Wednesday, 31 August 2011

This week: Tryfan's wild wild West.

Luke Appleby chills out on Cannon Ridge's eponymous feature.A route claimed by its first ascentionists
as one of the longest climbs in the UK.

"It's one of those questions which regularly pops up on climbing forums and stimu­lates intensive debate ... what's the longest climb in North Wales ? At this point everyone weighs in with their sugges­tions, which normally range far and wide from obscure traverses to contrived winter ascents.
If we are talking pure vertical rock climbs then the choice of venues containing these leviathans is limited to a rela­tively select band of less popular cliffs, Lliwedd, Carnedd Filiast Slabs ,Cader ldris's Pencoed Pillar. Maybe Craig Ysfa can throw a line into the mix ? An email from Mike Bailey, author of the Climbers Club guide to Ogwen offered a potential trump card by which I could see their Rocker Route or Hawkwind and raise them my 13 pitch, 1175 route on Tryfan's West Face!

Despite already covering areas in the guide which in terms of  popularity rivalled toxic waste dumps, in a fit of unchar­acteristic enthusiasm, I had offered to take on the equally un­popular West Face of Tryfan late in the day when the largely completed text was in the can, as it where. Still....not a lot to take up my time I thought. Only a dozen or so easy climbs and scrambles which I should knock off fairly quickly.
After an intensive first visit in which I managed over 2000' of ascent and descent including, it later transpired, a 400' new route in one short blast, it looked as if I could wrap it up before autumn.
At this point Eric Byne comes into the equation. '

This week,Climbers Club guidebook team member,John Appleby describes a labour of love on the rarely frequented West face of Tryfan. A complex yet fascinating mountainside which holds some classic scrambles and easy mountaineering routes within it's towering ramparts,gullies and ridges.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Accident


We all knew now that some of us might never get down the mountain alive.
Each had long recognized the near im­possibility of evacuating an injured man from the upper ledges of K2. We had told one another that "if somebody broke a leg, you never could get him down the mountain but now that we were faced with Gilkey's helplessness, we realized that we had to get him down. We didn't know how, but we knew that we had to do something.

Schoening in particular, and also Bob Craig and Dee Molenaar, had done a lot of mountain rescue work, and the rest of us placed great confidence in their faith that somehow we could get our casualty to Base Camp. Gilkey's high morale and his confidence in us was a great boost to our spirits and we faced the job ahead with strong determination.
When on the morning of August 10 Charlie Houston thrust his shoulders through the tunnel entrance of the tent where Shoening, Streather, and I- shoulder rubbing shoulder- had tossed during the long night hours, we spoke almost in unison "'How is he?"

"We've got to take him down," said the doctor. "His other leg has a clot now and he can't last long here."
The wind was hammering the tent fabric so hard that we had to yell at one another. Drifts of fine powder snow were sifting in through a strained seam in the tent vestibule, though we had done our best to keep the shelter airtight, and we could feel the whole tent vibrate as gusts stretched the fabric to the utmost.
"What? Move in this storm?" said someone. "We've got to," said Houston. "He'll soon be dead if we don't get him down."

Nothing needed saying after that, for we knew what this decision meant. All of us had fought mountain storms be­fore, but we had never seen anything like the duration and violence of this furious wind and snow that was still battering us. We all knew the story of the storm on Nanga Parbat in 1934, when nine members of a German expedition had died of exhaustion while battling the wind and snow. Willy Merkl, Uli Wieland, and Willi Welzenbach had been famous mountaineers, but a storm had exhausted them and killed them one by one. Here on K2 we had not only the storm to fight but the steepest part of the mountain and we were trying to bring down these precipitous slopes a crippled companion as well!

We all realized that our adventure had now become grim,for the odds against getting Art down were obvious, and our own position was getting more critical all the time. While Houston and Schoening were easing Art out of his tent into the storm, the rest of us began packing light loads to take down. We would need one tent in case of emergency, and we took the Gerry tent, our lightest one. We also might need a stove and pot, and some meat bars, chocolate, or quick, energy food that needed no cooking.
Often the effects of altitude so weaken ones determination that doing nothing becomes a positive pleasure, but this was no time for lethargy, and as we moved purposefully out of the tents into the stinging blasts of snow, we knew that we had to move fast, while fingers and toes still had feeling. Little was spoken. Each of us realized that he was beginning the most dangerous day's work of his lifetime.

Gilkey seemed in no pain as we wrapped him in the gnashed tent, put his feet in a rucksack, and tied nylon ropes to him in such a way that they cradled him. Four ropes, tied to this cradle, could be held by one man ahead, one man behind, and one on either side. We had already put on all our warm clothing—sweaters, wool jackets, down jackets, and nylon parkas--and stripped our packs to the minimum. As we worked, the disabled man watched the preparations silently. He was an experienced mountaineer and realized what all of us were up against. But he knew also that we would never leave him, and that we would bring him down safely if it were humanly possible. Art's cap was pulled down over his face, which looked drawn and bluish-gray, but he gave a wan smile whenever someone asked, "How is it going?"

Charles Houston

"Just fine," he would say. "Just fine." And his mouth would smile. He never showed a moment's fear or the slight­est lack of confidence but he realized of course that he had been stricken by something that was likely to be fatal, that his condition was getting worse, and that he was 9,000 feet above Base Camp in a terrible monsoon storm.
The nearest tent, at Camp VI, was 2,000 feet below. He knew that we could not carry him down the tricky route we had come up, and that we must go only where we could lower him. Even in perfect weather with all men in top physical condition, the task might prove impossible—yet Art Gilkey could smile, and his smile gave us strength.

While we were adjusting the tow ropes, Schoening and Molenaar strapped on their crampons and disappeared into the storm. They were to find the best route past the dangerous avalanche slope that had blocked us a few days before, and to go over to the Camp VII cache to get a climbing rope that was strung on the ice slope just above. It would be useful in the descent. After their departure Houston called Base Camp on the walkie-talkie and told Ata-Ullah our plans. "It's pretty desperate, Ata," he said grimly, "but we can't wait

We're starting down now. We'll call you at three o'clock."Each man took his place on a rope tied to Gilkey and for a couple of hundred yards we lunged hard at the tow ropes to pull Art through the knee-deep drifts of powder snow; then gravity took over and we had to hold back just as strongly to keep our helpless 185 pound load from plunging into the abyss.
The steep slope we were on disappeared below us into nothingness. Was there a cliff there, a jumping-off place.? We strained our eyes peering into the storm, but we could not wait for clearing weather. Instead we had to depend on Schoening and Molenaar who had gone ahead to scout out the way. As we descended, Craig and Bell pulled the front ropes, one on each side, and Houston directed operations from a point immediately behind Gilkey, while Streather and I anchored the rope higher up.
Gradually we worked our way to a rock ridge, climbed down alongside it, and then began to lower Gilkey down a steep snow slope leading to a snow chute and an ice gully below.
This route was not the one we would have taken had Gilkey been able to walk, but now we had no choice: we could go only where we could lower our companion, and we had faith that the two men ahead would find a route down. Once we were well started, return to Camp VIII would be impossible for any of us.

