Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Coming up: Ken Smith's portrait of Bentley Beetham

Bentley Beetham: Photo courtesy of the Beetham collection: Durham University


" After the 1921 and 1922 Everest expeditions another team was assembled in 1924 and Beetham accepted an invitation to join the party Short,muscular and designed to go the distance Beetham, seemingly oblivious to pain and discomfort, was known as a tenancious mountaineer. It was probably Somevell , a member of the 1922 expedition, who recommended him. Under the leadership of General Bruce, the nine climbers included Somervell, Norton, Odell, Noel, and Mallory.

 The expedition was particularly unlucky experiencing some of the worst weather for 30 years and with leading members struck down with illness. General Bruce was forced to return to Darjeeling after contracting malaria and Beetham developed a serious stomach infection during the walk in. Noel later wrote, 'Beetham, who is one of the stoutest men of the Alpine Club — a man with a marvel of pace and endurance on the mountains. A climbing companion who Somervell himself could not outrival in the Alps nearly died of dysentery But such was the strength of his constitution and determi­nation that he was able to go on...'
Later, Beetham developed an acute attack of sciatica and did not get higher than Camp 3. In Somervell's opinion he would certainly have been a contender for the summit. But it was not to be. After Norton and Somervell, who were forced to turn back less than 300ft below the summit, Irvine and Mallory made their ill-fated attempt and were never seen again. A memorial cairn was built, at Base Camp, on which Beetham carved an epitaph to those who lost their lives in the 1921-23 and 24 expeditions — the Chinese destroyed the monument after their occupation of Tibet.'

This Friday,Footless Crow welcomes acclaimed outdoor writer and author of numerous insightful climbing biographies,Ken Smith on board.
In the first of a regular series of articles about those UK climbers and mountaineers who have helped shape the sport,Ken offers a revealing and in depth overview of the life and times of Bentley Beetham. A Cumbrian schoolteacher who opened up and developed the beautiful 'Jaws of Borrowdale' as a popular climbing venue but who was also,an active mountaineer in the greater ranges. Perhaps best remembered as being a key member of the legendary 1924 'Mallory' Everest expedition.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Angel Pavement and other stories















Dave Williams on the long and virtually unprotected 150'first pitch of Angel Pavement.

In 1946 I happened to have the privilege of studying at Exeter University on a short course, seconded from the army. As I had done since my 13th birthday I took every possible opportunity to climb and one of the best occasions was at Whitsuntide when I arranged to stay at the Manchester University Mountaineering Club hut, Tyn y Weirglodd, in Waenfawr. As the sole member of the Exeter University Mountaineering Club, which I had just formed, Ken Pearson, Johnnie Lowe and Teddy Brown welcomed me along with many other MUMC members. On the Saturday, with some trepidation, I made my first foray onto Clogwyn du’r Arddu with Teddy, when we did Longland’s Route. It was wet and I remember taking off my nailed boots, and hanging them round my neck by their laces, to do ‘Faith and Friction’ slab in socks and being very worried that I would drop them as they impeded my movements and swung about hiding the holds. I wasted no time in putting them back on despite Teddy’s complaints when I stood on his shoulders to start the overhang on the next pitch. We had been watched from the shore of Llyn du’r Arddu by a party, which included Peter Harding, Mike Ward and John Barford who had already done Central Rib (which had been put up only a month earlier by Arnold Carsten and G G Macphee) and Curving Crack. I heard later that they had remarked on our slow progress, wondering whether we would need rescuing, but Peter had re assured his companions by pointing out that the leader involved was his “oppo” and therefore could not fail!
Next day the rain really poured down and we climbed Central Ridge on Llechog, which despite being graded Difficult, struck us as being as hard as the climb of the previous day. In the morning the weather was better and three of us made our way to Castell Cidwm, by fording the ice-cold stream behind the hut. We attacked the cliff to the right of the gully, removing a lot of vegetation but not making much progress. Eventually we gave it best and Ken Pearson, the leader, descended with the protection of a peg, hammered in at his high point. We swam in the blue watered quarry pool and then, to warm up again soloed the gully and made our way over to Craig y Bera. The crag of the kite. It is a cliff of romantic ridges a little like Great Gable, but a jerrybuilt version and we remarked that there were no birds, probably scared away by the threat of the unseen predators. Here Johnnie Lowe had his eye on a possible new route and we quickly romped up a series of easy slabs, in four pitches. The overhanging wall defining the right edge of the slabs gradually encroached until we were forced onto the brink of a vertiginous sweep of vegetated rock which drew our eyes to a scruffy gully bed and the plentiful reddish scree beyond. Above us the slab tilted up and became a narrow wall, barely ten feet wide, giving little scope for choice of line. As Teddy and I huddled on a small ledge whilst Johnny addressed the problem the nagging wind grew stronger and the air colder, so we decided to abandon the project and descended what we had climbed, intending to return.
So it is quite clear that Angel Pavement really belonged to Johnnie Lowe. He was one of the ‘Atherton Brothers’ with several good gritstone routes on the Peak District’s northern edges to his credit, and a younger contemporary of Arthur Birtwisle, who had led Dinas Mot’s Diagonal Route in 1938. In 1942 Johnnie’s Manx Wall on Clogwyn Du Ymhen y Glyder was an outstanding find and, a year later he excelled himself by leading Travesty, now graded E1 on that imposing cliff.

Tony Moulam in his Angel Pavement year-1946-playing around on the Capel Curig Pinnacles: AJ Moulam collection

