Saturday, 9 January 2016

Hole in the Mind

The saddle above Craig Ysfa between Pen yr Helgi Du and Carnedd Llewelyn. The descent path to the Ogwen Valley begins on the lower central section of ridge
F. A. Pullinger,* was precise in not revealing the authors, titles or the names of the dead in his notes of 'references - not wholly accurate -' made in two books to the tragic accident by Ffynnon Llugwy on November 20th 1927, in which two young climbers lost their lives. As Editor he desired to put on record the action of the Climbers' Club on that occasion, until then held by the Committee as confidential. A sub-committee was appointed and a 'weighty report' established of full facts with certain conclusions drawn and acting upon these the resignation of an unnamed member was accepted.
Mr. Pullinger considered the following paragraph of the report retained its general value:-
It cannot in our opinion be too strongly emphasised, more especially in view of the number of inexperienced parties who now undertake mountaineering expeditions which involve risks, that the bonds uniting the members of a climbing party involves a mutual responsibility which is only terminated in death, by the safe outcome of the expedition, or by a voluntary and equal agreement to separate where no risk is in question. This is an obligation which rests on every member of the expedition, leader and led alike. In moments of dilemma or crisis the leader – or whichever of the party may have been selected by circumstances to succeed to his responsibilities – may be called upon to exercise a difficult discrimination, and, in the event of accident or mischance, to decide upon the order in which he shall fulfil his obligation to the several members of his party. He may, for instance, climbing with A and B, be forced to decide whether he will remain with B who is injured, or help first to get A out of danger. But his duty to A and B alike remains the same.
“Directly his duty to A is discharged – so far as may be essential for A's safety at the moment, and therefore, for a reasonable probability that A will dispatch ultimate succour – he is bound to make B his only thought; and, at any risk to his own safety or risk or survival, it is his duty, and the duty of any other member of the party still able to act, to return to B, and to share his situation until either life be extinct, or until the home-coming of every member of his original party, injured or capable, is ensured.”
Llyn Fynnon Llugwy: Mark Hughes
Thomas Firbank's book 'I Bought a Mountain', published in 1940 gives a version of the tragedy of 20th November 1927 when Norman Stott and Arthur Taylor died near Llyn Ffynnon Llugwy. They had climbed the Great Gully, Craig yr Ysfa with Francis Giveen and William Tayleur.
He begins, 'There are many climbing accidents, of course, but nearly all of them provide those involved with opportunities to show great courage and devotion.' Not the words attributed to Francis Giveen and William Tayleur, rather the conduct of them as survivors that deserved his strongest criticism.
He describes the weather as rough, a wet day, and how Giveen, 'a very fine climber' and leader of the other three novices were all at Helyg, the Climbers' Club Hut. All 'no doubt' were quite wet and cold before they reached the foot of the climb, two hours away over the Carnedds. The weather so delayed the inexperienced men to the top of the climb it was achieved by lantern light at seven that evening, led by Giveen.

'Soaked to the skin, half-frozen with cold, tired out, and faint with hunger' the long journey back to Helyg via Bwlch Eryl Frachog was hindered when Tayleur dropped the compass, which was lost. They struggled on and the lantern then gave out and in the darkness, Stott and Taylor 'blundered' into the lake. Stott scrambled into the water, rescued his companion and both collapsed on the shore.
Firbank suggested that previous to the disaster, Tayleur had been the 'most distressed, not being so physically strong as the others' and it was this that led Giveen to hurry him to shelter and to leave Stott and Taylor where they had collapsed, near the lake, where he dragged them behind a wind-break for shelter. Giveen and Tayleur then took four hours to reach the hut, where they ate then got the car out and drove to a hotel five miles away. A party was organised at once but the croaking of the ravens led them to the frozen bodies of Stott and Taylor. The rescuers recalled finding the bodies lying face down in a bog, their equipment still on their backs with Taylor smothered by peaty mud.
This is Firbank version of Giveen's evidence at the inquest but the story extends to Stott's father, who showed little sympathy to Giveen. He insisted how mad it had been to take three novices up so severe a climb in such weather. His criticisms became more pointed as he persuaded some friends to visit the scene where they found Taylor's watch, stopped at 6-40. In a letter to the newspapers Mr. Stott asked Giveen to explain what he had done in the twelve hours between the accident and him arriving at the hotel with Tayleur. According to Firbank there were 'ugly' rumours locally and when questioned Tayleur admitted he had not been exhausted, and Giveen solicitude had been misplaced.