The wind and cold seeped insidiously through our layers of warm clothing so that by the end of the third hour none of us had feeling in his toes any longer, and grotesque icicles hung from our eyebrows, beards, and mustaches. Goggles froze over and we continually raised them on our foreheads in order to see how to handle the rope. Moving the sick man was frightfully slow. We had to belay one another as well as Gilkey, and our numb would not move quickly. Somehow, when we got to the steepest pitch, however, some­one managed to tie two 120-foot nylon ropes together and we started to lower Gilkey down, down in the only direction the slope would permit. Houston and I braced on the storm-swept ridge, backs to the wind, could feel the terrible gusts trying to hurl us off the rocks. We could not see where we were lowering Art, but we could hear faint shouts from Schoening and Molenaar, who were out of sight below.

As we slowly payed out the coils of rope, thankful that they were of nylon and would not freeze in kinks, Bob Craig unroped from us and climbed down alongside the injured man to direct the descent. Soon he was completely obscured, too, but Streather climbed down to where be could see Craig's arm signals, yet still see us, and so we belayers had communication with Craig and Gilkey and knew whether to lower or to hold the rope. Alternately we anchored and paid out line until we were nearly frozen, and our arms were strained when Tony Streather, whom we could barely see, turned and shouted, "Hold tight! They're being carried down in an avalanche!"

We held. Our anchorage was good and the rope stretched taut. For a moment snow flurries blotted out everything, and then we could hear a muffled shout from Streather. "They're still there!" The rope had broken loose a wind-slab avalanche of powder snow that had roared down over both men, blotting them from sight. Craig clung to the rope to Gilkey, and held on to it for his life. The pull of the hissing particles must have been terrible, but the avalanche was of unconsolidated snow. The falling powder slithered out of sight and down off the side of the mountain, where it must have kept falling long after we could hear it. When it was gone, Craig still clung to the rope, grey and very chilled. Both men were safe.

The grim descent continued. Schoening and Molenaar, who were not far from Camp V11, soon were able to reach Gilkey, but it seemed like hours to the four of us on the icy rocks of the wind-swept ridge before they shouted up that they had him strongly belayed "on the edge of a cliff," and we could climb down. Stiffly we shifted from our frozen positions, and climbed clumsily down the steep, crumbly rocks to the snow chute above the ice gully. Houston and I were on one rope, Bell and Streather on the other. All were so cold, so near exhaustion, that moving down over dangerous, snow-covered ice stretched us to the limit. Through the murk of blowing snow we saw Schoening standing in front of a large, rounded rock that had become frozen onto a narrow ledge. His ice axe was thrust deep into the snow above the rock, and the rope with which he held Art Gilkey was looped tightly around the shaft .

The sick man was at the edge of a 20-foot cliff, beneath which we could glimpse the ice gully dropping off
steeply into the storm toward the Godwin-Austen Glacier nearly 2 miles below. Schoening looked like a man from another world. So much frost had formed on our beards that faces were unrecognizable, and we knew that we were fast reaching the breaking point. We could not continue much longer without shelter from the driving storm and food to renew our energy. Some 150 yards below us to the east was the tiny shelf, nicked into the ice slope, where Schoening and Gilkey had spent the night of July 30 during their reconnaissance above Camp VI.

We had called it Camp VII, or Camp VII cache. None of us had expected anyone to spend another night there, but Bob Craig, whose struggle against the avalanche had so completely exhausted him temporarily that he could hardly tie a crampon strap, had been belayed over to this site to rest and clear some of the avalanche snow that had seeped under his parka. We yelled to him to try to enlarge the ledge. Meanwhile, Schoening anchored the rope, we lowered Gilkey slowly over the short rock cliff until he was resting against the 45-degree ice slope. Streather, who was roped to Bell, climbed down to Gilkey. Schoening held Gilkey's rope firmly while Houston belayed me across a delicate pitch of steep, hard ice and then Houston climbed down to a point opposite the man suspended against the slope.

The problem now was not to get Gilkey down, but to swing him across the steep ice slope to the ice shelf at Camp VII. Our plan was to get a firm anchorage and then pendulum him across, but unfortunately the ice near him was too hard for axes to be driven in and the slope was relentlessly steep. Even during the best weather conditions the maneuver would have been dangerous, and our position at that moment I shall never forget.

Schoening, was belaying Gilkey, who hung 60 feet below him, suspended against the sharply angled ice. On the same level as Gilkey, and 40 feet across from him, five of us, facing into the stinging, drifting snow, were searching for a place where we could stand and anchor the rope to Gilkey as we pulled him across the ice in the direction of Craig on the ice shelf. With our spiked crampons, biting the hard ice, Streather, Houston, Molenaar and I stood close together. Bell and Streather were roped together, Houston and I were on a rope together—and Molenaar had just "tied in" to a loose rope to Gilkey. He had done this when Craig had unroped and gone over to the ice shelf to rest, and it was Molenaar's precaution that saved us all. For George Bell, who was some 60 feet above us, began to descend a delicate stretch of hard ice in order to help with Gilkey's ropes. At that moment, what we had all been dreading occurred. Something threw Bell off balance and he fell. I never saw Bell fall, but to my horror I saw Streather being dragged off the slope and making desperate efforts to jam the pick of his axe into the ice and stop.

Streather had been standing above the rope from Houston to me. In almost the same instant I saw Houston swept off, and though I turned and lunged at the hard ice with the point of my axe, a terrible jerk ripped me from my hold and threw me backward head first down the slope. This is it! I thought as I landed heavily on my pack. There was nothing I could do now.

We had done our best, but our best wasn't good enough. This was the end. Since nobody was on the rope with Houston and me, there was no one else to hold us, and I knew that nothing could stop us now. On the slope below, no rock jutted on which the rope between us could catch. Only thousands of feet of empty space separated us from the glacier below. It was like falling off a slanting Empire State Building six times as high as the real one.
Thrown violently backward, with the hood of my down jacket jammed over my eyes, I had a feeling of unreality, of detachment. The future was beyond my control. All I knew was that I landed on my pack with great force, bouncing faster and faster, bumping over rocks in great thumps.The next bound I expected to take me over a cliff in a terrible drop that would finish it all, when, by a miracle, I stopped sliding.

I was on my back with my hood over my eyes and my head a yard below my feet. My arms, stretched over my head, were so completely tangled with the taut rope that I could not loosen them. I was helpless, and when I tried to move, I realized that I was balanced on the crest of some rocks and that a change of position might throw me off the edge. The rope had apparently snagged on a projection---though how and where I couldn't imagine—but it might not be securely caught. Whether it was firmly held, whether anyone else was alive, I did not know, but I didn't need to wait. Almost immediately I heard a groan coming from nearly on top of me."Get me loose," I called, and immediately I felt the pressure of a leg braced against my shoulder and the rope was pulled off my arms.


Grabbing a rock, I swung my head around.  Molenaar and I were clinging to a rocky outcrop at the side of a steep ice slope, studded with rocks, about 150 to 200 feet below the place where we had been working on the ropes to Gilkey.
Blood from his nose trickled across his mustache and beard, and he looked badly shaken. My rope was tight to someone or something above, and I heard a distant yell, "Get your weight off the rope!" Fifty feet higher, through a mist of blowing snow, I could see Tony Streather staggering to his feet, a tangle of ropes still tight about his waist. Below me I heard a cry, "My hands are freezing!" and., looking down, to my amazement I saw George Bell, who seconds before had been 60 feet above me. Now about 60 feet below, he was climbing up over the edge of nothingness. He wore neither pack nor glasses and was staggering up over the steep rocks, obviously dazed, with his hands held out grotesquely in front of him. His mittens had been ripped off in the fall, and already the color of his hands had turned an ugly fish-belly white. If his hands were badly frozen, of course, we might never be able to get him down off the mountain.

