Friday, 30 December 2011

Careful with that ice axe Eugene: Return of The Angry Corrie!

One of the outdoor 'zine' publications which became an influence and inspiration behind the creation of Footless Crow has emerged-phoenix like- from it's two year hibernation with a current edition selling like hot cakes -or possibly stale buns- from various outdoor outlets and through postal subscriptions. The Angry Corrie -the quirky and off beat Scottish hillwalking zine- was launched by Derbyshire born born Dave Hewitt in 1991 as a modest print publication which was sold in Scotland and northern England.

Lacking the glossy commercial style of contemporary outdoor publications,the editor opted instead for a aesthetically spare look which eshewed photographs and advertisements and instead offered lengthy articles on such things as obscure mountaineers,hill stats and remote howths. The publication usually opted for cartoons and drawings over photographic illustrations. TAC relied entirely on the unpaid contributions of it's enthusiastic supporters.

Dave Hewitt who formerly worked as an outdoor writer on the Scotsman before moving on to the Caladonian Mercury, has authored books on hillwalking in Scotland and the legendary hill walker, Alfred Wainwright.With his journalistic demands tied into his commercial work, TAC had fallen into a state of suspended animation until it's recent welcome re-awakening.
Although the journal does not cover pure rock climbing and mountaineering-being essentially a walkers publication-features on Scottish climbers have appeared on occasion and many of it's subscribers are all round mountaineers. If you haven't had the pleasure then The Angry Corrie can be purchased direct from...... TAC

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Rainbow's End

I first met Mallory under the twisted crown of Mynydd Mawr. For hours I had inelegantly toiled in the October gloom with Big Dave Williams on Craig Cwm Du…The crag of the black hollow, on the mountain’s saturnine north face, attempting to subdue Archer Thomson’s 1911 classic; Adam Rib.

As the clag swirled around the cliffs’ serrated buttresses, I pondered the final moves up what the guidebook described as…’the exposed and narrow rib’.  With further advice on ‘wobbly holds’, the author assured me that at least I would ‘enjoy’ the exposed finale in a ‘splendid position’.

To emphasise the description, the Climbers Club guidebook editors had included a tempting Kevin Borman photograph taken on a rare clear summer’s day of blue skies showing Terry Gifford and Norman Elliot - T shirted and sun kissed- in exactly that splendid position.However, today the cliff was painted in a spare palette and days of basking on the rock in light apparel were long gone. On this occasion it was more a day for fleeces, gloves and blind faith.

The guidebook which dangled from my waist that day was the 1989 CC guide to Tremadog and Cwm Silyn. A guidebook of some controversy at the time because of it’s cardboard covered, bumper fun book format. Now known to many as The Pink Trem Guide or more appropriately as 'The Pretty Trem Guide' after joint editor Mark Pretty. The Pretty Guide is the one guidebook I can find instantly on my bookshelves on account of its black duck tape spine. Yes...cardboard covers and the north Wales climate…. I sense a design flaw here somewhere!

But I digress; back to that October day…..
Adam Rib was created by that great Edwardian explorer of wild places- James Merriman Archer Thomson, in a year- 1911- which became a golden year of exploration by the leviathans of north Wales climbing. Nonetheless, even a man of Thomson’s immense standing baulked at what lay before him that day in 1911 - the aforementioned ‘exposed and narrow rib’- and sidled off into the grim confines of the disintegrating Eden Gully with his party, leaving George Leigh Mallory to finally lead the forbidding feature in September 1912 with Ralph Todhunter  following on.

Now the pitch is only 4b (US 5.6) technically and I imagine would be a breeze on a pleasant summer’s day but on that cold day in October the atmosphere was decidedly gloomy.
I looked down at my partner ensconced on a tiny saddle of rock twixt the plunging fissures of Eden and East Gullies. In the gloom an occasional Golden Virginia roll up flared between Dave's pursed lips as the clag rolled in leaving the whole cliff with a very Tolkein-esque feel to it. We could have been scaling the very heights of Mordor itself such was the ethereal atmosphere which enveloped us that day.

Needless to say; the murder of crows which wheeled high above the cwm that sombre afternoon did not witness a flashing arc of red screaming into the void. Rather they would have seen a lonely figure who had been fixed to the rock for what seemed an age, finally slithering up the dank rib and hear the faint echo of an oft  repeated refrain of mine…'You know Dave…I thought I was off there!'.

At the top we supped coffee and gathered our thoughts amongst the heathery hollows. It was conceded that old Mallory was a bold bastard  to be sure considering the era he was climbing. The experience though, had ignited a curiosity to look beyond the Everest myth and seek out Mallory, the Welsh activist. A meandering journey which brings me here.

Now, the life and times of George Leigh Mallory have been pored over and analysed in meticulous detail by far more scholarly climbing writers than I. The greater ranges of Europe and the Himalayas lie over the hill and far away as far as I’m concerned.  Instead, the Mallory I seek is to be found in the disintegrating gullies of Cwm Eigeau and the tottering towers of Nantlle. An climbing arena where in the words of Geoffrey Winthrop Young writing in the introduction to Menlove Edwards’ 1939 Climbers Club guide to Lliwedd ;  Mallory had displayed… an audacious agility, a love of hardy camping and asceticism less usual in that period, a personal beauty and mountain enthusiasm which have all combined to invest his climbs with a romantic halo.

North Wales 1907-1910…The Romantic Halo

In 1907, Mallory then aged 21, made his first climbing trip to North Wales, in the company of Geoffrey Keynes -brother of the economist Maynard-and Hugh Wilson. The poet Rupert Brooke was originally pencilled in as one of the team but dropped out for reasons unknown at the eleventh hour. Their destination was the increasing popular Ogwen Valley where they stayed at Gwern Gof  Isaf . Still a well frequented destination for modern climbers who avail themselves of the adjoining camp site.

Armed with nothing but their enthusiasm and with the Abraham Brothers’ Rock Climbing in North Wales as their guide, they tackled most of the contemporary trade routes on nearby Tryfan with further excursions on Lliwedd and over in remote Cwm Eigeau where they climbed The Great Gully and Amphitheatre Buttress .

