Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Season's greetings from Crow Towers!

The mountains of northern Snowdonia: North Wales 

I can't believe that it's twelve months on and I'm once again offering my thanks and best wishes to all those writers and photographers who have supported Footless Crow over the last year. Of course I also send my warmest regards to those readers who have regularly dropped in and hopefully enjoyed most of the articles.
I am gratified that here in the UK I have continued to receive the good wishes and support from many in the UK climbing community,including some of our best known names who appear to appreciate the Crow's traditional slant on all things mountain related!
I have always felt that those who engage in mountain activities should have an appreciation of the natural environment and from the start Footless Crow has described itself as 'offering the best in mountain and environmental articles'.Sadly, as Jim Perrin pointed out in his book 'West', climbers are often the most disengaged of all communities from their natural environment. However I still think it is most important that Footless Crow and it's linked To Hatch a Crow page offer articles and news from a conservationist perspective.It might be a cliche but we live in a global village these days and we can't ignore the pressures we face from a burgeoning global population and the increasing pollution and environmental degradation which inevitably comes in train.The very least a media which embraces environmental matters can do is to cast a spotlight on these issues.
Over the Christmas and New Year period there is always a noticeable decline in readership as understandably,most people are involved in the festivities and enjoying the company of friends and family. For this reason,Footless Crow will be going into stasis until the new year when it will return with some unique material about and from the legendary North Wales multi media artist and climber par excellence, John Redhead.The articles themselves are fascinating, thought provoking and controversial so if you prefer your outdoor reading of a more wholesome nature then check out the Amazon adventure list and perhaps best avoid Footless Crow in early January!

John Redhead. Coming soon to a screen near you.


As I write from the North Wales uplands I am looking across snow covered fields under a foot of snow with temperatures down at minus 10c. Still in the early days of winter but already I can hear George Harrison in my head singing  It's been a long and lonely winter. Great days for the snow and ice climbing fraternity-especially for those living in their centrally homes in the cosseted urban suburbs- however,for the marginal hill farmers and many of the old and poor in the uplands hereabouts.. It seems like years since it's been here...The warm sun that is. It's certainly been a cruel winter in many parts of the UK and across Europe so far. As a climber who prefers to feel the texture of warm rock under my skin and experience the vivid colours and scents of summer as a rising sun lifts winter's aches and pains from my  bones; as you can guess....I'm already counting the days until spring!

Whatever you do in the outdoors; whether it's hacking your way up an ice smear,bouldering in a forest clearing,pounding along a mountain bike trail or trekking over the mountains with a dog at your side, I hope you enjoy this Xmas season....cheers to all wherever in the world you are and thanks again !

Traditional Welsh mountain sheep in the Berwyn range this December


PS: If you are on Facebook or Twitter you can always join the Footless Crow Facebook group or follow on Twitter.

Friday, 17 December 2010

A Great Effort

Menlove Edwards making the second ascent of Kirkus'Great Slab,Clogwyn Du Arddu.
1933


In the last three years three people have asked me how I climb. Hence this personal article.
They said also that it was the state of mind and not the mechanics that they thought important, and that if each man would write of himself under this head then others coming after might know better what to and what to avoid. A primary condition for this, of course, would be to lay aside any modesty that one had at any other times assumed.

It will be best to describe directly a given instance. I will not weary you with the preliminaries. There were none. Everything has been in order, the customary had occurred. I had come here for the weekend  to climb, had got up, dressed, eaten a good breakfast with a good appetite and having nobody to climb with had gone out for the day alone. I had considered  carefully which cliff to visit and chosen a near one not to make to strenuous a day. This involved walking along a stretch of road, then a slope towards the cliff.
The slope I took by stages. Three hundred yards then a rest, three hundred then a rest. During the last war it was explained to me that the British marched by stages and it has been my chief method since. It is easier. Some people prefer to go up hills at a steady ten miles an hour, as if they were an army tank cruising or Scott hauling sledges in the Antarctic. I do not.

During each rest I gazed at the cliff, exploring from a distance how a route might go. Then when quite near the cliff I stopped again and looked up at it more slowly, heavy with the fresh air, and it looked at me, and it slid about in my eyes as a cliff sometimes does, and was difficult to focus. I shall go there and there, I thought, and then perhaps coming to the steeper portion, I shall go there, or perhaps it will be too hard for me to go there then I shall not go there but will go there instead by what appears so far as can be seen from here to be a dirty and a bare sided finger crack, but which may not be so, or otherwise examining the rock closely when we are there, rubbing the nose against it, there may be some third or fourth way, not guessed at from a distance. But first I thought, husbanding my energies, I will rest here for a little time where stability can still be assured without effort or trouble by sitting down. So in the middle of the mountains upon a pile of rocks I sat down. A certain tendency to inertia in the mind can have great force.