Turning to Molenaar, I thrust my pack into his arms. Most of the lashing had ripped loose and the walkie-talkie radio, which had been on top, was gone; my sleeping bag was half off, held by a single twist of line. Without sleeping bags we were unlikely to survive the night, no matter how we tried! Since  Molenaar wore no pack, I imagined that his sleeping bag also had been torn off in the fall. Whether or not the tent someone had been carrying had survived the fall, I didn't know. "For God's sake, hold this," I yelled above the wind, placing my load in Molenaar's arms. (For all I knew, mine was the only sleeping bag to survive the fall, and we must not lose it now.) The loose pack was awkward to hold securely while we were standing on such steep rock, but Molenaar grasped it and I unroped and started to climb shakily down to meet Bell.

As I climbed down, I wondered about the ropes that had saved us. They were snagged to something up above, but the driving snow kept us from seeing what was holding them. Luckily I had a spare pair of dry, loosely woven Indian mitts in the pouch pocket of my parka, and when I reached Bell, whose face was grey and haggard, I helped him to put them on. Already his fingers were so stiff with cold that he couldn't move them, but balancing on projections of rock on the steep slope, we struggled to save his hands and finally forced the big white mit­tens past his stiff thumbs and down over his wrists.

Bell's fall had ended with him suspended over the edge of a ledge, below which the slope dropped away precipitously for thousands of feet. The weight of his pack pulled him head down, and he had lost it while trying to get right side up and back over the ledge. While Bell crouched down working desperately to warm his hands under his parka, I left him, for Molenaar and I had seen a crumpled figure lying below a 30-foot cliff on a narrow shelf that seemed projecting over utter blankness below.
It was Houston. Somehow a rope to him was snagged high above us, too. Climbing unsteadily but cautiously, for I was not roped and felt shaken by the fall, I worked my way down the steep rocks and across to the ledge. Houston was unconscious, but his eyes opened as I touched his shoulder. When he staggered to his feet, I felt relief it is impossible to describe. "Where are we?" he asked. "What are we doing here?" He was obviously hurt. His eyes did not focus and he appeared to be suffering from a concussion. Again and again I tried to persuade him to climb up the cliff, while Molenaar anchored the rope still attached to him from above. He didn't understand. "Where are we?" he kept saying, for my replies did not convey any meaning to him in his confused state.

The wind and blowing snow seared our faces. We were all near exhaustion and in danger of crippling frostbite. If we were to survive, we had to get shelter at once, or we would be so numbed by exposure that we could not protect ourselves. What had happened in that Nanga Parbat storm which had taken so many men was a grim reminder.All of us working together did not now have strength enough to pull or carry Houston up the steep rock and snow to the ice ledge, 150 feet above, which we had called Camp VII. "Charlie," I said with the greatest intensity, looking directly into his eyes, "if you ever want to see Dorcas and Penny again [his wife and daughter], "climb up there right now!"

Somehow this demand penetrated to his brain, for, with a frightened look and without a word, he turned and, belayed by Molenaar, fairly swarmed up the snowy rocks of the cliff.Instinct and years of climbing helped him now in his confused condition, for he climbed brilliantly up to Molenaar.I followed more slowly because, being fully conscious, I had great respect for this steep rock wall, and with great care .I pulled myself up over the snow-covered slabs. When I reached Molenaar, he was looking puzzled and very unhappy as he tried to answer Houston's repeated question,

"What are we doing here?"


The Art Gilkey memorial cairn at the foot of K2

From 'The Savage Mountain'- C Houston/R Bates: McGraw Hill 1954

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

This week...Accident on K2


"At that moment, what we had all been dreading occurred. Something threw Bell off balance and he fell. I never saw Bell fall, but to my horror I saw Streather being dragged off the slope and making desperate efforts to jam the pick of his axe into the ice and stop.
Streather had been standing above the rope from Houston to me. In almost the same instant I saw Houston swept off, and though I turned and lunged at the hard ice with the point of my axe, a terrible jerk ripped me from my hold and threw me backward head first down the slope. This is it! I thought as I landed heavily on my pack. There was nothing I could do now.

We had done our best, but our best wasn't good enough. This was the end. Since nobody was on the rope with Houston and me, there was no one else to hold us, and I knew that nothing could stop us now. On the slope below, no rock jutted on which the rope between us could catch. Only thousands of feet of empty space separated us from the glacier below. It was like falling off a slanting Empire State Building six times as high as the real one.
Thrown violently backward, with the hood of my down jacket jammed over my eyes, I had a feeling of unreality, of detachment. The future was beyond my control. All I knew was that I landed on my pack with great force, bouncing faster and faster, bumping over rocks in great thumps.The next bound I expected to take me over a cliff in a terrible drop that would finish it all, when, by a miracle, I stopped sliding.

This week, a classic tale of Himalayan triumph and tragedy.
Charles Houston and Robert Bates dramatic account of the event which defined the US 1953 Karakoram expedition.An event which more than justified the peaks sobriquet 'The Savage Mountain'.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Dh Lawrence and The Count House


At one point on the walk, Lawrence's friend, Koteliansky,who was a Russian Jew,had learnt back against a drystone wall and sung in Hebrew the 23rd Psalm. Half remembering a word from that song,Lawrence took the name 'Ramanim' for his colony of like minded souls with whom he would withdraw from materialstic society destroying itself and create a new life which Lawrence described as 'Communism'. Ramanim became the cottasges at High Tregwerthen,midway between Gurnard's Head and St Ives. until the Lawrences were expelled from Cornwall soon after a police raid on their night's singing at the Count House-now a Climber's Club hut.
It was the month of January 1916 when DH Lawrence moved to Cornwall, a month when an increasing
number of modern climbers are discovering there can be still, mild periods between wild winds: There have been great winds, and the sea has been smoking white above the cliffs. Now it is still again, and the evening is very yellow.'Climbs had already been recorded on the rocks below Lawrence's house by the father of Cornish sea cliff climbing, A. W Andrews. Lawrence and Frieda swam in the cove below High Tregerthen called Wicca Pool.
In 1902 A. W Andrews and his sister made a number of routes on Wicca Pillar, which is approached down the Lawrences' lane. It was here that in 1912 Professor Noel Odell was shown by Andrews the advantages of 'tennis shoe' climbing, which Odell was later to apply on the Idwal Slabs. Also in 1902 Andrews climbed Bosigran Ridge, which makes a 700ft Alpine ridge type challenge across the gully from the Count House. Just four years before Lawrence came to Cornwall, Geoffrey Winthrop Young with George Mallory had made the first ascent of the ridge of Carn Les Boel of which Young wrote: 'It was a rock surface of volatile changes, from chimney or column, crystallised, friable and prickly, to the sea and the time-smoothed perpendicular or overhang.'

