Thursday, 8 September 2011

Claud Deane Frankland...the hunter home from the hill.

The Accident

On the late afternoon of Sunday, 31st of July, 1927, a party of four were preparing to climb 'Chantry Buttress' on the Napes. The route was considered relatively easy; graded very difficult and was certainly not a passage to over-tax their capabilities. The party was a strong one, led by Claud Deane Frankland, reputed at that time to be one of the leading climbers in the country. The other members were Mabel Barker, A. Wood-Johnson and Lawson Cook. They had been on the Napes most of the day. Frankland and Mabel Barker had climbed 'Eagles Corner' and they found an egg in 'Eagles Nest' — an interesting incident overshadowed by the tragic happening later that day.
They decided to rope up in two teams with Frankland leading the first rope. He climbed the first pitch and brought up A. Wood-Johnson, who was his second. Frankland was commenting about their successful traverse of the Cuillin Ridge a year earlier — these remarks were his last! The leader then negotiated the slab and moved up the steep crack. Suddenly and without warning Frankland fell, his body turning a half somersault on its downward plunge. Wood-Johnson took in some slack damaging his hands in the process, but he was unable to stop Frankland's fall as he hit a rib of rock about 40 feet below. Lawson Cook rushed forward in an attempt to prevent further movement and injury, but it was to no avail, Frankland died twenty minutes later with severe head injuries and without recovering consciousness.

How was it possible for a climber of Frankland's ability and wide margin of safety to perish on such an innocuous route ? From eye witness reports it seems clear that the fall was caused by a loose or broken handhold, and not by a slip; a piece of rock still clutched in his hand after the accident would appear to support this theory. It was further substantiated by a party above the route at the time who stated hey heard a loud crack as though a hold had snapped.

After the Great War the sport of rock climbing entered a 'state of limbo'. Many of the pre-war climbers died in the trenches; great names like the legendary Herford, perhaps the most gifted technician of his day, Jeffcoat, Oppenheimer and Worthington did not return; and Fred Botterill, incapacitated through gas poisoning, died in 1920 — all part of the lost generation.
It took a new breed of climber to regenerate the scene, reshape rock climbing history and give the sport a separate indentity. These cragsmen, like Herford and Botterill, learned their trade on the steep gritstone outcrops of the Peak and south Yorkshire, where the technique of delicate balance moves alternated with the more strenuous laybacking and jam­ming was the name of the game. Leading this field were H. M. Kelly, G. S. Bower, A. S. Pigott, Morley Wood, Fergus Graham and, further north, a remarkable man called Claud Deane Frankland was carving himself a reputation as one of the greatest climbers ever.

Almscliffe was C.D.F.'s domain and he ruled supreme. His routes include 'Whisky Crack', 'Traditional Climb' and the 'Central Route'; but without any doubt his finest climb is the 'Green Crack' considered by many experts to be one of the top fifty gritstone routes, and when it was put up in 1920 was the hardest single unprotected pitch in the country. These climbs were first led by Frankland when he was forty two years old, and when he died in 1927 Central Route and Green Crack had not been led by anyone else.

Fred Pigott, then a young and dynamic leader recalls a trip to Almscliffe in May, 1922. "One memory of this visit to Almscliffe is of being taken up the Green Crack and the Central Route by Frankland and of hearing that only he was considered competent enough to lead them safely. Attempts by others were discouraged. This attitude is better understood when it is remembered that few climbers of that period were accustomed to supporting themselves out of balance by pulling outwards on their hands which had to be done in the upper reaches of the Green Crack. It was this capacity of climbing safely out of balance, and his ability to use the 'lay-back' method that probably robbed the Flake Crack on Scafell Central Buttress of much of its formidable reputation".

One can imagine Frankland's genuine concern for the safety of these young climbers who were no doubt 'stomping at the leash'; but, it should be said that Pigott, as he went on to prove, was certainly capable of leading the climbs in question. C.D.F. by this time was at the height of his powers and was held in awe by the vast majority of the younger climbers. Fergus Graham  remembers those formative years. "I well remember C. D. Frankland's descent from his Yorkshire Olympus at Almscliffe to the rocks at Laddow. The occasion had all the atmosphere of a visit by royalty, it was a tremendous privilege for me to climb with him, though I am bound to admit this is rather a euphemism. He led up the North Wall to the top and then brought up George Bower who in turn brought me up. Still, I saw him climbing at close quarters, and it was an education I never forgot. His was the finest climbing I have ever seen, and a wonderful object lesson. He would choose a hold carefully, and once it was found he just stuck to it till he passed on to the next. There was none of that nervous paddling with the toe, or taking a handhold, letting it go, trying another, etc. It was just slow, smooth and inexorable movement".