But back to Tyn y Weirglodd, where I arrived for a second visit on 5 July. This time there was a strong presence of MAM members and Teddy Brown, N A Lewtas and I led various parties up the East Arete of Y Garn.  Still needing some exercise, and with the Craig y Bera Slab willing us to climb it, Teddy suggested we had another look at the route so we ran down to the road and toiled up the treadmill scree to the foot of our climb. The slab was a delight easily followed on good holds and we soon reached our high point of the previous attempt. Here there was a fine securely wedged chockstone in the wide crack to the right of the line. Above us it began to look serious; the slab narrowed and steepened into a wall and the flat holds forced me out to the left, to enjoy the suddenly revealed exposure over the scarp edge. It had all seemed light hearted to here but with nails skating on the glassy rock and fingers desperately searching for non-existent incut holds I suddenly realised that I had to climb. Luckily, after a few worryingly precarious moves things soon eased and I followed a blocky staircase to a small ledge, where I tied myself on, with a sense of achievement and relief.
I called to Teddy to follow me and he moved up rapidly to the crux, paused for a few seconds and then surged up as he found the key. A cold gust of air came up from our left and so I urged him on up the next pitch. The holds all seemed to be wrong, undercut in an awkward way, but his height told and he soon had his hands on a sizeable flake and was able to continue quickly, mainly up grass to a corner and a traverse left beneath steep walls to reach another ledge. The rest was easy broken rock and I soon stood at the top of my first Welsh first ascent!
Naturally we celebrated our success and so it was noon next day before we set off for another foray on Clogwyn du’r Arddu. We followed the Ranger path and enjoyed a belated lunch above the Far West Buttress. The sky was cloudless and we were soon joined by scavenging seagulls that must have spotted that there was food to be had from several miles away! Eventually we abandoned our comfortable rest and scrambled down the Western Terrace en route for Bow Shaped Slab. The reprinted interim guide by J M Edwards and J E Q Barford said it was only Vb, well protected and not such a serious undertaking as the other routes we had not yet done on the West Buttress. The climbs on the East Buttress were supposed to be much more strenuous and difficult, and we did not dream of tackling them.
Bow’s first short pitch gave us no trouble, nor did the second, after we had succeeded in lassoing the spike. The book said that there were two ways of tackling the next stretch and as the one recommended as normal (round the corner into the crack) was very greasy I took the direct option and after a few awkward moves continued up grassy ledges to the stance. Another long easy traverse on more grass ledges below Sheaf and Narrow to the edge of Great went well enough, as did the little crack, awkward at the top, to a small triangular mud stance on the arête. I couldn’t find the “further belays up some yards if wanted” so made do with the three small and loose spikes poking out of the grass. Teddy joined me and we had a few confused moments as we changed places but he eventually claimed that he was comfortable and satisfied that I could proceed. Away to the left the Bow dropped sheerly to the verdant ledges of our traverse and I obeyed the guidebook’s instructions to move ten feet left, I found myself perched on an uncomfortably sloping foothold in the middle of this steep and exposed slab. Above the right hand end of my ledge was a series of three widely spaced quartz rimmed pockets, then a holdless wrinkled wall leading to an apparent sharp edged handhold, the key to the upper slab.

Dave Williams sets off on pitch two of Angel Pavement

I took some time over the inevitable practice moves before I was able to step confidently up the pockets and stand with a toe jammed in the uppermost one. The problem was now clear. There were no more holds and however much I strained upwards I could not curl my fingers over the tantalisingly close edge. I was tiring now and the fifteen feet between me and Teddy seemed an awful long way.
Teddy is much taller than me so I said that I thought he might like to take a look as the book implied the pitch to be easier for those with a long reach. He demurred for some reason (possibly because I had made everything look difficult) but instead urged me to jump for it. I considered this idea for only a moment as the rope looked very thin and I remembered that our belays were all loose anyway.
The light was also beginning to go so I talked myself into abandoning our attempt. I wasted no more time, moving smoothly back to the belay and continuing down the crack we had climbed so long ago.
I tied on, made myself comfortable and called for Teddy to abseil, to save time. “How”, was his response so from my remote position I described the classical method and with little more ado he joined me. Perhaps the situation had speeded the learning process as he certainly cottoned on quickly. On the way up we had noticed various spikes and bollards decorated with black and rotting slings. We found later that they had been used in retreat by Arnold Carsten’s party whilst attempting the climb after he had fallen clutching a broken hold from my highest point. He had turned his second upside down but the belays held and after righting they had escaped from the cliff in the way we now proposed.
We had 160 feet of rope so the second pitch of 90 feet was going to cause trouble unless we could find an intermediate belay. We had only one spare sling so, as I gave Teddy a tight rope, he collected what he could on the way down. He stopped frequently and delved into the vegetation and earth in an effort to find a suitable spike. At last he found a useful prospect and started to exhume it. I heard the thump of turf hitting the scree far below and then a clatter of falling stones, a cry from Teddy and a pull on the rope. The spike had fallen off and as it struck rock on the way down an acrid smell of sulphur drifted up as he moved down and started civil engineering again. This time he stopped work before he had dug too deeply, and wasted no more time as he rushed to the next belay, and tied on very securely.
I started carefully to descend the muddy groove that had been revealed by Teddy’s gardening and thankfully reached his spike. It did not look very big to me, but perhaps that was because it was now nearly dark. However I did not fancy continuing to climb down the rest of the pitch, particularly the last move or two to negotiate the overhang, so I selected what looked like the best of the slings we had retrieved and draped it over the spike. I pulled up the spare end of rope and threaded it through the loop, and after one last check, committed myself to the void. Hell! The spike had broken. I jerked and fell about a foot, but then stopped, my heartbeat slowed and I realised that the old sling had stretched as I put my weight on to it. Sliding over the overhang I soon hung free and rotated in space like a spider on its thread. Alternate views of the dark sky and stygian rock until I touched the ledge with my feet and Teddy pulled me in to the stance.
One more pitch to go, down the groove now taken by White Slab, so I pulled down the rope and the rest was simple. Except our doubled rope did not quite reach the ground, so we had to drop the last eight or ten feet. Retrieving the rope was a little difficult but I eventually managed by standing shakily on my partner’s shoulders to be able to just reach its ends.
We put on our boots and went to the Far East Buttress to see whether friends who had intended to climb Jubilee were anywhere to be seen. We were rather concerned to find their boots at the foot of East Gully but we could hear or see nothing. The scramble up the Western Terrace proved a little unnerving in the dark On the ridge we came into pale moonlight and made our way back to the valley in its eerie but benevolent glow. An erratic torch twinkled towards us as we neared the road and it turned into a friend and would be rescuer who accompanied us back to the hut where he cooked us a very large and welcome meal.
In the early morning we recruited a party from the nearby Christian Endeavour Holiday Home to form a rescue party. Instead of taking the ridge above the cliff we crossed Bwlch Cwm Brwynog and dropped down below the Llyn so that we could scour the cwm and scan the inhospitable crags of the Far East Buttress. We eventually spied the missing men, comfortably ensconced on the huge grass terrace halfway up the cliff. We called off the rescue party and scrambled up the Far Eastern Terrace. Starting off loose and rotten this took some time and we arrived at the summit just as our friends completed their climb. It appeared that they had climbed as slowly as we and were overtaken by darkness and unable to advance or retreat. They had apparently slept quite well, but were ravenous now and wanted to get back to the hut as quickly as possible, to refuel.
A year later I joined the Climbers’ Club and from my first journal learnt that John Ball had done the third ascent of Bow Shaped Slab in June 1946. The party had experienced considerable difficulty, and came to the conclusion that it was much harder than Narrow Slab. This view was also expressed by others who had tried and abandoned the climb, so this news made me feel a little less ashamed of my failure.
It was not until May 1948 that George Dwyer and John Lawton solved the problem by the modern way, going straight up from the stance and traversing left on the high line, the way which I took, much later, when I tried the route again.