During this stay, the first of the Mallory myths was born. As the great explorer, Archer Thomson was working on a new line on Lliwedd’s Heather Shelf area, he and his partner came under fire from a salvo of rocks falling from upon high. According to which account you read, this incident was either a trifling irritant to the great man or it had threatened to wipe out the party. Whichever version is true it appears that it was Mallory and friends who had set off the rock fall from their position high on Terminal Arete. Archer’s route that day as most people will have guessed was the classic Avalanche!

The following year Mallory returned with 16 year old brother Trafford with whom he cycled from the family home in Birkenhead to camp by the Afon Llugwy in Capel Curig. During this stay they once again repeated many of the hardest routes of the day and created the second great Mallory/Lliwedd myth.

Whilst climbing on the east face, Mallory supposedly left his pipe on the mountain’s Bowling Green ledge. Legend has it that he returned the next day and ascended a 230’ line of slabby ribs to recover it. The line has become Mallory’s Slab a hardish V Diff which- relatively speaking given the unfashionable haunts he frequented- became one of his most popular routes.

During this fruitful period in the early years of Welsh exploration, George made his first visit to the English Lake District where he was accompanied once again by Hugh Wilson and Geoffrey Keynes. In addition another outstanding Birkenhead based climber, Hugh Porter joined the party. Porter it was who joined Mallory on one of his great Welsh adventures but more of that later…
Staying at the Wastwater Hotel and this time using Rock Climbing  in the English Lake District as their guide, the party led by George tackled The technical test pieces of the day including Kern Knotts Crack, VS  and a classic climb created by yet another talented  Merseysider-Geoffrey Solly’s remarkable 1892 VS route, Eagle’s Nest Ridge.
It was within this period that Mallory established the first of his spare number of Lakeland creations. Mallory’s Right Hand Route and Mallory’s left Hand Route on Gable Crag. The former still graded Very Severe.

The following Easter, Mallory’s emerging talent was recognised by the great Edwardian ringmaster himself, Geoffrey Winthrop Young who invited the newcomer to one of his celebrated Pen y Pass gatherings at the Gorphwysfa Hotel. It was during this stay that he met Wales’s most celebrated, feted explorer and creative force, Archer Thomson. Since the last Victorian decade Thomson had carved out his own inimitable niche in the climbing world through his assiduous exploration of the great cliffs of North Wales. During this stay, Mallory established three first ascents on the remote cliffs of Craig yr Ysfa with GW Young. Birch Tree Chimney, The Slab Climb and The Low Climb and re-climbed his Slab route on Lliwedd which Young thought was one of the hardest things he had yet done on Welsh rock. The die was cast. Mallory’s reputation as a young tiger began to take shape.

Lliwedd saw a second Mallory creation- albeit it by default. Attempting  Thomson’s Great Chimney, Mallory led his partner E Evans up another cleft in the cliff face which became a 750’ HVD,  Wrong Chimney. Another first ascent was made on the Gribin face above Nameless Cwm, The East Face of Gribin .with Irving, Murray and Tynedale. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your perspective, the route has essentially returned to nature.

During this period Mallory and his regular partners were making regular sorties across the channel and seeing some success in repeating the Alpine trade routes. However, it was on a humble Wirral sandstone outcrop that Mallory met his match. Taking flight from a short problem and breaking an ankle in the process. The accident put him out of action for a number of months and saw him miss Winthrop Young’s 1910 Pen y Pass bash. A not unfortunate absence in the circumstances for during this eventful gathering, occasional climbing partner, Donald Robertson was killed in a lead fall on Thomson’s East Gully, on Glyder Fach. It was the first fatality suffered on home soil by Young’s Welsh legion and it struck particularly hard.

1911-15 : Hang out your brightest colours

When George Mallory returned to the fray he entered a period which became his golden age on Welsh and English rock. 1911 was the year in which he established some of his hardest routes. Routes which still have the capacity to intimidate and challenge modern climbers.
Staying with Harold Porter at the Snowdon Ranger in the relatively unfrequented Cwellyn area of Snowdonia. Mallory set his sites on exploring the cliffs of Llechog and the Nantlle Valley. In a glorious September campaign he and Porter looked at the Central Buttress of Y Garn which had defeated the great Thomson himself and saw the outstanding Swiss climber, Anton Stoop die in a subsequent attempt when a flake he was pulling over broke away from the cliff. By this stage, the Central Buttress had developed a fearsome reputation which had  repelled even those leading lights of the day. The completed route was subsequently left out of Carr’s 1926 Climber Club guidebook as too dangerous to justify inclusion.

After a very futuristic pre inspection of the crux pitch from above by Mallory, it was in fact Harold Porter who led the crux of the climb which ironically is now known as Mallory’s Ridge rather than perhaps more deservedly Porter’s Ridge ? During their stay at the Snowdon Ranger, the same pair established the equally bold Eastern Gutter and  the less demanding Trinity Buttress B  on Llechog  and opened up Cwm Silyn by establishing the areas’ first ever route. Four Pitch Gully on Clogwyn Cysgod. Finally, in 1911, Mallory climbed a direct 4c finish to Lliwedd’s Far East Cracks.  It had been a fine return to form after the accident .

As an example of Mallory’s rather lackadaisical approach to new route recording, Eastern Gutter only received a second ascent in 1980 when it was re discovered by Hugh Banner and Mike Yates. On the same cliff, Trinity Buttress B had been lost until 1938 when Barber, Piggott and Scolari made their own second ascent. In fact, the Banner/Yates team believed that their 1980 ascent of Mallory’s Ridge was a second ascent. However, the true second ascent took place in September 1949 by E Dance, W Gordon and G Eglington.

