Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Forty-Niners

John Petts' engraving of Craig yr Ysfa

In August I decided to have a cycling and climbing holiday in the south east. I set off from Derby on a fine cool day and made good progress along the A6 to Bedford. I then went on via Whitwell to Kimpton, where I had arranged to stay with John Williams, one of my old comrades from Royal Signals OCTU, with whom I had kept in touch. We had an evening of reminiscing, and outlining our ambitions. Both he and I planned to visit the Cairngorms, and he added to my already heavy load by insisting that I borrow his Scottish Mountaineering Club guide to the area.

In the morning I continued through Wheathampstead, which I would get to know in the future- to Edgware, Bromley, Sevenoaks (where I found that my favourite surplus shop and official supplier to the Stonnis Club, had gone) To Tonbridge and a welcome at Church Road in Tunbridge Wells by Nea * (Morin) and her children, Denise, Ian, and Evelyn Leech. Evelyn took us in her car to Harrison's Rocks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I brushed up my sandstone techniques, mainly solo. During this holiday Nea asked if I would like to Join them skiing at Christmas,and flattered, I agreed.

Before I had been incapacitated by my hitch hiking accident I had been asked by the editor* (Climbers Club) to take on the Cloggy guide. My misfortune prevented me from fulfilling my commitment and Peter* ( Harding) annexed this great cliff for his Llanberis "bumper fun book". Now I had recovered I was not allowed to slip back into lazy obscurity as Wilf Noyce persuaded me to take on a different chore. The Carneddau had the reputation of being a vast and boring area, which had already discouraged one or two would be authors. What finally decided me to take on this task was Wilfrid's comment that there was so much uncharted rock that there must be lots of scope to discover new routes.

No sooner than I had agreed I was lucky to be presented with a volunteer companion. Robin Chapman, on leave from his school teaching post in Natal, had written to Ken Berrill, the club secretary, asking to be introduced to someone who had time to climb.
I started out on the fieldwork for the guidebook with a train journey to Bettws y Coed (which has since lost one "t") and a heavily laden cycle ride to Helyg. Robin met me there and we made Our- debut performance as a double act on Black Ladders, repeating Mare's Nest Climb, which had been discovered by Emlyn Jones about two years earlier. A very wet day came next and as we hunted about in Craig yr Ysfa's mud and vegetation Robin commented how totally different it was from the Drakensberg but at least we were not at risk of being pelted with stones by gibbons. Covent Garden was a route made by Ted Pyatt on the Crag by Llech Du at Christmas 1944 and in his write up he had provocatively stated "The lower slabs of the main crag have not been climbed, the present route traversing from the gully onto the backbone of the ridge above them." This was challenge enough and Robin and I relieved it of its virginity by a deviously seductive route, Low Wall.

Evelyn Leech at The Roaches:Tony Moulam

We continued up the gully and descended Pyatt's route to check his description for the guide. Pegasus was another of Emlyn's climbs, on the same area of cliff as the Mare's Nest. It proved rather disappointing but these two routes had given me the idea to look for others in a similar situation on the Central Buttress. Having scrambled to the top of the cliff we descended the easy upper reaches of Central Gully and ventured out onto its western wall. The rock proved to be pretty loose but the difficulty was not great and we quickly completed Juno. In those long past innocent days we had left our rucksacks on top of the crag, not even bothering to hide them. We were appalled to find that they had disappeared and walked disconsolately back to Helyg.

This was Robin's last day and we went round to Pen y Gwryd for him to buy me dinner. Chris telephoned the local police and we were delighted to hear that some public spirited person had thought we had forgotten our sacks and so had taken them and handed them in to the police house. Chris took us there to collect our property, I said my farewells to Robin and set off on my bike into the night and on to Tyn y Weirglodd, where I was to have an interlude, again instructing scouts. We had a good week, attaining quite a high standard, with the best routes achieved being Angel Pavement and Adam Rib, besides Deep Chimney on the Far West Buttress of Cloggy.