View of the main slab taken by Angel Pavement. Photographed before the first ascent from Y Garn by the author.AJ Moulam collection

Tony Moulam 2011©

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Coming Up: Tony Moulam's Angel Pavement and other stories

The magic hour. Tony Moulam left-and John Churchill, April 1952 after completing their all time classic 'Mur y Niwl' (Wall of Mists).

" Next day the rain really poured down and we climbed Central Ridge on Llechog, which despite being graded Difficult, struck us as being as hard as the climb of the previous day. In the morning the weather was better and three of us made our way to Castell Cidwm, by fording the ice-cold stream behind the hut. We attacked the cliff to the right of the gully, removing a lot of vegetation but not making much progress. Eventually we gave it best and Ken Pearson, the leader, descended with the protection of a peg, hammered in at his high point. We swam in the blue watered quarry pool and then, to warm up again soloed the gully and made our way over to Craig y Bera. The crag of the kite. It is a cliff of romantic ridges a little like Great Gable, but a jerrybuilt version and we remarked that there were no birds, probably scared away by the threat of the unseen predators. Here Johnnie Lowe had his eye on a possible new route and we quickly romped up a series of easy slabs, in four pitches. The overhanging wall defining the right edge of the slabs gradually encroached until we were forced onto the brink of a vertiginous sweep of vegetated rock which drew our eyes to a scruffy gully bed and the plentiful reddish scree beyond. Above us the slab tilted up and became a narrow wall, barely ten feet wide, giving little scope for choice of line. As Teddy and I huddled on a small ledge whilst Johnny addressed the problem the nagging wind grew stronger and the air colder, so we decided to abandon the project and descended what we had climbed, intending to return.'

This Friday; one of the great post war N Wales pioneers and creator of classic middle grade routes,Tony Moulam, writes about his very first North Wales first ascent. The wonderful 600' Hard Severe (US-5.7)Angel Pavement on the the buzzard haunted ramparts of Craig y Bera high above the Nantlle Pass. A previously unpublished piece written by Tony especially for Footless Crow.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Landscape Photography...'clearly defined' so I've heard!















Middle Earth: Nantlle Ridge:Glyn Davies©

OK..... before I start, this is to pre-empt any upset by the end. It may seem at first like a rant, but it's not really, honest! I saw a comment just two days ago and the silliness of it has been bugging me so much that I felt compelled to put across my thoughts about landscape photography, immersed in it 24/7 with little else getting a look in. This is more of an essay for education than a blog post I advise you! All images were taken on one walk over four hours on Monday afternoon, in bitterly cold winter weather and in utter and total solitude on Mynydd Mawr in Snowdonia.

I have been narked for the last few days. I read a comment below a story on someone else's blog, which stated "Just because the photos are of landscape, doesn't make them "landscape photography, which is very defined".

Wow, what a crazy comment, where did it originate and on what foundations have they based that comment ? I never realised that when I am spiritually immersed in the outdoor environment, the simple fact that I may use a camera to create personal depiction's of the place is actually nothing more than applying a formula, fitting within nicely defined though unwritten boundaries of a genre ! The sad thing is, that at one level the anonymous writer may have come to this assumption due to the mass of formulaic imagery which DOES pervade this 'subject' area. The original blog article was actually relevant and interesting, nothing new, but interesting nevertheless. It was discussing the very specific angle of 'organised' landscapes created by man himself, lines of trees, geometrical patterns of planted shrubs, plants etc. To me these are still landscape, even if planned and planted by man, because they are still dealing with living, organic objects on a land-form, whether hillsides, plains or valleys. Realistically there is very little natural looking landscape which hasn't in reality been massively influenced or affected by man anyway- through farming, forestry, community or even leisure and sport. In the UK, apart from maybe cliffs at the coastline, I'd guess almost 90% is now shaped by man and almost entirely unrecognisable from 10,000 years ago. I gather that even the highest peaks of UK would at one time have had trees and vegetation growing over them and it's us who have influenced the change. The only outdoor subjects I do not class as landscape in my mind, are city-scape's and any images primarily dealing with the built and concrete environment. Yes- they can look like landscapes sometimes,  but the word LAND within landscape simply doesn't apply to those subjects, to my mind at least.

The frustrating thing is that not all of us see photography as the prime objective for being in the landscape. For me at least it's simply being outdoors, preferably alone in the landscape, which matters more than anything else in my life (other than family and friends of course!). I am not thinking gear, techniques,  genre, business, marketing, profession, peers, sales, customers, gallery or even who I want to impress, I am purely excited by being there and really REALLY observing the changing world and fleeting light about me. I am in love with the wind in my hair, the heat and cold on my face, the vulnerability of my situation and often the phenomenal sensuality of being in wild and beautiful landscapes, it's that ultimate leveller, that power to make everything else seem very trivial and very false. If it were not for the cold most of the year, or for it possibly shocking passers-by I'd probably walk most of the hills naked, as this would be as close as it gets to being part of it all, to feel the maximum connection with the elements, the surface, the nature and the topography. All of this is in my head way before the photography.

Rising in the cold air: Elidir Fawr above fog. Glyn Davies©

The photographic element is also important to me though, as a secondary activity beyond being outdoors. Art is in my family, has been for generations so whether through nature or nurture, it's in my blood. After 24 years of full time professional photography, and four years in photographic education, I have given up everything except landscape photography (and occasional portrait shoots) as I wanted to go back to where I started, which was my love for the blend of landscape and photography. Brought up in windswept Cornwall, a rich rural landscape bordered by spectacular coastline, resilient granite, changeable weather and monstrous seas, it has influenced most major decisions I've made in life. I was also surrounded by other artists who painted, sculpted, drew and photographed the landscape, all differently, all personally. Think back to the sixties, when I was in early childhood, and there was a major art movement in Cornwall, "The St Ives School", as diverse as it was new, from Terry Frost, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon, to the naive and inspirational art of fisherman Alfred Wallis. Their art inspired later generations but they were all heavily inspired themselves by landscape and the sea. They didn't stick to formulas, they didn't follow rules about what to do and how to fit in, they simply took the subject matter which inspired them and expressed their ideas through their work.

The difficulty I see with photography is that it doesn't have the same tactile (sensual) connection, and the equipment and two dimensional media can lead to a homogenisation of output, at a surface level at least. I see that it is much harder in some ways therefore, for a photographic artist to produce work that is as personal and liberating as a true and free thinking painter or sculptor. Harder, but not impossible. I have really enjoyed landscape work from photographers including the likes of Ansel Adams (in my early days anyway), John Blakemore, Joel Meyerowitz, Thomas Joshua Cooper, John Davies, Jem Southam, Simon Culliford, Philippe Plisson, recent work by Nadav Kander,  and perhaps most of all, James Ravillious but they all work in very different different ways and this is very clearly identifiable in their imagery.     