Do not mistake me, the choice of cliff and pastime had been free, it was unhampered by any conditions either of expediency or friendship, there was no particular unhappiness on me at this time beyond the normal. Yet I sat down. And as I lifted my head, stones, blocks of rock, sky, cliff faces lay round the field of vision arranged in various ways.
Then later I got up and walked to the foot of the cliff meditating carefully where to start. Then tied the rope on, flung the loose end down the slope and arranged it so that its coils should open without snags. This took some time, due to a complex cluster of small rocks in the way which needed re-arranging before I could be sure that the rope would come clean across them. Then I moved on to the rock itself.
Now perhaps you looking on might remark of these actions that none of them had been done in any rapid or decisive mould. You would be right. Perhaps that is why there was no great resultant from them. After 20 minutes I had advanced about fifteen feet and was trembling slightly, not too sure of my position. The rock now before my face was ordinary rock, surfaced at an angle of 60 to 70 degrees, fairly smooth. Heaven was above, the earth a few yards beneath, and I remember nothing of either. As for myself the fore part of my right foot was planted well on a square ledge, the heel overhung into the air and demanded a constant muscular effort at the calf-, my left foot was three feet higher and one and a half feet to the side put against a small sloped piece of grooving. In appearance there, had anybody been passing, I was about to step up. In practice I had been trying to do this for ten minutes but had not yet succeeded. It seemed simple, the need was clear, holds were there, but they were small and I am not a man in any way to make a move until satisfied that it is safe, so that to remain in this statuesque and silly position was my only choice for the time being. Every minute or two, when my right leg began to tremble, I pulled the left leg down from its unserviceable height, bent myself this way and that a little to relieve the strain, then put the leg back again, using the action also as a gesture of purpose.

Anvil Cracks.A remote Menlove route originally graded V Diff (US 5.4). About to be re-graded VS-4c (US 5.8)in the forthcoming guidebook.

But any man must be to some degree hard-pressed before he gives up on a point where his heart is set; so I began to struggle. Oh, good heavens, good heavens. I thought, what on earth am I to do; this is not very good, you are being a coward, an arrant coward and this cannot, must not, continue. I have time and again pointed out to you that you are being very silly but you do nothing, you do nothing except stand there with that fixed and ridiculous stare a few feet from the foot of this wretched precipice. But I still accom­plished nothing. Then I began to struggle again. I thought, what is wrong, there is something missing, there is no spirit, I am heavy and unable to move; perhaps if I launch out and become sufficiently frightened; in fact I am sure that once over the border there would be no holding me. So I made several attempts to launch out, but nothing happened. 

Then I thought perhaps if I eat my sandwiches that will improve me, but no no for shame, it is not yet half-past eleven, how can I eat them now, yet there can be no harm in it, give yourself a change, I said, eat them all and that will be a load off your mind, then you will not have the temptation to eat again until you get home. So standing still on my footholds and feeling firmer than I had done for some time, I got the tin of sardines out of my pocket, twisted the lid off in the usual way but carefully because of the position and ate the fish one by one with my mouth. This took some time. Then I drained the tin, put it back in my pocket and turned to the rocks once more. Now how will it go I thought, every excuse is exhausted. And I tried again. No, it is not good, I said, it is no good: here I am fifteen feet from the ground on easy rocks as I said before it is after lunch but in my own bones there is no more energy than there ever was and my whole soul is as flat as a carpet, what am I to do? Perhaps if I were to recall former victories or to picture glory, but how can you do that when you are alone, perhaps if I shouted and sang, but you know you were never able to shout and sing: now if there were an onlooker, that would make an effort worth while, perhaps—is there anyone in sight? no, not a soul, not one in the whole valley: there is no representative of the human race, none to praise, nobody to look surprised at cowardice or to laugh at folly, to provide me with a gibe or comparison or stage: there is a sheep, but the sheep do not know about these things, a little bird but she is away out of sight already. 

Menlove leading Spiral Stairs on Dinas Cromlech:

So I stood on waiting, unable to move. It is difficult to describe what it feels like to be so, to describe that extreme desolation that may be left behind in the human brain when it is without anything working in it to spur it on. I stood on that hold for a long time. Then quickly, with the sweat standing out on my skin and my heart beating, I moved up on to the next holds and then the next and then I did not see what to do and the movement stopped again.
The view had changed. There was heather now in front of my eyes, and some of the thin dust that goes with it. I took a handful of heather in my right hand. It seemed firm but when bent back it snapped and broke off. A bad material. I made a final effort. Look at yourself I said, and do you know what this is, that it is schizophrenia, the split mind: I know but I do not care what I said: it is stupid: what could you do if you did get ten feet higher up, the rocks have not started yet to become difficult, take yourself off from this climb: oh, this climbing, that involves an effort, on every move the holds to be spotted and often there are none, then every limb placed, the body set into the one suitable position found but with trouble, then with the whole organism, great force must be exerted, before anything happens, and this is to be done while the brain is occupied sick and stiff with its fears: and now you have been doing this for well over an hour and a half and the strain must be telling: get down therefore.

