was slow, but I eventually felt comfortable leading most of the better known (there was no guide book) V.Diffs on Stanage and the other edges.   Severes were another matter altogether; only for ‘tigers’ (and people good enough to join clubs!).
Moving to university in Birmingham, I found that a newcomer of V.Diff standard was welcomed into the mountaineering club with open arms and for the introductory meet, I was assigned to lead a beginner up a route on the east face of Tryfan.   
After a while I met Eric Byne, himself a native of Sheffield, and a deep and enduring friendship developed.   I was always welcome at his home and was privileged to read the original script of the book which he had just started writing on the history of walking and climbing in The Peak.   On each visit there was new material and it wouldn’t be too far from the truth to say that I read the book as it was written.  I thought it was wonderful and, with Eric, looked forward to the day when it would be published.  Sadly, that never happened; it was before its time and publishers thought it was far too bulky to risk their money on it.   ‘High Peak’ was eventually published, in co-authorship with Geoff Sutton, but the book was much shorter than the original and I felt that the narrative did not flow in the same way as in the larger work.  The book was, of course, very successful and copies fetch a high price nowadays but I still feel sad at the thought of what might have been; there was something of Eric in the original script which was lost in the editing.  It was through Eric that I became a weekend instructor at White Hall and became involved in guide book work, first as the author of the chapter on Agden Rocher in ‘Recent Developments’ and later, with Dave Gregory, the revision of The Burbage Edges.
I climbed regularly throughout the 1950s, improving steadily, but it was a partnership with Dave Gregory, from 1957 onwards, which led to ascents of routes in the highest grades.  A brief swan song with Peter Crew, Barrie Ingle and Mike Owen just prior to the glorious late summer and autumn of 1959, was followed by a new job, marriage, a young family and the end of sustained and serious climbing.
My devotion to mountains was shared by the family and we also took up orienteering , as did others such as Pete Livesey, Eric Langmuir and Geoff Oliver. Geoff and I were members of the same club and part of a three man relay team which won a British Championship in the 1980s.   My orienteering achievements were, however, totally eclipsed by those of my son Andrew.



 

The Ox. Slim Sorrell gives his neck muscles a work out balancing Joe Brown and Pete Cargill:G Kitchin collection©