For me, although I create imagery for myself primarily, there is nothing more rewarding than finding that they also excite, engage, inspire or move other people, spiritually and emotionally. When some viewers have been moved to tears after allowing their minds to wander within my landscapes, I know I have created something beyond superficial delight, an empathy through the work, shared thoughts and emotions. This is not a landscape discipline, this is not a routine adherence to accepted formula. Although I use adjustment layers in the same way as dodging and burning in the wet darkroom, I am nevertheless attempting to present my own emotional response to the landscape as honestly as possible to the viewer. Honesty does not mean a straight forward, unadjusted mechanical  copy of what I see in front of me, as I 'see' in my mind so much more than the objects. I want to convey sadness, melancholy, anger, frustration, fear, vulnerability, happiness, excitement, exhilaration, escape, freedom, freshness, sensuality and so on.

Landscape Graffiti,Rhosgadfan Quarry. Glyn Davies©

I despair therefore when I see yet another technique-orientated, HDR, ND long exposure, dawn or night shot of landscape, to add to the millions already bogging down the likes of Flickr. I want to question the snapper as to why they even bothered. They often seem like a desperate emulations of what everyone else takes. In the old days we old-timers used to be extremely disparaging about the Cokin tobacco graduated filters, which pervaded so much image making at the time, even in advertising! Creators were basically saying, "Look what filter I've bought"! Now of course we have software to do the same, and new kit like ND10 filters, interval timers for night-long multiple exposures and star trails, but of course the real modern day Psychedelic filters, the sickness of badly used HDR. Occasionally crazy techniques used judiciously, could be used for genuinely relevant reasons, but where they are used perpetually, not only does the technique become a joke, but so does photography, once again easily labelled as just a tricksy hobby.

Getting back to the comment which triggered this post though, "landscape photography, which is very defined", perhaps the following is a prime reason ? In the bird watching world there are 'twitchers'. These are people who will go anywhere and everywhere at the drop of a hat just to spot a rare species, but not to study the bird, to learn about it or even to really observe it's behaviour, it is just so that they can tick off it's name on their bird identification guide check list, that all they need. These 'twitchers' exist in photo-land too! They do nothing more than travel from pre-defined, well publicised 'ideal viewpoints', to play with kit and techniques, create their own copy and then move off to the next spot. Our best local example of this is the easy to visit Penmon Lighthouse. There are literally thousands of images of this lighthouse 24 hours a day, in all seasons and at all exposures, yet amazingly still looking as if they have been shot by the same person! I guess it's no wonder that some will see landscape photography as "very defined" when maybe this is the limit of their research, but also what mostly seems to be on offer! What would I like to see happen about all this ? I'd love to see people doing their OWN thing! I want to see what THEY have to say, what THEY have felt and experienced at a location and most importantly, what did the place mean to them. There is very little of that, just bland emulation.
Small path to oblivion: Nantlle Ridge from Mynydd Mawr. Glyn Davies©




Glyn Davies©

Originally published on 'Musings from an Angelsey Photo-Artist'

Monday, 14 March 2011

Coming Up: Glyn Davies looks at the art of landscape photography

Glyn Davies©

"After 24 years of full time professional photography, and four years in photographic education, I have given up everything except landscape photography (and occasional portrait shoots) as I wanted to go back to where I started, which was my love for the blend of landscape and photography. Brought up in windswept Cornwall, a rich rural landscape bordered by spectacular coastline, resilient granite, changeable weather and monstrous seas, it has influenced most major decisions I've made in life. I was also surrounded by other artists who painted, sculpted, drew and photographed the landscape, all differently, all personally. Think back to the sixties, when I was in early childhood, and there was a major art movement in Cornwall, "The St Ives School", as diverse as it was new, from Terry Frost, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon, to the naive and inspirational art of fisherman Alfred Wallis. Their art inspired later generations but they were all heavily inspired themselves by landscape and the sea. They didn't stick to formulas, they didn't follow rules about what to do and how to fit in, they simply took the subject matter which inspired them and expressed their ideas through their work.

The difficulty I see with photography is that it doesn't have the same tactile (sensual) connection, and the equipment and two dimensional media can lead to a homogenisation of output, at a surface level at least. I see that it is much harder in some ways therefore, for a photographic artist to produce work that is as personal and liberating as a true and free thinking painter or sculptor. Harder, but not impossible. I have really enjoyed landscape work from photographers including the likes of Ansel Adams (in my early days anyway), John Blakemore, Joel Meyerowitz, Thomas Joshua Cooper, John Davies, Jem Southam, Simon Culliford, Philippe Plisson, recent work by Nadav Kander,  and perhaps most of all, James Ravillious but they all work in very different different ways and this is very clearly identifiable in their imagery.     

For me, although I create imagery for myself primarily, there is nothing more rewarding than finding that they also excite, engage, inspire or move other people, spiritually and emotionally. When some viewers have been moved to tears after allowing their minds to wander within my landscapes, I know I have created something beyond superficial delight, an empathy through the work, shared thoughts and emotions. This is not a landscape discipline, this is not a routine adherence to accepted formula. Although I use adjustment layers in the same way as dodging and burning in the wet darkroom, I am nevertheless attempting to present my own emotional response to the landscape as honestly as possible to the viewer.'

This Friday,acclaimed Welsh landscape photographer,Glyn Davies looks at what defines landscape photography from the perspective of someone who values the spiritual dimension of the natural environment.An environment which all too often is reduced to the status of a mere outside studio by some who would consider themselves as serious 'landscape photographers'.


Thursday, 10 March 2011

Everyone knows this is nowhere

Shadow Ridge on Clogwyn Du.

'The Tregalan Couloir'. Not sure why my former climbing partner always referred to this isolated place on the flanks of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by the French term. After all, we have a perfectly good name in Welsh for such a topographical feature...Cwm. In fact, there it is on the OS map..Cwm Tregalan.
When I first heard him refer to 'The Tregalan Couloir' I imagined it was some remote Alpine valley discovered by a Cornishman.....and Tregalen was swept to his death by an avalanche in the couloir which bears his name to this day.
 