Almscliffe:Photo Geographia

The elder statesman of British climbing, Geoffrey Winthrop Young writing about climbing styles of the twenties spotlights an exhibition by Frankland.
"Soon after the war I was invited to watch C. D. Frankland on his Almscliffe verticals and overhangs, and I had the satisfaction of seeing him illustrate fully for the first time continuous movement up severe rock, with its rhythmic fluctuations and grace
Frankland began climbing in 1909 at the age of thirty one. His brother Willie introduced him to the sport and they made regular trips to Wales and the Lakes using Abraham's 'British Mountain Climbs' as their bible. (This was long before the days of the club rock climbing guides).
In 1914 he went to Skye, staying with the hospitable Mrs. Chisholme at the Post Office, Glen Brittle, and he climbed no fewer than thirty six routes. Then the war broke out and he joined the 21st West Riding Ambulance Brigade. He served in France with the 62nd Division and was demobilised in 1918.

After the war he returned to his profession as a schoolmaster, teaching, at Blenheim School; he was then promoted to Headmaster at Sweet Street School, Leeds. He was a keen club man being a member of the Yorkshire Ramblers' and later he joined the Fell and Rock Climbing Club.
In 1920 Frankland decided to undertake a course of solo climbing in the Lake District. This may have appeared as a rather foolhardy venture, but his decision was the result of a great deal of soul searching and deep thought, and was no doubt influenced by the inadequate belaying system of the period. He explained his motives in an article entitled, 'In the Tracks of the Rubbermen' written for the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal.
"Many experienced cragsmen today disparage the use of a 'shoulder.' By giving this adventitious aid to his leader a second man may help him into a situation dangerous to the party. The supplementary aid afforded by the rope is different. However, on the climbs on which I desire to qualify, the rope is declared to be more dangerous than useful. Archorage is often lacking. The pitches are very long. Companions capable of leading are few. I came to the conclusion that I must climb alone, and then there would be no question of either shoulder or rope. It would be playing strictly according to the rules of the game if I tried the climb myself before inviting others to trust their safety to my leadership".

Over the years the history of solo climbing has received meagre docu­mentation, but it is generally accepted that the vast majority of the 'great climbers' have sometime in their careers sampled solitary climbing. It should be remembered that Frankland wrote his convictions many years ago and was revealing an attitude more in keeping with the modern day trend. It is little wonder that C.D.F. was considered by many of his contemporaries as the greatest crags-man of his time.
No one knows the full extent of Frankland's lonely wanderings during his period of penance, but it has been recorded that he climbed on Pillar Rock and Scafell, and among the courses he followed were; 'New West' 'Rib and Slab' and 'South West' on Pillar, also 'Botterill's Slab" Jones's Direct from Lord's Rake' and 'Hopkin­son's Cairn Direct' on Scafell.

Frankland was now ready to break through the psychological barrier of 'Central Buttress' — first climbed it 1914 by Herford, Sansom and Holland, (in three separate stages). It had fired the imagination of the climbing world and in 1921 was still awaiting a second ascent, or indeed, a complete single first ascent.The aura of mystique and despera­tion that surrounded Central Buttress during those early years is captured in this dire warning handed out to would be participants by C. F. Holland.
"The most arduous ascent in the Lake District; unexampled exposure; combined tactics and rope engineering essential at one point; not less than three climbers. Rubbers. The difficulties met are so great that the expedition ranks among the world's hardest. And it is possible only under practically perfect conditions".