Lawrence immediately found in North Cornwall what he needed: 'It has never taken the Anglo-Saxon civilisation, the Anglo-Saxon sort of Christianity. One can feel free here, for that reason – feel the world as it was in that flicker of preChristian Celtic civilisation, when humanity was really young.' He drew this sense of Celtic life directly from the landscape. Writing of a cove near Padstow, Lawrence said: 'It is a cove like Tristan sailed into, from Lyonesse – just the same. It belongs to 2,000 years back – that pre-Arthurian Celtic flicker of being which disappeared so entirely. The landscape is bare, yellow-green and brown, dropping always down to black rocks.'
In fact, it is Bosigran Farm that W G. Hoskins names in The Making of the English Landscape as the classic surviving example of a Celtic farmstead: 'the network of small, irregular fields bounded by miles of granite-boulder walls was almost impossible to change once the pattern was laid down.' Perhaps Lawrence was told later by local people that the name Bosigran means 'dwelling of Ygrain' who was, in legend, the mother of King Arthur. I can remember a fog-bound night in the Count House in' 1968 when only the four of us were crouched round a huge fire listening to the Pendeen fog horn and the rats running round the skirting board, telling ourselves that the mother of giants was dead.


Lawrence embraced her spirit and despite the prosecution of The Rainbow for obscenity and the burning of remaining copies by the common hangman, Lawrence pressed on with the original core of the project of which The Rainbow was only the prelude. Ulomen in Love was written at High Tregerthen and finished, but for the final chapter, by 30th June 1916. Meanwhile Rananim remained a lonely idea as Lawrence fell out with potential colonists, starting with Bertrand Russell and ending with Cecil Grey, the young musician who rented the Count House. Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield did move into High Tregerthen in April, but had left by June..

By November 1916 Lawrence was writing to Kotehansky that 'the people were wrong.' Those who visited High Tregerthen at this time tend to have been more or less struck by the pans flying between Lawrence and Frieda during their violent rows.
But another war was going on within their hearing. The next time you're looking out over the sea from the sentry box stance of Doorpost, imagine the view in August 1917 when destroyers and seaplanes accompanied by an airship were hunting a German submarine. The noise of exploding depth charges was terrific even at Tregerthen Farm, where Lawrence taught young Stanley Hocking how to play chess. In a BBC interview years later, Stanley remembered Frieda saying to him: 'What an awful thing war is. In that submarine may be some of the boys I went to school with.' Huge patches of oil remained on the sea for several days after that particular hunt.

Frieda was, in fact, a cousin of the Red Baron who was destroying British aircraft so famously; she was German and wrote to her relations regularly through Switzerland. One day Lawrence was walking home from Zennor when a policeman jumped out from behind a hedge and demanded to see the contents of Lawrence's rucksack. It contained nothing more incriminating than loaves of bread, but the suspicions were growing that Frieda was passing bread and information about British shipping movements to German submarines down at the coves at night.
The local people who held these suspicions knew the traditional uses of their coves for illicit activities. 'Owlers', as smugglers were known from medieval times, had been so active in these coves in the 18th century that Customs and Excise Preventative Boats were stationed at Sennen, Pendeen and St Ives. But everyone was at it, including the Mayor of St Ives in 1767, John Knill, who also happened to be Collector of Customs for the 20 years from 1762. He is said to have helpfully erected a steeple on Worras Hill as a landmark for smuggling craft. One such boat caught in a storm discharged its cargo of `double-headed cod' (code-name for spirit kegs with handling loops at each end) which came ashore at night near St Ives. A crowd gathered and dispersed before the Excise men arrived. The Vest Briton of 25th November 1814 reported, 'Not a single ray of moonshine was to be seen. The boat reached shore safely, but the crew were in a dispirited state'.


In fact it was believed that Lawrence, Frieda and Cecil Gray at the Count House, were the ringleaders of an elaborate spy network. Local feeling ran so high that one day locals armed with scythes and pitchforks set out for the Count House to murder Gray and throw his body down Suicide Wall. In his autobiography Gray wrote: 'I was only saved, in fact, through the fortunate circumstance that the malevolence of the Cornish was only exceeded by their cowardice'. The Cornish people might have been amused to know that Gray was himself being scared by the Count House 'Knocker' — Bosigran's poltergeist that emerges from the disused mine to plague the inhabitants of the Count House.

More serious was an event which Lawrence described in Chapter Ten of Kangeroo. After supper at the Count House, German folk-songs were in full swing when a hammering at the door was followed by the appearance of half-a-dozen men with loaded rifles who searched the house. Lights had been seen flashing out to sea from the windows. A drawing pin had worked loose from the black-out curtains in the westerly gale and allowed an insidious flickering which on this coast could only mean one thing: more nocturnal signals of `owlers'. Gray received a heavy fine, but a few days later High Tregerthen was searched, papers taken and the Lawrences given three days to leave Cornwall. Gray had to give them the money to get to London where they were to report to the police.

Lawrence next settled at Mountain Cottage, Middleton, above Cromford in Derbyshire, and almost within sight of Black Rocks. Rananim died, although the house where Lawrence wrote Women in Love can still be seen with its square tower jutting above the bank of the lane. This tower where Lawrence worked had been built for a previous writer, the best selling novelist Guy Thorne, who had never occupied it. From it, Lawrence reported in a letter, the death of a local boy of 16 one May Sunday, whilst collecting gulls' eggs on the cliffs. These primeval origins of climbing were still alive in the Cornwall of 1917, as was much else that still appeals to the modern climber exploring its cliffs, coves and zawns.
`This Cornwall,'wrote Lawrence, 'is very primeval: great, black jutting cliffs and rocks, like the original darkness, and a pale sea breaking in, like dawn. It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful: and so free and strong'.

The classic Commando Ridge just below The Count House











Terry Gifford: The Joy of Climbing: Whittles Publishing 2004

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

This Week: Terry Gifford on DH Lawrence's Cornish Odyssey

 " Lawrence immediately found in North Cornwall what he needed: 'It has never taken the Anglo-Saxon civilisation, the Anglo-Saxon sort of Christianity. One can feel free here, for that reason – feel the world as it was in that flicker of preChristian Celtic civilisation, when humanity was really young.' He drew this sense of Celtic life directly from the landscape. Writing of a cove near Padstow, Lawrence said: 'It is a cove like Tristan sailed into, from Lyonesse – just the same. It belongs to 2,000 years back – that pre-Arthurian Celtic flicker of being which disappeared so entirely. The landscape is bare, yellow-green and brown, dropping always down to black rocks.'

In fact, it is Bosigran Farm that W G. Hoskins names in The Making of the English Landscape as the classic surviving example of a Celtic farmstead: 'the network of small, irregular fields bounded by miles of granite-boulder walls was almost impossible to change once the pattern was laid down.' Perhaps Lawrence was told later by local people that the name Bosigran means 'dwelling of Ygrain' who was, in legend, the mother of King Arthur. I can remember a fog-bound night in the Count House in' 1968 when only the four of us were crouched round a huge fire listening to the Pendeen fog horn and the rats running round the skirting board, telling ourselves that the mother of giants was dead.'

This week,Terry Gifford describes how in 1916,DH Lawrence took refuge from the censorious arbitrators of high culture and good taste and a nation in the grip of war and escaped with his entourage to Cornwall,to attempt to establish a new social order based on enlightened egalitarian principles on the wild Celtic shores.

Friday, 12 August 2011

La Muga


As the lane leading to the house in St Laurent de Cerdans was too narrow to accept the big truck, we parked up in the main square down the hill opposite the '8 till 8' supermarche. It was seven o’clock and closed!
Ryley saw an old English plated Volvo estate loaded with boxes in the car park and waved hello to the occupants. They came over and introduced themselves. Geoff and Susan and their two dogs Lola and Theo were full of smiles and barks. They were also under the impression that eight meant eight and had missed the day’s food shop. We English have a lot to learn. This was my first mutual groan about food with an ex pat! They had also chosen this day and hour to move into a run down mas they had bought on the border by the River Muga. Coincidence?