My mind made up, it only remained to go, not always an easy thing to do. But as it has often been remarked God may be merciful and is so sometimes when you least expect it; and on this occasion it happened that feeling in behind the heather I almost immediately found a good enough spike of rock for my rope and was able to get back down again in no danger. Then I walked a little way up the hillside slowly, rested and walked home.
But the resilience of man is great, and his ingenuity. 

So I was not done yet and on the way back setting to work I soon picked up my pride in this way, by thinking, today the victory has been to the devil, but tomorrow is not to him yet, also by thinking: it has been said that the secret of life is in detachment from it..... good.

Helyg...the Climbers Club's historic hut in the Ogwen Valley:


Menlove Edwards: First published in the Climbers Club Journal 1941

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Coming up: Menlove Edwards..between a rock and a hard place

 " Now how will it go I thought, every excuse is exhausted. And I tried again. No, it is not good, I said, it is no good: here I am fifteen feet from the ground on easy rocks as I said before it is after lunch but in my own bones there is no more energy than there ever was and my whole soul is as flat as a carpet, what am I to do? Perhaps if I were to recall former victories or to picture glory, but how can you do that when you are alone, perhaps if I shouted and sang, but you know you were never able to shout and sing: now if there were an onlooker, that would make an effort worth while, perhaps—is there anyone in sight? no, not a soul, not one in the whole valley: there is no representative of the human race, none to praise, nobody to look surprised at cowardice or to laugh at folly, to provide me with a gibe or comparison or stage: there is a sheep, but the sheep do not know about these things, a little bird but she is away out of sight already. So I stood on waiting, unable to move. It is difficult to describe what it feels like to be so, to describe that extreme desolation that may be left behind in the human brain when it is without anything working in it to spur it on. I stood on that hold for a long time. Then quickly, with the sweat standing out on my skin and my heart beating, I moved up on to the next holds and then the next and then I did not see what to do and the movement stopped again.
The view had changed. There was heather now in front of my eyes, and some of the thin dust that goes with it. I took a handful of heather in my right hand. It seemed firm but when bent back it snapped and broke off. A bad material. I made a final effort..........'

This Friday, Menlove Edwards proves that even a fearless rock genius can find themselves strung out and stalled on a route which should fall effortlessly into place.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Forgotten Tigers

The Wayfarers Club's Robertson-Lamb hut, Langdale in the English Lake District.

One of the real delights for me as a member of this grand old club, is meeting the wide variety of folks you encounter staying at RLH; banking the fire up and chatting about climbing and the mountains long into the night or at least until the booze runs out. I often wonder what similar conversations were like in the very early days of RLH back in the early nineteen thirties. No doubt the lads of that era had their own heroes and villains, and the club had some big names batting for it in those days; Jack Longland, Bill Tilman, Alan (AB) Hargreaves, Ivan Waller, Colin Kirkus and John Menlove Edwards to name but a few. Having had the opportunity to delve into the history of climbing in the 1920s and 1930s whilst examining the exploits of Colin Kirkus (one of the most famous Wayfarers) I'd like to use the opportunity of the Centenary Journal to throw some deserved focus onto two men, who were both Wayfarers, and were both close friends of Colin Kirkus and AB Hargreaves.
They were in their day brilliant rock climbers, but neither to my mind ever got the credit their great ability warranted. The men in question are Ted Hicks and Bob Frost and I'd like to tell something of their respective stories, and their part in the history of our club.
Much has been written about the brilliant climbing exploits of such as Jack Longland, Ivan Waller, Colin Kirkus, John Menlove Edwards, A.T.Hargreaves and the particularly gifted Maurice Linnell. The late 1920s/early 1930s was a time of huge improvement and consolidation in British climbing after the slow recovery following the First World War. By the late 1920s Ted Hicks was the equal of just about anyone climbing in Wales or The Lakes and in 1929 had a particularly fine year producing ten new routes, two of which were of outstanding quality.

