Friday, 11 December 2015

The First Ascent of Napes Needle

Just about ten years ago there died far from the hills, in distant Dorset, a lonely old man whose name will be revered in Lakeland and in many places scattered about the world so long as men come to climb the rocks and walk the mountains. His name was Walter Parry Haskett-Smith, and when he died, far from his friends, he was eighty-five years old. He was the 'father' of British rock climbing, the pioneer of the very earliest routes on half a dozen different Lakeland crags, and the man who first discovered and climbed Napes Needle. Haskett-Smith first saw the Needle- a graceful pinnacle among the Napes Ridges on the Wasdale face of Great Gable- on a windy, cloudy day in the early 1880s. He has written: 'The outermost curtain of mist seemed to be drawn aside, and one of the fitful gleams of sunshine fell on a slender pinnacle of rock standing out against the background of cloud, without a sign of any other rock near it and appearing to shoot up for about 200 to 300 feet.'
At that time nobody had ever examined the Napes Ridges — the steep slopes of scree below them had kept explorers away and given the impression that the whole crag was dangerously rotten.

But Haskett-Smith, the young Oxford graduate and barrister,decided to track down the slender spire and climb it if possible. At his first attempt he failed to locate it, but at the second he found it but left its conquest to another day. Some years later he was exploring on the mountain quite alone and decided to work his way down from the summit to the ridge, now known as Needle Ridge, up which he had climbed two years before. He had with him a long fell pole, which gave him some trouble by continually dropping and jamming in cracks and crevices, but eventually he got down to the gap behind the Needle and decided, as climbers say, to 'have a look at it'. There was nobody about on the mountain to help if he was to fall, and there were no mountain rescue teams in those distant days, but without hesitation the young man began to work his way up the tall spire, which seems to hang over Styhead.

At first he used for his fingers and toes, a crack, which in those days was blocked with stones and moss, and eventually he reached what is called the shoulder of the Needle and here he could study the final problem. The summit of the Needle really consists of two tremendous blocks, one perched on top of the other, but the young man had no real means of knowing whether the top block was secure or whether, if pulled on, it would overbalance and crash with its victim to the screen 100 feet below. Today, of course, we all know it is safe, and if three climbers balance on one side it can be gently rocked, but on this day seventy years ago only two or three people had even seen the Needle and nobody had climbed it.

The young man was also anxious to know whether the summit of the top block was reasonably flat so that he could perch on it, in the event of his getting there. But, even more important, he thought that a flat top would mean that the edges of the top block would not be rounded and so would give him a good grip for his fingers. He therefore cast about for two or three flat stones and threw these up in turn, hoping that one would stay on top. At last one did so and he started up, 'feeling as small as a mouse climbing a millstone'.
 He balanced himself up onto the Mantelshelf, with the steep drop on his right, shuffled along a horizontal crack, sidled round a comer, up the face on small holds and then, reaching up for the top, clambered up to the summit and sat down on his tiny, airy perch.

The summit of the Needle is a sloping oblong, only a few feet across, and when you are sitting or standing up there it is easy to imagine yourself very high above the world and almost sitting out in space. This sort of perch is common enough in the Alps but very rare in Lakeland, and there is nothing quite like the Needle anywhere else in the British Isles. People have stood on their heads on top of the Needle, lit fires up there, shaved and done a hundred and one other strange things, but Haskett-Smith just sat down, admired the view —and wondered how on earth he was going to get down. Before he began lowering himself down, he left his handkerchief jammed in a crevice for all to see, and it must have been something of a relief and a moment of pride to get down the top block safely and be able to look up at the bit of linen fluttering in the breeze.

Since those days the Needle has been climbed thousands of times by seven or eight different routes, it is photographed dozens of times eve, week during the summer, and its shape is known in many parts of the world. Small boys and girls have been hauled up it in fine weather, stunt climbs and record attempts have been made on it. It has been filmed and televised, painted and sketched, but the Needle — although nowadays regarded as a comparatively easy route — is still a climb of character and a remarkable memorial to a very great man. On the fiftieth anniversary of his first ascent of the Napes Needle, Hackett-Smith, then a man of seventy-four, went up again, roped between Lord Chorley and the late Mr G.R. Speaker. Many hundreds of people, sitting and standing on the rocks around, watched the slow, careful ascent on Easter Sunday 1936, and when the old man clambered onto the top of the most famous bit of rock in English climbing the crowd below him gave a cheer.

Hackett-Smith had a reputation of never being at a loss for words, and his gift for repartee did not fail him even on this particularly important occasion. 'Tell us a story,' shouted someone from the crowds below, and the old man seated on the spire a hundred feet above their heads replied, in a flash: 'There is no other story. This is the top storey.' This fine mountaineer had climbed in the Alps, Norway, the Pyrenees, North Africa, the Balkans, the Rockies and the Andes, but it was on Lake District climbing that he left his most permanent mark.