Interestingly, this period in Mallory’s climbing career came under scrutiny by two modern climbing writers, Martin Crook and Duncan Lee and recorded in two very similar articles published in High in 1999 and 2003 respectively. The discovery of Mallory’s body on Everest in 1999 inspired Martin Crook to re-climb many of his hardest routes including Mallory’s Ridge and Eastern Gutter. An experience recountered in an article simply entitled George Mallory. (High Dec 1999)
In 2003 Duncan Lee had been inspired to take on the same task when he was contacted by American climber Andy Politz. Andy had been one of the Eric Simonsen’s   Mallory and Irvine Research Team  which had made the momentous discovery of Mallory’s mortal remains on Everest that same year. Politz was keen to test himself upon the Everest hero’s hardest routes of the day in an effort to ascertain just how good a climber Mallory was and if he could indeed have climbed Everest’s infamous Second Step ?  High published the Lee/Politz article as George Mallory, Master Cragsman ? (High March 2003)

Not surprisingly, both teams’ investigations produced identical responses. Mallory- it was conceded- was truly an outstanding climber who was climbing at the cutting edge of technical expertise in his day. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that both teams found Llechog’s Eastern Gutter, now VS-4c, to be his hardest climb. A climb that Martin Crook believes is worth two stars in a contemporary guidebook

Another late summer stay at The Snowdon Ranger with Ralph Todhunter in 1912 delivered a couple of routes on the aforementioned dark cliffs of Craig Cwm Du. Two mountaineering severes -  Pis Aller Rib and Yellow Rib fell on the same day with the direct finish to Adam Rib. Sadly, Mallory’s increasingly infrequent visits to his old Welsh haunts were to be overshadowed by the tragic death of North Wales’s leading creative force, Archer Thomson. Since Mallory was exiled down south since gaining a teaching post at Charterhouse, he had followed Thomson’s lead. Exploring the cliffs that the locally based headmaster had opened up and developed. Certainly areas which had in effect become Thomson’s personal fiefdom offered great potential for further development by activists such as Mallory .

The author on the first pitch of Mallory's Ridge: Al Leary

Before Thomson’s death both he and GW Young had been planning what would have been the third Climbers Club guidebook to include the outlying cliffs in the hinterlands to the west designated The Beddgelert District. Essentially this would have recorded the developments in the new areas such as Llechog and Nantlle and with the addition of those established areas covered in Thomson’s previous guidebooks, given contemporary climbers a much greater perspective of the richness and diversity which Welsh climbing now offered .
After Thomson’s death the baton passed on to Mallory who with Ralph Todhunter planned to complete the work. Sadly, the war years took their toll on both activists and the guidebook they planned was never completed. It would be left to Herbert Carr to take it on and see it through to completion in 1926.

On the eve of the First World War, Mallory’s creative fire on Welsh rock was diminishing although it would periodically flare in the proceeding years. Trinity Buttress C, a  severe on Llechog was climbed in 1913  with Todhunter, Percy and Keynes. It would be the last climb for a number of years in this quiet land in the west which unfolds to the sea.  This in fact became another of Mallory’s lost routes. Re-discovered by Barber, Piggott and Jenkins in 1938.
However; one remarkable Mallory achievement stands out in this period. A hundred and fifty miles to the north, an excursion to the Lake District produced a route of magnificent mystery which as with so many GLM routes had totally disappeared off the guidebook writers’ radar. An ascent of Pillar Rock in 1913 with Charterhouse schoolboy Alan Goodfellow, had produced a line which Mallory had recorded in the Wasdale Head’s visitors book as North-West by West climb. A later description appeared in The Climber’s Club Bulletin No 9 of October 1913 and the CC’s 1914 Journal (Volume 3).

Ninety years would pass before it would re surface after Mike Cocker of the Fell and Rock Club had re-discovered it in the Wasdale log which,-as it was probably recorded on the day of the ascent- was much more detailed than the later cryptic Climbers’ Club record.  Certainly the great Lakeland pioneer Harry Kelly had been aware of the route but had failed to identify it from either description whilst exploring the cliff for the first Pillar guidebook in 1919.

It would be a remarkable 92 years before the second ascent was recorded by Lakeland activist and Fell and Rock guidebook writer Stephen Reid who- while working on the Pillar Rock guidebook- finally re-climbed the route in May  2005 with Chris King. Stephen was armed with both the Wasdale Head and the Climber’s Club descriptions and pin pointed a route now known as North-west by West (Mallory’s Route) and carrying an HVS-5a grading. Certainly one of the hardest routes in the district at the time and with Central Buttress (Mallory’s Ridge) and Eastern Gutter in Wales, one of the hardest routes in the UK at the time.A fine ending to this chapter in Mallory’s career.

Two years would pass before he would make his mark on the cliffs of Wales again. A couple of new  routes, Three Pinnacle Face on Lliwedd and the minor classic, Black Gates high above Llanberis Pass on Clogwyn y Ddysgl, were climbed with Conor o Brian and Herbert Reade. It would be another four years before Mallory would carve out another first ascent on the Welsh cliffs.

Farewell to Arms: 1916-1919

During the war years, George had take up a commission as a second lieutenant in the Artillery and had left behind the halcyon years of family life and mountain adventures. On the Western Front his old climbing injury flared up again. The fractured ankle had never been properly diagnosed and he found himself in increasing pain. Eventually he was discharged to the Officer’s Hospital in London for the ankle to be re set and a period of convalescence followed.
With growing confidence in the healing limb, Mallory took a trip to the Isle of Arran and took great pleasure in just wandering amongst the mountains of that fair island. However, the ankle injury meant that his return to the front was continually delayed and he was deployed on home soil until finally he was declared fit for duty in 1917.

The army however decided to keep him in blighty for the time being where he attended a battery commander course at Lydd. As the war wound down inexorably to it’s denouement, he used a period of leave to discover the delights of Skye with wife Ruth and accompanied by David Pye and Leslie Shadbolt. The latter a former Pen y Pass habitué who had climbed on Skye with Archer Thomson. After repeating several classics, George and Shadbolt climbed a 1000’ line on  Sron na Ciche now known as Cioch West. The following day they established a new route on the cliff, now known as Mallory’s Slab and Groove and graded severe. Sadly, George and Ruth had come to the end of their sojourn in the north and departed south leaving Pye and Shadbolt to establish the classic Crack of Doom a few days later.
After nearly a year and a half on home soil, Mallory was sent back to the front as the war exploded in its ferocious end game.

Dancing with Ghosts..1919

When Geoffrey Winthrop Young revived the Pen y Pass meet tradition in the Easter of 1919 it was a sombre affair. Of  the sixty climbers who had gathered in 1914, twenty three had died on the battlefields of Europe and 11 including Young himself had been injured. Those like Mallory, who had survived the war physically intact but emotionally scarred  wandered out of Gorphwysfa to reacquaint themselves with familiar old friends. The raven haunted cliffs of Lliwedd, Llanberis and Ogwen. Once again the hills echoed with the sounds of climbers. However, unlike those carefree pre war years during the birth of the new century, those who now set their face to the cliff looked into its darkest recesses.