Ted was brought up in the Birkenhead area, and after leaving school he went to St Catherine's College, Cambridge and gained degrees in classics and mathematics. Whilst at Cambridge he became involved with the particularly talented group that constituted the University Climbing Club at the time. Through this involvement, he also joined both the Climbers Club and the Wayfarers Club in 1929. Though not tall, Ted had a powerful physique and was outstandingly fit. He took to rock climbing very quickly and soon moved up through the grades and was leading Very Severe routes within a couple of months of starting.
In the summer of 1928 he started to acquire something of a reputation in the Lake District and by that time had also become established as an expert night roof climber at Cambridge, a breeding ground for many a good cragsman. Ted made the second ascent of Gimmer Crack (a climb that held a mean reputation for years) and strolled up it wearing an impressive pair of Oxford Bags. Later that summer he added direct starts to Terrace Wall Variant on Tryfan and to Holly Tree Wall and climbed extensively at Helsby and on the Gritstone edges of The Peak District.
His great year as a climber was undoubtedly 1929. In April of that year he made the first free ascent of Piton Route on Holly Tree Wall. Of even greater significance was Ted meeting Colin Kirkus in the June of that year. He accompanied Colin on the first ascent of Lot's Groove on Glyder Fach, a brilliant route and the Cenotaph Corner of the 1930s, a major psychological  breakthrough in the way rock would be climbed. Following this he climbed frequently with both Colin and AB though a wonderfully warm and dry summer and early autumn.

Ted proceeded to produce a number of good quality new routes of his own around the Idwal slabs and Holly Tree Wall area. Ash Tree Wall was an excellent and exposed introduction to the East Wall of the slabs and is very enjoyable. He later added Heather Wall (further to the right) a bold excursion that still rates top-end Very Severe, on small, sloping holds. Another addition was a variation finish to Faith on the Idwal Slabs. Of even greater significance were Ted's two visits to Cloggy that summer. In July he made the third ascent of Pigott's route (Fred Pigott himself having led the route in 1927 and again in 1928) with AB Hargreaves and E.A.Stewardson (all three of them were members of the Wayfarers Club) This was considered to be just about the hardest route in Wales at that time and they had something of an epic on it, and a bad accident was only just avoided. 

In September, Ted led the fourth ascent of Longland's route on the West Buttress, climbing with C.V.A. Cooper and W.E.Wousnam Jones. These ascents on Cloggy, together with a rapid ascent that summer of Central Buttress on Scafell, with Colin Kirkus and AB Hargreaves (it was the seventh ascent of the route) placed Ted firmly in the forefront of British rock climbing.

Colin Kirkus

Ted was involved in three other good quality first ascents in Wales that remarkable summer. He partnered Colin Kirkus on Rake End Chimney and then led the Girdle of Holly Tree Wall another exciting route still regarded as top end VS. However, the climb Ted remains best known for was a very delicate affair away to the right of the Idwal Slabs. This was the superb Rowan Tree Slabs, a climb that instantly gained a considerable reputation. Years later an excellent (and hard) variation pitch was added to Ted's original starting pitch by Jim O'Neill making this a top class Wayfarers Route par excellence! Still graded Extremely Severe, it is an excellent climb and a fine memorial for Ted and Jim.
After 1929, Ted never again climbed with quite the same passion, but he remained very capable and he led an early repeat of Colin Kirkus' Great Slab on Cloggy in 1931. In 1933 Ted took part in Marco Pallis' Wayfarers Expedition to the Gangotri Himalaya. It was on this trip that Colin Kirkus and Charles Warren managed to make the first ascent of Bhagirathi III alpine style, a superb achievement that went relatively unrecognised for years. Ted gave them a lot of support on the expedition and frequently entertained everyone at Base Camp with his excellent singing and general good humour. Later in the expedition, Ted made the first ascent of the 21,000ft Dolmetch Peak with Richard Nicholson. Ted and Colin had to return home earlier than the other members of the expedition, and had an entertaining trek back to Calcutta together and then the month long sea voyage back to Liverpool.

In the mid 1930s, Ted was involved in a bad winter accident in Deep Ghyll on Scafell when his partner was badly injured. After this he climbed very little, but continued to walk on the hills and to ski with great enthusiasm. Throughout the late 1930s he was a regular user of the RLH and knew the Lakeland Hills in great
detail. In 1935 he started working at the Dragon School at Oxford as a teacher and apart from the War Years, continued working there until he retired in 1966. He became a Housemaster at this most prestigious school, and he was greatly loved there both for his great academic ability and for his wide involvement in the overall life of the school.
Ted had an interesting time during the Second World War, where he enlisted in a Light Infantry Regiment. His unit was captured at Dunkirk and Ted spent the remainder of the war in a succession of prison camps. He attempted to remain a constant thorn in the side of his captors and by all accounts was the life and soul of all the camps he was in, and also continued to study until the end of the war. AB told a lovely story, of how Ted not only repaired over 1,000 watches during the war, but when prisoners from the Dieppe raid came handcuffed into his camp, Ted speedily found a method to unlock all the handcuffs with an adapted sardine tin opener. He was clearly quite a character, in an excellent Wayfarer tradition!