At 9 o'clock on the 20th August, 1921, and after two days of intensive preparatory climbing practice, Frankland and Beetham set off up the tedious haul of 'Brown Tongue' for their attempt on Central Buttress. For insurance on the formidable 'Flake Crack' they armed themselves with two ropes — one length of 80 ft and one length of 50 ft.
Sansom and Herford gained access to the Oval via a rising traverse from the lower part of 'Botterill's Slab', but Frankland and Beetham arrived there by climbing the steep slanting rib of rock which is now the accepted ordinary start to C.B. The upper corner of the second pitch was running with slime which Frankland found rather off-putting in his rubbers. Writing later in the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Frankland portrayed the scene. "The feature that claimed our attention was the Flake, which spring from the neglected turf of the Oval . The Flake is a thin leaf of rock which the frosts are peeling off the great smooth face of the Buttress, leaving more than a crack, but less than a chimney, a fissure too wide for wedging, yet too narrow to enter.    The difficulty is due to the overhang, which becomes pronounced above a chockstone, lodged 12 feet or so from the top."

Beetham thought it would go and said so. Both ropes were brought into use. The first 30 feet of rock were soon scaled to a ledge 9 inches wide. We took precautions to thread a rope at once. Looking up we saw that two pronounced bulges precede the overhang. I climbed around and stood on the first, while Beetham squeezed himself as securely as possible into his awkward corner. [Most climbers now take a stance on the Oval and to the right of the Flake]. When he was firm I attacked the second and more interesting bulge. Its mildness was a little disappointing, but the next 15 feet of smooth wall compen­sated adequately. By the time I had reached two holds, which are designed to be well-known by reason of their rarity, the left one on the edge of the Flake and the right one on the wall itself, I had begun thoroughly to enjoy myself. The rock was sound and the climbing simple. It is true that it was extremely strenuous going, but it was just as hard to remain still, and there was always the splendid flat top of the tall, narrow chock to justify any slight 'overdraft' on reserves. As soon as I could, I hitched one rope across the top and dropped my arms to rest. While threading the other rope on the Flake side of the jammed block I found a short, blackened fragment of old rope, firmly wedged. It is, still there, its suggestion of mythical legend perhaps accentuated by  the harsh croaking of ravens, wheeling over Mickledore".

Frankland 'set about' the overhang and tried to lead straight through and he struggled in the crack for at least a half hour before admitting defeat. After a hurried lunch on the Oval during which time they saw two climbing friends near the top of the Flake, Beetham climbed up to the threaded chockstone, and tied himself on and invited Frankland to use him as a launching platform. Within five minutes, and by using Beetham's head and shoulders as holds, Frankland was able to turn the overhang and reach the finishing holds on the crest of the Flake. C.D.F. describes his feelings as he pulled over the top.

 "The fingers curled over and hooked the sharp crest. Then, with feelings unbecoming of expression to a man who has reached my side of middle age, I enjoyed the luxury of lusty hauling, which was sheer joy with such a hold and such space below to spur one's efforts .One of our friends was crawling at this moment carefully along the knife-edge of the crest of the Flake when we met literally face to face. The situation ludicrously unexpected, and the exclamation "They're up!" was accepted as an intimation of surprise and a quaint form of congratulation".

The two friends were Bower and Kelly, who themselves had designs on the climb but were taking the precau­tion of prospecting downwards before committing themselves. This gives some indication of Frankland's moral fibre and the purism of his approach. The foursome then joined forces and finished the climb together.
The summer of 1921 was one of the finest in living memory, but the much acclaimed second ascent of Central Buttress did not act as a stimulous for the tigers of the day, in fact a year was to pass before it was climbed again. R. S. T. Chorley, the editor of the Fell and Rock Journal, thought that Frankland's ascent, because it had been led without previous inspection from a top rope, was pure, but perhaps risky mountain­eering.

It was during an Easter meet at Wasdale in 1924 that Frankland became involved in an 'epic' while prospecting 'Bower's Route' on Esk Buttress. Jack Hilton, a regular climbing partner and close friend of Frankland, reminisces about that day. "C.D. (as Frankland was often called), W. V. Brown and myself had been climbing all day on Scawfell when we met C. F. Holland and G. R. Speaker who were compiling the Scawfell Rock Climbing Guide.
They asked Frankland to undertake a survey of Esk Buttress, and although it was late in the day we agreed and arrived at the foot of the crag about 6.30 p.m. It is a very perpendicular face, 400 feet high and, quite sheer, and in those days we did not have any pitons, karabiners or slings. Eventually, when we arrived at the bottom of the finishing cracks Frankland said, "I do not think I can get up this one Jack!" We could see Brown waiting for us at the foot of the crag .... well of course, he finally made it and we got down about 9 o'clock. It was not until C.D. sent in his account of the climb to Holland we were told there was an easier way off by a traverse below the exit Frankland had made".