The old routes were climbed and the old tales were told but it was to be Mallory’s true swansong on the north Wales cliffs. Two VS routes, Bowling Green Buttress  and The Garter Traverse were created on Lliwedd but in effect it was the end of the affair on home soil.
From here on in, Mallory would find himself occupied with loftier affairs. The Alps and Everest beckoned. Apart from the occasional visit to his old haunts, innocent days spent exploring the quiet cliffs of North Wales and Cumbria had come to a natural conclusion.

Under a blood red sky

When this article was first mooted, I immediately fell upon the idea of filling in one of the gaps in my Welsh climbing career. Back to The Pretty Guide.
On days when rain swept Tremadog’s verdant cliffs free of climbers, sodden teams retreated to Eric Jones’s café and jostled for table space.  Patched elbows wiping an arc of vision from windows dripping with condensation. No chance of a route today…not even Boo-Boo! Amongst the sugar grains and tobacco ash, The Pretty Guide was idly thumbed. Routes assessed and appraised, suggestions garnered and finally, eyes fell upon -The graded list of climbs in order of difficulty- which the editor advised had been -brought back to entertain and infuriate! Actually; I  believe the1989 Climbers Club Guide to Tremadog and Cwm Silyn was the last CC guidebook to include a graded list of difficulty but don’t quote me on that? 

* (Since revived in the current crop of CC guidebooks)

As humble punters, our interests mainly lay in those climbs in the sub-extreme category, more especially the VS section. Tracing a rising line up the grimy page….there’s Yogi…. Nice little climb- at the bottom….passing through such classics as Laverado, Shadrach, Merlin…moving on from the lower reaches into the mid table. Oxine…Olympic Slab…Grim Wall…the magnificent Kirkus Route in Cwm Silyn. Ever upwards passing Bonington and Brasher’s brutal Double Criss in the Moelwyns and Joe Brown’s  Striptease to arrive at Mallory’s Ridge.
And there you have it ; Top of the pile and officially the hardest VS climb in the district!  A route which we were told- had acquired a notorious reputation for difficulty and looseness. The fourth pitch, the author reminded us, had- seen off some notable climbers in less than perfect conditions !

And so it was. For twenty years the route had been simmering on my back burner. Waiting for an unlikely ascent.

As emails bounced across cyberspace between Mike Bailey and myself, I kindly informed  Mike who was working on his own piece for this journal, that he was being recruited for a long awaited ascent of Mallory’s Ridge. One problem. The summer of 2008 in North Wales had been…in a word…dire !. Since Mid July, the rain had swept in giving relatively few dry days. As it was now September and with no let up in the monsoon conditions an ascent was looking highly unlikely until-lo and behold- a warm sunny snap arrived right on Q.

Grabbing the opportunity with both hands I arranged to meet Mike at the Rhyd Ddu car park next to the new Welsh Highland Railway track. As the sun beat down and temperatures soared towards the 80’s I liberated the sun tan cream from the glove compartment and pondered the wisdom of carrying a waterproof up to the cliff ?
Finally Mike arrived accompanied by photographer Al Leary who apart from his contributions to previous Welsh guidebooks had actually climbed the route. In fact he was the only person I had ever met who had set foot on Mallory’s Ridge and now a second ascent beckoned. Surely some sort of record !

As we zig-zagged into the long shadows which fell from the mountains gaunt buttresses we passed by Thomson’s Eastern Arete which I had climbed 15 years before.  Finally to arrive sweating and panting into the cooling confines of the little amphitheatre which separated Eastern Arete from the intimidating stark edifice of Central Buttress.From the base of the cliff I felt somewhat intimidated by those beetling overhangs and sharply defined ribs and grooves which hung over us like the ramparts of a medieval castle. It looked huge from below and without any obvious easier lines through the steeper sections ?

After a well earned brew and some quiet contemplation, the little cwm finally echoed to the sound of jangling ironmongery, murmured instructions and I was off, leading the first pitch. I moved up the steep but straightforward ribs at the base of the route to meet the arête line proper. A few more moves up the clean arête and I had reached the first stance. Something was wrong though ? Where were the signs of a climbers passage…the trodden turf and heather. A stub of cigarette or a peel of  insulation tape. A sprinkling of chalk maybe. Nothing…not even the rusting shaft of an old peg ???

To all intents and purposes, the climb was in a totally virginal state. A classic VS climb which had held so many in awe of its status. Surely it would draw the occasional curious mountaineer or the odd ticker of classic VS routes ? Notwithstanding its lack of traffic, at least we could reprise the conditions that Mallory and Porter would have encountered on that first ascent, exactly 97 years ago to the month .

Mike led off around the corner and was pretty soon causing severe neck strain as I peered up to follow his progress up what turned out to be a superb groove which ran up the left edge of a steep slab before darting under an overhang and delivering him to a decent stance.
From here Al took over and after climbing a scruffy slab moved out onto a clean rib which in keeping with the serpentine line we had followed so far, wound into a steep groove which required some old fashioned bridging and back and footing to subdue. Now came the crux. The pitch- which has seen off some notable climbers. Enough said..Mike…your lead !

Welsh climber and guidebook author Mike Bailey on the crux of Mallory's Ridge

The actual crux line looked nothing like what I imagined. For some reason I had pictured the bold leader traversing across steep ground then fighting up some awful off width crack. In the event it did indeed traverse across a steep slab face. However, the slab was broken up with hanging grooves and ribs and the pitch was more a technically delicate dance upon high than a thug fest. As always, Mike climbed the pitch beautifully followed by Al who after breaching the steep groove at the crux moved left into a subsidiary groove continuing to the top. For myself, I just  went straight up after the delicate traverse. Following a suspiciously clean line of edges which looked as if they had been peeled clean of vegetation?

The final two pitches- run together- were led by myself.  Pulling around into a steep groove, I had to at one stage pull up and stand on a loose flake which, if I had been so inclined, I could have removed and stuffed it into my rucksack as a souvenir! Above the flake everything I hammered or pulled on either rocked or felt hollow. No point in fixing gear. At least the standard had dropped to no more than V Diff. Remarkably, Mallory’s Ridge finishes slap bang on the 2500’ summit of Y Garn. I could have cleared my throat of heather dust and lichen spores and placed a direct hit on the summit cairn!