These were the first people we met in St Laurent. Geoff was into information technology, a big jovial chap full of humour and instant, open recognition and Susan a bubbly, red haired Irish lady full of a more loaded wit and a recognition of something more charged behind it all. She was an artist. They bore the excitement of a new, cyber-dated, middle-aged life in France. She had a certain fateful acceptance of our meeting and the unknown, mystical reasons for choosing this area of the Pyrenees Orientales. Susan didn’t believe in coincidence. I explained that we hadn’t chosen this area and hadn’t found a suitable property in the hills but had bought a large Maison de ville as an investment until such a property appeared. “But the area has chosen you,” came the instant reply. I couldn’t quite share their enthusiasm as a permanent fixture in an alternative ex pat scene here, but her tone had a suggestion of knowing.

They explained they had been looking for a town house themselves, which also hadn’t appeared! We understood that we had bought each other’s house! Susan explained her vision. She had dreamed of a large, red conglomerate boulder and had seen the same stone in the kitchen of the mas upon viewing. This was certainly her omen, her sign that the property, however unsuitable in the physical, practical sense was the correct choice in some karmic or unconscious way. She talked about an owl flying in front of the car seemingly showing them the way…? They definitely seemed to be connected spiritually to the area but were unsure how this would manifest. They were open to the mission! They were like two young, eager cadets on a spiritual quest and I empathized with their brave journey. It was good to see two friendly faces in an otherwise empty and closed town square and speak English as the first language upon arriving! Wasn’t it?

The Vito van ferried our ‘database’ of Nant Peris artefacts from the truck to their new home. The information and shapes had certainly shifted since the Ryley ‘bug’ had made his nests in the truck. It looked like the indoor wormery I remember at school! It seemed an arbitrary arrangement of forgotten objects in a space that belonged to somebody else! Early days. Ryley captured the ground floor and made it definitely his. The rest was shared out in the remaining rooms, awaiting that little bit extra to make it home. Toothbrush, cap, pile on the floor soon appeared, a generic collection that could be anywhere! Homes are not built in a day! I felt suddenly tired with all the stuff from a previous life and searched for that precious something that spoke of my life as an artist. I found this in a cardboard box marked ‘odd stuff’. Forget the paints and brushes, it was a Neolithic stone lantern that I used to burn resin incense on and came from the old studio in Settle. It was a reminder of the clarity and process of working, not the application. This totem signified a real homecoming and brought a smile of recognition for that world which I hoped I would soon enter. All that was left in the truck were the four large paintings, which, because of their size, seemed destined never to leave the truck. I smiled again!

We noticed that the little Placa opposite the house was visited every day by an old man. He walked with a homemade stick the handle of which he had carved into the shape of a circumcised penis. It was painted bright red. He would sit on the stone slab under the Horse Chestnut and take off his shoes. He reached into a crevice at the base of the tree and pulled out a wooden spike, looking something like a cocktail stick. With this he would systematically scrape along the grooves in the soles of his shoes until he was satisfied with the task. He would then place his spike back into the tree, put his shoes back on and wander on his way. He was the first local we talked to – our incomprehensible French felt at ease with the obviously deranged but friendly, French gibberish that greeted us!

La Cirque Apollo.

Within a week of moving into the house we had noticed the circus posters on the walls and trees and posts approaching St Laurent. We thought it strange that it depicted a roaring lion. Surely this could not be a real lion in a circus? The cruelty of keeping an animal in a cage in the name of entertainment was outlawed in Europe a long time ago, wasn’t it? The image certainly belonged to my childhood. Like the notion of smoking in public had become such a barbaric act, it was bizarre.

One morning we were woken by the growls of a lion and the banging of iron rails. Sure enough, down from the house in the square were several lions in cages and wagons painted bright red and yellow, the spectacular Cirque Apollo! The tricolor French flag sat proudly on top. The troupe had come to town in the middle of the night. We were shocked and saddened by the sight. We were even more shocked when the lion tamer prodded one lion with an iron bar. The abuse continued throughout the day for all to see. The rails were rattled with the bar and the lion poked and prodded and even spat upon by the tamer. We saw the lion lash out with a claw at the tamer’s hand. Angrily, the tamer lashed out too with the bar on the animal’s flank, causing an anguished scream of pain. This was too painful to watch. We thought that somebody would step in and stop it. However it seemed the bystanders were amused and impressed at this behavior.



I said to Mel that we should get some fliers together to raise attention to this horrendous animal abuse and propose a boycott of the show. I turned my back and Mel had gone! She was so angry and upset at the pain this animal was suffering she decided to confront the lion-tamer personally. Ryley and I heard the angry shouting of the tamer in the square and caught sight of a slap that took Mel to the floor. We ran out to the square, Ryley grabbing a stick on the way. We were confronted by an angry and violent circus family, a mob of flying fists and abuse! A large amused crowd stood by as a melee developed and we parried the blows back up the hill. This was a street fight that blocked the road! The lion tamer goes down clutching his heart and the town sirens blast from the church that summons the ambulance. His son throws fists and kicks and spits my whole family will die! It must have been his daughter, wearing a sequined leotard, shouting, “Fucking English, this is France, our lion” whose flying fist finally clocked me. We held our own, but clutching a sore eye I was perplexed at the lack of support. Somebody explained later that nobody puts their nose into another’s business around here, and if someone beats their animal then it’s their business! It was their lion and their business! If the tamer wants to beat her he can! If he wants to beat his wife he can! It seemed they had a right to try and beat us too for interfering. Mel wrote a letter to the Maire explaining the situation and drawing attention to European Animal Rights. It was never replied to. Mel then wrote to an animal rights group in Perpignan who said they would look into it.

It was also explained that the circus people were Citanes to which nobody confronts for fear of reprisals. Even the Maire and police back off. The Citanes have a heavy and fairly automonous presence in Perpignan in an area called ‘St. Jacques’. We made it clear that no matter who they are they have no right to abuse an animal. The Gypsies I know back in Wales would never treat an animal like that. We printed some flyers saying ‘stop the animal abuse’ and stuck them on all their flashy posters going down the valley. I answered the door one morning to a hefty Citane holding one of these posters. He pointed to a fist behind his back. I shrugged, “El leon es un problema senor?” He didn’t come to talk, just shook his fist and walked away!

I keep perspective and recall a scene that sparked the riots in Perpignan in 2005. This was over the savage murder of Mohamed Bachir by a band of Gypsies. Returning to his car after shopping he confronted a teenage Gypsy boy of stealing his car radio. Furious, the boy ran off to find friends and seek revenge on the man who humiliated him. He returned with family members, who chased Bachir and beat him with lead pipes and iron bars. The victim ran desperately through the narrow streets and tried to find refuge in several stores and cafes. Still pursued by the gypsies, they would pull him out again and continue the beating until he lay bloody and dying on the street. This was in full view of local people, neighbours and tourists and not one person intervened. The famous ‘law of silence’ that reigns in this Perpignan neighbourhood that is home to both Gypsies and North Africans impeded enquiries and arrests. The notorious riots between Arabs and Gypsies in the ghettos followed.