He was a man of strong personality a brilliant speaker and a man of wide reading and culture, but often eccentric in his habits and dress.At formal evening functions he would often appear, without the slightest embarrassment in the most careless array, while for outside excursions he would turn out, on the hottest days, in a long, heavy, check tailcoat fitted with huge outside pockets. Nobody can be claimed as the 'inventor' of British rock climbing, but this tattered Old Etonian, with his ragged moustache and a glint in his eye, probably came nearer than anybody else.
Men of his individuality are not so often seen today, and I often regret that I never met him. He was little seen in the Lake District after the first world war and some of the modern generation of young rock climbers have perhaps never heard of him. But his name will be kept green by the little climbed gully named after him, a couple of slim books on climbing, a few articles and Napes Needle. In a way the finest memorial that anyone could have.

AH Griffin: First Published in the Lancashire Evening Post.February 1956.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Rough Bounds: Running the Wainwrights.....

Chris Bland points the way from Greatrigg Man-Fairfield.Original photo R Douglas
At 18 minutes to 4 on the morning of Saturday July 4 1981, Chris Bland and a couple of companions trotted through the darkness up to the gates of Lorton church and stopped for a breather.It was the end of one of the most remarkable fell runs ever accomplished, a pounding, punishing, week-long slog all over the Lake District, the equivalent of a double-marathon a day for seven consecutive days, only harder than that because Chris was running on the roughest and steepest ground in England. It was typical of the man — and of the sport — that no fuss was made. Chris went home to bed for a few hours. The local papers gave a few column inches to the run. The national papers and other media made no mention at all. They devoted their sports space to the antics of a young American athlete who had spent the week shouting abuse at the Wimbledon officials. Chris Bland's aim was to 'run Wainwright', to see how quickly he could attain every summit mentioned in Alfred Wainwright's Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. There are more than 200 such summits and the distances between them add up to 337 miles and involve more than 110,000 feet of ascent.

The ground-rules were simple. He would try to knock them off at the rate of one area, one guidebook, a day. Since there are seven guidebooks, it would clearly be neater, and a bit more of a challenge, to do them on consecutive days, so that the whole Wainwright round might be completed in one week. Then he added one further complication. Chris is a churchwarden of Borrowdale church and the church badly needed re-roofing. So Chris was persuaded to make it a sponsored run, all proceeds to go towards a new church roof, and in acknowledgement of this he decided to start each day's run at a valley church and end the day at another. In the best tradition of modern adventure sport, he set himself an outrageously difficult target, then went to a lot of trouble to make it as easy as he could. The routes for each day were worked out carefully. The help of friends and fellow fell-runners was enlisted. They had to make themselves familiar with certain routes or sections of routes. It would be their job to lead the way, to keep Chris going and cheerful, and to carry all the gear.

Chris would travel light, carrying nothing but himself. If the weather was hot, he would run in shorts and a sweat shirt. In the event it was a cool dampish week and he was mostly in his track suit. On his feet he wore a battered pair of running shoes. He aimed to average 3-4 miles an hour, moving in spells of three hours or so, then resting for 20-25 minutes. Each night he would be driven home for a few hours sleep in his own bed in the house he built himself at Stonethwaite in Borrowdale. He did not sleep a wink the night before the big run - he was too nervous, he says. Too afraid of disappointing all the expectations he had raised. He was up before 3 and at 4 minutes to 4 on the morning of Saturday, June 27, he set off from Matterdale church with Chris Dodd. Half an hour later they were on the first summit, Great Mell Fell. The game, as Sherlock Holmes would have said, was afoot.

All went well the first day. All 35 summits in Wainwright's Eastern Fells, including Helvellyn, were visited in a round of 55 miles and over 17,000 feet of up and down. Just before 8.30 p.m. the two Chris's —Chris Dodd was with him all the way —reached Threlkeld church. It had been a 16+ -hour day with four stops for rest and food. Day Two was very different. Judging by the statistics, the Far Eastern Fells should have been rather easier — not quite so far, not quite so much ascent as the day before. Chris got another early start, at 4.35 a.m, but 12 hours later he was struggling. 'I got into the wrong state of mind' he says, wasn't enjoying myself. I kept thinking of the five days still to go. I couldn't see how I could keep going that long'. When the week was over and he had kept going, he came to the conclusion that his big mistake on the second day out was not eating enough: `When you're burning up energy at that rate you have to keep shovelling the fuel in. I soon got sick of chocolate and that sort of stuff but found I'd a great appetite for tins of macaroni pudding and fruit salad.

After the second day I ate tremendously. But on the second day I didn't and I ran out of steam. If I'd rested another half hour and had a couple more tins of food, I'm sure I'd have been able to complete the course' . Instead, he called it a day just before 6 p.m, leaving nine summits un-visited.Psychologically, this was the crunch moment of the week. He was feeling low, disappointed with himself. There was no way now he could hope to do all the Wainwrights in the week. But he decided to press on and do as much as he could. Next day, luckily, was the easiest of the week, southwards along the Central Fells between Borrowdale and Thirlmere, on to the Langdale Pikes, then down the declining ridge to Rydal, a matter of 41 miles and a mere 12,000 feet of ascent. It was done in 13+hours and Chris recovered his spirits. Day 4, by contrast, was to be the most challenging.Wainwright included in his Southern Fells the biggest area of all and the highest mountains, from Coniston Old Man in the south, by way of Bowfell and Glaramara and many intermediate high-points, then west to the highest hills in England, Scafell Pike and Scafell — more than 60 miles altogether and well over 20,000 vertical feet, for most of the way on steep and broken ground.