It was now after six on this late summer’s day. To the north the Angelsey coast rose to meet the faint smear of Holyhead mountain in the distance. As Al took shots on his Nikon, I drank in the Nantlle Ridge winding and swooping down to the western fringes. Meeting, en-route, the newly designated mountain peak of Mynydd Graig Goch which only that week had graced the national newspapers on account of its promotion from mere hill to mountain. New mountain discovered in Wales!
The vast cwm beneath Trum y Ddysgl melted into shadows and to the north Yr Wyddfa sported it’s latest carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend. The new as yet unfinished multi million pound café which from here looked more like an Aldi supermarket !

Never mind….it was a beautiful late summers day and I had finally followed in Mallory and Porter’s wake. Ninety seven years down the line, I imagined the first ascentionists stepping out of the shadows and onto Y Garn’s bald summit and wondered if like us, it was late in the day and would the weather have been so kind ?

I imagined their satisfaction and brimming conversation as they wound their way down the pathless flank of the mountain, heading for The Snowdon Ranger and the welcoming whisper of smoke curling from its chimney. Warm baths, warm beer and the sleep of the righteous would be their reward.

In the mid seventies, just after publication of his 1971 Lliwedd  guidebook, Harold Drasdo was asked by Chris Briggs, mine host at the Pen y Gwyrd , if he would take a young American who was staying at the inn climbing with him. One of the routes they did that day was Mallory’s Slab. The young American was George Millikan who later offered his thanks and declared that it had been one of the best mountaineering days of his life.
George Millikan, unknown to Harold at the time was Mallory’s grandson. Son of Clare Mallory and Glenn Millikan who sadly like his great father in law also died in a climbing accident Albeit in a Tennessee gorge rather than on a Himalayan peak.

I imagined young George like his grandfather after a day on the hill. Looking into the quiet fire that smoldered in the blackened grate of the Welsh mountain inn and reflecting on his experiences that day. Perhaps finally divining the essential essence of that mythical figure with whom he shared a bloodline and feeling within, an affinity cast in stone which stretched across time and was rooted in those brooding heights across the valley.

So he had been salvaged and washed.
His muscles very white -marble white.
He had been heavily killed. 

But we had revived him. 

Ted Hughes: Dust as we are

 References and further reading

The Wildest Dream….Peter & Leni Gillman
The mystery of Mallory and Irvine…Tom Holzel & Audrey Salkeld
Ghosts on Everest…Jochen Hemmleb, Larry Johnson, Eric Simonson
High 205…High 243
Tremadog & Cwm Silyn…Pretty, Farrant & Milburn (CC)
Lliwedd…H Drasdo (CC)
Climbing in Snowdonia & the Beddgelert District…Herbert Carr (CC)
New Selected poems 1957-1994…Ted Hughes

John Appleby: First published in The Climber's Club Guidebook Centenary Journal.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Later this week..Mallory in Wales: the long day's journey into night

Siegried Herford and Mallory outside Gorphwysfa in the shadow of Yr Wyddfa-North Wales: Original photo The Alpine Club

"When George Mallory returned to the fray he entered a period which became his golden age on Welsh and English rock. 1911 was the year in which he established  some of his hardest routes. Routes which still have the capacity to intimidate and challenge modern climbers.

Staying with Harold Porter at the Snowdon Ranger in the relatively unfrequented Cwellyn area of Snowdonia. Mallory set his sites on exploring the cliffs of Llechog and the Nantlle Valley. In a glorious September campaign he and Porter looked at the Central Buttress of Y Garn which had defeated the great Thomson himself and saw the outstanding Swiss climber, Anton Stoop die in a subsequent attempt when a flake he was pulling over broke away from the cliff. By this stage, the Central Buttress had developed a fearsome reputation which had  repelled even those leading lights of the day. The completed route was subsequently left out of Carr’s 1926 Climber Club guidebook as too dangerous to justify inclusion.

After a very futuristic pre inspection of the crux pitch from above by Mallory, it was in fact Harold Porter who led the crux of the climb which ironically is now known as Mallory’s Ridge rather than perhaps more deservedly Porter’s Ridge ? During their stay at the Snowdon Ranger, the same pair established the equally bold Eastern Gutter and  the less demanding Trinity Buttress B  on Llechog  and opened up Cwm Silyn by establishing the areas’ first ever route. Four Pitch Gully on Clogwyn Cysgod. Finally, in 1911, Mallory climbed a direct 4c finish to Lliwedd’s Far East Cracks.

It had been a fine return to form after the accident .

Later this week,John Appleby's comprehensive profile of George Leigh Mallory's climbing career on Welsh rock. A golden period of exploration when he established his reputation as one of the UK's leading technical climbers. A period which saw him create some of the hardest routes of the era before his attention shifted to the greater ranges and he- in the public eye-was reborn as Galahad of Everest

Friday, 16 December 2011

Russian team attempt first winter ascent of K2

A team of Russian mountaineers is attempting to achieve what no other mountaineering party has achieved before. A winter ascent of K2 -the world's second highest peak. If the attempt is successful it will be the first time the pyramidal giant has been climbed outside of the more clement seasons.
The 15 strong team will endure temperatures of more than 50 below zero and wind speeds of up to 40 mph as they attempt to achieve their historic goal. The campaign is expected to take up to 3 months.

"This is only possible for a Russian team," said Victor Kozlov, the leader of the expedition, whose members put up a new route on K2 in 2007. "God willing, we can make it," he said this week in the Pakistani capital, ahead of his journey to the Karakoram range in the far north of the country.

Winter ascents of the world's 14 highest mountains are some of most prized achievements left in climbing. The 14 eight thousand feet peaks have all received  their first ascents in the summer months. Amid a crowded field where each year hundreds pay around $80,000 to be guided up Everest, winter ascents can help a climber stand out and get his or her name in the history books.

Winter climbers have been summitting the 14 highest peaks one by one the past decades. However, many peaks within the Karakorum region remained unconquered. The range is further north than the Himalayas, where Everest is located, and thus sees harsher winters. K2 is the northernmost peak of all the major mountains.

Teams attempted winter ascents in the Karakorum 16 times in recent years. The first success came this year, when a three-member team including American Cory Richards summitted Gasherbrum II. That left only four peaks, three of them in the Karakorum and one nearby in the Himalayas.