For many years after the war Ted sailed for a hobby (indeed he won the British Moth championship in the early sixties, and sailed across the English Channel many times.) After his retirement from teaching in 1966, he became Sailing Master, Skipper and Navigator of the Yacht Noryema VIII, working for the owner. This resulted in him making many long distance voyages and he sailed across The Atlantic twelve times. It was said that he was not only an excellent sailing master but a quite outstanding navigator. In 1972, as skipper of Noryema VIII he won the Bermuda Cup and was given the Yachtsman of the Year award. Late in life he suffered badly from asthma and suffered a heart attack while at sea, only his outstanding physical condition saving him.
Ted died suddenly in 1978, at the age of seventy while preparing for yet another voyage across The Atlantic. AB referred to Ted as just about his dearest friend and a man of many talents, and outstanding qualities. Once when I visited AB at Ulverston, we had been talking about Colin Kirkus, Jack Longland and of course Ted. AB wondered off to the kitchen at one point, as we had run out of wine. I heard him chuckling to himself: "Ha ha,.........    good old Ted!" It was a lovely moment and a chuckle of deep affection. AB then uncorked another bottle.

Compared with that of Ted Hicks, the name Bob Frost may not mean a great deal to many club members, but in the mid-nineteen thirties he was one of the finest climbers in the Wayfarers Club. The bulk of my information about Bob, come from several conversations I had with the late John Watson. John joined the Wayfarers Club in the early 1930s and provided me with a great deal of valuable information about the club at that time and the Idwal Hostel scene, and was of great help to me in writing "Hands of a Climber." Sadly, John died before the book was published in 1993. He was great company and had a wealth of stories about the club in the pre-war era. John was a close friend of Colin Kirkus and in the period 1933-1938 climbed a great deal both with Colin and with Bob Frost who was Colin's main partner for much of that period. The picture that John painted of Colin and Bob at this time was both fascinating and revealing. Both Colin and Bob were very modest and self effacing characters, but I was left in no doubt that Bob Frost was an outstanding climber both on snow and ice, and on rock. Relatively little is known about this gentle and modest man but the very high regard Colin Kirkus and AB Hargreaves had for him is important to reconsider, as Bob left little record of his exploits. What has emerged, is that in the period 1935-1937 Bob was climbing as well as anyone in Britain at the time and was a Wayfarer Tiger in the true sense of the word.

Following his awful accident on Ben Nevis at Easter 1934, when Maurice Linnell was killed Colin Kirkus took a long time to recover both physically and mentally. He was tormented by guilt over the accident (Colin was leading at the time) and shattered by the loss of Maurice who had become a close friend. Colin gradually returned to climbing and sought solace in the company of a few friends who had gravitated to the scene at the Idwal Youth Hostel. Amongst these were some Wayfarers, including John Watson, Bob Frost and later a young Hal Jacob. Colin had felt increasingly distant from associates in the Climbers Club and the Rucksack Club after the accident and increasingly spent his weekends either at Idwal Hostel or at RLH, places he particularly loved.

Idwal Cottage:Photo YHA©

Colin increasingly climbed with Bob Frost from the latter part of 1934, the two men having met one weekend at the Idwal Hostel. Bob was from Liverpool having been born on Merseyside in 1912. He obtained a clerical job with the Liverpool Corporation Trams Department and joined the Wayfarers Club in 1933 at the age of twenty one. Like Colin Kirkus, Bob was devoted to the mountains and virtually every weekend saw him at Idwal, RLH or out at Helsby rapidly gaining the experience that was to make him one of the finest rock climbers of the period. Like Colin, Bob usually got a lift to Wales or to The Lakes either from John Watson or from Graham Macphee of the Rucksack Club. Graham was also heavily involved at this time in preparing a new guidebook for Ben Nevis, and he and Bob made the first summer ascent in August 1935 of Gardyloo Gulley. By all accounts the ascent was a difficult one, and the climb retained its Scottish VS grade for the next forty years

Throughout the summers of 1935 and 1936 Bob climbed a great deal with Colin Kirkus, and hit a period of considerable form. Having already climbed Roper's notorious routes on Dow Crag (Black Wall and Great Central) and Central Buttress on Scafell, Bob succeeded in repeating all the then known routes on Clogwyn du'Arddu, including an early ascent of Maurice Linnell's Narrow Slab (originally put up in 1933.) Perhaps the most notable of these was a successful ascent of Pigott's East Buttress Route, arguably the hardest route on Cloggy until Joe Brown's ascent of Diglyph in 1951 (1 know that some people will argue for Bow Shaped Slab or the West Buttress Girdle, but they are just not as consistently nasty as Pigotts!) Bob climbed the route with Colin, in damp conditions and given the poor protection of the period it must have been quite a struggle. Certainly AB Hargreaves told me that the route was regarded with considerable awe by climbers until well after the Second World War