The Coniston Fells. Painting-Delmar Harmood-Banner
And on the appointed day, June 30, a thick blanket of dank mist covered all the ground above 1,800 feet, turning route-finding into a nightmare task, making it dangerous to move at any speed. Pete Parkins was his companion all that day. They ran into mist on Wetherlam and soon realised they would have to abandon the bigger mountains further south, including Coniston Old Man. They turned north hoping the mist would clear, but there was no wind stirring and by the time they gained the summit of Great End in the late afternoon it was plain that any attempt to reach all the remaining tops would take them far into the night. In the interests of safety and sanity, Chris decided to lose the Scafells and the summits further west and drop down instead by way of Glaramara to his home church in Borrowdale.

It meant more summits missed from the Wainwright canon, in terms of distance and height gained only half the day's programme accomplished. Even so they had been on the go for nearly 13 hours. The next two days were plain sailing. The Northern fells, just under 50 miles, were knocked off in 14+ hours. Then the North-Western Fells, nearly 47 miles and 15,000 feet, took just under 16 hours.

God rested from his labours on the seventh day but there was no such relief for Chris Bland. The last day was also the hardest, more than 50 miles and more than 21,000 feet of ascent. At 7.55 a.m. on Friday, July 3, he left Ennerdale to climb a little-known mountain called Grike. By mid-day he was looking down on Wastwater from the summit of Buckbarrow, the southernmost of the Western Fells. From there the route swung east-wards to take in the big hills of the Mosedale Horseshoe via Scoat Fell, Steeple and Pillar. By mid-afternoon he and his guides were on the stony summit of Great Gable. By early evening they were high above the lake of Buttermere, with the long humpy ridge stretching before them to the north-west and the setting sun. It was dusk when they left Red Pike.

His companions for the final miles were Pete Parkins and John Bulman and they escorted him carefully through the darkness along the smaller summits at the end of the ridge, across the road at Loweswater, up Low Fell and Fellbarrow, then down to the last valley to reach Lorton church with just 14 minutes to spare before the week was up. In those seven days Chris Bland had a climbed 192 mountains, run 310 miles, ascended and descended the equivalent of 99,000 vertical feet — well over three times the height of Mount Everest. And even though the last day was the longest, he found himself going as well on the final slopes as he had on the first. In fact, he found he got stronger as the strenuous days passed. He got heavier too, consuming so much macaroni pudding and other tins of sustaining stodge that he put on three pounds during the week.

On the last couple of days he felt a little soreness behind one knee and a touch of strain inside one thigh but they were not serious and nothing else went wrong. Throughout the whole of his massive marathon, moving at speed over broken ground that was often steep and often slimy, he never slipped and does not remember ever even stumbling. When he a got home each night he had a long soak in a hot bath, ate a big hot meal, then slept for four hours or so. He is not normally good at getting up in the mornings but he had no difficulty that week. Two thing about it give him special pleasure. The first is that it earned him a word though not much more — of praise from his sternest critic, his father.

The other is that all the complicated arrangements for meeting guides and cars, picking up food and flasks, worked perfectly. Everyone and everything was there on time and a lot of people turned up to give extra unscheduled support. When you talk to him about the run, Chris spends most of the time saying how marvellous all his helpers were, how he could not have done it without them, how that should be emphasised rather than anything he did himself. He was driven home on the Saturday morning and slept for a couple of hours. Then he got up to go to Keswick to watch his daughter taking part in a dancing display.

He raised something between £4,000 and £5,000 by his run but not a penny for himself. He did not seek publicity. And when it was all over his only words of criticism were levelled at himself, that he failed on the second day because he ran out of determination. He is not a natural athlete, 40 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, a compact 11-1/2 stone. He took to fell-running some 7 years ago when he found himself sadly out of condition, nearly 14 stone and soon breathless. The sport was just beginning to be popular in the valley so he and his younger brother Anthony and their cousins, Stuart, Billy and David, all had a go. The other four quickly showed great talent — Billy became the British champion — but Chris found that he always came in, as he still does, well down the field. He was fast enough uphill but could not hurl himself down steep slopes with the kind of controlled abandon you need if you are to finish among the leaders.

He carried on fell-running because he enjoyed it, he liked the easy camaraderie of the sport, and it felt good to be fit again. And he gradually realised that what he lacked in speed and agility, he made up for in physical stamina and — more important — in mental powers of concentration and determination which enabled him to go on and on and on again when most men, even the hardest of them, would rather lie down quietly somewhere and die.