"If they make it up K2 in winter, it will be huge," said Billi Bierling, a mountaineering journalist with three "eight thousanders" to her name, including Everest.

Elite mountaineers thrive on first ascents, new routes on established peaks and climbing in the "purest style" possible. That typically means no porter assistance high up on the slopes, no oxygen bottles or no reliance on fixed ropes left by other parties.

The Russians, who start their ascent around Christmas, are not using oxygen and will have porters at base camp only. Their gear and food — including three freshly slaughtered yaks and, according to Kozlov, a little vodka — is being flown in by Pakistani army helicopters charging more than $7,000 an hour.

Winter climbing means less daylight and temperatures around twice as cold as summer, making frostbite more of a danger. Living conditions at base camp are more miserable, winds are more vicious, there is more snow, greater avalanche risk and climbers need more food and equipment to stay alive.

The one plus: "The mountains are less crowded," said Bierling.

A Polish team was first up an "eight-thousander" in winter, topping out on Everest in February 1980. The triumph set the stage for a decade of other successful expeditions, mostly by a group Polish climbers nicknamed "The Ice Warriors."

The Russians intend to follow the "Cesen" route up K2 before venturing to the 8,611-meter summit from a face that has never been climbed, hoping it will allow them to avoid the worst of the wind. They plan to fix ropes and establish camps up the mountain. They will then wait for a window of clear weather, at most a few days sometime in February or early March, and make a summit dash.

K2 is renowned for terrible, unpredictable weather and steeper slopes than Everest. In the summer of 2008, 11 climbers died in an avalanche, the deadliest incident on a peak that has the second-highest fatality rate among the "eight-thousanders." More than 300 have reached the top, but at least 80 have died trying.

Andrzej Zawada, the Polish climber who made Everest's first winter ascent, tried K2 in 1987.

In a written account, he said that from the end of December there was so much snow at base camp they had to dig tunnels to get into their tents. In 80 days on the mountain, they had just 10 days of good weather. They retreated after reaching a high point of 7,300 meters, frostbitten, their tents and ropes ripped off the mountain in the wind.

"We did everything that was humanly possible in those inhospitable conditions," he wrote. "We were simply powerless in the face of such dangerous, formidable and life threatening elements which people have to confront in the highest mountains."

Ashraf Aman, the first Pakistani climber to summit K2, said he thought the Russians stood a chance. "They are a strong team, and experienced, but it depends on the weather," he said. He urged them to be fearless: "If you face death in the face, it will run away like a dog." There are two other expeditions elsewhere in the Karakorams this winter.

Pakistan has long welcomed foreign mountaineering expeditions, which bring cash and jobs into one of the country's poorest regions. While climbers are hardy types, the spike in Islamist terrorism in the country over the last five years has led to a sharp drop in arrivals, said Naiknam Karim, from Adventure Tours Pakistan, which is organising the Russian push.

"The biggest hurdle is the law and order situation and the perception outside the country," he said. "Sometimes the climbers want to come, but their families don't allow it."

Monday, 12 December 2011

Alf Bridge....The art of falling and other stories

Alf Bridge (front 2nd right) and members of the Rucksack Club at a 1929 meet.
Maurice Linnell (back extreme left) and Colin Kirkus (Back 4th right) included.

There is a photograph of Alf Bridge in Byne and Sutton's book High Peak: it was taken in 1928 when he was at the height of his powers. Even in his climbing gear their is no hiding his stocky, muscular frame and sturdy legs. For those who have not heard of his repu­tation as an anti-establishment figure, his determined stance and strong jawline in many ways reflect Alf's unyielding approach to mountaineering and life.

Alfred William Bridge was born in Longsight, Manchester in 1902. After attending Grammer school be worked in a drawing office as a trainee draughtsman. Within a few years his father died and Alf took on the mantle of the primary breadwinner — there were three younger siblings to consider He decided to become an apprentice steeplejack, the extra danger money he earned was crucial in the household budget - It was an early and revealing insight into his values and strength of character

Like many Mancunians of his generation be was attracted to the local gritstone edges, both as an escape from the depression and as an out­let for his restless energies. This was a few years before the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass when huge swathes of the Peak were patrolled by keepers and virtually became  no go areas.
Confrontations were fre­quent, although these would have held little fear for Alf who could look after himself. With little money and no transport he accepted that the long approach trek from his home was part of the day To get the most from the short weekends most people worked Saturday mornings- Saturday nights were usually spent  bivouacking under the cliffs where Robin Hood's Cave at Stanage was a particular favourite

He was soon to gain a reputation as a strong and forceful climber but he first sprang to prominence as an endurance walker with the Bogtrotters Club. Many of these walks are recorded in High Peak although it is thought his most remarkable effort was a solo 24-hour circuit from Greenfield to Chinley in which he climbed on Laddow (three climbs), Stanage (four climbs), Cratcliffe Tor (two climbs), Robin Hood Stride (one climb) and Castle Naze (two climbs). Shod in gym shoes and carrying a Primus with a minimum amount of food it was a lightweight expedition in the purest sense. Eric Byne wrote, 'Few would have been capable of such a feat'

In the early '30s he joined the Rucksack Club but it proved to be a short-lived union that was to highlight his confrontational personality. The problem occurred after a tiring day in the Lakes when he turned up at the Wayfarers' Robertson Lamb Hut in Langdale, hoping to use the Rucksack Club's reciprocal rights. It is said that Alf was told in no uncertain terms; there was no room for him due to a Wayfarers' Meet. Words were exchanged and, whether or not it was the leader's aggres­sive manner when he squared up to Alf is uncertain, but his antagonist suddenly found himself spread-eagle on the stone floor, courtesy of Alf's right hook!  Alf then left. A complaint was made and he was called to a meeting of the Rucksack Club Committee to explain the incident. No doubt,objecting to being called to account, he promptly resigned his membership.

It was on Stanage FAgr in 1931 that Alf and Maurice Linnell led a couple of promising climbers from Sheffield railed Cliff Moyer and Eric Byne, up Manchester Buttress and along the Black Hawk Girdle — the same pair later went on to produce at least 20 new climbs on Stanage. In the same period Alf pioneered Robin Hood Innominate (VS) and then, at his muscular best he powered up Cave Gully Wall (VS) in the snow, for a first ascent. Forty years later a climbing guide described the route as 'needing care, being hard and dangerous'.
The running belay had yet to be developed and it was about this time Alf started to practise his skill of jumping from heights. He argued that if a leader was in danger of falling he should turn and leap for a suit­able landing spot Eric Byne wrote, Visits to Stanage were often enlivened by Alf Bridge who would demonstrate his "Technique of Falling," an art of which he was a master. His deliberate and controlled falls of 30ft and over on such climbs as Black Stab, Christmas Crack and Black Hawk Girdle 'were something once seen could never be forgotten'.