Back to 'Cwm' Tregalen; most outdoor activists who have sought out our highest places will have at the very least fringed the edges of the cwm. It's eastern flank carries the ever popular Watkins Path to Snowdon's lofty crown while to the west, a great ridge which separates the cwm from Cwm Garegog connects Wales' highest summit with shapely Yr Aran and carries tens of thousands of walkers down its wrinkled spine each year.
As for the cwm itself, well,it's pretty much a backwater. A few old mines attracts the odd visitor and a disused mine track links the desolate cwm with the pastoral charms of  Nant Gwynant but apart from the odd wild camper and explorer of industrial ruins, the cwm is more looked upon than visited. However, I should mention that in those rare hard winters the odd winter party slogs up here to take a look at those lines listed in the winter climbs guide, not least the starred Shadow Gully.
And then there are the the rock climbs. 'What rock climbs' I hear you ask? Good question!
Even the most eagle eyed mammologist with his eyes trained on the cwm's big cliff Clogwyn Du is unlikely to have his attention taken by the sudden movement of that most rare of creatures hereabouts.....the lesser spotted crag rat.( Climbus imbecilicus). In a pantheon of rarely visited North Wales cliffs, Clogwyn Du offers itself as a leading contender.

Appointment with King Arthur:Scott Lloyd sets off on pitch one of Shadow Ridge.

The 2000 Tremadog guide offers a cursory mention of the cliff with the briefest of  route descriptions. Explaining...the cliff is loose and broken but offers long mountaineering routes which unfortunately degenerate into loose scrambling at the top . Routes have been described in outline- their quality not deserving of detailed description. *

* The latest 2010 Climbers Club guidebook to Tremadog  thankfully now offers a more detailed and objective over view of the climbs hereabouts.

The thing that drew me to Clogwyn du was the fact that one of its explorers was Paul Work. A minor figure in Welsh climbing but a fascinating one nevertheless. As someone who started climbing in the 1930's, Merseysider, Paul Work was proposed and seconded for membership of The Climbers Club by none other than those great icons of pre-war Welsh climbing-Menlove Edwards and Colin Kirkus. Despite never being in the same league as Edwards and Kirkus as a climber, Work,by contrast appears to have been,one of those climbers who are content to beaver away at their own limited standard and create their own little climbing fiefdoms in areas far from the madding crowd.

For Paul Work it was those quiet places around Nantmor and Beddgelert. The rust red crags of Dyniewyd, the great vegetated hulk of Diffwys on Moel Hebog; the verdant and dramatic Aberglasllyn Gorge and of course Clogwyn Du. The only routes I expect most climbers might have heard of of his are those little esoteric minor classics, Christmas Climb  on Craig Dyniewyd and Canyon Rib on the side of Aberglasllyn Pass. Both now graded severe.
Apart from his modest climbing career, Paul Work was essentially a hill  farmer who eked out an existance on the remote farm of Carneddi on the side of Moel Dyniewyd with his wife Janette Ruck whose books Place of Stones and Hill Farm Story anticipated the deluge of 'escape to the country' books written by townies seeking the good life by about 40 years.
Interestingly, Jim Perrin featured Paul in one of his On the Rock With...series of articles in Climber in the early nineties. There he was alongside Stevie Haston, Johnny Dawes and Joe Brown. Fame at last !

 One of the other Clogwyn Du and indeed South Snowdonia pioneers along with Work was the late Climbers Club archivist John Neil whose Crystal Rib was described  as the route which takes the steep buttress ridge immediately left of the hanging gully and follows a sharp little quartz ridge with jolly pinnacles, giving altogether about 200' of climbing on good rock with pitches reminiscent of Tryfan's East Face. Sounds quite good does it not !
It was to John Neill to whom I turned to seek out complete routes descriptions. Just six weeks before his death he sent me back the most detailed  handwritten notes of all the routes on Clogwyn Du.
Apart from John's 'Crystal Rib', it was Paul Work's Shadow Ridge which caught my fancy. A 600' Diff described by the guidebook author as a poor route. So why, you may well ask, did it take my fancy if it was a poor route ?
Ahh....you have forgotten.  Thanks to John Neill, I have Paul Work's original description....
Shadow Ridge Diff. The climb is well worth doing as a route up Snowdon. It has an Alpine character with reasonable continuity of idea.  What follows was a detailed route description  with approach  notes and little snippets like delightful climbing thrown in.
As a guidebook team member myself, far be it from me to cast aspersions on fellow guidebook writers but would it be so controversial to suggest that perhaps not all these obscure low grade routes are actually climbed and re-assessed ? In this instance I was tempted to go with the first  ascentionist's description.
Scott Lloyd on the second pitch of Shadow Ridge

The Climb

Opening the shutters I screwed up my eyes against the July morning glare. Not a cloud in the sky and temperatures rising by the minute. I had persuaded Scott Lloyd  an old climbing buddy-actually he's a young 'old' climbing buddy!-into joining me for a gander at Paul Work's old mountaineering route. These sort of routes are just Scotts' cup of tea and many's the time I've cajoled him into tromping up to some great brooding buttress to check out something which might....just might, be an unappreciated classic!
I have to say though, that scorching hot days in July are not ideal for lugging a heavy rucksack full of climbing hardware up to a remote crag. The walk up from the Nant Gwynant car park is reasonable but as soon as you start ascending into the pathless cwm it becomes pretty strength sapping. Suffice it to say,it took us a decidedly snail like two hours to reach the foot of the ridge. I'm sure a fit fell runner could do it in twenty minutes.
Since I had started climbing with Scott when he was an eager 14 year old,he had gone on to become one of the UK's leading Arthurian scholars and  works such as  The keys to Avalon co-written with writing partner Steve Blake and the follow up Pendragon are considered key works in the Arthurian oeuvre.
Oh...and by the way, the real King Arthur was Welsh so forget Tintagel, Glastonbury and all that south west bunkum.Just middle ages English invention!

Back to Shadow Ridge. Scott led off up the rib which marked the start of the climb and ensconced himself behind a gendarme. I quickly arrived and after availing myself of a slice of brie and a slightly rough vin rouge bid the gendarme au revoir and set out along the crest of the gully. Some proper climbing now takes place as you sidle along the steep gully wall before a surprisingly technical pull is required to gain the wall above. More steep climbing up a slightly loose groove delivered me to a strange ledge marked by a sizeable cairn. At this point Scott got quite excited when he joined me. Remember,we are talking of an Arthurian scholar here and what we had in a totally impossible position for a walker or scrambler was a carefully built cairn not one mile from Bwlch y Saethau-The pass of Arrows where according to legend, King Arthur had fought his last battle. Later...according to legend... to be laid to rest high up in the area of Slanting gully on Lliwedd just over the saddle from here.

In fact the excitement -or perhaps it was sun stroke?- overwhelmed Scott to the degree that as I was about to set off on the third pitch he announced.'I  feel a bit weird' and promptly collapsed! An event not unknown to me with a climbing partner. At this time, mobile phones where not the universal accessory we know today. Without any means of communication I contemplated lashing Scott to a rock and scrambling up to the ridge path where an uphill slog would deliver me to the summit cafe and communication with the outside world. However,he groggily came to and declared himself fit to continue and I got back in the saddle.