I returned to Pen y Gwryd, intending to continue with the field work for my guide. However at dinner that night Chris Briggs introduced me to a Mrs Fearon, whose 17 year old daughter had been bitten by the climbing bug. Chris had recommended me as a careful and conscientious climber to whom she could safely be entrusted. Jane was tall, slim and very eager to start. Even the boring walk over to Craig yr Ysfa didn't deter her and on our first day, whilst ensuring she got the easier pitches, we led through on Amphitheatre Buttress. Amphitheatre Rib and Beaumont's Chimney followed, whilst the sun shone benignly down. For the rest of her holiday we were joined by Peter Snell and Keith Ingold, and thus reinforced, we did a new route on Black Ladders. Jane's red setter pup had accompanied us to the top of the cliff, and obediently stayed there as vie scrambled off down the gully. When we returned from the depths he greeted his mistress ecstatically and we named the climb after him, in tribute to his patience.

Jane had to go home with her mother after this but the weather continued fine so that the guidebook work did too. Various gap filling new routes were made with Peter Snell, Brian Blake and Adrian Horridge and then, for a sort of holiday, I teamed up with Arthur Dolphin for the Milestone Superdirect, including the Final Block. This fine top pitch had had very few ascents since Menlove Edwards first led it in 1941. The intimidating crack actually proved to be quite easy, it was the approach diagonally up the slightly leaning wall on very small and flaky holds that proved to be the crux.

Meantime Jane had persuaded her mother to let her return to Snowdonia to continue her initiation into the mysteries of mountaineering. She  had booked into the Capel Curig youth Hostel and I met her train at Betws y Coed. Dusk fell as she cycled off up the hill whilst I loaded her rucksack onto my cycle's panniers. As I struggled up the slope out of Betws I was stopped by a young policeman who asked if I knew the girl who had just passed him. I said "Yes. She's staying at the youth hostel", whereupon he replied that as she had no lights, which was an offence, he would have to go up and interview her next day.

Naturally I saw her first when I delivered her sack, and warned her so that she was able to charm the PC into letting her off when he did appear in the morning. To give Jane experience of the classic climbs of North Wales we eschewed the Carneddau and went to Cwm Idwal in search of clean dry rock. Hope and the Holly Tree Wall were our choice, the latter even then being a test piece with the entry into the groove of the first pitch able to repulse most of the aspirant leaders who tried it. The holly tree still existed and so the stance after the crescent slab, although restricted, felt very safe as a base for the next few strenuous feet up the slippery polished walls of the upper chimney. That night we went round to Pen y Gwryd for dinner, and we heard that Dave Thomas and Ian Brooker, who was on a rare visit from his Scottish homeland, were stuck on Longland's Climb on Cloggy.

We cut our celebration short so that we could start at 5.00 am to conduct a rescue if it was needed. It was misty as we left Llanberis and as Chris Briggs drove his car up the rough track towards Halfway House. We abandoned it when we could get no further and toiled on up into Cwm Brwynog. It gradually became lighter and the mist slowly cleared until we could make out two figures, tiny and alone in the vastness of the crag, just as they started to stir. Ian was belayed on the capacious crevassed ledge below the -final overhang, and had probably had a reasonable night. Dave was suspended from several belays, as far as I could make out, at the top of the "faith and friction slab". He was moving slowly and stiffly to join Ian but refused our shouted offer to go round and give him a top rope.

The ropes we carried for our intended rescue became a nuisance as we started to Scramble up the Eastern Terrace.We stopped to re arrange them just as Dave arrived at the crevasse stance and immediately addressed the bulging rib above. He made an impressive sight as he clasped the rock and moved inexorably up and we paused again in our ascent to admire his performance. At the top we traversed over to meet them with food and welcome drinks in thermos flasks and then all of us set off to the summit of Snowdon. We were now above the clouds, in cold clear air and the view in all directions was magnificent. Dave even claimed that he could see Ireland and the Isle of Man, but I think that that was probably a hallucination stemming from his trial the previous night.

Jane and I now moved into Glan Dena, the unlovely but comfortable hut of the Midland Association of Mountaineers at the end of Llyn Ogwen. On what was to be the best day of the week we set off up the Milestone Buttress, continued onto the beginning of the Heather Terrace and soloed Nor' Nor' Buttress. We scrambled down Nor' Nor' Gully and then tackled Grooved Arete, traversing out on the brittle holds of the exhilarating exposed slab and ribs of the Superdirect pitch,to make it more exciting.

