Thursday 31 December 2009

Coming up: Tony Moulam remembers early days in the Arans

In the new year we get back into the swing of things with an article written exclusively for Footless Crow by veteran Welsh activist, Tony Moulam. Anyone compiling a list of their favourite Welsh climbs will almost certainly  have a fair few Moulam routes on their hit list....
( Mur y Niwl..Merlin..Oberon..Angel Pavement..Scratch..Christmas Curry.etc)
However,it was away from the honeypot crags of North Wales that Tony found another world of 'peace and solitude'. In 'Early days at Cwm Cywarch' he describes visting this beautiful quiet valley for the first time and meeting and climbing with The King of Mid Wales..John 'Fritz' Sumner. Within a few years he had established what the current guidebook describes as ' a magnificent mountaineering route'. The three star classic... Acheron.

Photo: Climbers on John Sumner's classic 'Will o the Wisp': P Stasiw©

Thursday 24 December 2009

Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda !

 Carneddau wild ponies above Ogwen Valley:N Wales

That's Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all those contributors,readers and everyone who has sent their good wishes. Coincidentally, it's just about three months since Footless Crow took to the cyber skies with it's first article. David Craig's lovely 'Falling Down' piece. In that time the mix of exclusive previously unpublished articles and works drawn from the archives appears to have worked rather well I think. The fact that Footless Crow has put on 500 new readers a month since that time shows that the blogazine is starting to find its niche in the world of outdoor writing.
Of course, it's all a work in progress so for 2010; more new articles and archived material. A much wider contributor base and hopefully, I'll be able to persuade female contributors to come on board and also offer young unpublished writers a platform for their work.
Rather belatedly, I hope to start introducing environmental articles and how about a bit of culture!
Book reviews,photography,mountain art and even poetry ?
One or two exciting things on the horizon which have to be confirmed but should make quite a splash if it all comes together, this space !
Now then.... I'm off for a mince pie and glass of rather rough vin rouge in front of the yule fire. Have a good holiday and see you in the new year. 

john appleby

Friday 18 December 2009

The Leader

Don Roscoe climbing on a Yorkshire gritstone outcrop in the early 1960's.Don Roscoe ©

After discovering Edward  Whymper's "Scrambles in the Alps" at the local library Don Roscoe was inspired with a desire to climb but back in the late 1940's climbers were few on the ground and getting started was quite a problem.  Fortunately, at the age of 15, while exploring the old copper mines at Alderley Edge near Manchester he met Alan Braddock who,it transpired,rock climbed and agreed to take him out to Dovestones the next weekend.  He did two routes, leading the second (a Severe) and he was hooked.
Alan informed him that he was going into the RAF the following week for five years. Don then enlisted his old school pal, Eric Price, bought the Laddow Area guide at vast expense - two shillings and six pence, about two weeks pocket money or, in modern currency, 12p.  Armed with an ex-roadworks piece of hemp rope they set out to explore the Grit.  Don, being the experienced climber was the leader.  During their excursions they met and climbed with Ray Greenall and Ron Moseley and then Les Wright and Don Whillans.  The Rock and Ice was just being formed at this time. Don Whillans invited them to join the infant club and they became founder members.
From then on it is history.  Don Whillans and Joe Brown were, of course the stars, but it was a strong and cohesive group of good climbers of the day.  Don Roscoe, egged on by Val Brown (who earned his eternal thanks), left his job as a GPO engineer and became a teacher, later got an instructor post at Plas y Brenin and eventually took a post at University College of North Wales, Bangor where he taught on the Outdoor Activities course for Post Graduate students in the School of Education.  Don, now 75, is still an active rock climber and thinks that sport routes are a much better bet for old crumblies with leading aspirations than Trad. routes done with a hemp rope and hob nailed boots, 'though not so exciting'!

The Leader

The next few moves were obvious, uninviting and crucial, retreat was out of the question and horizontal progress offered no easy solution. Not an unfamiliar situation to most leaders perhaps, but for me, then a ten year old schoolboy, it was the first time. Sounds of people playing on the beach below and out of sight of the little zawn drifted up but barely impinged on my consciousness. They seemed to emanate from another, more remote world. The reality of my world had become narrowed to a few feet of rock (If it could be described as such) upon which I was alone, unable to move up or down and not a little gripped.

This was the endless summer of youth which remembers no rainy days and I was spending a holiday on the Isle of Man. Even at this age the joys of the beach held little interest for me, but this particular beach, whereon my grandmother was comfortably esconced in her deck-chair, held other attractions. It was backed by a line of low cliffs which promised untold delights to a small boy whose imagination and desire had been stirred by the odd photograph of a rock climber clad impressively in nailed boots and tweeds with a hemp rope accentuating his airy pose. This was it! Now I could have a go.

And so it was that I came, after satisfactory preliminary forays on the smaller crags, to the little zawn. It was deeply cut back into the cliff and had a dark and mysterious atmosphere which both excited and repelled me at the same time. Once inside I found myself in a world of steep, grey rock streaked here and there with bird droppings and other remains of the nesting sites of the gulls. I don't know how high the cliff was, I suppose that it was no more than about thirty feet, but in my memory it looms immense, rearing up to the patch of blue, summer sky which marked the rim.