He does not give the impression of a man with any compelling hang-ups. There does not seem to be anything particular he feels he has to prove. But he has these qualities, especially, as he cheerfully agrees, this kind of extreme 'bloody-mindedness' and he likes to exercise them. Is he going to have another go at the Wainwright round? `No', he says firmly, 'I'll find something else to try. I've set up a target for better men to beat and my great hope is that the idea catches on and that others come along and do better than me. They can try to beat my times for the five days when I completed the round, or they can try to do the whole lot in the week and see if they can include the tops I missed. I'll be glad to help anyone who wants to have a go' . You get the feeling that Chris Bland is not altogether sorry that he did not succeed completely, that he left room for others to overtake him.

Alan Hankinson: First published in Climber and Rambler: December 1981 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Scrambles in Yorkshire and further gritstone adventures

I was waiting at Arthington Junction, near Leeds — a station specially constructed to inculcate the virtue of patience, though it is believed that the complaints of incensed passengers have done much to modify its original useful purpose,when my eye was attracted by a singular clump of timber standing out solitary and conspicuous on a bare hillside. A gentleman in corduroys was near me on the platform, regaling the evening air with his views on railway companies. Of him I inquired the name of those trees. 'Trees! Haw, haw! Why that was Awmescliff Craag.' I was unacquainted with gritstone then, and knew not its little ways. Of course, I had met it walking down the street, with a man behind it bawling out 'Knives and scissors to grind!' and I had no idea that it lived in mills and ground up corn and things; but I had never before encountered it in its wild state on its native heath.

I did not then suspect the facility with which it can simulate the appearance of the bosky grove, nor had I the slightest idea of the amount of sport that Almes Cliff — Great Almias Cliff of maps and guide-books — would someday afford me, or of the quantity of clothes and skin I should leave thereon by way of compensation. Gritstone may popularly be described as a glorified lump of petrified sandstone. This great roughness allows of climbing methods which would be out of the question on almost any other kind of rock. You can take liberties which ordinary rock would resent; and for this reason gritstone is not good  practice for a beginner. In other words if the gritstone climbs were composed of rock of the Borrowdale or Snowdonian series, half of them would not 'go', ie...would be impossible.

On the other hand, gritstone has certain little peculiarities of its own. Without decency or warning the roughness changes to an absolutely smooth bevel, of course entirely to your disadvantage, affording no possibilities for either grip or friction.Or else the rock bulges out unexpectedly and knocks you backwards. Also, when it comes on to rain, the surface is transmuted into a nasty, mossy, greasy slime. Almes Cliff Crags give some of the finest gritstone climbing I know. In appearance they are insignificant, two escarpments of grit, one below the other, and neither more than sixty feet in altitude at the highest point. Sixty feet! What is that? Men who get killed in the Alps do the thing in style and tumble half a mile or so. All very well. Sixty feet is quite sufficient.

Anyone who doubts this has only to step off the coping of his house on to the pavement to be convinced. Happily this danger can only be obviated by sending round a friend with a rope to the top of the cliff to play you up, and this should invariably be done until you have assured yourself by frequent ascents that the climb is well within your powers. I italicize these words, because the cliff is visited by climbers of exceptional skill, and climbing of a somewhat desperate nature is occasionally indulged in.

Onlookers who know nothing of the game may be tempted to follow in their foot and hand holds (if they can find them), and may hurt themselves. One of the best climb on Almes Cliff is the Great Chimney on the High Man. It gives some fifty or sixty feet of straightforward back-and- knee-work.The climber enters the chimney right shoulder first, and with a little difficulty works his way up till his toes are lodged in the lower crack. Then comes the tug of war. The next ten feet are quite holdless and the roughness and angle of the crack something to the climber's disadvantage. The body is firmly braced across the chimney by lateral pressure of the arms, knees and feet, and is then lifted vertically a few inches by a desperate wriggle. This is repeated several times, till the hands can be reached into the upper crack, when it is usual to rest awhile. It is not so easy to get the feet up to that crack as may appear at first sight. Closer inspection will show the (proper) right wall just above it overhangs it considerably.

The finish of the climb, a long a, reach over a rounded edge, is not quite nice in a high wind. Who was the first tailor? I don't mean Adam, with his fig leaves, but the first man who took up tailoring commercially?  Because I'm sure he invented gritstone. It plays the dickens with ones clothes, especially when you back up. Once have I been compelled to depart hurriedly to the nearest village to be, like a newly paid bill,reseated. After my last day's scrambling there I pursued my homeward way with my hands pensively clasped behind my back whenever I sighted anybody. The climbing at Almes Cliff is almost inexhaustible. I could name half a hundred problems right away, and some courses are of first class severity. I know of no harder in climb in England than Parsons' Chimney. I have seen it done once, and attempted it more than once, but, like Mr. OG Jones's  friend, I do not like that 'infernal dangling'.

The Leaf Climb is quite a hard little struggle. The left arm and knee are wedged between the jammed boulder and the containing wall,and the body is levered up until the right knee and arm can be thrown across. Then a comprehensive wriggle brings the top of the stone within reach of the climber's left  hand.