Postcript Cracks:Tony Moulam

Pinnacle Route quickly took us to the summit of North Buttress and, as the sinking sun reddened the highest rocks of the mountain's west face, we set off down Notch Arete, which I was later to describe as a good way to descend. The ovoid sun seemed to rest for a moment on the Glyder ridge, preparing for its sleep, and suddenly we were in the dark and fumbling to find holds for foot and hand. Slow now and awkwardly, at last we came to the runnels of scree and flat tilted boulders at the foot of the face. Progress was easier now but the mountain had one last trick. I was ahead, finding the way, when a cry from Jane and a sliding grating noise alerted me to danger. I just managed to pull up onto a rock on my right when a monstrous sled like boulder swept past, and rumbled on into the dark with the typical brimstone smell.

Since being demobbed I had spent a little time studying at Shrewsbury Technical College, nearly three months in hospital, from which I had been discharged with only 30 degrees of movement in my right knee and a long period walking and cycling to re mobilise my knee. When I was able to climb again I had taken every opportunity to be on the rocks, but now my freedom was near its end. My first term at Manchester University started in a few days time and Geoff Pigott and I had another go at Ogof Direct, getting no further than we had before. A last cheerful day was spent in wandering up, down and across most of Carreg Wastad before Leslie Mather gave me a lift to Manchester Central from where I took a train to Derby. I arrived in the early hours so slept on the station ,before walking home by 7.00 am. Next day Jane left Wales for Woodbridge and her other passion, dinghy sailing whilst I gathered my possessions and trained back to Manchester.

On Registration I found that I had been allocated digs in Levenshulme with three other freshers, though we did not think of ourselves as such. We were installed two to a room in a large Victorian terraced house just off the main road. It was about an hour and 20 minutes walk from the University building, a trek. I was to make many times in order to save bus fares and finance my weekends away. I was two or three years older than the other three, as I had been on military service, but more to the point the man with whom I shared a room had actually done some climbing, with the Gritstone Club. He was Ian Gordon MacNaught Davis, hitherto known as "Mac", from Wakefield and even then a sort of professional Yorkshire man.

The author on Eastern Arete: Y Garn

We did not immediately climb together as I already had many friends in the area, particularly in the Rucksack, Club. On my first week end I met Geoff Pigott in Stockport and he drove us out to Alderley Edge in his shining black Citroen Light 15. He was a partner in his father's sugar and spice importing business and also a talented climber. Rucksack Club legend had it that he did not recognise his own father as, in an early safety film made by the Mountain Rescue Committee, he had taken the star role as a surviving climber hitching a lift to the police station. The car he stopped was driven by his famous father Fred, but in his request for help he did not acknowledge the relationship and in the dialogue consistently called his father "sir". Later in a speech at a dinner Fred revealed that his son's ambitions were to be the greatest driver, the greatest climber and the greatest lover in the world. He commented that he would most likely achieve the latter aim first, judging by the quantities of female underwear he found discarded in his car!

In Alderley Edge, a very upmarket commuter settlement for Manchester, we made our way to Wood Mine, hoping for some caving practice. It was full of dense wood smoke, aptly enough, so we went off to West Mine. As a deterrent to adventurous youngsters the council had blocked the entrance with deep mud. This deterred us older adventurers too, but we did a couple of little problem climbs and then completed a stomach traverse along a muddy sill halfway up the face. Disappointed we repaired to the pub, where our muddy clothes caused askance glances. but Geoff 's accent and attitude carried the day.

Now I was actually a member of the Manchester University Mountaineering Club it seemed a good time to legalise my earlier visits and attend a meet at Tyn y Weirglodd. Nine of us spent the last weekend of October there, although the weather was not good. In hail Dick Meyer and I explored the east face of the summit rocks on Moel Hebog and manged to ascend it without identifying our climb. In the evening one of our members was elected cook whilst the rest of us practised opening bottles- of beer. By the time the meal was ready we had just about mastered the art, but there was nothing left for our chef. The meal, mainly of potato and corned beef was reminiscent of some of the worst rations I had endured in the army but it was filling enough to affect adversely our performance in the morning. Or I suppose it might Just possibly have been the beer.