Could it be climbed? It looked as though it might be possible; I could see a line of cracks, little corners and ledges leading invitingly upward. With a surge of excitement I swung up onto the first ledge and began the ascent. I was clad, appropriately enough, in what would today be regarded as the best gear for the job--a pair of shorts. Alas no chalk bag and on my feet a pair of gym shoes. I still thank my lucky stars that flip-flops were not in fashion in those days ! At first all went well and I made rapid progress to a point some ten feet from the top where I came to the impasse. The good, sound rock suddenly changed- in the way sea cliffs do- to a very steep bank of mud into which were embedded a number of pebbles. I tested one of these and it gave way, cascading to the bed of the zawn in a little cloud of dust forcibly reminding me of my somewhat precarious position.

Ten minutes later I was still there. A growing dread was gnawing at my stomach. A tentative attempt to reverse had convinced me that this was out as I couldn't see what I had used to get up. Sideways movement was limited and still left me below the mud. I leaned my head against the surface and felt sorry for myself. I was hot, dirty, a little scratched and could feel the sweat running down my face. The top was so near, if only I could just move up a little. I studied the mud bank more closely, testing and discarding pebbles until I thought that I had located a few which would bear my weight. Slowly, keeping my weight as well distributed as I could, I eased upwards. Really frightened now I hardly dared to breathe. Another move and the tufts of grass were invitingly within reach. The urge to grab was strong but instinctively I seemed to know that this could spell disaster. A careful reach and my fingers were curled into the vegetation and then I was on top gasping with relief.

I lay there in the grass for a few minutes recovering my composure and reliving the events of the last half hour. They remain as vivid now as they did then nearly forty years ago. Perhaps this accounts for my marked aversion to climbs with loose finishes (It would doubtless emerge on the psychiatrist's couch). As I lay there I suddenly felt for the first of many times that bubbling surge of joy rising within me at the successful solution to a problem which had appeared to offer nought but a literally crushing defeat. I got to my feet and ran down to that other, more prosaic world with the wild joy still strong within me. I knew that there would be other times.
Don Roscoe©

Photo:Don now 75 climbing at Lola Montessa-Costa Blanca recently: Don Roscoe©

First published in The Climbers Club journal 1983. Thanks to Don for permission to re-publish and The Climbers Club for their cooperation.

Monday 14 December 2009

Coming up: Rock and Ice man... Don Roscoe

This Friday...a rare piece by someone who was at the heart of the UK's legendary Rock and Ice Club in the 1950's, Don Roscoe.
Don began his climbing career by exploring the northern outcrops around Manchester with school friends and a 'proper climber' whom he met down a copper mine.
Eventually he was invited to join the Rock and Ice club by non other than Don Whillans himself and the rest as they say is history. Still active on the rock face in his seventies and living in North Wales, Friday's article sees Don recall more innocent days.

Don Roscoe on Phoenix at Shining Clough: Don Roscoe©

Friday 11 December 2009

Gentleman Fred

Fred Botterill has never quite created the impact of his Lakeland contemporaries from that Golden Age of exploration in the late 19th, early 20th century. Figures like O G Jones, Haskett-Smith, The Abraham Brothers, Siegfried Herford et al... However, in 1903 the bold Yorkshireman succeeded in creating one of 'the' Lakeland test pieces of the day and one of the UK's early VS (US 5.8) climbs. The futuristic eponymously named slab route on Scafell which was considered so hard at the time that even the great Siegfried Herford backed off it, considering the climb too committing and dangerous without top rope inspection.
Despite creating more classic Cumbrian climbs,notably North West Climb on Pillar Rock and Abbey Climb on The Napes, Fred Botterill effectively gave up the ghost after he was involved in a fatal accident on another hard route of the time, Geoffrey Solly's Victorian tour de force, Eagles' Nest Ridge upon which he saw his leader, Thomas Rennison fall to his death.After that incident until his death in 1920, Fred Botterill withdrew from the rock face and quietly faded from the limelight.

Fred Botterill on the first ascent of Botterill's Slab: Photo JH Taylor courtesy of The Fell and Rock Club©

Clearing away the moss from little cracks here and there I managed to climb slowly upwards for about 60 feet. The holds then dwindled down to little more than finger-end cracks. I looked about me and saw, some 12 feet higher. a nest about a foot square covered with dried grass. Eight feet higher,another nest and a traverse leading back to where the crack opened into a respectable chimney. If I could only reach hold of that first nest what remained would be comparatively easy. It seemed to be a more difficult thing than I had ever done but I was anxious to tackle it. Not wishing to part with the axe I seized it between my teeth and with my fingers in the best available cracks I advanced. I cannot tell with certainty how many holds there were; but I distinctly remember that when within two feet of the nest I had a good hold with my right hand on the face, and so ventured with my left to tear away the dried grass on the nest, However, the grass removed from the ledge, a nice little resting place was exposed-painfully small, but level and quite safe. I scrambled on to it, but on account of the weight of the rope behind me, it was only with great care and some difficulty that I was able to turn round. At last I could sit down on the nest and look around me.