St. Jacques has long been home to exiles. First were the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Next the Gypsies when Spain clamped down on them and then to the Moroccans and Algerians after France’s awkward exit from North Africa in the 1960’s.
It is from St. Jacques that the bizarre and eerie ‘procession de la sanch’ originates. Today, the ‘brotherhood of the blood’ emerge in their black and red, hooded robes, like brethren of the Klu Klux Klan, and with somber tambourines, open the Easter holy week. Originally a society dedicated to helping and assisting those who had been condemned to be executed. The robes concealed the identities of the prisoners, and executioners, which prevented the wrath of an angry mob and a possible lynching in the street! Next year Cirque Apollo returned without the lions! Noel Craine was spot on for predicting an incident within the first week of arriving!

Number 9

Within a few days the word was out that new guys were in town. We were introduced to the alternative scene that Vishva and Yamuna swished and swooned amongst for company. Vishva affectionately called them freaks! This alternative base-camp and hostel for the wayward operated vaguely around Martin’s kind and sympathetic, ethical thinking. Here congregated a vast assortment of ‘off the wall’ characters and dropouts from international society. They spread out from a smoky, ramshackle epicenter that was known as number nine. Number nine Rue de Nivet was a house that Martin had bought as part of an association called Les Amis Du Numero Neuf, the aims of which seemed to be somewhat community based. Due to Martin’s ‘rainbow’ values, it operated by consensus, which meant nothing seemed to ever get done. Well, perhaps things did get done, eventually, within the luxury of mind politics, another fag and a slurry of time! I am also suspicious of associations! They run through the backbone of France and are a formidable barrier to what I see as nourishing a free spirit and individual creativity. Marxist values have been sold out long ago and are used today as an excuse to play power games for the ragged and dispossessed! And here was a ragged army coughing under a canopy of ill health and hand-outs. But Martin did seem a knowledgeable and genuine follower and researcher of the alternative. Martin had hailed from Edinburgh and had held a position with the Theosophical Society. However, the quest for the divine was never apparent within this parcel of stumbling life forms that emerged from number nine.

A small chap with a quiet voice and a hat for every day, his clothes hung randomly and torn about his slouched gait, seemingly musing, fag in hand, on some cosmic puzzle. Looking like this, I could see him in some piss-stained, Edinburgh doorway muttering Blavatski, cap in one hand and beer can in the other instead of being the president of this Association des Numero Neuf! A brave attempt I thought. If such a thing were ethically possible, he was the general of his army in this sunny valley. I think he meant well and could even be ‘the man’! But on face value, on street ‘cred’, it didn’t look good and he did not summon respect within officialdom or the community. He seemed a target for misunderstanding and prejudice. It wasn’t consumerist, middle class values that kept my distance but the energy of sickness and smoke that number nine emitted. I couldn’t understand how anyone, with or without spiritual values, could smoke in front of a child? I found it hard to see beyond the carcinogenic fog. Does an occultist or esotericist, pondering on the Cosmos, have time to consider the effects of passive smoking!

Here, life beyond earthly existence and the gaining of a greater consciousness and insight of secret gnosis advertised in green neon lights above the door maybe a little obvious. There are no signs saying, ‘Templars and Freemasons this way’ – ‘alchemical masters second door on the right, watch the loose floorboard’ – ‘Hierarchy top floor, sorry about the leaky roof’. There may however, be a priceless gift or at the very least a kind word and a cup of tea among the rubble. When you move beyond the fragments of nicotine stained clothing and coughing and happen a glance into Martin’s sincere but sad eyes you may see more than a compassionate helper!

We were invited to a Rainbow type gathering in the woods further up the valley. A young English couple Dave and Jenny lived here in a bus with their three young children. Also here were Martine and Fidel. Martine was German and the grand daughter of a prominent Nazi Field Marshall. Fidel was a physicist from South Africa. They lived in the woods. Jan and Daman were present. Jan had trained as an actress and heroin addict in Liverpool and Daman was a self-proclaimed, Occitan speaking French Duke. Atmo was an Osho guru from Rennes le Bains. Steve was from Glastonbury and was a devotee of someone or other. Mihuk was also South African and was also a serial, addicted devotee with two young children to Tony, a Frenchman, following native American shamanism and herbalism. Karen and Pete were Rainbow travelling people. Theosophical Society Martin of course and his friend Lillian, a Glaswegian chanellist and psychic. Sigi and Carsten and their son Teva were also Rainbow folk and lived in an old red Mercedes fire engine in the woods. Sigi was Israeli and had done the Far East devotee thing and Carsten was Danish having done the anarchy, squatting, practical, mending and dealing thing. Teva became a good friend of Ryley and seemed to epitomize that there are more important tools for stability than that of growing up in a house. As ‘house dwelling people’ we were outsiders but seemingly cool. Phew, grand company!

Of all the odd characters gathered around the campfire, passing the communal truth-stick to tell the story of their appearance, hopes and desires, ‘Planet’ Atmo revealed himself as the most serious contender for help or serious consideration! Even the most alternative ‘freak’ found him hard to deal with – they brought it on but Atmo cut loose on the weird/divine monkey puzzle! He was middle-aged, short and stocky and exploded a shock of long blond hair and a guru beard to match. His eyes were so mad I found it hard not to imagine them on storks. He was on everybody’s case with demented, ‘psychic readings’, and if given an inch would talk himself into your house, your bed, your wallet, your psyche, your soul! He asked what brought me to St Laurent and I said I seriously didn’t know. He said, “You are here as the Son of David!” “No”, I replied, “I am the son of Sydney!”

As Atmo was a stranger in the area, we found it peculiar and sinister seeing him hanging out his washing in the neighbour’s garden! He seemed to have hypnotized them into believing he was a family member? Daman was in bed one night and saw what he thought was a rat under the blankets and threw a heavy boot to see it off. Atmo crawled out howling with a sore head!  Eventually, for his own good and for the ‘sanity’ of the other oddballs, Martin drove him back to Rennes le Bains and has never been seen since! Obviously found a spacecraft! The alternative scene seemed to normalize after his dismissal, as if it suddenly realizing that a little normality wasn’t that bad after all!

There are many families and groups of families living alternatively in the hills here. Many are here with 2012 in mind! Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment have followers who have bought land here and are busy building their underground shelters. ‘When calamities strike, as we are witnessing with ever-increasing frequency and intensity, RSE culture is one of preparedness and sovereignty’. Cosmic knowledge apart, they know they have to watch their back and keep a low profile. No green, neon lights saying ‘survival freaks here’! This is not from incoming ‘aliens’ or earthquakes, as such, but from the fact that France does not tolerate much beyond its regime of what it thinks is right for its society. The ban on cults and sects has been said to be worthy of a totalitarian state. Like China, there are departments that monitor and combat ‘cultural deviance’. These ‘undesirables’ are learning from experience not to put their heads above the parapet if they wish to avoid the surveillance and the visits from the ‘tricolour lads’! Reading the government’s woolly definition of ‘cult-like movements’, I am in danger, as a freethinking artist outside the system, of also being ascertained as a cultural deviant!



The world would be a sterile place without the Atmos’ and the Martins’, and an immeasurable richness would be lost, and the uncertainty too of how oddball ideas become mainstream thought. The future is open for business when you understand the vagaries of learning.

