Friday, 13 February 2015

Rusty Westmorland: King of the Wild Frontier

Rusty Westmorland standing by 'Westmorland's Cairn' built by his father and uncle above Wastwater.When he died his ashes were scattered here.

Horace ‘Rusty’ Westmorland was born in Penrith, Cumberland in 1886 into a family well known for their adventurous lifestyle. Indeed his father, aunt and uncle were noted for their un-roped ascent of Pillar Rock in 1873 which at the time was only the second ascent by a lady. The adventurous spirit which he had inherited, took him to the Alps in 1910 with the Abraham brothers and by 1911 he had moved on to Canada where he had secured a job as a chainman with a surveying party led by Arthur Wheeler. Not long after that, he joined the Canadian Army and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and it was in this period that he gained his nickname ‘Rusty’.

Back in Lakeland, in his middle years, an incident which saw him involved in the rescue of Wilfrid Noyce in 1946 became the inspiration for the founding of one of the UK’s very first mountain rescue teams. The Borrowdale MRT which later evolved into the Keswick MRT we know today. He was known and respected for his remarkable longevity in the world of mountain activities. Climbing and walking until well into his 90’s and his services to mountain rescue saw him receive an OBE.

What might not be known about this remarkable mountaineer, is the full extent of his climbing adventures which spanned over 90 years. Starting on his very first birthday when he and his 2 year old sister, were taken for an open air overnight bivvy by his parents, on Norfolk Island on Ullswater. Two weeks later, they were both taken to the summit of Helvellyn to attend the bonfire to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. On his 4th birthday, his father took him to Brougham Castle, where they both climbed up to the second story and back down again, without using a rope, and on his 15th birthday (1901), he climbed Pillar again with his sister and father, all un-roped. A daring feat for that time.

Rusty leading an unknown route.Probably in the Lake District
When his father died in 1909, Rusty became a man of private means so he was able to go out climbing almost every day.  During this freedom, he met and became close friends with George and Ashley Abraham, who he was to climb with on many occasions.

The year 1910, was for Rusty, the busiest climbing time he had had to date. It started in January climbing at Tryfan and Carreg Wasted with George and Ashley Abraham, where they climbed extensively before returning to the Lakes where he continued to climb until the end of February. In March with others, he made first ascent of Easter Crack on Elliptical Crag followed in April by a first ascent of Blizzard Chimney. With his cousins, he climbed more winter climbs on St. Sunday Crag; Fairfield; The Dodds; Dollywaggon Pike; and Catchedicam (Catstycam). In June he set off for the Alps with the Abraham brothers on a climbing photographic expedition. During their visit, they made many first ascents which became the basis for George’s book: ‘On Alpine Heights and British Crags’.

On returning to the lakes, Rusty continued to climb with his cousins making first ascents of Chock Gully on Dove Crag and a second ascent of Dollywaggon Gully. Possibly the first full true ascent in one climb.

In 1911, he went to Canada and secured work with a mountain survey party run by Arthur Wheeler, the founder of the Alpine Club of Canada. During his three years of working with Wheeler, Rusty climbed many peaks and summits in the Canadian Rockies along with Swiss guides such as Konrad Cain and the Fuez brothers. His list of ascents is impressive (some 1st and 2nd ascents)- many of which have still only seeing a handful of repeats- with well over sixty summits and peaks ascended in this period. He was also the first person to ascend the face of Mt Whyte through pure rock climbing.

He got a commission in the Territorial Army and following outbreak of WWI, he was commissioned in the Canadian Royal Transport Company. During his time at the front, he was nominated several times for mentions in dispatches for his bravery when he led his ammunition horse supply train under fire, to troops on the front line of both Ypres and the Somme.