The view was glorious. I could see Scafell Pike and a party round the cairn. Far below was another group intent on watching our movements, a lady being amongst the party. I once read in a book on etiquette that a gentleman in whatever situation of life should never forget his manners towards the other sex, so I raised my hat, though I wonder if the author had ever dreamed of a situation like mine. I now discovered that our 80 feet of rope had quite run out and that my companions had already attached an additional 60 feet. Further, I began to wonder what had become of my axe, and concluded I must unthinkingly have placed it somewhere lower down. There it was, stuck in a little crack about five feet below me. Not knowing what was yet to come I felt I must recover it, so I lowered myself until I could reach it with my foot. I succeeded in balancing it on my boot, but in bringing it up it slipped and clattering on the rocks for a few feet took a final leap and stuck point downwards in the Rake's Progress. Standing up again I recommenced the ascent and climbed on to the second nest au cheval, from where, after a brief rest, I began to traverse back to the crack. This was sensational but perfectly safe. As usual I started with the wrong foot, and after taking two steps was obliged to go back. The next time I started with the left foot, then came the right, again the left, and lastly a long stride with the right, brought me into the chimney. The performance was what might have been called a pas de quatre. Complimentary sounds came from my companions below, but without stopping to acknowledge these I pulled myself up ten feet higher on to a good grass-covered ledge to the right of the crack, smaller but very similar to the Tennis Court Ledge of Moss Ghyll.
'How is it now?' my companions inquired. 'Excellent,' I replied, 'a good belaying pin and just room for three. Do you feel like following?' Without answering me the second man commenced the traverse to the chimney edge whilst I carefully belayed the rope. Up he came in splendid style and without stopping, taking only a quarter of the time it had taken me. He then untied and we threw down the 140 feet of rope to our third, who soon joined us. We hailed a climbing friend who was watching from the Progress and invited him to join us, but he very generously refused and said he would hover near lest we might not be able to advance further and so require the aid of a rope from above. We next christened our berth 'Coffin Ledge' built a cairn on it and left our names on a card.

Starting off again a long stride with the left foot took the leader back into the crack and a stiff climb of 20 to  30 feet landed us all into an extraordinary chimney, which though only wide enough to comfortably admit the body sideways ran right into the crag for about 15 feet. Like the crack below it leaned to the left at angle of 70 degrees or so. About 25 feet up, chock-stones and debris formed a roof, suspended in the middle some six feet below it, were three more chock-stones.When the second man had joined me he exclaimed with astonishment; 'What a place.... How can we get out?' 'Wait a bit,' I answered, although I could not then see a way. However, I went as far as I could into the crack and with restricted use of back and knee climbed upwards until the level of the suspended chock‑stones was reached; from there a narrow ledge rendered these easily accessible. They were securely wedged and safe to stand upon. The ledge continued along out of the crack until the most outward chock-stone of the roof was within reach.
I seized with both hands, and a steady pull upwards landed me into the Putrell Chimney of Keswick Brothers' Climb.

Fred Botterill: First published in the Yorkshire Rambers Club Journal 1903/04

First Fell and Rock Club meet. Fred Botterill right of George Seatree(with hat)centre of picture. Photo courtesy of The Fell and Rock Club©

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Coming Up: Tales of derring-do in the Lakes.

This Friday The Crow flies back 100 years to the English Lake District and recalls a contemporary epic first ascent.
The period around the closing of the Victorian era and the dawning of the 20th century was something of a golden age in UK Climbing. In the English Lake District, figures like O G Jones, The Abraham Brothers, Haskett-Smith and Siegfried Herford had left the gully epoch behind and had moved out onto the mountain faces, creating routes which are still considered classics to this day. In Wales, figures like Archer Thomson, George Leigh Mallory and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young were equally creative.
However, in the early years of the Edwardian era it was the activists in the north country who held the advantage over their Welsh counterparts, creating routes which technically had the edge. Friday's article describes one such route.

Photo: Napes' Needle (The Abraham Brothers.) Courtesy of The Fell and Rock Club©

Friday 4 December 2009

The Art of a Climber

Bill Wynn was born in Chester where he gained a scholarship to the city's Grosvenor College of Art. Whilst there he was awarded the Randolph Caldecott Memorial Prize but did not attach much importance to it at the time. It was not until 1996 and the celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic of the 150th anniversary of the painter and illustrator's birth that Bill learned of and made contact with the thriving Caldecott Society and its sister organisation in America. After art school and national service he worked in advertising agencies In Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
Following his marriage to Marjorie Woolley in 1959, and their move to a cottage on the edge of the Derbyshire moors, he set up as a freelance commercial artist, practising this occupation for the rest of his life. In 1964 the family moved to Trefriw in the Conwy Valley and some years later to an isolated small-holding above the eastern rim of the valley, engaged mainly in commissioned work for children's publications, magazines and television storyboards. From time to time he also taught art at Llandrillo College.