It was a dull September evening 1951 and the light was already failing when I arrived in Ambleside after an event­ful two-day journey from the Western Highlands, left to hitch-hike whilst the other two went by bike. The last bus up Langdale had already gone but that was an eventuality for which provision had been made. I telephoned  The Old Dungeon Ghyll  and asked if Joe was in the bar. A short wait and I was in­structed, in the curious, Arabicised form of English which Joe had led us into over the last year or so, to set off walking and he would be with me as soon as possible.
It was dark by the time I reached Clappersgate and night, but steady rain was making the walking anything but pleasant. My spirits rose a little later when a single headlight appeared ahead of me. I shaded my eyes from the glare, but still couldn't see whether it was Joe or not. However, the machine braked hard and swung round to halt by my side. Soon we were roaring along the bumpy road and I was wondering how Pete had withstood the buffetings of Amelia's unsprung rear end all the way from Kintail; maybe I hadn't drawn the short straw in the travel stakes after all. The journey was mercifully short, however, the hotel bar a bright, dry haven in which I was introduced, first to Sid Cross, then to his draught Younger's No. 3.
Later... much later- for closing time was a very flexible concept in Sid's mind- we made our way up the short stretch of road to Wall End Barn, our abode for the next few days. At that time the barn was a pleasant enough place as barns went, with plenty of clean straw, and inhabited, almost ex­clusively, by people who went there because they wanted to climb. Later, of course, it degenerated in almost every respect and was finally closed down by officialdom which, for once, seemed to have good cause for its actions.
We were awoken very early by an in­fallible alarm in the form of "Zeke" Myers, who stood, half hidden behind the dazzling light of his torch, jangling a great handful of coins in the deep right-hand pocket of his baggy trousers, close to the ear of each sleeping climber in turn. A sleepy: "What d'you want?" would be met by a boisterous: "Me brass!" and Zeke didn't move until the precious shilling was handed over. There was no credit at the barn, no ad­vance payments either, and if you were up and away early enough you could have a free night. Few made it, however, Zeke was an early riser.
For Pete and me, it was our first visit to Langdale, and our ambition was to climb on Gimmer, inspired by the photograph of Oliverson's in 'Climbing in Britain', further reinforced by the urgings of our friend, Brian, who in­sisted that it was: "Just like being in an aeroplane. " We set off un unpromis­ing weather which gradually deteriorated and put paid to our plans. We compensated by climbing Harrison Stickle before the full force of the storm drove us back to shelter of the barn.
The following day saw no movement but, although we were confined to the barn, it was spent most profitably. Some time previously, we had discovered that the fine, clean sand which floored the Stanage Cave at that time, rapidly swallowed up any coins etc. that fell from the pockets of the regular week-enders.
Application of logic led us to sift through the barn's carpet of hay and our efforts were well rewarded before it was time for our evening meal and the nightly visit to the ODG. It was still pouring when we made our way down the road, and we sat in the bar, sipp­ing our No. 3, hoping for better weather on the morrow. We had been there for some time when there was a minor commotion as two saturated ob­jects burst into the bar and stood, drip­ping water onto the floor for a few moments before dumping their huge commando rucsacs and peeling off their sodden ex-army anoraks. One was tall, his companion much shorter, and I thought I remembered him from a meeting a couple of years previously on Gardom's Edge. They pushed past our table to the bar where the shorter one ordered two shandies and a packet of Park Drive. "Isn't that Joe Brown?" I asked Joe rather loudly. He shrugg­ed, but the taller one looked at me, put a finger to his lips, and motioned me to silence. Their order delivered, he led the way over to our table and sat down.

The author leads Jankers Crack at Froggat: G Kitchin collection

He was "Slim" Sorrell and his com­panion was, indeed Joe. They had final­ly run for cover after several days of ap­palling weather, camped in upper Eskdale. I had not met Slim before, and my earlier acquaintance with Joe had been somewhat perfunctory, but I rapidly came to like both of them im­mensely although they were very dif­ferent in character. Then, as now, Joe was the most modest of men, quiet and unassuming, especially in public or in large groups, although he would talk freely and interestingly in the right company, especially about climbing. Slim was much more outgoing and never seemed to run out of steam, his conversation fuelled by a wide and varied range of interests. Singing was a popular activity in the bar at that time, and Slim's own composition, the Cloggy version of 'The Streets of Laredo', became part of the regular repertoir. Slim had no conceit for himself, but he was obviously very pro­ud of his association with Joe, whose exploits he recounted in graphic detail, especially the recent tour de force on Diglyph. His subsequent death, in ap­palling circumstances, came as a great shock to those who had known him.
The next morning we witnessed, for the first time, what proved to be a stan­dard ritual. Slim was up and dressed soon after Zeke's round, trying to roust Joe out, first by persuasion, next with insults, and finally with cup after cup of tea until, at least, the pressure of fluid drove him out of the barn. He ex­ited clad only in his army shirt, but this was a perfectly respectable procedure for, as all ex-servicemen will know, there were only two sizes of Army shirt, waist-length and below the knee; Joe's was the latter. Once Joe was up and breakfasted, however, the roles were reversed. Joe was now keen to be out and on to the crag, whilst Slim found excuse after excuse to delay the depar­ture. Eventually Slim capitulated and we were on our way to Raven Crag with Kneewrecker Chimney as the objective. It was an education just to watch Joe at work, and he inspired confidence through his own performance. He climbed the crux without using his knee on the excruciating hold. When my turn came, I was as pleased as Punch that I was able to do the same, then, a few minutes later, I felt very smug as Pete suffered the traditional agony. After lunch we went up to White Ghyll to try Gordian Knot. Although the rain had stopped the wind was up to gale force and Joe found the crux exposed to the worst of it. Here he showed that his incredible ability was allied to sound judgement and retired to the relative shelter of White Ghyll Chimney, leaving Gordian Kott for a calmer day. On the way down the screen after the climb Joe turned a large boulder onto his ankle which affected his climbing for the rest of the week. Not that it mattered much, for the weather was bad again the next day and we amused ourselves finding new uses for the huge central door post from the barn which, we discovered, was removable. Firstly, Slim, who fancied himself as something of a strong man, claimed that if we hung it from his neck using a length of chain, he could sup­port the weight of Joe and Pete, sitting on either end. The matter was put to the test and his only real problem was keeping them in balance without holding the post with his hands. After that we just put one end of the pole on the ground and tried to layback up it whilst keeping it in balance. We made valiant efforst but only Joe managed it to the top, in spite of his injured ankle.