This episode must have left a vivid impression on Frankland as they hastened to complete the climb in the gathering gloom, because he later wrote in the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal.
"we were racing against the clock. A vertical wall rose up before us with a little rock shelter, [this is the waiting room] admirably adapted for a benighted party. We looked coldly past the suggested implication at a twisted crack which offered a strenuous means of scaling the wall. Overboard went all thoughts of style. Some twelve feet up was a Sanger Davies recess. It must be reached somehow. Elbow poking helped when the hands struck work. Then the leg strokes. Had the cliff been submerged we should have reached the surface ... .... breathless, at last I thrust one arm and head into the recess. I hung there as if I loved it, until I had fully realized the pangs of the pillory. Then I prepared to move on fighting for breath and a knee hold near my nose to the amusement of Hilton. It was exasperating, and had Jack indulged in any leg pulling I should have been down on him like a ton of bricks ....

"I was privately stimulated by the thought that he also must in turn claw and kick, swear and sweat up this elongated 'Whisky Climb' [a similar, but much easier line at Almscliffe]."Anyone who has climbed 'Frankland's Finish' will know the exact place where he experienced difficulty — the overhanging crack with the strenuous and awkward mantleshelf move. With the light fading quickly it is probably a matter of speculation if he found the key hold high up on the left wall.
All that remained was the corner chimney-crack which can prove a knotty problem for some physiques. It is not hard by present day standards, but in those circumstances, with no belay and with the steep groove just below (climbed by Dolphin in 1952 and called Trespasser Groove), it must have been a harrowing finish to the day.

This variation is called 'Frankland's Finish' and the latter day routes of 'Great Central Climb' and 'Trespasser Groove' both use it as an exit. It is still graded very severe. The Fell & Rock Guide credits Bentley Beetham as being Frankland's second but it was Jack Hilton who followed C.D.F. up this climb.
"Frankland usually made a point of climbing up and down routes", reflects Jack Hilton, "in this way he got more climbs in. He used to look at a pitch and state, 'the difficulties are only mental', — a favourite saying of his. He would say 'no advance without security', which seems rather tragic when one thinks of his accident. His death was a stunning blow to us all.

"I once saw a film of a man called Arthur Dolphin climbing the'Green Crack' at Almscliffe, and his movement reminded me very much of Frankland". During the twenties there was a tremendous upsurge of pioneering in the Lakes, and yet, for all his unique skill, Frankland did not really become identified with this momen­tum. He put up such climbs as 'Eagles Corner' and 'Tricouni Rib' on the Napes, 'Troutdale Ridge' on Black Crag, 'Woden's Face' (Direct) in Borrowdale and the phantom 'Cam Spout Buttress' in Eskdale, (three generations of guide book writers have not been able to find this route) but the real climbs of quality were left to be discovered by others. Why was this ? I think Frankland did not have the hunger for crag exploration that the likes of Kelly, Bower, Gross or Graham projected in their intense search for new lines. Frankland, a keen potholer once told Fred Pigott that he preferred to spend his summers caving and reserve his climbing for the- less favourable seasons.

An interesting example of Frankland's apparent lack of enthusiasm for pioneering new ground occurred one wet day in 1921 when he was walking along the Borrowdale road with Bentley Beetham. Beetham later wrote. "We happened to catch a glimpse through the foliage of a rib of rock that looked sufficiently attractive to cause us to halt to investigate it. We were mildy surprised at its quality; climbed it, and thought no more about it". This rib is what we now call 'Brown Slabs Arete'.
Frankland led this climb and then the outcrop, which we now know as Shepherd's Crag, was forgotten about until it was rediscovered by Beetham 25 years later, when he then began his amazing tour-de-force of these rocks.
C. D. F.'s stamina and strength remained undiminished as he settled into middle-age and at the age of forty seven he girdled Scafell in 22 hours starting from the Mickledore end, and he again climbed Central Buttress for the fourth recorded ascent. He completed the route and descended by way of Moss Ghyll in 3 hours —an impressive performance by any standards. On both occasions his second was Mabel Barker.