What is more difficult to ascertain and define is the ‘divine spirit’ within the character and personality. It cannot easily be judged. I had recently been invited to take part in a two-day discourse with The Divine Mother Avatari Devi. A temple yurt had been erected on the land of Geoff and Susan. This lady was not dressed in rags but bathed like a goddess in finery and attention. Drapes and red carpets and roses scattered in front of her throne was her entitlement to divine status. Her assistants attended to her every need. She certainly attracted those with personal problems, and reduced those paying two hundred pounds to tearful wrecks and taken out to sleep by her intense staring and psychic intervention. She was German of Indian origin and had a spiritual psychology centre in Dusseldorf, where the feminine principal informed her psychic teachings. Her seminars and satsangs funded a girl’s school in India. She called her followers butterflies.

To call yourself the Divine Mother begs a few questions! I was interested in her game and approach and spent time with this lady. I took her to see my latest free-standing paintings and sounds ‘Hero Gone Bent’, and she was horrified at the ‘hell’ that confronted her! She was disturbed by the black soul of my work as if it had something to do with my own psyche! I explained that I work ‘objectively’ and the work takes on the energy of the subject matter. She didn’t understand this language. Not being of ‘the mind’ is something that psychologists struggle with. So where is the divine?

“How can it be so, you have painted them and composed the sounds?” She turned away from the sounds and images as I told her of heroin addiction and prostitution. She couldn’t see that I was merely an instrument for the subject’s shapes and form to manifest and explore. You cannot have a ‘black soul’ for this work. The safe, white light of the spirit world that had enveloped her persona had no time for its creepy, twisted sister on the sidelines. She freaked. This wasn’t her remit. She seemed to have no stomach for the balance. We walked and talked between black and white and she confided that she had been diagnosed with liver cancer and expressed her fears of death and dying. We had crisps and coffee in a bar at which she laughed uncontrollably like a six year old girl would to a silly joke. Holding her hand at the table, I found the six year old girl comforting, knowing this child was inside of her with the cancer. Hysterical, she was laughing at the coffee and crisps! She explained that normally, a banquet would have been prepared for her! She laughed and laughed and laughed as the little girl resigned to her death. She was tired of her game. I think the hare’s paw that I gave her sped her on her way? I am reminded of her every time I see a butterfly.

Karen and Pete were ‘residents’ of numero neuf. They seemed to be chilling out from their Rainbow travelling days due to assortments of ill health. They had a daughter called Jade. Jade had been ‘van schooled’ but was now doing very well at school due to her quirky self esteem. Of course, they were Scousers! They had both been heroin addicts in Liverpool and related totally to my intervention, Interview with the Streets. I asked Karen if she wanted to do some voice-overs for the sound sculpture. I thought how strange it was for the project to have started in Liverpool at my warehouse studio in the centre of town and still be ongoing and finding new form in the south of France years later! I find this process reassuring as nothing is finalized, as if there is no conclusion but an ongoing energy that fuels itself. I have no control of this! The energy exists in its own right and cannot be commercialised or contained. For me this is the language of art! It is organic and cannot be bought! Karen could have been one of the girls I interviewed in Liverpool! Having done much wandering and soul searching for peace and health she offered herself humbly and without ego as ‘the angel with a dirty face’ for her Tai Chi, Reiki and counseling skills.

Karen and Pete’s latest message was to go to sleep on an evening with the mouth taped over! They talked about problems associated with ‘deep type’ breathing and the greediness in taking breath that cause disasters and disease in the world. In Buteyko therapy it is stated that amounts of co2 is removed from the lungs and tissue cells and produces a ph alkaline shift that can be fatal. I imagined them sleeping in bed with their mouths taped over and thanked the world for the marvelous oddness that is number nine!






John Redhead:Colonists Out 2011:
All photographs except'riot'-John Redhead Collection


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

This Week: John Redhead...tales from the deep south

Ryley Redhead busking:John Redhead

"One morning we were woken by the growls of a lion and the banging of iron rails. Sure enough, down from the house in the square were several lions in cages and wagons painted bright red and yellow, the spectacular Cirque Apollo! The tricolor French flag sat proudly on top. The troupe had come to town in the middle of the night. We were shocked and saddened by the sight. We were even more shocked when the lion tamer prodded one lion with an iron bar. The abuse continued throughout the day for all to see. The rails were rattled with the bar and the lion poked and prodded and even spat upon by the tamer. We saw the lion lash out with a claw at the tamer’s hand. Angrily, the tamer lashed out too with the bar on the animal’s flank, causing an anguished scream of pain. This was too painful to watch. We thought that somebody would step in and stop it. However it seemed the bystanders were amused and impressed at this behavior.

I said to Mel that we should get some fliers together to raise attention to this horrendous animal abuse and propose a boycott of the show. I turned my back and Mel had gone! She was so angry and upset at the pain this animal was suffering she decided to confront the lion-tamer personally. Ryley and I heard the angry shouting of the tamer in the square and caught sight of a slap that took Mel to the floor. We ran out to the square, Ryley grabbing a stick on the way. We were confronted by an angry and violent circus family, a mob of flying fists and abuse! A large amused crowd stood by as a melee developed and we parried the blows back up the hill. This was a street fight that blocked the road! The lion tamer goes down clutching his heart and the town sirens blast from the church that summons the ambulance. His son throws fists and kicks and spits my whole family will die! It must have been his daughter, wearing a sequined leotard, shouting, “Fucking English, this is France, our lion” whose flying fist finally clocked me. We held our own, but clutching a sore eye I was perplexed at the lack of support.'

This week another slice of Colonist's Out. John Redhead's eagerly anticipated new book which is due for publication later this year. In this highly entertaining extract,the Redhead clan having escaped from the cold climate of 'The Pass',chance upon a Romany circus in the heady climes of Southern France.An entourage which appears to have arrived from another century!
As they cast about for a new home and sense of purpose in this strange new environment,enter an array of bohemian ex pats and eccentric locals.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Lost Horizons

David Craig on Jean Jeanie:

When I can't sleep, usually around 3 to 5 a.m., I find myself picking my ten favourite rock-climbs. Over the past five years the list has settled down to something like this:- Gimmer Crack, Haste Not (White Ghyll, Great Langdale), Right Angle (Gurnards Head, West Penwith), Moonshadow (Blouberg, Transvaal), Satan's Slip (Lundy), Swastika (Etive Slabs), Grooved Arete (Rannoch Wall, Buchaille Etive Mhor) -and so on and so forth. Or I can move on to one-pitch routes:

Right Unconquerable (Stanage), Cravat (Neckband, Great Langdale), Salome (Round How, Buttermere)~ Demo (Sennen, West Penwith), Porkers Parade (Swine Knott, White Ghyll), Jean Jeannie (Trowbarrow Quarry, Silverdale), and so on, and on... Or I can do hill-climbs: Liathach, Beinn Eighe, Beinn Al.ligin (all in Torridon), Lochnagar, Cairn Toul, and Braeriach (Cairngorms), Adam's Peak, Huayna Picchu, Towaya'lane (the 'Corn Mountain' of the Zuni in New Mexico), Monte Matanna in the Apuian Alps... Or I can do walks, long walks: the Lairig Ghru from Deeside over to Speyside; the east coast of Raasay from Brochil down to Hallaig; Upper Loch Torridon through the mountains to Grudie Bridge on Loch Maree; Keet Seel Canyon in Arizona; a big circle through the forest near Kakadu in Arnhem Land, Northern Australia...  