Johnny Churchill moments after he and the author had completed Mur y Niwl: Tony Moulam

Heavy rain vied with the heaviness in our stomachs and hearts as we made a dutiful ascent of Y Garn and blundered in increasing misery, down the Trum y Ddysgl ridge. We got back to Manchester, still damp and newly tired after a drive in Geoff Eglington's car. It was made all the more difficult as the windscreen wipers didn't work and more and more often throughout the journey the front seat passenger had to lean out of the window to operate them. In November I had got a timetable for the bus routes to various places in the peak. With Dick Meyer and Mac I  visited  Dovestones,Yellowslacks, Shining Clough and Laddow. However unlikely it seems the weather was generally good. Indeed on our return from Yellowslacks to Glossop the sky was intensely clear and we saw Mars and Venus as well as a faint manifestation of the Northern Lights.

At Laddow it was very cold and windy but we managed quite a lot of excercise being almost benighted on Long Chimney and actually soloing Cave Chimney in the dark, to get to the path on top of the cliff and to return home. At last the time for my long awaited introduction to actual Alpine snow arrived. Trains took me to London and on to Paris as the fine day gradually turned to fog. I met the Morin party and was taken to the flat of one of Nea's relatives, where I slept on the floor. This tall narrow house fascinated me with its wooden panels and high rooms, all guarded by an ancient concierge crone.

Our journey south started from the station where crowds milled about in chaos on the platform. Shuffling and squealing the train backed in and we joined the unruly rush for the doors. No seemly queues here, you had to push and shove and fight to get in and retain a place. Eventually we were all settled in, fairly comfortably, in one very crowded compartment. It was Christmas eve morning as we set off, and that night we collected our skis from the station and Nea's fluent french fixed me up in an inexpensive room at l'Hotel des, Alpes. Briancon is a picturesque town with swiftly flowing gutters down the middle of the steep cobbled streets. It is built at 4:350 feet and presents a muddle of narrow lanes within the old fortified walls.

The Champ de Mars is a sort of village green and in winter, deep in snow, was the first accessible place for me to practice before venturing onto the real mountain pistes. Most of
my action was on Serre Chevalier, at the time it had the longest cable lift in Europe, and it operated at a very reasonable price. It must have done as in the three weeks I spent there I went up it no fewer than ten times. The ordinary descent was called the Vallon but I soon found this too tame, and as Nea commented my bravery far outmatched my skill, and I graduated prematurely to the much more difficult Route Bleu. This started with a long, nearly horizontal traverse left from the summit station. The idea was to execute a smart turn at the end and traverse back again at an easy angle. I found that with my still stiff knee I could make this first turn on only about one in four attempts. On my three failures my accomplished slide quickly changed to an ignominous tumble with skis and sticks windmilling around until the slope
eased  and  I came to a breathless and undignified stop.

I  became notorious amongst the elegantly dressed french skiers as M. le Surplus, as I was decked out in ex army camouflage gear. On one of these unplanned but speedy descents I managed to break a ski, one of the edgeless pair I had brought from Vienna. This was a blessing in disguise as I was forced to replace them with a modern pair, with metal edges, better bindings and a proper pair of ski boots. This put my standard up considerably and I enjoyed the rest of my stay much better. On an off day I climbed the Croix de Toulouse (1973m) via a couloir of deep soft snow and on another occasion we visited the Fort des Salettes and the Fort des Fetes, two examples of seven in the neighbourhood. The days I enjoyed most were those we went ski touring and I remember especially going to Le Bez and up to the Col Mea on breakable crust whilst the descent proved to be perfect powder snow. The views were fantastic including the Pelvoux , le Fife, Les Ecrins Les Agneax and Pic Gaspard.

Another excursion we made to the Col Perdu, from Cervieres. On our last day we took the lift to Serre Chevalier again as we had heard that the famed Equipe Francais was to be, there. Sure enough they emerged from their reserved cabin and took the fearsome slope straight down from the top. Later their trainer apparently said that he would not have allowed them to do it if he had realised how steep it was but they all acquitted themselves perfectly. We followed by the ordinary route, and at the foot of the mountain had a great surprise as I met Rene Thomas again, a real co-incidence as he was here by chance with a client from Chamonix.

 Tony Moulam 2012