Near the top of the ridge marked  Bwlch Main on the OS map, a steady stream of walkers were heading up and down from Yr Wyddfa's crowded summit. A little girl shouted 'Oh Look' and pretty soon a crocodile of walkers had curtailed their activities to take in the impressive spectacle. For some strange reason, at this point I was compelled to hang over the void by my fingernails, effect heel hooks, in fact bring into play every gymnastic device I had in my admittedly limited repertoire of  snappy moves.
Of course, I could have sloped off around the corner and probably walked up with my hands in my pockets but why spoil the show? Regrettably, all to soon the rock God had arrived at the top. Some instructors ran over and asked 'what route are you on?'....'Shadow Ridge'...'Ahh..Shadow Ridge', as if it meant anything. I could have said ' The Maestrict Treaty'  and it would have made as much sense.
By then I had been joined by  the groggy Lloyd and we descended the main ridge and took the Yr Aran path back into the cwm. There was a pint of Bass in the Pen y Gwryd with my name on it so no time to linger !

Shadow Ridge ? Well, it's a while ago since I did it but I look back now and think, yes,it was a decent route. Harder than a mere Diff. Probably a good trad mountaineering HV Diff. A route I would like to go back and do again as there are one or two sections which could be straightened out. Perhaps pushing the grade up to VS/HVS but Paul Work's original will always be an easier option.

Then there's the John Neill routes hereabouts? As Edward Abbey once said ......'The mountain is still there waiting for me.All of them out there,all of those mountains around the world,waiting for us. That's the good part......We'll be back.

Place of Stones: The weird graveyard like field of slate in the heart of Cwm Tregalan.


 John Appleby 2000/11©

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Coming Up: John Appleby chances upon King Arthur's grave.

The ever popular Watkin Path with the mysterious 600' mountaineering route high above the cwm dead ahead.

"The thing that drew me to Clogwyn Du was the fact that one of its explorers was Paul Work. A minor figure in Welsh climbing but a fascinating one nevertheless. As someone who started climbing in the 1930's, Merseysider, Paul Work was proposed and seconded for membership of The Climbers Club by none other than those great icons of pre-war Welsh climbing-Menlove Edwards and Colin Kirkus. Despite never being in the same league as Edwards and Kirkus as a climber, Work, by contrast, appears to have been one of those climbers who are content to beaver away at their own limited standard and create their own climbing fiefdoms in areas far from the madding crowd.

For Paul Work it was those quiet places around Nantmor and Beddgelert. The rust red crags of Dyniewyd, the great vegetated hulk of Diffwys on Moel Hebog; the verdant and dramatic Aberglasllyn Gorge and of course Clogwyn Du. The only routes I expect most climbers might have heard of of his are those little esoteric minor classics, Christmas Climb on Craig Dyniewyd and Canyon Rib on the side of Aberglasllyn Pass. Both now graded severe.
Apart from his modest climbing career, Paul Work was essentially a hill  farmer who eked out an existance on the remote farm of Carneddi on the side of Moel Dyniewyd with his wife Janette Ruck whose books Place of Stones and Hill Farm Story anticipated the deluge of 'escape to the country' books written by townies seeking the good life by about 40 years.
Interestingly, Jim Perrin featured Paul in one of his On the Rock With...series of articles in Climber in the early nineties. There he was alongside Stevie Haston, Johnny Dawes and Joe Brown........ Fame at last !'

Arthurian writer Scott Lloyd on pitch two of a mysterious mountain route with a secret.


This Friday, John Appleby seeks out an obscure 600' mountaineering route on the flanks of Snowdon and considers the routes creator-Paul Work. Accompanied by Arthurian expert Scott Lloyd,-co-author of the classic 'The Keys to Avalon'- the pair discover that Paul Work's route is at the heart of the Arthurian tale and chance upon the Celtic King's resting place.Less than half a mile from Bwlch y Saethau where legend has it, Arthur was slain before being laid to rest in a cave near Slanting Gully on Lliwedd.



Friday, 4 March 2011

North Country Fair

Simon Robinson and Nick Blunt on The Appian Way:
(HS-4b-US-5.7)
Pillar Rock.Photo Gordon Stainforth





Most mornings I look north-westward from our village, hoping to see the long white face of Whitbarrow staring full into the rising sun and most mornings I see it. It is said that George Fox, the heroic Quaker, harried by magistrates, constables, and thugs in the 1650's, saw the blaze of ice-white rock above the estuary at the head of More­cambe Bay and took it as a sign that his god was smiling on him. He certainly read rocks in that way. He chose to hold a meeting at the slanting crag now called Fox's Pulpit, on Firbank Fell above Sedbergh. because 'the word of the Lord came to me I must go and set down  the rock in the mountain even as Christ had done before'.
Whitbarrow is a sign to us too. When we can see it distinctly from. here, it means that the soft days of the west have turned more bracing - in summer at the start of an anticyclone, in winter likewise between pulses of storm when the wrack tears. Then we can see through to the scraper-board graining of the snow-filled gullies Dow Crag or to Whitbarrow's blanched towers.

The cliff is the north-western culmination of the carboniferous limestone, or looks like it. In reality it thrusts on further, through where it nourished excellent grassland for the medieval community at the Abbey, then hooks round west and south to end at the point of Cumbria, just north of the massive red sandstone timbering of St Bees Head.
The precipice called White Scar (in the northern sense of the cliff ) is the south end of a long berg separating the dales of the Winster and Gilpin. In early summer they whiten with hawthorn and damson blossom. Between these lengths of garden-comeliness all  is declivity and resistance. Try to outflank it on the west and you stagger up scree barely at the angle of rest. A little further and you're bridging up the dank limestone jambs of Pioneers' Cave, greased by oozings of the aboriginal hazel, ash, and hawthorn woods above, before clawing out through thigh-deep leaf-mould in a place best left to wrens and foxes.
The east side is gentler. Coverts grow in the troughs of humus between the waves of limestone. Where the mouths of the badger setts funnel down into the dark, you can put your head and shoulders into one opening after another and smell nothing but cold earth. Then your face is met by the faintest musky warmth, almost a body odour and you know that a family is at home down there.

On the face of the scar nobody is at home, not even the climbers who call it 'Indian country' and 'utopia for the masochist.' It is not the highest crag, just wholly formidable due to its lack breaks and the flayed slopes at its quarried foot. The tallest prow is now called Space Buttress. The jackdaws manoeuvring in mid-air at the summit look as small as tadpoles. It is never easy to estimate the height of a cliff. At the foot of the biggest and sheerest I have seen, El Capitan in Yosemite, a pine on the rim looked like the merest shrub. When voices called from up there, exchanging climbing instructions- in a Scots accent as it happened- and I managed to pick the climbers out, they were black specks on the naked thousand-metre steep. White Scar is a twentieth of that height. Standing up at the southern verge of the Lake District National Park, it is a harbinger of the 100 and 150m  heights to come — the East and Central Buttresses of Scafell, Esk Buttress, Eagle Crag in Birkness Combe above Buttermere, and Pillar Rock in Ennerdale.