The Leaf can be passed easily on the climber's right, and this course is to be preferred in heavy wind. There is a Stomach Traverse on the famous Pillar Stone in Ennerdale, Cumberland, and there is a Stomach Traverse on Almes Cliff. The Pillar Traverse is not very difficult, quite reasonably safe though in emergency sensational. The difficulty consists in hauling oneself about forty feet along a diagonal crack on the face of the precipice; the safety lies in the fact that it is possible to wedge the left arm and leg so firmly in the crack that it is something of a tussle to get them out; the sensationalism arises from the fact that a considerable portion of your frame is supported by some two thousand odd feet of the thinnest of thin nothingness, with a nice, accommodating, and entirely finishing bump about three hundred feet down to speed you on your short cut to the Liza Valley.

The Almes Cliff Traverse is somewhat different. It is fairly safe — you cannot fall more than 40ft; the sensationalism is to be found — easily — in the realisation that you are quite likely to come off anywhere between the 4ft and the 40ft. And the difficulty! There is no mistake about that. There are two points of attack curiously resembling each other, yet differing as far as the right from the left. The right shoulder attack :The right arm first, and afterwards the knee, are wedged in a crack, and the body is then forced upwards by desperate wrigglings aided by wild scrapings with the left foot (clearly shown by the white scratches) until both hands can be reached to the top of a ledge to the left of the climber. The left shoulder attack is very similar, except that the arm has to be braced, elbow and palm and rather less vigour and a great deal more delicate balance are required. On the ledge the climber generally lies on his 'tummy'

This position, however, is not the origin of the name of the climb. The next move is to traverse laterally and upwards across the face of the cliff, with the fingers in one horizontal crack and the toes in another. This would be comparatively easy were it not that the rock between the cracks bulges out like a typical alderman's corporation. The balance in places is nice enough, even for a thin man. Whence the name of the climb. The bouldering at Almes cliff is second to none. Ilkley would be another happy hunting ground were it not that it is more frequented than the Almes Cliff district. There are one or two good things on the Cow and the Calf, but the best of the scrambling is in the Valley of Rocks. The Split Rocks Climb is not easy in itself, and is specially valuable as instructive in the art of feeling at ease on a dangerous face. The Crooked Crack is one of the stiffest little bits in broad Yorkshire; and there are many others. Gritstone climbing is not mountaineering of course.

Nevertheless, much can be learnt. Balance, backing up, something of the management of the rope something of the art of climbing with the least possible fatigue, and all sorts of little things that go to make the complete climber.

CE Benson: First Published in Fry's Outdoor Magazine-1906

Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Black Rainbow: The life and times of Menlove Edwards

Edwards (standing) and friends.Crib Goch 1935
Nearly quarter of a century after his untimely death, at the age of forty-eight, the climbing career of John Menlove Edwards, one of the most curious in British climbing history, still exerts a compelling fascination. As an innovator, he was the most prolific cragsman of the thirties, pioneering at least ninety new climbs or variations. Not interested in aesthetically pleasing lines, Edwards usually selected a less-popular cliff and dissected it over a period of time, sometimes in the process producing mediocre climbs on loose, vegetated rock — a factor seized upon by his critics- but as posterity has shown,a pointer to the future. It is impossible to divorce his traumatic and tortured life from his mountaineering activities, or indeed, the remarkable feats of rowing, sailing or swimming in which J.M.E. indulged at various times — each were an integral part of his complex make-up. Towards the end of his life he considered himself a failure, yet he was a man gifted with an array of talent. As a writer he has been described as having one of the most exciting styles of prose-writing between the wars.

His poetry, original and deeply expressive and has received similar praise.He was a proven success as a clinical psychiatrist with a brilliant career ahead of him but it was enough for him and he entered the maze of experimental psychiatry, devoting many years of study to the subject. Mainly because of the war, little progress was made in the field of psychiatric medicine in this country and Edwards was ploughing a lone furrow — the intensity of the work, the deprivation and isolation he imposed upon himself, the inner conflicts of his suppressed homosexual tendencies and the extreme social pressures which he was forced to endure as a conscientious objector during the war years, all helped to erode his resilience. Now in a weakened state, the total rejection of his theories by his fellow psychiatrists, much of it in crude note form, was to him, unacceptable — the tragedy was drawing to its inevitable end and after at least two suicide attempts, Edwards had to suffer the mortifying experience of being committed to Denbigh Mental Hospital where he underwent electric shock treatment.

It was to no avail and sometime later he gave up the battle for life before darkness and despair submerged him completely. On the 2nd February, 1958, he ended it all by swallowing potassium cyanide. Since his death two generations of climbers have journeyed through British mountaineering and there is a danger that the deeds of the great figures of the past, like Edwards, will be lost in the passage of time — this would be a tragedy because the climbing world owes him a debt that will probably never be fully realised.