Alf had first met Maurice Linnell in the late '20s at Cratcliffe Tor and it was after this meeting they recorded over 60 consecutive climbing weekends together.. In 1929 they visited Black Rocks where Alf led the direct start to Birch Tree Wall.This thin,curving crack had surpris­ingly defeated Jack Longland.,and it was there, with Longland and Ivan Waller  a couple of years later, that Alf made his incredible, on sight lead of Lean Man's Superdirect.He became totally committed high in the Crack and struggled to reach a thin pocket hold that felt spongy as he pulled up on it, then, to his horror, discovered he had squashed and killed two fledglings in their  nest!

His friends followed but persuaded him not to claim the route thinking it was unjustifiable. Peter Harding led the climb 13 years later thinking it was a first ascent. Tony Moulam considers Alf's effort as -'perhaps the greatest single feat teat on these rocks. His visits to the Lakes were no less exciting. Alf and Linnell used to meet on a Wednesday evening in a Manchester cafe to plan their climb­ing trips. The Girdle Traverse of Pillar Rock (VS) was mooted there in April 1931 and completed the following Whit. Linnell led the route with Alf and A B Hargreaves in support. The climb is 1,300ft in length and took seven hours, spread over three days and contains many of the finest pitches on Pillar.

Then there was a remarkable incident on Central Buttress, Scafell when Alf was attempting to lead a first ascent of the Flake Crack with­out assistance or a belay at the chockstone and fell out of the layback position, but somehow managed to grab the chockstone with his left hand on the way down. On The Oval below, Linnell and A B Hargreaves watched open-mouthed as he eventually found a foothold and tied on. The route was then completed in the conventional way.
The same team, in 1931, with the addition of W Dyson turned their attention to Esk Buttress. Standing in splendid isolation at the head of a remote valley its potential was obvious, yet in those days contained only one route. In 1920, George Bower picked out his fine climb on the more forgiving right-hand section (Bowers Route- Hard Severe).

Nine years later, after completing the third ascent with Colin Kirkus, A B Hargreaves spotted a possible line up the imposing Central Pillar but three years were to pass before the little man returned with his friends. 'We tanked up in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel until late Saturday night 'A B wrote-'and walked until it was dark- then slept under an overhanging boulder alongside Angle Tarn'.Their enterprise was rewarded as the following day dawned fine and clear and they reached the crag via Esk Hause. It had been decided earlier that Alf would lead. The difficulties were well within his capabili­ties, until he reached a point where the 1974 route The Cumbrian (E5) now goes and was forced leftwards. What followed was a brilliant piece of route finding which produced one of the finest climbs, for its grade, in the Lakes. As a tribute to Alf the route was named after him (Bridge's Route- Hard Severe) Interestingly enough the headwall of The Central Pillar was to deflect the finest climbers of the day, including Dolphin and Birkett, until Pete Crew made the first ascent 30 years later.

Esk Buttress

Alf was part of the Kirkus-Linnell partnership that featured in the first ascents of Curving Crack and the Direct Finish to the East Buttress on Clogwyn Du'r Arddu . Providing a fascinating snapshot of those days Alf wrote,  I remember, one day in winter being on Clogwyn du Arddu with Colin and we almost forced a route now known as Vember. We were in boots and the sole of one of Colin's boots had come adrift and he tied the two parts together with string. Of course, we had very little money and used six inch nails for pitons-. We did without mid­week lunch each Saturday to gain a little extra for the weekend.

As a steeplejack he became a respected figure and formed his own firm. On one occasion he won a tender, against stiff competition, for a structural inspection of the Eiffel Tower. He carried out the job, solo, with little more gear than a rope and gym shoes. There was another episode when he became detached from a high building and fell through a glass roof into a typing pool. Amazingly he was not badly hurt and was offered a cup of tea while the girls wanted to know where he had come from!
Looking to the future, he attended night school and qualified as a structural engineer then, later as a Chartered Engineer. He specialized as an industrial boiler inspector that led to work on the QE2 where he helped to overcome the ship's ongoing boiler problems.

When the Second World War broke out he was in his middle years and became a part-time civilian mountaineering instructor for the Armv based at Helyg, The Climbers' Club hut in the Ogwen Valley. Later there was a spell at the Commando training unit at Achnacarry in Scotland where he taught mountain craft and how to live off the land. It was part of Alf's remit to pay the farmer for any livestock that ended up in the soldiers' pot. There was also a period of duty at the Commando Assault Wing at Bosigran, Comwall. During one training exercise a Commando survived a 100ft fall from the top of the cliffs. He later said he remembered Alf's instruction and jumped for a narrow rift at the cliff base where the sea rose and fell. He hit the sea just as a high wave came in and escaped with little more than a dislocated shoulder.

Some may wonder why,with all his rebellious tendencies he did not upset the Army establishment?  Perhaps part of his contribution to the war effort was to toe the military line?  However, he was proud of his association with the Commandos and for many years wore a green beret as a token of respect for these men.
Despite the generation gap he became close friends with Peter Harding who helped him to run weekend courses for the Central Council of Physical Recreation. Although, as a rock-climber he was past his best, his powers of endurance were undiminished and he continued with his marathon walks. They were frequent companions on the fells, often ending up at Alfs home at Dore on the outskirts of Sheffield where he lived with his wife Dorothy-they never had children.

He joined 'The Climbers' Club in 1931 and became Hon Secretary in 1950 and a year later he resigned from the Club. The reasons were complex and difficult. He vigorously campaigned for a change in CC policy to provide structured training for younger members. Perhaps he was too outspoken and ran into fierce opposition with those he called 'The Mandarins of the Club'. It was said there was a clash of personalities with Stuart Chantrell, the Custodian of Helyg and when Alf's honesty was called into question in  the form of mischievous gossip, he handed in his resignation. Looking back on the problem A B Hargreaves wrote, 'It could have been possible for him to retire with honour,  so to speak, to a Vice Presidency but he would not co-operate in this to the great disappointment of his friends and supporters'.