One June day we approached Pillar from the north-west, digging our booted feet into the barely stable scree like labourers planting fence posts. The air in the belt of forest immediately below had felt like webs of humidity clinging to the nose and mouth. The dense bristle of the unthinned spruce, the salad juiciness of the broad-leafed trees estab­lished in the 1930s to redeem the wrong of cloaking the Lake District's sacred terrain in industrial forest, the temperature in the high seventies Fahrenheit — all this was melding to give Pillar Rock in the sky above us a look of monstrous tropical architecture, niched and stepped and buttressed, corroded and overgrown, like Angkor Wat in Thailand or the Mayan pyramids in Yucatan and Chiapas.

David Craig on Salome(HVS-4c.US 5.8)Buttermere.

My son Neil and I had been here before, to climb the North and South-west routes, on a classic day of breezy sunlight that seemed the atmosphere of his late boyhood. Three years later, the sky was curiously blind, a thick white, and the fells between here and Wasdale, Red Pike and High Stile and High Crag, were pale-blue flats without feature or relief.
After sidling up the hanging galleries of Grooved Wall above Walk­er's Gully, we moved round to climb Ximenes, a line found twenty-five years before as a short-cut to the looming trio of Goth, The Hun, and Attila on the west face of Low Man. I chose to lead the first, overhanging crack, possibly because Neil, now seventeen and striding beyond me in strength and skill, had better cope with the 'difficult crack' on pitch 2. The jams were excellent, closing on to the backs and palms of my hands like the jaws of a monkey-wrench. Twenty metres up on the belay ledge, still high on a burst of adrenalin, I looked about me to savour the barely accessible grandeur we had dared to enter. From the uppermost profile of Pillar a shaggy grey limb was growing rapidly outward. It dropped and curled under on itself, like a raptor's claw.

There's a really weird cloud up here,' I called down. 'Looks like a bit of a storm coming up.'
Beside me on the rock small spots were appearing, darkening enlarging as though the flanks and limbs of the crag were turning into a leopard's coat beneath my eyes. As soon as Neil reached me we decided to retreat,  with hardly a moment's discussion. The sky was unruly In three or four minutes dark shapes with dragon-toothed edges appeared all over the livid glare of it, fretted crests and manes, wisps wreathing like smoke above a bonfire. By the time we had packed our gear into our sacks, every rock was glistening and slippery. We were soaked through and still warm. The water sluicing on to us out of the sky felt not adverse like British rain but close to blood-heat. I had felt that just once before, in the monsoon rains of Sri Lanka. We took off as many clothes as possible and plunged down the fellside in an ecstasy of sweat and rainfall, running like waterfalls, like becks, like the showers teeming between clouds and treetops. Long after the sun had set and on past midnight, we watched from the back door of the farmstead at Gillerthwaite as Pillar and its parent mountain behind it came leaping into sight, a black tusk on a black brow, silhouetted against the flaring yellowed whites of the sky.Above them, far huger and higher than the mountain, the torsoes and heads of the the cumulo-nimbus glowed suddenly neon in the discharges of lightning.

Even in ordinary weather Pillar and the head of Ennerdale is beautifully  wild. Access is by foot only. The Forestry Commission gate is usually locked, so only determined walkers make it into what feels like a Canadian backwood. Stands of conifer line a river-bed filled tossing rapids and boulders scoured white by spate. The peace is more Highland than England. Once Pillar was a climbers' Mecca, described in a guidebook of 1825 as 'unclimbable', then climbed by a shepherd, alone, the following year, and almost at once by three shepherds. A further 119 parties got up it during the next fifty years. The sheer upstanding singleness of what they called 'the Pillar Stone' roused people to go and leave their mark there. They wrote their names, and sometimes 'God Save the Queen', on pieces of  paper stored in a ginger beer bottle on the summit. When this disappeared after an ascent by 'two navvies' in 1876, it was replaced first by a slate then by a double tin box where climbers left their cards — they- mostly gentlemen, with some ladies from the 1870s onwards. The box blew away in the early years of this century and scattered its genteel contents over the stony slopes. Now fashion has changed. English climbers prefer rock facing anything other than north and at altitudes below  800 metres. Of all great Cumbrian rocks Pillar is the one where you are most likely to find yourself alone. It is a true pillar: the girdle round it traverses through 270 degrees and it is the longest rock-climb in England. When Bill Peascod and I spent nine hours on it in 1983, we  were by ourselves for the entire prime summer's day.

The peacefulness of upper Ennerdale is man-made. Really it is an emptiness.. Gillerthwaite appears as an unenclosed cattle farm in a document of 1334. Cairns between the 250 and 300-metre contours on the fellsides show where fields were made in the pre-Roman Iron Age.
The steadings, for example the barn above the shippon entered by a ramp show relics of Norse building styles. In a push to raise homegrown timber after the U-boat blockade during the Great War had starved us out, the Forestry Commission bought Ennerdale above the lake in 1927 and covered it with larch and spruce. Proper human society, based here on farming, came to an end.
What it means in such a place was put classically by Wordsworth in a letter he wrote to the radical politician Charles James Fox in 1801 about the  value of people 'who daily labour on their own little properties'.

Their little tract of land serves as a kind of permanent rallying point for their domestic feelings, as a tablet upon which they are written which otherwise makes them objects of memory in a thousand instances when they would otherwise be forgotten. It is a fountain fitted to the nature of social man from which supplies of affection, as pure as his heart was intended for, are daily drawn. This class of men is rapidly disappearing.

Martin Armitage on the New West section of the Greater Girdle of Pillar Rock-(E1-US 5.10): Photo Stephen Reid

One of his two chief cases was Ennerdale, in which he set his poem 'The Brothers', written eleven months before. As in most of his best stories, ('Michael', 'The Ruined Cottage'), the independent small farmers who would be called crofters in Scotland and peasants anywhere else were under threat. Old Walter Ewbank has inherited his 'few green fields along with 'other burthens than the crop it bore'. When he dies, the place is sold along with their sheep which 'had clothed the Ewbanks  for a thousand years'. His sons have been inseparable. Now the elder, Leonard, leaves Cumberland to try to make a living at sea. For twenty years he is dogged by visions of 'waterfalls, and inland sounds / Of caves and trees,' by 'forms of sheep that grazed / On verdant hills — with dwellings among trees, / And shepherds clad in the same country grey/ Which he himself had worn'. Meanwhile his soulmate, James, lodges with this or that family in the dale. He becomes dreamy and tends to sleepwalk, and, while out shepherding dozes on the summit of Pillar 'a vast building made of many crags that rises like a column from vale'. Hours later, when he has not returned home, neighbours go up and search the fells and find him dead at the foot of the crag,his shepherd's crook still caught on the rockface where 'for years / It hung and mouldered there'.