Menlove Edwards was born in 1910 at Crossens village, near Southport; he is remembered as a rather shy and sensitive lad, who despite his already powerful build, was usually the family peacemaker whenever his two elder brothers were involved in childish squabbles. At the age of thirteen he won a scholarship to Fettes public school where the lack of privacy and the astringent atmosphere were completely alien to his retiring nature. He shone at sports and distinguished himself at swimming, hockey and cricket. After winning the Begg Memorial Exhibition, he disappointed his family by refusing the possibility of reading medicine at Edinburgh University, choosing instead to enrol at Liverpool University where he could be near his family, concerned about his father, who was forced to retire through ill-health on a vicar's meagre pension. At Liverpool University he was introduced to climbing by his brother, Hewlett—this was in 1929 and his progress the next year was phenomenal!

In August, 1930, he pioneered Ochre Slab on Lliwedd, followed a few months later by Route V on the East Wall of Idwal Slabs and by the end of 1931 he was responsible for fourteen new climbs in Snowdonia, the pick of these being Flying Buttress and Spiral Stairs on Dinas Cromlech, the Girdle Traverse of Idwal East Wall and the Final Flake on Glyder Fach. On the 29th August, 1931, he emphasised his arrival in British climbing by becoming the first cragsman to lead Flake Crack, Scafell Central Buttress, without aid at the chockstone and without prior inspection —Edwards was only twenty at the time. He made the ascent in rubbers and later returned to claim the first lead in nailed boots. In the same year, Edwards seconded Kirkus when he pioneered the Chimney Route on Cloggy, and in 1933, Kirkus followed J.M.E. up Nebuchadnezzar' s Crawl on Dinas Cromlech — the only two routes these master climbers ever essayed jointly.

Edwards was arguably the finest climber produced in this country before the war —although many may feel that Kirkus should hold that distinction. Comparisons between them, hypothetical or not, are bound to happen. Strength was the main characteristic of Edwards and his leads of Flake Crack (HVS), Lliwedd Central Gully (HVS) and Brant and Slape (VS) on Clogwyn y Grochan all typify this attribute (he was also quite capable of leading courses of a delicate nature, i.e. Bow Shaped Slab, Shadow Wall, and Western Slabs — all high standard routes in their day. In contrast, Kirkus appeared to prefer the more delicate balance movement on open faces that reached its highest expression with climbs the calibre of Mickledore Grooves on the East Buttress of Scafell. J.M.E. was considered a safer mountaineer than Kirkus, whose judgement at times was suspect, being involved in a series of spectacular falls, the results of which would have probably had dire consequences had it not been for the belaying expertise of A. B. Hargreaves.

Edwards was greatly affected by moods, and on an off-day, has been known to fail on lowly climbs such as Hope on Idwal Slabs. He safeguarded himself when soloing with a rope loop, probably putting it to the test on a number of occasions — on the subject of falling his notes read: . . . 6-10 times, depending whether one counts. The longest about 40' .Others have bettered that by a long way. 80'. C.F.K. [Kirkus] 200' on steep rock . ." Writing of Edwards, Hargreaves has this to say: 

But there is one thing no one could say about him — and this is quite extraordinary considering the enormous amount of climbing he did and the exceptional difficulty of much of it — that he was prone to falling-off whilst leading. I do know that he once came off that notoriously holdless place in the Cioch Gully, but I never heard of him making a serious mistake which could have endangered his party." (He also came adrift on Eliminate I on Helsby, where others have been killed, but his sling method of protection stopped him hitting the ground.)

He led many of the hardest routes of the day in nailed-boots. These included Longland's, Great Slab and the Chimney on Cloggy; Belle Vue Bastion- Tryfan; Routes 1 and 2, Pillar Rock; Innominate Crack and Sepulchre, Kern Knotts; and Botterill's Slab, Scafell. It was also on Botterill's Slab in pouring rain, three-quarters of the way up, that he decided to proceed further would be stretching his safety margin — he finished the climb on a top rope from a young Wilfred Noyce. His enormous power was displayed to the full during the second ascent of Great Slab, Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, in 1932. One of the team, a man of fifteen stones, fell free of the face on the end of a 150 ft. line, with the diminutive Alan Hargreaves the unfortunate anchor man. Edwards came down to the belay and without any fuss grasped the rope with his hands and just lifted the dangling climber until he made contact with the rock.

Such was his immense faith in his own ability, he would literally climb with anyone, irrespective of their experience — on the first ascent of Grey Slab, Glyder Fawr, he was partnered by a twelve year old boy by the name of Frank Reade, who was instructed by Edwards to lean out from the wall on the rope and walk up the 150 ft. pitch — with a little help from J.M.E. He was not an enthusiastic club man, despite serving the Wayfarers' as vice-president and being made an honorary member of the Climbers' Club — he did not mix easily and it suited his temperament to climb with casual acquaintances. Wilfred Noyce, a cousin of Colin Kirkus, who was one of the few climbers to establish a regular climbing partnership with Edwards recalls his first meeting with J.M.E. in 1934:

"As a boy of 17, I was staying at Helyg over the Easter meet. On the Friday evening, while the others descended to Capel, I stayed in. The only other person in the hut was a man in a tattered coat and seaman's jersey, a man with powerful looking shoulders and a strange face, handsome in its way.The hair was auburn, almost woolly; he jaw firm and jutting, so as to force a hollow between the full lips; the face smooth, rather childlike but for the eyes, which were those of a man who had seen a great deal." He took Noyce to climb in Llanberis Pass, where they sampled Long Tree Gate, one of JME.' s recent discoveries on Clogwyn y Grochan. En route to the cliff Edwards conceded that he never derived any pleasure in walking uphill for its own sake and that he enjoyed the tranquillity of having a rock face to himself. Edwards believed that climbers skilled in their trade could safely utilize loose rock and any vertical vegetation that they may encounter — it was a revolutionary idea which opened up cliffs that had been considered out of the question by the experts of the past. Here is what he wrote in 1934:

Of Wales in general what strikes one most is the large number of unclimbed faces still staring down upon a pretty stiff-necked veneration. What is the fascination of young climbers in the old Slabs and that still older face of Tryfan? 

The dank, brooding walls of the Devil's Kitchen were approached by Edwards in this way, and of course, his pilgrimage on the three cliffs of Llanberis Pass. He was no doubt considered eccentric and was subjected to a certain amount of leg-pulling concerning his horticultural pursuits — nevertheless, he was responsible for it least twenty-five pre-war routes in the Pass, paving the way for the climbing mecca this area has since become. It was during the early thirties he became associated with 'The British Mountaineering Journal' — the first commercial climbing magazine to be produced in this country. He eventually became editor and although the journal filled an important need in mountaineering literature, its appearance received a mixed reception among senior climbing clubs.

Edwards, keenly aware about the lack of information on new climbs, started a series of ' Guides to the British Hills' — the first areas written by him and dealt with the East Wall of Idwal Slabs and Holly Tree Wall. The advantage of a handy pull-out section for visiting climbers was obvious and subsequently the Climbers' Club took over the Welsh Guides, with J.M.E. playing a major role. And it was as a guide book writer that Edwards made his mark with the general climbing world, devoting about seven years of his climbing life to these works. In 1936 he compiled his Cwm Idwal Guide and to many pundits of the time, it was the finest ever produced. He attempted to show not only technical information, but the climber's state of mind and the whole cliff in relation to the most prominent features. Kelly's Lakes guides were an economy of English, a strong contrast to Menlove's literary style. Viewed across a gap of nearly fifty years, some of his descriptions have not been bettered.

On the first pitch of Belle Vue Bastion he writes, "Numerous scratches lead easily up and round the main corner and on to and up a little subsidiary slab on the edge of all things." Clogwyn-y-Geifr warrants this description, "It has every natural advantage, being steep, composed of pretty rocky sort of rock and being covered with vegetation: also parts of it have been long over-due for public exploitation. It is the sort of place where one can feel the full glory of stepping in perfect safety on someone else's considered opinion." Cwm Idwal was quickly followed by the Tryfan Guide and in 1937 saw the start of Lliwedd — it was two years in preparation and a perpetual battle against adversity. Despite atrocious weather conditions, Edwards camped at the foot of the mountain for a month before being washed out of his tent. Handicapped by a lack of helpers who were willing to endure the rigours of an inhospitable terrain and the standards imposed by J.M.E. Its publication in 1939 was the finale of a monumental effort. During the early war years J.M.E. and John Barford were co-authors of a provisional guide to Clogwyn Du'r Arddu using the controversial continental system of grading routes — it is also interesting to note that Menlove's only creation on Cloggy is Bow Shaped Slab which he climbed on the 20th September, 1942.

On the subject of big cliff mentality he related to Noyce: Nobody, in these days, would climb without being certain of a good jughandle hold at the end of it. All a question of habit and nerve training. Soon we will be able to get over that, the leads will come longer and people more able to stick around on small holds for a long time without worrying. The top part of the Pinnacle on Du'r would be climbed. It wanted the right leader, that was all.

It was a prophetic statement which Joe Brown and others were to fulfill many years later. Before the recent upsurge of tolerance and enlightenment, the bigoted prejudices society held against homosexuality in the thirties must have been a constant source of deep anxiety to Edwards and a major contribution to his agonising decline. Few knew of his social impediment. It became general knowledge with the publication of his biographical study after his death. It was during the Winter of 1931 he rowed a boat from Arisaig to Skye in a storm — the first of his many amazing aquatic exploits. In the Easter of that year he swam through the Linn of the Dee in full spate. The Linn is a narrow gorge through which the River Dee is compressed with considerable force, especially in the Spring, when the winter snow is melting on the Cairngorms. Apart from some bruising he was unhurt. Not long afterwards he spent sixteen hours alone in a collapsible canoe, paddling from the Isle of Man to the Cumberland coast — an incident which was given wide coverage in a local newspaper. In 1935 he persuaded Colin Kirkus to join him in an attempt to row across the Irish Sea — it became an epic as the pair spent many hours battling against heavy seas and a freezing gale before Edwards amitted defeat and returned to Conwy, only to be swamped by a wave under the jetty.