In 1926 Frankland went to Skye and in inclement weather completed the traverse of the main 'Cuillin Ridge' in fourteen hours —considered a respectable time for the period. The party, which included Mabel Barker, kept strictly to the ridge and did not take a rope — a bold undertaking when one considers the conditions. It was during this holiday that C.D.F. pioneered a climb on Sgurr Sgumain purely by a mistake in route finding in the mist. The route was called 'Big Wall Gully' but is better known as 'Frankland's Gully' and is graded hard severe.
C. D. Frankland was forty nine when he was killed — a victim of one of those unavoidable and tragic accidents which sometime afflicts our sport. He was buried in the tiny graveyard at Wasdale at the request of his family, surrounded by the crags and mountains that meant so much to him.

"Frankland's caution was as marked as his grace and strength", wrote W. V. Brown in Frankland's obituary. "So that it is certain that the handhold must have stood testing from below. As we picture him moving steadily and certainly on far more difficult climbs, it is a struggle to realise that Frankland of all men perished by a fall, and more to grasp that Gable of all crags betrayed him he depended on one hold .It is scarcely too much to say Claud Frankland was without equal among cragsmen, and it is fitting he should sleep his last long sleep at Wasdale, for to us who have climbed with him and loved him, the encircling mountains will for ever wear a mournful glory to his memory".

This is the verse you grave for me 
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home the sailor, home from the sea, 
And the hunter home from the hill


1. Pigott led the third ascent of Central BL 1922 and pioneered the first route on the ease of Clogwyn du'r Arddu (Pigott's Climb - H.V.S., He was one of the original explorers, and one of Longland's party which first climbed the west buttress Clogwyn du'r Arddu in 1928. (Longland's Climb VS.
2. Ironically, it was Fergus Graham who put up the climb (solo) on which Frankland lost his life.
3. The shoulder belay at this time had not been uiversally accepted and for long run-outs the full weight rope was in many ways a liability, being too heavy and cumbersome. (The waist belay had not yet been developed).
"On climbs involving a long run-out for the wrote George Bower, "additional safety obtained by using the Alpine line instead of a rope. If the leader should come off no rope would stand the shock, but he is less likely to come off when not subjected to the weight of a lengthy rope".
4. Menlove Edwards was the first climber to 'Flake Crack' without assistance at the chock he did so in 1931 and in nailed boots!
5. Jack Hilton, an ex- president of the Yorkshire Ramblers celebrated his eightieth birthday by climbing Gwynn's Chimney on Pavey Ark and several routes on Scout Crag.
6. G. R. Speaker, an ex-president of the Fell Climbing Club, was killed in a fall whilst leading Nest West Chimney' on the 20th September. He is buried at Wasdale and was sixty-seven when he died.
7. Dolphin, like Frankland before him, was on easy ground. He was descending after completing a climb on the South Face of the Geantt when he fell and struck his head.
8. Frankland was involved in the first descent of Pot Shaft' and he explored 'Rowton Pot', 'Jingling Pot' 'Boggart's Roaring Hole' and Pillars Pot'. His last were the 'G.C.' Passage and the 'Flood Entrance', Gaping Ghyll.
9. Frankland's party were the first climbers to the traverse and return to the starting point (the Scavaig hut) in the same day; the ascent involved 10.000' of climbing and they covered 18 miles. They were out 20 hours — the longest expedition so far.
10. For many years after Frankland's accident,Chantry Buttress retained a reputation for unreliable rock.In 1939 Miss Joyce Houcher leading this climb fell from the vicinity of the traverse line, but fortunately, the fall was not fatal. The failure of a handhold is to have been the cause of the accident, and the breaking of a hold on the traverse very nearly caused incident the previous year.


The Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal 1921-19 The Journal of the Fell and  Rock Climbing Club 1921-1927,1936/37,1939,1943,1943. High Peak. Sutton & Byne.

Snowdon Biography. Young, Sutton and Noyce. Climber and Rambler. August, 1974.'Almscliffe',Dennis Gray.
I wish to thank the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club,the Fell & Rock Climbing Club for allowing me to quote from their journals.

Ken Smith