James Ewbank would have found his way up Pillar by the Old West Route, a scrambling spiral, not quite a path. A quarter of a century later those first shepherd climbers, John Atkinson, J. Colebank,W Tyson, and J. Braithwaite, followed this route unscathed, inaugurating a new use for Ennerdale — tourism. Pillar is certainly dangerous. Bill  Peascod, a miner from Workington, writes in his autobiography that his climbing was never again as carefree after hearing, at the Walker's Gully, 'a strange flapping noise, like a flock of pigeons leaving a roof ridge'; later they found a solo climber broken and dead at the foot of Grooved Wall.
Wordsworth was using the threatening stature of the great rock to embody the precarious foothold of a whole country class, the farmers on the highland margins. I felt I was seeing the faint footprints of their kind when I heard tell of two other brothers, on the island of Mull. In  the house where she was born, at the end of a five-mile track along the  shore of Loch Scridain, Chrissie MacGillivray, aged 94, told me how two of her brothers had gone to make their living in Patagonia before the Great War and she 'never heard from them again'.

Napes Needle, piercing the screw of Great Gable above Wasdale Head, is the fine point of Cumbria, the merest leaf or blade to Pillar's massive column. It asks to be fingered or grasped so that we can follow with our bodies its exquisite line through space. Why did I take so long to climb it? Gymnastic British climbing began here, on 27th June or June 30th 1886, when an Oxford athlete called W.P. Haskett Smith climbed it alone. I walked past it dozens of times, after starting to climb in the Lakes in 1974, until in the summer of 1991, I suddenly climbed it twice.I think I had been backing off from its too a great fame. On postcard and as a badge and emblem of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club, it is so. visible and known that it no longer seems part of nature. Others have felt like this. Bill Peascod had a disrespectful name for it, Naples Noodles and Peter Greenwood, boldest and most agile pioneer on Cumbrian crags in the early 'fifties, pretended one evening in the bar of the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale that he was going to blow up the Needle with dynamite — purely to wind up the Fell & Rockers, you understand.
In itself it is superb, surrounded by air, the antithesis of air —visible, tangible, enduring — slender enough to remind us that rock is anything but 'eternal'. As you climb up the last five metre arrow-head which balances on the twenty-metre shaft, no longer integral with it, it is faintly unsettling to remember that on the crag of Kern Knotts a few hundred metres along the slope, a climb first done in 1928 suddenly became far more difficult when a mass of stone was rolled away from its mouth in 1985 by an earth-tremor whose epicentre was at Carlisle. Almost unbelievably, the name of the route was Sepulchre. Perhaps it was the same tremor that shook off the crucial blade from a climb on Bow Fell called Sword of Damocles and a similar fang from a climb in Swindale called Sostenuto.

For so famous a rock the Needle is self-effacing. It merges with the verticals of the Napes Ridges between the scree chutes called Great and Little Hell Gate. I have been asked by walkers, 'Where is it, then?' They sounded cross or incredulous, as though they'd expected signposts and name-plates. Any of the ridges knifing southward out of Gable's mass could have issued in a needle. Probably they all do at one or another moment in geological time. At least one other long varnished needle hereabouts is still remembered. It was called Wilson's Horse, on Illgill Head at the far side of Wastwater. When it collapsed into the lake in 1800 or so, it sent out such a tide that a wave twenty feet high broke on the shingle beach at Wasdale Head.

As you toil about in the unstable gullies below the Napes, there looks to be nothing salient, just phalanxes of big flakes, half-embedded, half-shattered, many with fresh scars of rockfall. Then, between moun­tain and air-space, a notch cuts down deep into an imposing ridge. Its end soars, not yet mined away by water, frost and wind — the Needle, beautiful not only in its slim height but in the pattern of diamonds and half-diamonds, each three metres from point to point, which deep cracks have made in the western face of the shaft. These determine your stretches and strides as you work upwards to the shoulder beneath the final arrow-head. Once they were choked with rubble and tuss­ocks, making it hard for Haskett Smith and those who followed. By now generations of climbers have gutted them clean and the difficulties are concentrated into the arrow-head. Two joints cut across it. How simple, then, to use them as rungs of a ladder. I step up, making for an angular niche directly above the sheer east face and then I.... then I ... This isn't simple at all. The floor of the niche is just too high for me to get palms on to it, weight above palms, and mantelshelf securely up. Something out of sight on the right would help — I grope ... it's bloody smooth ... what do I do? Reader, I used my knee — the worst thing to do, because knees bruise easily, kneecaps can be dislocated.

Napes Needle:Oil on canvas:John Appleby

A few weeks later — all confidence by now — I made a little jump or shrug upwards, pressed down on my palms, reached fluently left­ward for joint number two, pulled with my fingertips and monkeyed happily on to the last short steep slab. It is so easy to climb well the second time.
I had made difficult moves many hundreds of times and they had often demanded more of me in strength, agility and nerve. For some reason no previous crux had given me so clear a realisation of what climbing is. We take for granted the solid ground on which we live. As we climb, this assumption is undermined. The more we ascend into the zone of difficulty, the less does our world seem mainly solid and the more thin air takes over as the norm. So living is made to seem provisional, equipoise, temporary, and we jeopardise our status as land-based animals.
This thought seemed to come into sight, transparent and structured as a crystal, as I stood on the little rug-size platform of the Needle's top. Before Hackett Smith, without rope or companion, tried the climb, he threw stones up from below. When one of them stayed put, he knew the top would be flat and fit to rest on before he attempted the frightening lowering of himself back down, arms braced, waiting for the toes to lodge on the two-inch rim which is the only hold above the joint. Before he left the top, he trapped his handkerchief under the stone — his flag of celebration, his proof of what he had done.
Both times I was there the summer wind was shaking me. It was still the best place in England for those minutes. With Wasdale Head laid out three kilometres away and seven hundred metres below. I had gazed down on the farm at Burnthwaite among girthy sycamores, the gables of the Victorian hotel, the little church like a cottage in its graveyard black with yews — elements of community bedded into a mesh of single old trees and small irregular fields, their walls built from the river shingle that had been ground out and off-loaded by these crags, then re-expressed as human culture.

David Craig on Wharncliffe Prow: Authors collection











David Craig© First published in Landmarks-Jonathan Cape.

Great thanks to David Craig for permission to re-publish this piece and to Stephen Reid and Gordon Stainforth for the action photographs.