Who are the two mysterious figures at the base of Napes Needle?
On Monday 31st March, the first female ascent of Napes Needle was undertaken by Miss Dorothea Julia Koecher (aged 26), who was climbing with her two brothers – Otto Julius Koecher and John Edgar Koecher, all from Rusholme, Lancashire. The climb was captured on camera showing her standing on the summit which was later used in the 1914 FRCCJ, in an article Haskett Smith wrote, titled ‘The First Ascent of Napes Needle’. What is interesting about this photo, is not so much that a woman is standing on the top after the first female ascent, but the two men standing at the base of the cliff, looking as if they are posing for the photographer.
Haskett Smith makes no mention of who these two figures in his article let alone the photo of Miss Koecher, as it just relates to his 1886 solo ascent.
Over the years, no other mention was made as to who these two figures were, and so both the photograph and the unanswered question as to their identity, sank into historical darkness, that is until 2018 when their identities were finally established.
During my research into material for the biography of Rusty Westmorland, OBE, Lakelands last climbing pioneer and founding father of Keswick Moutain Rescue Team in 1946, I came across an old sepia photograph of someone posing half-way up Napes Needle. On the reverse of the photo was the date 1890 and the name Thomas Westmorland with a ? beside it (this being Rusty’s father, also an early Lakeland climbing pioneer).
After extensive research, it was obvious that the climber was not of Thomas Westmorland, who was in 1890, overweight, clean-shaven and unable to climb due to a debilitating illness. At that point, I put the image aside and finished Rusty’s biography, although earlier, I had decided that when finished, I would start on the biography of Haskett Smith, as he appeared in Rusty’s story several times at pivitol moments in Haskett Smith’s life.
When compiling material for Chapter Five – Beyond the Needle (1887 - 1899) – I was looking through pages of Edmund Haskett Smith’s diary (which he kept every day since the age of ten), and read that at Easter of 1890, the Haskett Smith brothers (Walter and his younger brother Edmund), travelled to Wasdale as they did most Easter’s and Summers from 1882 to 1911. I was intrigued further when I came across information which stated that the Haskett Smith brothers knew the Koecher family well and were present when she made her ascent.
So, putting two and two together and getting the proverbial four, on further close examination of the two photos, it was apparent that the two mysterious figures standing at the base of the Needle on Miss Koecher’s first ascent is none other than the Haskett Smith brothers (Edmund on the left and his brother on the right), and on comparing the clothes of the individual wearing a hat in Miss Koecher’s photo with that of the individual posing half-way up Napes Needle, it is clearly one and the same person, even down to the moustache – i.e. Haskett Smith.
Haskett Smith posing on the Needle. Limited Edition prints available from the author. Details below.
Then to substantiate my findings, a few weeks Iater, I came across a scribbled note in Edmund’s diary, stating that he and his brother (Walter), had climbed Napes Needle in 1890 before Walter was to go to the Alps with Cecil Slingsby and Geoffrey Hastings a few months later in August.
So there we have it, mystery figures identified; another interesting fact about Haskett Smith and the Napes Needle; and another gap in Lakeland climbing history filled.
Note: The 1890 Haskett Smith photo posing on Napes Needle has been made into a limited (numbered) print run of 50 (mounted – 35cm x 46cm) and can be obtained from the author: firstname.lastname@example.org for £36 [includes postage].
Frank Grant: 2019