Firbank surmised Giveen had anxiously persuaded Tayleur to hurry off the mountainside with him. Mr. Stott senior had stages of the route timed with Helyg from the top of the climb at two hours. Apparently Giveen and Tayleur had arrived at Helyg at 9.0 p.m., had a meal and slept until the morning. Farms close to the hut were ignored and when they arrived at the hotel they had breakfast before reporting the accident with no urgency. Firbank ends his retelling of the incident with members of the Climbers' Club hearing of the incident and threatening to resign unless Giveen was expelled. The enquiry held by the Club was disturbed before a final verdict reached was disturbed by Giveen as he marched in, resigned, laughed and cursed as he left. Giveen was considered to have been insane on the night of the accident.

'Over Welsh Hills', written by Frank Smythe, published 1941 devoted 4 pages to the incident. He described the Great Gully, Craig yr Ysfa and regarded its length and difficulty indirectly responsible for the worst 'catastrophe' that had befallen British mountaineering. Giveen is detailed the more experienced rock climber and only by his good leadership did they reach the top of the climb. The descent is as that of Firbank; the loss of the compass, the fall into the lake of Stott and Taylor. Stott who scrambled out then then bravely dived back to rescue Taylor, who was no swimmer. An effort that so exhausted the two that they collapsed face downwards on the boggy shore of the lake.
Smythe heaped the pressure on Giveen with a situation, not merely unpleasant before, that suddenly had become dangerous. He was of the opinion that Giveen should have saved the party by taking one of two courses that were open to him. He could have either got the two exhausted men to a dry and sheltered spot, given them all the clothing he could spare, restored their circulation as best he could or leave Tayleur to tend them and then race for the nearest farm, close to Helyg, half an hour or forty minutes from the lake. The other was to remain himself with Stott and Taylor and send Tayleur for help. Smythe was of the opinion that the former option was the best as Giveen knew the countryside better than Tayleur, who was tired and might be slow in summoning assistance.

Ogwen Valley
'What in fact did he do?' asked Smythe and described rather how Giveen did not follow his advice and he left Stott and Taylor where they had fallen, journeyed to Helyg and had a meal. They slept and on wakening realised their companions had not arrived and decided that something had to be done! Why had they not roused the neighbouring farmers? Instead they motored to an hotel several miles distant to seek help arriving there twelve hours after Stott and Taylor had fallen exhausted. The rescue party was immediately organised but arrived to find Stott and Taylor dead.

Smythe retold Giveen's 'different' account at the inquest and that he done everything possible for his companions and had only accompanied Tayleur because of the latters exhaustion. Arriving at Helyg he had set out immediately for help and a 'colourless' verdict was passed and indeed sympathy was expressed for Giveen. The anguish of Mr. Stott was retold with emphasis on the twelve hour delay from the time the watch stopped to the time of the summoning of help. Smythe prognosed insanity on behalf of Giveen and that Tayleur, a novice was overawed and overruled by his leader.
Although to some he thought it unnecessary to have included this tragic and unsavoury story he did so because 'in days when mountaineering and rock climbing are rapidly increasing in popularity among all classes and types of persons it cannot be too often stated that a sense of responsibility is, and must always be, the underlying note in mountaineering, the responsibility of the leader in the selection of a climb and the method in which it is carried out and the responsibility of each member of a party towards his companions. The sense of responsibility more than anything else promotes good comradeship and sound mountaineering.'
The accounts of the accident by Firbank and Smythe coincide but can be challenged. The party of four were not all at Helyg, rather Giveen and Tayleur stayed there from the 23rd October. Perhaps Stott and Taylor were at The Oakwoood Park Hotel, Sychnant Pass, Conwy, owned by Stott's father.
The Climbers' Club, then, as now, did and do not consider novices as members, Messrs. Giveen, Stott and Taylor were official members, and Mr. Tayleur's membership application was in the hands of the secretary of the Club.
At the inquest it was noted that they summited the climb at approximately 7.00 pm of the 20th November and thus the two men must have fallen into Llyn Ffynnon Llugwy some time after this. The watch, found stopped with the hands at 6-40 could have stopped either on the ascent of the climb or on the morning of the attempted rescue and probably played no part in the 'twelve hour delay' accusation. The time of 9 'o' clock for the descent from the top of the climb to the hut, as described by Firbank, paid no attention to the loss of the compass, the lantern that expired, the incident at the lake and the aid given to the two men before the descent to Helyg. The weather, 'wet and windy' was far more wintry in conditions with sleet and snow, an icy, ferocious wind and very low temperatures the order of the night.
The editor of the Climbers' Club Journal in 1943, Mr. Pullinger wrote only of two books but a third, probably 'not wholly accurate' exists, a novel entitled Bride to the Mountain (pub 1940) by Thomas Firbank, written shortly after the success of I Bought a Mountain, which draws heavily on the same experiences, largely based on the actual 1927 case with a description of a similar climb and tragic ending.
 * Editor of the The Climbers' Club Journal, 1943, Vol. VII. No.2, New Series, sixty-ninth issue, page 94 

Mark Hughes: 2016