These commitments represented only a fraction of his output. On holidays -- in Mallorca, Corsica, the Greek Islands, Kenya -- he carried sketchbooks which form pictorial diaries. And wherever he went, from the local agricultural show to the Venice Carnival, on the spot or within a few hours, he captured whatever caught his eye with whatever materials lay to hand. To the amusement or mortification of his friends, he often indulged his passion for the figure in caricature or cartoon. He expressed it more seriously in occasional studies of climbers in action and in the erotic art to which he devoted much time in later years. He was at ease in most traditional media but also enjoyed improvisation: he would paint with a feather, draw with a charred stick from the fire, use the dregs from the coffee pot as a wash; a number of his most characteristic pieces are found to be on the backs of college memos or cardboard boxes. He rarely exhibited and never showed the whole range of his work.

Bill started climbing about 1950 with Keith Shone, a fellow-student who was to remain a life-long friend. They were self-taught but almost immediately stumbled upon the unexplored limestone quarry at Maeshafn. On joining the Chester Mountaineering Club their expertise advanced and strengthened by the recruitment of Frank Corner the Maeshafn campaign gained impetus. Clwyd Rock now describes, under names given by later visitors, twenty climbs listed simply as pre-1974. Some photographs survive from not later than 1953 and one shows Corner leading their "Sweat Crack" which could easily be identified.

For almost fifty years Bill enjoyed climbing and hill-walking. (He also had a partiality for adventures on water In unseaworthy canoes, preferring to repair or improvise rather than to buy modern equipment, and he was once an on-the-spot entrant in the Nevis River Race.) In the fifties, at a modest standard, he climbed fairly widely in Britain and also at Arolla and Chamonix. On moving to Wales he teamed up on rare occasions with mainstream activists but mainly kept the company of an older group, centred around Dick Morsley and Len Baggott, from the North Wales Mountaineering Club. He developed a taste for snow gullies at that time and in later years he had the pleasure of excursions with his sons, one an accomplished rock-climber, the other a keen fell-runner and alpinist.
Mountain painting burgeoned with the Romantics but it began five hundred years ago in Europe, in ancient times in the East. It has engaged artists of such world-wide repute and has excited so much commentary as to stand within landscape painting -for mountaineers at least- as a closed genre. By contrast hardly any artists have produced substantial collections of climbers in action.(In Britain, at present, the only other sizable body of work seems to be that of Shelley Hocknell.) The reason is obvious. It's not that leaders are unprepared to hang on while the second sets up an easel or sharpens a pencil. Rather, it's that rock-climbing began about 100 years ago, alpine climbing about 150 years ago: but the camera appeared 160 years ago.

In Victorian times engravers had used their skills to illustrate the first mountaineering books and, since Whymper himself was an engraver, some realism was introduced in this work. But by the time of the Abraham brothers the camera was becoming, with difficulty, portable. Rapid development quickly made it the easy means of recording action. The artist, however, has other resources and Bill Wynn had a crucial combination of these. He was gifted with astonishing eidetic recall. He had a strong interest in kinaesthetics. And his work as a commercial artist had reinforced his natural decisiveness, fluency of line, and ability to discard the unnecessary.

Before his death, two groups of climbing paintings had already passed into private hands. Exceptionally, one of these groups (exhibited as 'The Maneaters') was inspired by John Cleare's black-and-white photographs in Tony Smythe's Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia, though no-one unfamiliar with the book could have guessed at a photographic origin. The cliffs appeared in sparing suggestion, the tiny figures were located perhaps with the simple pin-pointing of a red helmet. They were acquired by the one-time owner of Cobden's Hotel at Capel Curig and their subsequent fate is unknown. The other collection is that of Edwin Hammond and it is hoped that all but one of these paintings will be on loan at Bretton flail -- the missing work being slightly damaged after two months' entombment by an avalanche in the Alps last winter.

After Bill's death his work was found to include about eighty further climbing drawings and paintings. A number of these are roughs and show his affection for the cartoon. Almost all are small-scale since he was by inclination a miniaturist and his preferred practice was to work at the finished size for the printed page. The immediacy and originality of this work is evident. Much of it dates from around 1970 and centres on snow gullies or classic climbs. The figures are draped in old-fashioned equipment and winter gear, the sun isn't shining. The sense of effort and purpose, however, is striking and these paintings seem to have an advantage over technically perfect colour photographs of extremists on sundrenched rock. In those photographs the viewer's curiosity is frustrated by the one crucial matter which is forever hidden -- the nature of those few square centimetres of interface between the fingertips and the rock. In a Wynn drawing the figure has a comprehensible lodgement and the balance and involvement of the whole body is understood.

Bill would have drawn great satisfaction from this occasion. Since he can't speak for himself it seems appropriate to remember him briefly. When people summed him up they said that he was a 'character ' and there's no more accurate word. There were two sides to that character. Meeting him at a party or a disco you'd have thought him the gregarious type. He'd drink with the best, he'd tell immensely entertaining stories, and finally he'd get up and dance with exuberance until the music stopped. When his name came up, people smiled: or they smiled and shook their heads. On the other hand he preferred to live three or four miles from the nearest shop or pub. And he was apparently able to hole up there, sometimes for weeks at a time, without getting cabin fever. Perhaps he had a contract deadline, or was simply engrossed in the loving restoration of further additions to the huge display of old trade artefacts and obsolete agricultural implements through which Pant y Rhedyn had become a memorial to forgotten skills.