Some years later he was persuaded to rejoin the CC, then under David Cox's presidency, but he became embroiled in what has been described as 'local difficulties.' And once again he resigned. Com­promise did not appear to be part of Alf's make up. He also served as President of the Manchester-based Karabiner Club and The Stonnis Club, which takes its name from Cromford's Black Rocks.

The Climbers Club Helyg Hut in Ogwen Valley-North Wales

After the end of the war he became friends with near neighbour, Eric Mensforth, then managing director of a business called Normalair that manufactured breathing apparatus — it was a fortunate meeting for British mountaineering.
Mensforth expressed an interest in mountaineering and under the guidance of Alf they had several seasons together in the French Alps and the High Atlas. It was about this time Alf joined The Alpine Club and became heavily involved, together with Mensforth, in the development of the oxygen equipment used in the successful 1953 British ascent of Everest. Mensforth was eventually given a knighthood and there was talk of an award for Alf but he would not have any of it.

When retirement beckoned, Alf and his wife settled at Colwyn Bay but unable to adjust took on a partnership with a firm of engineers in Sheffield. Three years later, in September 1971, the climbing world was stunned to hear that Alf Bridge, who had never ailed throughout his life, collapsed and died at the age of 69 whilst shop­ping with his wife.

In his lifetime he had been described as a stormy petrel, an impos­sible, rumbustious character with a prickly personality and Alf would probably have no problem with that. Despite these flaws many saw him as a loyal friend, with more than his share of dry humour, who could be counted upon in a tight situation. There is also little doubt that in any pre-War climbing'Who's Who' Alf would be up there with the best of them.

 Ken Smith: First published in HIGH


Mountaineering in Britain-by Clarke and Pyatt
Climbers' Club Journal-Alf Bridge's Obituary
A Century on the Crags-by A Hankinson
High Peak-by Byne and Sutton
The Black Cliff-by Crew/Soper/Wilson
I am especially grateful to Peter Harding for his kind help and interest.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Himalayan peaks to be designated as conservation zones

KATHMANDU: The Nepalese government will soon declare two of the mountains Phulchowki and Chandragiri in the mountain-rim circling Kathmandu Valley — as conservation areas. The declaration will Coincide with the International Year of the Mountains in 2012 when the government will make a formal declaration, according to Dr. Uday Raj Sharma, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation. “We are doing the necessary homework before we make our decision public.” He said the government is designing a project for sustainable developmentand conservation in the two mountain areas that would be implemented after the formal declaration of the two new conservation areas is made.

The government has sought funds from the European Union, according to Ministry officials. “We believe that the EU Headquarters in Brussels would give the project top priority,” Sharma said. However, the finance ministry revealed that it had not as yet approached the EU office. Titled as the Phulchowki-Chandragiri Bio-diversity Conservation Area Project, the scheme is estimated to cost US$ 27 million. “One third of that money would be used for poverty reduction,” said Peter de Vere Moss, co-director at the Bagmati Integrated Watershed Management Programme under the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation.

“The project does not restrict the local population to live where they have been living, it will rather empower them with employment and provide environment security.” The two mountains have 40 Village Development Committees in Dhading, Kavre, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Makwanpur districts, with a population of around 150,000 people. Phulchowki and Chandragiri are two among the four mountains bordering Kathmandu Valley to the south. The remaining two are Shivapuri to the north and Nagarjuna to the west.

Designed for four years, the project also aims to promote tourism in the Kathmandu Valley, according to Moss. Phulchowki, according to Sharma, is being declared a conservation area keeping in view its rare butterflies and birds while Chandragiri will be conserved for its watershed reserves.“At the heart of such projects is sustainable mountain development. Moreover, such conservation areas will add to the greenery in Kathmandu Valley.”The idea to conserve the two mountains has to do with the preservation of the mid hills in the country, according to ministry officials.

“The mid hills are under represented from the conservation point of view,” said Sharma. “That is why we have identified the new sites.” Such conservation areas will also serve as links between the conserved areas in the Himalayan belt to the north and the conserved areas to the south, according to Ukesh Raj Bhuju, Programme Director at the World Wildlife Fund, Nepal Programme.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

George Band....a life less ordinary

Photo:Martin Pope

A celebration is to be held to remember the extraordinary life of George Band who was an important member of the successful 1953 Everest expedition and who became the first man to climb Kangenjunga with Joe Brown in 1955.

The celebration will be held on Tuesday 20th December at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

George Band was born in Taiwan in 1929  to parents working as missionaries. He was educated at Eltham College, London and Cambridge and London Universities, where he studied Geology and Petroleum Engineering. During National Service he was an officer in the Royal Corps of Signals. At Cambridge he was President of the University Mountaineering Club.

He was the youngest climber on the 1953 Everest expedition led by Colonel John Hunt, aged just 23. Two years later he went to Kangchenjunga on an expedition led by Charles Evans, and with Joe Brown, made the first ascent of the mountain, the third highest in the world and which was then then the highest peak still unclimbed. Further expeditions to the Alps, the Caucasus, Peru and the Karakoram followed.

After retiring from the oil industry, George spent more time climbing and trekking, and began lecturing on his mountain experiences. In 2003, to mark the Everest Jubilee he wrote Everest: 50 Years on Top of the World, and this was followed in 2007 by Summit: 150 Years of the Alpine Club, in celebration of the founding of the world’s oldest mountaineering club in 1857. George also became Chairman of the Himalayan Trust UK in 2003 and served in a number of other positions including: Chairman of the Mount Everest Foundation; Member of the Council of the Royal Geographical Society and; Appeal Patron for BSES Expeditions.

This is an open service and all who knew George, would like to pay their respects, or who would simply wish to celebrate his life, are most welcome. The celebration will begin a 1830-2030hrs with doors opening at 1800hrs (Kensington Gore entrance)

The event will be introduced by Charles Clarke and speakers will include Mick Fowler, Jerry Lovatt, Stephen Venables, Nigel Winser, Martin Scott, John Innerdale, Patrick Fagan, Rebecca Stephens, Susan Band

Venue: Royal Geographical Society
One Kensington Gore, London SW7
0207 591 3000: If you plan to attend please RSVP to Denise Prior