In July 1936 Bob travelled out to Chamonix with Colin, where they spent a fortnight dodging the showers and grabbing what action they could. For both men it was to be their only visit to the Mont Blanc range and for working lads of the time quite an enterprising effort. John Watson remembered recalling Bob's awe and delight at how far he had to tip his head back to see the tops of the mountains! They made a successful traverse of the Aiguille d'Argentiere, and the following day did the classic Forbes Arete on the Aiguille de Chardonnet. They were caught in a fierce storm on the descent and had a pretty grim time getting back to the hut almost at midnight, quite exhausted. This was something of a baptism of fire for Bob, as this was his first visit to the Alps. Bad weather moved in for the next few days, but they managed to climb the Ordinary Route on the Aiguille du Moine and the South West Face and Main Ridge of the Grand Charmoz before they had to return home to Liverpool. Commenting on the Chamonix trip Colin said: "It had been a most glorious holiday, in spite of the weather. People often find it hard to get on together through all the difficulties and discomforts of an Alpine holiday, but in Bob Frost I had found the perfect companion."

As I write this, I have in front of me Colin's album of photographs of that holiday of seventy years ago. It makes poignant viewing, given the respective fates of the two men over the next six years.

Tryfan

Despite being a top class rock climber (Colin Kirkus regarded him as being almost in the same class on rock as Fred Pigott and Maurice Linnell) Bob only made a few first ascents. Frost's Climb on Castel) Y Gwynt is very pleasant, while Arch Gully, Main Gully Ridge, Two Pitch Route and Five Pitch route were all done with Colin in the period 1935/36 when they were putting together the Glyder Fach guidebook (1937.) None of them are particularly outstanding but the two on Bochlwyd Buttress are a delight on a sunny evening.
In describing Bob as a climber, John Watson had this to say in the Wayfarers Journal of 1938:
"One remembers overhearing the remark, passed by an onlooker, as he watched, that "he made it look easy.' And truly, with his beautifully neat style and his perfect safety and composure on the most difficult problems, he did make it look so easy, and therein stamped himself as a supreme artist.

Bob continued climbing with Colin through the summer of 1937 and he helped in completing the draft of the Glyder Fach guidebook that was to be published at the end of the year. They did not visit The Alps that summer, but Colin and Bob did climb a great deal together and it is thought that Bob's enthusiasm was rapidly drawing Colin back into climbing really well again.
Alas, tragedy was to strike in the October of that year when Bob was travelling on his motorbike to Blackpool to see the illuminations. With him was Geoffrey Furness who had just applied for membership of the Wayfarers Club. The two men were involved in a collision with another vehicle just outside Rufford and both were killed. In five years Colin was gone too, lost in an RAF night bombing raid over Bremen.

It is almost certain that Ted Hicks and Bob Frost would have known each other, as their respective memberships of the Wayfarers Club overlapped by some years. I like to think that through the mutual friendship of Colin Kirkus and AB Hargreaves, they would have met on occasions, perhaps at RLH at the end of a good day on the hills and crags. The history of the Wayfarers Club contains the exploits of some great names in the evolution of British climbing. This is an opportunity in the context of the club's centenary to remember two lesser known characters who demonstrated with great effect what the Wayfarers Club was all about. Both men were experts on the crag and climbed at the highest standards of the day. Of far greater importance, is the considerable affection with which they were both remembered by their friends in the club. You get the feeling that they would both have been excellent company around the fire at RLH, with a fund of stories. Remembering them is also a nice reminder of a time when the Wayfarers Club was very much at the cutting edge of British Climbing, when it had come of age and become what the founder members in 1906 had cherished hopes for. Here's to Ted and Bob, and to their contribution to the history of the club.

Postscript:
AB did tell me on more than one occasion that "Colin and Ted quite easily got a long way up Suicide Wall at Idwal but neither could commit to the top part of the wall, regarding it as unjustifiable." AB wasn't able to clarify any further whether they were top roping or attempting to lead the climb, but it is a fascinating point to ponder on. John Watson also told me that Colin had looked at Suicide Wall, with Bob Frost, some years later.
The first ascent of Suicide Wall Route 1 by Chris Preston in the autumn of 1945, was an extraordinary achievement (albeit much rehearsed) and was incredibly bold even given the poor protection generally found on hard routes at that time. It is likely that the route did not get a second ascent until the early nineteen fifties, when it was led by Joe Brown.
I have often wondered if the line Colin and Ted attempted in 1929 was that now taken by Suicide Groove, some distance to the right of Preston's masterpiece. It is a far more amenable climb, notwithstanding its current grade of El 5b, and the groove line may well have caught their eye while exploring the East Wall area of the Idwal Slabs. I would love to have known more, but neither AB nor John Watson had further details to give me. Given the fierce standard that Colin, Ted and Bob were climbing at on Helsby, they were almost certainly capable of climbing Suicide Groove. The route was finally climbed in 1948 by the gifted John Lawton, but what a Wayfarers triumph that could have been!