In fact, he had a strong streak of territoriality, planting 700 trees to shield the house from the little-travelled lane. The uninvited visitors who came because it was their duty -­building inspectors, policemen, Jehovah's Witnesses -- must have groaned at the thought of a second visit. (The building Inspectors wanted him to do things their way, the policemen wanted him to lock up his arsenal of firearms, the Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to save him, an unrealistic aim.)
His independence of mind shocked some and delighted others. A new Head of Art and Design at Llandrillo called a preliminary meeting of his fifteen staff. Having seated them In a semi-circle he asked them to introduce themselves in turn and make suggestions for closer co-ordination of their work. The first speakers stumbled through. Bill stood up, looked the group over, and said that his name was Bill Wynn, that he was there to teach painting and drawing, and that he knew how to do it.
Then he declared that he thought the whole exercise unnecessary and a waste of everybody's time. This announcement lifted a burden from some newly appointed staff who had been anxiously rehearsing their parts.

Contemporary art didn't inevitably impress him. Arriving early for a private viewing of an exhibition of modern sculpture he seized his chance, arranging his coat and scarf around a man-sized scrap metal construction before moving a chair to a strategic position. Then he observed as little knots of people drifted up to discuss it, only a few glancing uneasily over their shoulders.
He was able to find grim humour in dismal circumstance. Many years ago, intending a Sunday walk up Pen yr Oleu Wen, he decided to avoid the crowds by starting about a half mile down the Bethesda road and taking a shallow gully through the cliffs of Braich Ty Du. At the outfall of this gully he discovered the body of a man which had clearly lain there a long time and was clad only in street clothes and shoes. He returned to the Rescue Post to notify the team on standby, who were puzzled at his refusal to guide them. Then he explained that he'd found an old Mini tyre by the roadside and had propped it on top of the wall: if they walked straight up from that point they would find- the spot in ten minutes. Replanning his day, he set off up the Glyders, aware of a great deal of activity when he risked a backward glance. On returning to the car park some hours later he found a single policeman loitering and asked if everything had been sorted out. A confrontation followed, Bill insisting that he couldn't spend his day out gaping at the emergency services in action.

Called to a Police Station a day or two later to make a statement, he was surprised at the presence of a senior officer and at the turn the interview took.
Thank you, sir. And now, if you wouldn't mind answering a few questions.
Mr Wynn, did you recognise this man?
Have you, at any time in your life, lived in Birmingham?
No? Never? Well, when did you last visit the city?
Do you have any interests in any taxi business in Birmingham?
Do you know anybody in the taxi business in North Wales?
And you tell us that you've never lived in Birmingham? And you're certain you never met this man?
The body was, in fact, that of a young man from Liverpool. What Bill didn't know was that the police had an open file on a man from the Midlands, missing for some time but whose abandoned car had been found in the area, and that the Chief of Gwynedd CID had immediately hastened up to Ogwen. Finally he was dismissed with the reminder that he'd be needed at the Inquest and the remark that the police might want to talk to him again. The interview had delighted as well as astonished him. It confirmed everything he believed about authority. Probably the only authority he could ever have acknowledged would be that of someone who could draw a perfect line.

Harold Drasdo©

The above piece was originally penned to accompany a series of exhibitions held after Bill's death in 1998 which included shows at The Electric Mountain in Llanberis and The Mountain Festival of Literature at Bretton Hall. Thanks to Harold for permission to re-publish this work and to Marjorie Wynn for her support and cooperation.

All photographs and images Marjorie Wynn Collection ©

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Coming Up: Bill Wynn....Impressions of Climbers.

This Friday, Harold Drasdo writes about his late friend Bill Wynn. Probably the best climber/artist you’ve never heard of ! After settling in the N Wales uplands via Derbyshire, Bill earned his bread and butter as a commercial artist. Illustrating children’s books, television storyboards and working as an art tutor. However, it is through his passion for rock climbing that his unique style really breaks free from the creative shackles of commerce and finds its true expression through his exciting impressions of climbers in action. So many artists describe themselves as ‘mountain artists’ but few have captured so well or so imaginatively the human form engaged in mountain activity.

Friday 27 November 2009

Diamonds and Rust

David Craig was born in Aberdeen in 1932 and is married to Anne Spillard. He first climbed rock on Lochnagar in 1952, then didn't climb again (for several compelling reasons) until 1973 when his children began climbing in the Lake District. Best known in the UK for his classic 1987 climbing book Native Stones which was quickly followed by the equally impressive Landmarks. David has written several non climbing books on Scottish history and culture as well as works of poetry and historical novels. David appeared in the BBC series Wilderness Walks and will appear in a BBC Scotland outdoor programme to be screened in the future. A long term resident of South Cumbria. David is a member of the Fell & Rock Club and has contributed as a guide book area author. He has many first ascents in the UK to his credit including routes made with Lakeland legend Bill Peascod.
He has climbed in England, Scotland, Wales, france, Germany, Gibraltar, South Africa and the United States.