Last month I began to do favourite islands (Lundy, Barra, Mingulay,  North Uist, Cape Breton). Then rock sucked me in again and I began to do crux moments: stepping left into the flakey wall on pitch 4 of Overhanging Bastion on the Castle Rock of Triermain; launching right, then instantly upward on pitch 2 of Harlot Face (Castle Rock); starting the traverse near the top of Venusberg at Bosigran (West Penwith); craning backwards, then pulling up onto and over the roof on Moonshadow in the Transvaal; laybacking the upper section of the Great Flake on Scafell's Central Buttress... I'm awash with memories now as the great black peat bog of sleep comes swelling up around me.

When I was climbing every week, I did none of this obsessive recalling. Now that I.can't climb, it's a great standby.and consolation. I had a heart attack in 2005 and got back to some­thing like health - septuagenarian health - via a regimen of beta-blockers, statins, etc, etc. This has so slowed me down that walking uphill is like driving with the brake on. How can I expect climbing partners, children, grandchildren to gear down to my laboured crawl?  No harm, though, in trying a few outcrops, with short and non-mountainous approaches. In September 2008 I went-over to Trowbarrow Quarry, on the Cumbria/Lancashire border, with Dick Renshaw.

We'd had satisfying days in the Lakes over the years. He'd never been into this wonderful limestone arena with its west-facing range of towering walls and corners. In the early Seventies its owners, Tarmac, blew up the central mass to stop climbers enjoying themselves on their property - and produced a superb 90-foot face, corrugated with fossil crinoids and seamed with cracks that now have David Bowie names. Dick - a veteran of El Capitan and K2, to say nothing of Beinn a' Bhuird in winter - very decently agreed to nip up Jomo. This V.Diff. starts with a slabby scramble.up to a platform, then faces you with a delicate ramp crowned by a jutting blunt beak round which you have to.semi-layback with the help of a polished nodule for the right foot.

Dick would lead that, so I waltzed up the easy., lumpy start.  At thirty feet a familiar feeling stole over me: no fuel left in the tank - surroundings turning surreal - vision going sparkly and colourless. I had to pause, teach for my ever-ready nitro-lingual spray, fill my mouth with the taste of cloves, and wait for the improved flow of oxygen to gee up my heart. The rest of the climb was fine. And I had had to medicate my way up that dear old route.
My body was confirmed as seriously sub-standard. The joy of upward movement of grappling with the Earth's ' surface, of rubbery gymnastics, of sharing air-space with rock-doves and peregrines - all this was no longer unfettered. It was hobbled. The end was nigh.



I got out again next year, with my climbing partner Chris Culshaw, who introduced me to modern rock sport in 1973. He'd found an unexplored limestone edge north of Grange over Sands, on the Kent estuary south of the Lakeland massif.
The crag on Hampsfield Fell is thirty feet high, south-facing above rough pasture dotted with hawthorn and ash, akin to twenty or thirty others between here and Malham. The bone-white upper reaches of it stood out against the cobalt sky of Indian summer with Greek clarity. The shapes up there were rounded and cracked skulls, blunt.beaks of bird gods carved on totem poles. The usual rising damp has sapped the first twelve feet and you have to set toes on blunt little knobs that all slope downwards and fidget in their sockets. One corner-crack runs right up from base to rim. I bridge up it, making for a big white flake, hoping it will be solid - tug on it - it doesn't shoogle about like an old door-handle - I teeter back down for a rest. When I go for the upper moves, the flake is a perfect key to the upper zone of skulls and beaks. I swarm up a ladder of jugs, ecstatic, and thankful that my arms haven't wholly shrivelled after many months of handling nothing harder than a steering wheel or a lawnmower.

We do four routes in all, climbing the easy way, on a top rope. Once, struggling round a little overhang, I have to rest on the rope. Better than nothing - 'Better to tyauve like this than age-in an armchair,' as I wrote in a poem about climbing Yew Knotts on Honister with Bill Peascod. That was twenty five years ago, and he was a mere sixty five at the time, and about to die of his second heart attack. Ach well, so it goes (as
Kurt Vonnegut puts in after every death in Slaughterhouse-Five)

Bill would have relished the beauty of this place - the Kent's broad mouth between Meathop crag and Arnside Knott, pale blue expanses shirred by breezes, pencilled by sandbars, salt water stretched taut from one headland to the other. Its infinite shades of blue are caught up in glints from the flowers at our feet - sheep's-bit on the slope, single harebells at the base of the crag - every blue from Prussian to Barra to ultramarine. Beyond the green canopy of woodland the westernmost Pennines show across the vale of Westmorland like the Hebrides seen across the Minch. Two hours on a wee crag next the path over the fell to Cartmel have reminded me in the sweetest way that I climb to be amongst nature, which is sometimes too fierce for me and more often seems to fold me in. Hampsfield edge is the real  thing - delicious Cumbrian  rock - and there is plenty more of it waiting for us this year.


David Craig 2011

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

This week: David Craig looks back on his lost horizons

Bill Peascod above the great flake of Central Buttress: Photo Bill Birkett

"When I can't sleep, usually around 3 to 5 a.m., I find myself picking my ten favourite rock-climbs. Over the past five years the list has settled down to something like this:- Gimmer Crack, Haste Not (White Ghyll, Great Langdale), Right Angle (Gurnards Head, West Penwith), Moonshadow (Blouberg, Transvaal), Satan's Slip (Lundy), Swastika (Etive Slabs), Grooved Arete (Rannoch Wall, Buchaille Etive Mhor) -and on and so forth. Or I can move on to one-pitch routes:

Right Unconquerable (Stanage),Cravat (Neckband, Great Langdale), Salome (Round How, Buttermere)~ Demo (Sennen, West Penwith), Porkers Parade (Swine Knott, White Ghyll), Jean Jeanie (Trowbarrow Quarry, Silverdale), and so on, and on... Or I can do hill-climbs: Liathach, Beinn Eighe, Beinn Alligin (all in Torridon), Lochnagar, Cairn Toul, and Braeriach (Cairngorms), Adam's Peak, Huayna Picchu, Towaya'lane (the 'Corn Mountain' of the Zuni in New Mexico), Monte Matanna in the Apuian Alps... Or I can do walks, long walks: the Lairig Ghru from Deeside over to Speyside; the east coast of Raasay from Brochil down to Hallaig; Upper Loch Torridon through the mountains to Grudie Bridge on Loch Maree; Keet Seel Canyon in Arizona; a big circle through the forest near Kakadu in Arnhem Land, Northern Australia...

  Last month I began to do favourite islands (Lundy, Barra, Mingulay,  North Uist, Cape Breton). Then rock sucked me in again and I began to do crux moments: stepping left into the flakey wall on pitch 4 of Overhanging Bastion on the Castle Rock of Triermain; launching right, then instantly upward on pitch 2 of Harlot Face (Castle Rock); starting the traverse near the top of Venusberg at Bosigran (West Penwith); craning backwards, then pulling up onto and over the roof on Moonshadow in the Transvaal; laybacking the upper section of the Great Flake on Scafell's Central Buttress... I'm awash with memories now as the great black peat bog of sleep comes swelling up around me.'

This week-a poignant piece from one of the UK's finest outdoor writers David Craig. In this exclusive work, David considers his own 'twilights last gleaming'. A time in his life when advancing years and health problems has curtailed regular activity in the mountains and on local outcrops.. A time now to reflect on what it has meant to be a climber and the unique passions and relationships which still burn bright in the memory.