Steve Dean©....first published in The Wayfarers Club Centenary Journal

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Coming Up: Steve Dean's 'Forgotten Tigers'

Kath Bromfield on the bubbly first pitch of Ted Hicks' Ash Tree Wall: Photo Al Leary

" Compared with that of Ted Hicks, the name Bob Frost may not mean a great deal to many club members, but in the mid-nineteen thirties he was one of the finest climbers in the Wayfarers Club. The bulk of my information about Bob, come from several conversations I had with the late John Watson. John joined the Wayfarers Club in the early 1930s and provided me with a great deal of valuable information about the club at that time and the Idwal Hostel scene, and was of great help to me in writing "Hands of a Climber." Sadly, John died before the book was published in 1993. He was great company and had a wealth of stories about the club in the pre-war era. John was a close friend of Colin Kirkus and in the period 1933-1938 climbed a great deal both with Colin and with Bob Frost who was Colin's main partner for much of that period. The picture that John painted of Colin and Bob at this time was both fascinating and revealing. Both Colin and Bob were very modest and self effacing characters, but I was left in no doubt that Bob Frost was an outstanding climber both on snow and ice, and on rock. Relatively little is known about this gentle and modest man but the very high regard Colin Kirkus and AB Hargreaves had for him is important to reconsider, as Bob left little record of his exploits. What has emerged, is that in the period 1935-1937 Bob was climbing as well as anyone in Britain at the time and was a Wayfarer Tiger in the true sense of the word.'

This Friday,Steve Dean offers an account of two of the historic Wayfarers Club's Forgotten Tigers; Bob Frost and Ted Hicks.Two talented pre-war climbers who have remained somewhat in the shadow cast by the clubs more illustrious members.Most notably, Menlove Edwards and Colin Kirkus.

Friday, 3 December 2010

In Search of Elizabeth Coxhead.

Liz Coxhead on Hope,Idwal Slabs,North Wales

In his review of One Step in the Clouds, Harold Drasdo makes a telling comment on Elizabeth Coxhead's novel One Green Bottle (which is included in that bulging omnibus): `Coxhead has that indulgent affection for her heroine that we sometimes see in the great novelists (especially perhaps in the women)'.
I hardly think you could call the ending of the novel indulgent, but the exciting, frustrating, moving thing about what Jack Longland called 'by far the best novel about climbing that I have read', is that Elizabeth Coxhead cares about her central character, Cathy Canning, the girl from the backstreets of Birk­enhead who wants to break out of the demoralisation of poverty and the sexual repression of both men and women. Elizabeth Coxhead, I have been discovering, was a person who cared, with enthusiasm and intelligence, in a remarkable range of dimen­sions and ultimately with her own life.

So who was Elizabeth Coxhead? Since she died in 1979 at the age of 70 I did not expect to get much impression of her early climbing. But I found that she had written a chapter called `First Mountain' for a collection of essays edited by Max Robertson  under the title 'Mountain Panorama', published in 1955.
In it she describes the difficulties of getting started in the early 1930s: 'The established climbing clubs froze the ill-connected female with a glance. Inquiring at Wasdale-head. I learned that if I made my way to the foot of Pillar Rock I might there fall in with a noted Lakeland guide. It was true. He already had five clients with him, and they were roping up for the Old North. With real kindness they included me, but naturally the did not change their plan'.
In fact Elizabeth's younger sister Alison still remembers the day in 1934 when the two of them were staying at Burnthwaite in Wasdale on a walking holiday. It was actually both sisters. the 25 and the 20 year old, who set out that day in search of their first rock-climb. Alison says, "I remember us going out rather laughing." You can imagine what she means.
Elizabeth was hooked and started going regularly on Jerry Wright's weekend meets, "more the working-class end of things" as Alison puts it, in contrast to the Fell and Rock. "He very much believed that climbing was a sport for everybody.' When I,put it to Alison that One Green Bottle is clearly a socialist novel, she confirmed that Elizabeth was a socialist who became firm friends with Tom and Madge Stevenson of The Workers' Travel Association, later the architects of The Pennine Way.
Perhaps this rejection of exclusivity explains why Elizabeth never joined a club, although her niece, Miriam. is a member of the Alpine Club today. In fact Jerry Wright's Mountaineering Association provided a kind of club which was orientated towards introducing beginners into the sport and probably gave Elizabeth a source of contacts who, like Maud Godward of the Pinnacle Club, went on the annual trip to Glen Brittle which for many years took up two of Elizabeth's three weeks holiday a year. By 1938 she had published her second novel. It was called 'June In Skye' .
It was Alison who gave me the key to understanding One Green Bottle when I suggested that the novelist seems to be firmly saying that there can be no easy happy endings in life. "But that", she said, "was the zeitgeist of the 30s. And we had that war which you're too young to remember!" I was chastened and convinced.
Although set in 1950, it makes sense to read t as a novel written in the spirit of 1930s socialism, with its vision of the freedom of the hills for working people, its pervasive disillusionment in the face of rising Fascism and its retreat in a commitment to domestic duty. What would also support the reading of the book is an observation by Elizabeth's niece, Miriam. Apparently Elizabeth was indignant when she heard that some readers were assuming that Cathy Canning was based on Gwen Moffat, saying that the character of Cathy was created before she had heard of Gwen Moffat. "In any case", Miriam pointed out, "Gwen Moffat was clearly of the next generation from Cathy since she was able to continue climbing and raise family."
But Cathy Canning's retreat to a life of compromise is see more autobiographically by Miriam. She told me that Eliza­beth's first love ("That's putting it rather strong - a friend", says Aunt Alison) was killed in a climbing accident on Skye. Elizabeth never married. Part of the reason for that seems to have been her commitment to caring, first.for five nephews and nieces whose parents were working abroad, and later for her mother and other elderly relatives. "She had a strong sense of duty and doing the honourable thing' said Miriam. Cathy is equally concerned about her own integrity when she asks herself at one point in the novel. 'How could a lass who was on top of the world be so unkind to a lad who was down?" Elizabeth Coxhead's nephew. the writer and journalist Robert Chessyre, who was first cared for by her when he was two, said at her funeral that she was "a rare human being who combined the highest moral, personal and intellectual integrity with a loving concern for everyone with whom she came in contact."