Several months later he hired a fishing smack and left Fraserburgh to sail to Norway — it was to be his most enterprising project to date. He took six weeks' supply of food but was convinced he could do it in three. After sailing through the night his boat was spotted by a Scottish drifter, who went to investigate. It appeared that his boat had a damaged rudder and was made less effective when the drifter ''accidentally" rammed it — Edwards was forced to return to port, much to his disgust. Throughout the towing operation Edwards sat back in his boat and refused to help in any way, suspicious that his friends, worried about the perilous journey, had arranged the fortuitous meeting with the Scottish boat. In January, 1936, he rowed across the Minch to the Isle of Harris. The outward journey took him 28 hours before he reached at a deserted cove — he returned in 24 hours after spending 3 days on the island.

His last recorded marine exploit took place in the summer of 1944 when he hired rowing boat at Skye and crossed to the Isle Rhum, then over to Canna, spending 18 hours at sea in poor visibility, being continuously buffeted by wind and rain. One pre-war holiday found him systematically swimming across every large expanse of water in the Lake District and in the early forties he developed an amazing technique of using strong waves off the Cornish coast to lift him on to a cliff, where-upon he would pick out a line to the top. Three commandos who were watching tried to emulate this feat but were tragically drowned.

Apart from the obvious physical challenge to his exceptional strength, why did he project himself into these situations of extreme danger, forcing himself to endure hardship and acute discomfort in his obsessive compulsion to come to terms with powerful volumes of water? After swimming the Linn of the Dee, he wrote: " I have always been amazed at the strength of water. But what stands out to me, in the Linn, is the sudden strong fragments of feeling in me that answered that terrific command under water." As a psychiatrist, he may well have been his own guinea pig as he subjected his mind and body to the outer limits of fatigue and self-analysis. Edwards rarely made an effort to reach a summit and displayed little liking for Alpine climbing, but his potential as a mountaineer was beyond question. On a rare excursion to Norway in 1937 he spent a week traversing a fjord, carrying all his equipment on his back and at the age of thirty four he made the first solo-traverse of the main Cuillin Ridge, including Blaven and Clach Glas. He had not been over the ridge previous and all he carried in the way of sustenance was a packet of sandwiches supplied by his landlady at Glen Brittle

He set off casually, had breakfast at 08.00 hours and no drinks for 24 hours, spending 12 hours, 30 minutes on the actual ridge, returning over the rough terrain from Garsbheinn to Glen Brittle in the dark. He saw the war as civilisation gone mad and registered, on pacifist grounds, as a conscientious objector. Imposed austerity meant the closing of his child guidance clinic in the Liverpool area where he was consultant psychiatrist, and where he did some of his finest work. It was a body blow to his professional idealism! After a short period as a warden fire-watcher, he retired to North Wales, taking up residence in Hafod Owen, a farm cottage he rented from Colin Kirkus, assuming an almost reclusive existence as he committed his theories to paper. These were grim lonely years for Edwards and it is generally thought that this period was the beginning of the end and the onset of his mental instability.

Colin Kirkus:Wayfarers Club
His brother-in-law, the famous Red Dean of Canterbury, and many friends rallied round, offering help and encouragement when they realized J.M.E.' s low state. With funds short he applied for a study grant which was refused and in the September of 1942, Colin Kirkus, a navigator with the RAF, was lost over Germany. For a time he worked at Tavistock Clinic and Great Ormond Street, both posts of tremendous prestige, but he did not settle. Paranoid tendencies were now deeply entrenched and he became hypercritical of his seniors. Although his mind was impaired, his old power remained and he resurfaced on rare occasions to pioneer several new routes. These include the Central Gully of Clogwyn Y Grochan and a harder variation two years later in 1951, both of very severe standard. The Route of Knobs on Clogwyn Y Ddysgl in 1952, was another in the typical Edwards mould and rated at Hard Very Severe. Incredibly, he graded neither of these routes above Mild Severe, contesting that a climber of his age could not possibly lead above this standard — he was only 42 years old at the time!

On the 26th June, 1957, J.M.E. made his last visit to North Wales, returning to the Devil's Kitchen where he climbed a short crack-line near the final chockstone which he dubbed The Waterfall Route. Eight months later Edwards was dead. After the cremation his ashes were scattered by his sister and brother-in-law on a Welsh hill-side, not far from Hafod Owen and under the craggy shadow of Yr Wyddfa, the tomb.

Hafod Owen. Above which Menlove Edwards' mortal remains were scattered by his sister in 1958

And as we went back home that night following the scratch marks over the rocks and through the heather the evening cleared as it had cleared before and the view was still fair to look upon, golden and with line upon line of hills through the sheen of the air and with the sound of the hills. 
From False Gods (Unfinished) by J.M.E.

*Footnote Edwards documents his adventures during the compilation of the Lliwedd Guide, in Up Against It', published in the Wayfarers' Journal, circa 1939. 
Ken Smith: First Published in Climber and Rambler-September 1983