Joe Brown-with injured ankle-lay-backs up a balanced pole at the barn: G Kitchin collection©

We expected quite an influx at the weekend but few came except Peter Greenwood and a very young Dennis Gray who went out and braved the conditions on Gimmer - they did Hyphen and Whit's End if my memory serves me correctly. An eighteen year old friend of Joe's breezed in, full of brash self-confidence, drank some tea, and vanished again, as quickly as he had come. Don who? Very soon the whole climbing world knew who!
Sunday was my last day and it dawn­ed just as unmpromisingly as the rest. A mid-afternoon improvement tempted me out, however, and I set out alone, at three o'clock, aiming to reach Scafell Pike. I toiled up Rosser Ghyll, something I had been warned never to do, but my efforts were well rewarded, for the weather cleared up completely as I passed above Angle Tarn and gave a magnificent evening. From the Pike I looked longingly towards Scafell; reluctantly I decided that it was too late and turned to retrace my steps. I made the most of what time I had by return­ing over Esk Pike and Bow Fell as the shadows steadily lengthened. I had the mountains to myself, and I paused several times, savouring the atmosphere of total peace. I was tempted to linger, but time was pressing and I hurried on down The Band towards Stood End where the lamps were lit long before I reached it.

Wall End Barn 1951.Figures in front of the barn include Joe Brown,Dennis Gray,Pete Cargill and Pete Greenwood: G Kitchin Collection©

Working Class Heroes: Wall End Barn,early 50's: Neville Drasdo Collection©

George Kitchin©
First published in High July87.My thanks to George for the new images used to illustrate the on-line version of his original article and thanks to Neville Drasdo.









Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Coming up: George Kitchin recalls the early 50's Wall End Barn scene.

None of your namby-pamby Alpine club types here. Wall End Barn lads were so poor they had to share jumpers ! 
Pete Cargill (left) and George Kitchin get up close and personal: George Kitchin Collection©

"He was "Slim" Sorrell and his com­panion was, indeed Joe. They had final­ly run for cover after several days of ap­palling weather, camped in upper Eskdale. I had not met Slim before, and my earlier acquaintance with Joe had been somewhat perfunctory, but I rapidly came to like both of them im­mensely although they were very dif­ferent in character. Then, as now, Joe was the most modest of men, quiet and unassuming, especially in public or in large groups, although he would talk freely and interestingly in the right company, especially about climbing. Slim was much more outgoing and never seemed to run out of steam, his conversation fuelled by a wide and varied range of interests. Singing was a popular activity in the bar at that time, and Slim's own composition, the Cloggy version of 'The Streets of Laredo', became part of the regular repertoir. Slim had no conceit for himself, but he was obviously very pro­ud of his association with Joe, whose exploits he recounted in graphic detail, especially the recent tour de force on Diglyph.'

This Friday, an entertaining piece from George Kitchin illustrated with some brilliant images detailing the legendary Wall End Barn scene of the early 1950's and featuring many of the central players in one of UK climbing's most romantic and creative chapters.