David Craig leads the Buttermere classic Dexter Wall (VS-5a-US 5.8) with the routes creator Bill Peascod on belay.©David Craig

The Tor shows its brown faces between flourishes of green leaves - unblemished glossy oaks of summer's second phase - no longer luminous, but not yet shredded by insects or soiled with their own sap. Foxgloves lean from clefts between jammed boulders tressed luxuriantly with grasses. Bits of crag - an end wall cut by faults into big horizontal diamonds, a weakness full of piled chunks, a top lip crenellated like a stage castle's battlements -show, and disappear, and peep through again. I'm trying to assemble them like a jigsaw into one whole picture, to see what I'm up against.

I first saw the Tor on the way to -or from?- Harthill Quarry, to climb Yellow John with Terry and Norman two summers ago, but what I'm recalling is really a mental copy of the Hard Rock picture with added colour, glimpsed across a wind-combed summer meadow, minimised down to photo size and flatness. Now the reality of it spreads and rears, dominates, bulges at us, reminding me of that gritstone bulkiness which we forget as we follow planed slabs and sharp edged crack systems in the Lakes. Here you want to grow telescopic arms that could embrace right round the mass and find something...anything, to grip when thin nearer features turn out to be unmanageably convex. A gritstone crag is all one hold, as the man- Dawes- said, or to put it another way, on much of its heftily-moulded expanse there are no holds at all.

Trevor seconded Suicide Wall twenty years ago, led it ten years ago. His memories are like that, layered historically. Their solid depth helps root me in this place, the usual cutting-edge of a fierce new crag blunts a little, the thing is conceivable ‑yes, maybe I can get up this.
"I may carry right on up," he says as he uncoils - "instead of belaying in the Bower."..."Will there be enough rope?" The doubled blue 10-mm. looks a pathetic little heap at the base of this impending, sky-filling eighty feet.
But really I'm feeling lonely already, I'd been banking on a snug reunion in the Bower, where mateyness could resume and keep that bleak drop and lean at bay.

Trevor doesn't answer;he's concentrating. His youthfully matt brown skin, under the flare of thinned white hair, is remote as a native American, his black eyes abstracted. He turns to the rock, puts a hand in a crack Slanting towards a niche with a sloping floor, sets a foot on a stunted oak whose upper trunk has been polished and mutilated by the thousands of feet that have been this way in the forty one years since Peter Harding and Veronica Lee, and insinuates himself upwards.

I'm trying to memorise his moves. Once he's shoved bits of himself into that niche, he reaches as though automatically for a Friend and fiddles it into the next crack up. I can see the crag is trying to expel him but he now sits firmly into the angular hole, leaning left, surely not at rest yet he's as ensconced as a chestnut in its conker, his face expressionless, his right foot stretching, away to edge on a pocket, ballet-elegant, above him the vertical wall, below him a kind of cellar, lobes of earthy rock, their edges larded with chalk by people who have religiously followed the line from the lowest point up. I couldn't possibly rest there, I'm thinking, I couldn't take my ease in bare equilibrium on that slippery coign. But under this first dismay I'm deeply reassured, as though he were doing yoga on my behalf - an object-lesson in poise that reaches me, stabilising and cheering.

He eases round, udges upwards, replaces the Friend with a wire. "I'll save the Friend for above." He reaches high to jam slotting his hand at fullest stretch, pulls up, places another Friend, then inches down again and does more yoga. "Got to go for it,'' he says, and stares out through leaves to the dapple of the sun on unmown hayfields in the dale below. His chin thrusts, his black eyes look focused more on a thought than an image. Is he gathering his powers? or -veteran who can do much harder things than this- is he thinking about something else entirely?

He turns again to the rock-face, reaches up for the higher jam, pulls, jams the other hand, they look perfectly wedged, he gains height and grips a horizontal slot that looks positive, his Fires friction on a vertical flake edge with one helpful rim on it where a crust of the sedimentary rock is slowly peeling. Those feet won't stick!, I want to warn him. They do, he's up, he swings round into the Bower, and a minute later I'm utterly grateful when he asks, "Will I bring you up to here? I don't think we'll have enough rope otherwise," and I  know that the respite of a little cohabitation in that homely harbour is going to happen after all, and with a good excuse...

Fifteen minutes later the respite is gone, spent, blown, finished as though it had never been, as I sit on the big oak trunk, paying out rope occasionally or not at all to the invisible Trevor, who has stepped round into space, committed himself to gravity and his own mortal arms and the unsettling blasts of a thunder wind which is belching at us from the south, mustering dense dark clouds, blinding the distances, presumably with a downpour. 

I'm sat in a cave with a roof ten feet deep. Beneath it the oak grows straight out, two feet thick, an indestructible ship's timber, not a twig or a leaf till it reaches free air and breaks out into a world of foliage. The trunk gives out an iron resonance when you slap it. It's ringed with abseil scars. It wasn't too hard getting here, the jams were the best, holding your hand as a Yale lock holds a half-turned key. "You did that beautifully," he said. "Nice to think that you've done the crux." Gratification glowed and heartened for a while - cooled - dissipated, as the rope led round that corner onto that wind-battered wall.

The oak leaves shake and hiss. The profile towers vertically and memories of the photo of Birtles curling his fingers round the lay-back flake are rudely dwarfed by the imminent actuality of all those other sections of the pitch where there seemed to be no such conveniences nothing but squared and adamantine sandstone, an environment fit for jackdaws, once we scrabbling humans have all given up and gone away.

