Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Tony Howard's Troll Wall..Review

Like most climbers who came into the game in the 1970's and 80's, my first encounter with the name Troll in a climbing context was when I was  casually flicking through the pages of the UK climbing magazines- Climber and Rambler and High. Troll'...they make climbing gear right... Like Clog, Wild Country, Mo Anthoine's Snowdon Mouldings and Mountain Technology up in Scotland? In fact, I'm sure my mate's Whillans harness is made by Troll. Come to think of it- I think my Mark 6 job a Troll ?'

Back then I hadn't made the connection between the Trolltind Wall in Norway,the English equipment manufacturer and as for Tony Howard....who he?
Slowly but surely as I immersed myself in climbing culture I began to put flesh on these bones of information. Troll Wall....biggest face in Europe.A mile high I'm told. Ed Drummond soloed it and had an epic didn't he?. Tony Howard...isn't he the guy who's always writing about Wadi Rum in Jordan or some other such far flung exotic destination?

I have to confess.Despite gaining a fair amount of knowledge over the years about our climbing history,it wasn't until I had closed this book that I finally gleaned just how important an event the ascent of the Troll Wall in 1965 by Tony Howard and his Rimmon club team was at the time. Furthermore, I was somewhat humbled and in awe of the author's truly breathtaking climbing life. Here was a working class Northern lad for whom no destination was too far; No adventure too ambitious;No climbing goal unjustifiable. 'Just Do It! ' was the name of the game and how !

It's hard the believe that the manuscript for Troll Wall' which was written shortly after the ascent lay gathering dust in the author's gaff for over 40 years until Dave Durkan casually asked if Tony had anything he could use in relation to a Norwegian climbing history project.Fortunately for the wider climbing public,partner Di Taylor uncovered the faded,typewritten manuscript and it was sent off to Ed Douglas to see if it had any mileage left as a piece of climbing history. No surprise then that Ed found the piece fascinating and well worth fleshing out as a more substantial work which leads us right here.

Troll Wall could well be subtitled 'A life less ordinary'. By any comparison,Tony Howard has had one hell of a life! At 18 he was working on a Norwegian Whaling boat in the South Atlantic. Casually using an afternoon off in a South Georgia whaling station to climb a virgin glacier to attain a station on a tottering ice rimed ridge leading off into the clouds. How he survived this experience in normal ship working clothes and absolutely no climbing equipment is any one's guess!

Tony's experiences in the grim,blood washed holds of the Norwegian whaler led him to become an early member of Greenpeace when they launched their 'Save the Whale' campaign.
After his nautical experiences,the author follows the path of so many working class climbers at the time.Turning his hand to a variety of jobs that will pay for extended trips abroad. As a precursor to the Troll Wall climb,he and members of the Rimmon Club make their mark on the largely undeveloped Norwegian cliffs including those on the now popular Lofoten Islands.Making first ascents on many remote towering faces and ridges.Often in atrocious conditions and using the rudimentary gear of the time.

Of course,the Troll Wall ascent is at the heart of the book and is, as to be expected,both gripping and exceedingly well constructed. The photographs taken at the time paint a vivid picture of young climbers taking it to the limit. One striking shot in particular,of the team sorting through gear in a downpour as they prepare to descend after the first failed attempt,paints a striking picture of abject misery!
The fact that the media of the time portrayed the ascent as a frantic race between the plucky Brits and the purposeful Norwegians- a re-run of the Scott/Amundsen race to the pole-is de-bunked by the author who describes the warm camaraderie between the teams.

Of course,for Tony Howard,the Troll Wall experience was just the beginning. The concluding chapters detail his work as a partner and designer with Troll before it was sold in 1996. Allowing him to further expand his impressive climbing portfolio and giving him the time and freedom to roam far and wide all over the planet in search of yet another unexplored wilderness.
The book is extremely well illustrated and is bookended by contributions from Doug Scott and Ole Enersen; a member of the 'rival' Norwegian Troll Wall team.
As with all Vertebrate publications,the book has a really nice look and feel to it. This is one for the bookshelf not the car boot sale! A fine fine work by a quite unique individual who has packed more into his lifespan than most of us could manage in ten.Inspirational stuff indeed!

John Appleby
Troll Wall is published by Vertebrate Publications 

 first published on To Hatch a Crow: 30/3/2011