He returned to Canada after the war, continued to serve with the Canadian Army and climbed and skied whenever possible. He was to discover climbing crags in Nova Scotia, was instrumental in discovering skiing venues in Quebec, and made significant climbing ascents in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, some of which have been rarely repeated. In addition, he was a keen horseman and participated in many competitions in Halifax, Nova Scotia, winning several times in his class (heavy horse), and, he was also a good amateur golfer and all round skier.
In 1936, he went to the Alps with his close friend Dr. P. B. Finn (Director of Atlantic Fisheries), for two weeks and in that time, they climbed the Unttergabellahon, Riffelhorn (by three different routes), Rimpfischhorn, and then capped their holiday off with an ascent of the Matterhorn. When back in Cumberland, Gerald Greenback and others, had set up the Lake District Ski Club which Rusty was invited to be President of, which he remained connected to for the rest of his life. 
On his return to Canada, he made the first winter ascent of both East and West Lion outside Vancouver; made the first winter ski exploration of the entire Yoho Valley; discovered a crag called Eagle’s Nest and made first ascents of all routes in both summer and winter; wrote endless climbing and mountaineering articles for local newspapers; gave frequent illustrated talks on the subject, and, was fully involved in the mountain warfare training programme set up in the Rockies by the Alpine Club of Canada. This led to Rusty going on a clandestine visit to the War Office in London, which resulted in the Lovat Scouts being sent on the training programme, commanded by Frank Smythe.
With the onset of WWII, Rusty was given the go ahead from the Canadian Government, to set up and run the country’s first official military mountain warfare training camp at Terrace, east of Prince Rupert. Whilst travelling there on the train, he took seriously ill with biliary colic resulting in his gall bladder being removed. As a result, in 1945 he was medically discharged from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, returned to his beloved Cumberland, and settled down to his retirement in Keswick.
Never a one to allow any grass to grow beneath his feet, he was out on the fells and crags within days of arriving home.
A year later in 1946, he went to the aid of Wilfrid Noyce (Everest veteran) who had fractured his femur whilst out climbing on Great Gable. This event led to Rusty forming the Borrowdale Mountain Rescue Team which later changed its name to Keswick MRT. He was eventually awarded the O.B.E. for his services to mountain rescue, in addition to receiving the Silver Rope Award from the Alpine Club of Canada in 1947, being the only climber to do so that year.
Throughout his lifetime, he climbed and hiked the fells and hills of both the UK and Canada with many notable climbers; Haskett Smith, George Seatree, Norman Collie, Noel Odell, Bentley Beetham, Harry Griffin, Godfrey Solly, Tony Mason-Hornby (Ogwen Cottage), John Disley and many many others. In the 1960’s he suffered from stomach cancer – underwent 15 major operations – given a few weeks to live in 1964 – but was still climbing and walking in 1976 aged 90, without helmet, harness or other modern day climbing aids, and, wearing a full time catheter!
He published ‘Adventures in Climbing’ (1964), wrote articles for a variety of climbing journals, and, did the world’s first ever live radio outside broadcast whilst rock climbing with Stanley Williamson in Borrowdale- the broadcaster who was responsible for clearing Captain Thain of blame for the Manchester United Munich air disaster.
Rusty was a quiet unassuming person, preferring to be in the shadows of publicity. He took great interest in introducing many novices to rock climbing and skiing, and firmly believed in the adage, that climbers should not fall and as such, should learn to ascend and descend climbs in order to improve their climbing technique and abilities.
On 24th November 1984, Rusty finally succumbed to his illness and sadly, dementia, and passed away in a nursing home near Kirkby Stephen. A particular view from Great Gable, thought to be the finest in all Lakeland, was marked by his father and uncle by building a cairn in the 1830’s, now known as the Westmorland Cairn where Rusty's ashes were spread. He left an only son Horace Lyndhurst and an only grandson, Dickon who now lives in Australia.
Frank Grant:2015
Frank has written a comprehensive 400+ page biography of his subject and recently completed a biography of 'The Father of English Rock Climbing'WP Haskett-Smith. Both works will be published in the not too distant future.