The rope creeps outwards, stills again. A shout - what? "Resting..."  Out there? on that wall? resting!  Minutes of waiting while the sunshine pales in the thickening cloud, blown raindrops prick my arms, I exorcise fears by concentrating on a tractor snorting in a backyard down below, allow the fears back in via compulsive fantasising about that scarred trunk three feet out from the stance - if I monkeyed out on it, would I be able to swing back in to safety,, and other similar horror-comics.

"Resting" wafts down again - "strenuous... " He finds it strenuous! All I hope is that the horizontal hand jams are better than the gritty, rounded shelf on Valkyrie -Froggatt- where I tried to move along last summer, found no leverage I could use, exhausted my arms trying to place a foolish hex, and whanged down onto my runner... Vague vocal noises from above. The rope creeps off continuously. Nothing for it now but to take off the Sticht, untie from the oak (dear, solid, fatherly oak), and step out into the unstable world, the real world !
There is nothing whatsoever for the feet. Nothing but a smooth, bare wall.

The hands will have to do it all. The hands wedge and squeeze and rejoice to find themselves accepted, taken deeply in, gripped between the upper and nether millstones. They do a thing I've never thought or heard of: the right is normal, palm down, thumb curled under, braced, but look what the left's doing, it's stretched straight out at the end of its arm, palm upwards, knuckles grinding on the nether millstone, the whole hand cupped and tensed as though trying to lift the forty-foot thickness of sandstone in a Herculean effort.

This double jam feels as secure as a glued dovetail. It's almost a pity to leave it, to sidle rapidly towards the haven ten feet away where there are blocky jugs to clutch, sticking out from a fault, and a supportive pocket for one foot.

When Trevor said "Resting," he meant 'putting on another Friend'. For a mercy they all come out easily, or I've learned the knack and no longer make them crawl away from me into the rock. I whip them off, leave them dangling on the rope like ferrets on a gamekeeper's fence then collect them all and clip them onto my harness when I reach one of these unrestful resting-places. The world is now starkly divided into rock and air, air under my backside and my heels, hollow air which is the utter opposite to rock's massed density, rushing wind-driven air, the opposite of rock's fixity - air behind me, sucking my mind out into vacancy, must resist that - rock in front of me, flattening my nose, forcing my eyes to focus inside my comfortable-reading range, shoving me out as a great beast resists its captor, offering a few rough, slender means of clenching my centre of gravity inwards and hauling my body upwards.

The lay-back flake is a treat, no awful limestone polish, solid grainy gritstone leverage, and Nunn has promised "excellent jams and jughandles like battlements" to finish. Horrors: No such thing.' Above the flake a good rim for the fingers enforces a traverse rightwards but it's inconsistent, now it's sharp, now it's rounded and you can't tell where except by trial and error and every error eats more deeply into the forearms' strength-reserves. I gibbon along bunching both hands on the good bits, forced to part from them and slither fearfully past the dodgy sections until a deep mouth slants above me and I reach up gratefully for it - hoist myself into it - and that nearly finished me.
"I went right there," Trevor's voice calls down from just a few feet away now, "I wasn't quite so high." Does he think I can down climb out of here? No! I am not Ron Fawcett, nor was I meant to be. 

I crouch half-wedged in the slanting mouth while Trevor, frankly, keeps the rope tight and I ask him to move it along the lip to exactly above me. I reach up desperately. "You're nearly there," he enthuses. A bad-dream dilemma: to stop from falling I have to stay stuck in, to get fingers onto the top
I have to call for slack, back outwards into air, reach out-round-up ­over... On the firm stay of the top-rope I do just that - Nunn's jugs at last - ten feet too late but what a finish, pulling over onto the level, where we're meant to live, whose beautiful stability would be so much less remarkable if we hadn't first gone right out of it into its polar opposite.Trevor instantly debriefs, reminding me of how well I jammed, recalling how Brown taught him to jam a quarter of a century ago:

"Don't look in the crack'll see nothing - look away, and stick your hand in, feel around, and when you lock onto something, don't piss around, just go on up "

And I recall that that's exactly what Whillans is doing in the photo of him climbing The Mincer on the Roaches. Ten minutes later we've let ourselves down out of the harsh, steep realm into the mini-paradise of leaves and petals at its foot. In Fay Godwin's Land- the best photos of our actual native country that have ever been taken - there is a picture of Cratcliffe Tor which is nicely chastening for the climber. No tower, no drop, no rearing rock-faces or nerve-racked faces of rock-gymnasts. It shows the very foot of the tor, a slightly curved lower edge, a marbled surface, a small tomb-like piece embedded in the turfy foreground, and a filigree frieze of grass-heads like exquisitely refined oats, the pointed seeds printing a lustrous pattern on the black shadow under the crag. 

It could be anywhere, but if you've done Suicide Wall and you know what formidable heights and masses actually rise out of that scrap of a wild garden, threatening it, sheltering it, then you're all the more grateful for the extremes of strength and finesse, of obduracy and yieldingness, which nature offers in the one close space and for the faculties of eye and muscle which enable you to apprehend them both.

