Thursday, 17 May 2012

Gordon Stainforth's

A young Gordon Stainforth prepares for a Wild Mountain Time!

Having recently  reviewed Tony Howard's excellent 'Troll Wall,' I wasn't expecting to be back amongst the majestic Troll Peaks of western Norway quite so soon. However, I have recently been given the opportunity to return to the awesome Trolltindene massif and experience the high drama of sixties Norwegian mountaineering, but this time as experienced by acclaimed UK photographer Gordon Stainforth. Fiva 'an adventure that went wrong' is a finger nail whittling account of two gauche young adventurers-Gordon and twin brother John-who took on a Norwegian giant Troll and lived to tell the tale.

Most outdoor people in the UK will know Gordon as a genial, bespectacled photographer, yomping across mountainsides with his photographic gear slung across his back, searching for that fleeting moment when the elements meld to create an atmospheric image. ( See Griff Rhys Jones trailing in Gordon's wake in BBC's 'Mountain series!)

It was when I was looking for images to illustrate a Steve Dean article-A winter's day at Harrisons- which was to appear in Footless Crow that I came across photographs which suggested that the avuncular photographer was certainly no Southern Softy! Here was the young Stainforth soloing hard routes at Harrison Rocks. A sandstone outcrop in the home counties which given the lack of rock in the south east,is polished and as treacherous a rock as you can find anywhere. Obviously there was more to the young GS than simply being a rambler with a camera.

 John Stainforth strikes a pose

And so to Fiva. It's the ebbing of the swinging sixties and a 19 year old Gordon with brother John have arrived in Norway full of wide eyed enthusiasm and ambition. Having served their mountaineering apprenticeships in places like north Wales and Scotland,the time had come-or so it seemed-to test themselves on one of the mind blowingly huge Trollegan faces. What better introduction than a 1931 route put up by legendary Norwegian climber  Arne Randers Heen, Fiva (pronounced Fever). One of the more amenable routes on the mountain but still no pushover.

With just rudimentary equipment and carrying little more in the way of food and spare clothing than you would take on a day out on Lliwedd ( a 1000' cliff in N Wales) Gordon and John leave their tent as light was breaking to climb the route and hopefully return by evening.'s that word 'hopefully'. As in all the finest tales of mountaineering epics... 'the best laid schemes of mice and men' unravel as surely as a kitten with a ball of wool!

Gordon writes in a contemporaneous first person style and gives the account the authentic feel of story written by a young man recounting events which had happened but a few weeks before. That is not to suggest that the writing is in any way unrefined. Far from it. The author crafts the tale in a manner befitting the subject matter. Tightly drawn,to the point but not without humour.

It would be unfair to prise out elements of the story and comment on them here.However, the reader can rest assured. If they are looking for a book which is well written,perfectly paced and which ratchets up the tension by degrees in the manner of the very best works of Mountaineering non-fiction then Fiva delivers.

The final 'afterword' chapter written by brother John is remarkable in the manner in which it adds so much to Gordon's story.That distinct perspective giving the work an extra dimension and greater depth in the manner of a painting, the subject matter of which which is finally revealed through a few skillfully applied brush strokes.

It's incredible that Gordon has kept the story out of print for over 40 years before finally getting it out of his head and onto the page. Certainly Fiva is one of the better books to emerge from what is generally, a crowded and often overworked genre....... Recommended.

John Appleby 2012:

Photographs: Gordon Stainforth Collection