Elizabeth leads Oliverson's Variation, Langdale.

So who was Elizabeth Coxhead the writer and intellectual? Her father was headmaster of Hinkley Grammar School. At a time when few women went to Oxford, Elizabeth went to Somerville College and gained a first in French. (She was at Somerville after Janet Adam Smith had left and Janet tells me that they "met only once, for lunch, in the 50s.") She spent her working life as a journalist in London, first on the staff of The Lady and then as a freelance for the Fleet Street offices of The Liverpool Daily Post and The Manchester Guardian . Her grandparents lived in Birkenhead and were of Irish extraction. After her eight novels she turned to biography with a particular interest in Irish women. Lady Gregory (1961) has been her most important biographical work. She also served as film critic on the radio programme, The Critics.
These are the barest of facts. What they do not indicate are the qualities that could "make each of us children feel special" as Miriam puts it, or Alison's memory of her as "a strong personality who was extremely generous and willing to do anything for family and friends." That spirit seems to be what Maud Godward observed when she wrote that Elizabeth 'was a great one for encouraging young climbers'.
But how would Elizabeth Coxhead have described her own experience of climbing? Amongst her papers when she died, she left what appears to be an outline for a climbing autobiography. In the brief 'Foreword' she explains that she is 'a poor moun­taineer. I can lead a Difficult in rubbers on a fine day... For these deficiencies I do not even apologise... I started at twenty-five, have always lived in or near London, have never owned a car'
In her notes for 'Section 1. North Wales' two paragraphs in particular speak volumes between their terse abbreviations: The war years. Disappearance of cars and leading friends. Snowdon for full holidays of a fortnight, having it to ourselves. No one to lead but me - I am forced to - ecstasy of no longer being "a parcel". Beginners' routes and by-passes. At last getting to know the country and appreciate its quality - gaunt, austere. Night mountaineering....Start of the mass week-ending movement as the war ends. Genesis of One Green Bottle. Much haunted by Cathy Canning thereafter. Temporary abandonment - as of other scenes where I have laid novels'.

In her 'Foreword' to this proposed book Elizabeth Coxhead insists upon climbing as open to anyone of any age: 'It is not the perogative of the strong and the. brave'. This may come as a surprise to many of today's young climbers. So here, published for the first time, is Elizabeth Coxhead's rationale for climbing: `A sport is advanced by the handful of people who do it brilliantly, but it is kept sweet and sane by the great numbers of the mediocre, who do it for fun. And this is especially so in the case of mountaineering, which is something more than a sport, being an atavistic hark-back to the original ape in us, or at any rate our nearest approximation to the way primitive man must have covered the ground. It is an urge, an instinct; there is nothing artificial about it; it is like discovering another dimen­sion, like flying, like gliding; it brings one, with senses sharp­ened by physical effort, into the closest contact with natural beauty in the most dramatic form'.

In September 1979 Elizabeth Coxhead took her own life. She had recently had a fall, fracturing a femur, and at 70, realised that she was probably going to end her days as a burden to others. Having spent much of her own life looking after elderly relatives, and being the strongly independent, supremely generous person she was, she wanted, as she wrote in a letter to the family, 'to go out with a bang not a whimper'. It was a brave act of caring. in her own way, for those whose sensitive kindness has helped me try to give climbing readers a little more understanding of the creator of Cathy Canning.



Terry Gifford©
The Joy of Climbing: Whittles Publishing