David Craig 2009© 

Tuesday 24 November 2009

This Friday: Another David Craig exclusive

From Karakoram to Blighty.....

This Friday David Craig finds himself out of his comfort zone in the Peak.Another exclusive slice of delectable climbing prose from the author of Native Stones.

Friday 20 November 2009

Come Walk with me

Richard Haszko on a recent first ascent in Morocco.
Richard Haszko started climbing in 1966 in the dying days of the old style climbing equipment i.e. a hemp waistline and steel karabiners. This led to a life-long aversion to falling off. However, despite this he was soon leading some fairly hard rock climbs and in 1968 joined the North London Mountaineering Club where he assisted Tony Willmot in his quest to climb every Extreme in the Avon Gorge. He started Alpine climbing in 1969, doing routes like mont Blanc’s Brenva Spur and the  Zmutt Ridge on the Matterhorn. After one particularly “exciting” season he attempted to give up climbing but, being weak willed, gave up the attempt after a year.
He moved to Sheffield, his birthplace, in 1974 and had a succession of manual jobs interspersed with many parties. In 1976 he went to Yosemite, mostly doing free routes. In 1978 he returned to Yosemite and climbed The Nose with Marius Morstad. On returning to England in 1980, after a year living in Calgary, he did a Masters degree in Human Resources but failed to settle into a proper job, instead taking the Government Climbing Grant (the dole) to continue partying and climbing. This ended when he began part-time lecturing and supply teaching in 1984 whilst sharing a house with Alan Rouse. A long-held desire to go the Himalaya was finally realised when he put together a small expedition to Nepal where, with Tom Richardson and Martin Whittaker, he climbed a new route on Tent Peak in the Annapurna Sanctuary. 
Returning from this he took a job with Chris Bonington as his “roadie” for a couple of on Chris’s annual lecture tour. This set a pattern which lasted for the next 14 years -  a month on the road with supply teaching to pay the mortgage on the house he’d managed to buy with no visible means of support (one of the first examples of sub-prime). More Himalayan trips followed, notably to Tupopdan in the Karakoram with Joe Simpson, getting back into climbing after the Void incident, and a young Andy Cave on his first foray outside Europe. Expeditions to Ama Dablam, Gangchempo and Pumori followed but he didn’t summit on any of them. It wasn’t all failure though, as, in 1990, with Joe Simpson, John Stevenson and Bruce French he climbed the three main Scottish sea stacks (Old Man of Hoy, Old Man of Stoerr, Am Buachille) in a long weekend from Sheffield.During this period he spent four years as a paracender instructor.
In 2003 Tom Richardson persuaded him to return to the Himalaya and he summitted Mera Peak, breaking his duck at last. About this time he began working for World Challenge as an Expedition Leader, getting a group of young people up Kilimanjaro. After  few years as an instructor he took up full time work with World Challenge, having no prospect of  early retirement after too many years of play. In 2009, not long after his 60th Birthday, he reached the summit of Pik Lenin, 7134m, a fact of which he is still slightly puzzled.



  “Right then, we’re agreed are we?  Tomorrow we go down.”  Heads nodded slowlyin agreement as we sat in our makeshift  kitchen  staring out at  the  snow-covered  slag heap  that  passed  for a glacier in these parts.  John, Jungle and Valerie were obviously happy enough with the decision but Wojtek seemed unconvinced. “Maybe the weather get better and we climb something”.  “Wojtek”  I replied”,  It’s been bad since we got here, all the mountains look hard and dangerous and you’re still ill.  There’s no sense in it.”  He clearly wasn’t happy, but then, Polish climbers aren’t noted for giving up easily.  His presence was a minor miracle in itself.  Getting out of Poland hadn’t been easy and he’d had to spend four days in hospital in Delhi recovering from an ingrown toenail operation two days before leaving. He was also still peeing blood from a gallstone problem.

So, the Gharesa Karakoram Expedition was coming to an end.  Not wildly successful in teams of summits reached it had certainly had its moments and taken us into some wild and very rarely visited country.  I’d wanted to go somewhere obscure and Paul Nunn had suggested the Gharesa Glacier, something he knew of but had never been to.  Everyone I’d spoken to about it said “Where?  Never heard of it”, so it sounded ideal.  The only reference I could find to it was in Wilf Noyce’s book To The Unknown Mountain, about the ascent of Trivor in 1960.  Since then only a couple of parties had been up the glacier and the only information we had to  go on was what was in Noyce’s book and a map that  showed it  as a side valley at the start of the Hispar .  This made the venture quite exciting and the campaign plan didn’t need the back of even an envelope: get to Nagar, cross the river , turn left  and see where we ended up.

Getting a team together was no problem. Long time friend Valerie had for some time wanted to get lost on some bigger hills than the Glyders, John Stevenson and Jungle (Steve Ralph) were keen on a return visit to the Karakoram and Wojtek we’d met at a party somewhere when a Polish team came to Britain for some winter climbing.  Our little team was soon swollen by the addition of Valerie’s friend Charlotte, two Sues, Robbins and Webb who wanted to walk up to Base Camp with us, and Joe Simpson, on his way to Skardu for a foray in the Hushe valley.
We all, with the exception of Wojtek , met up in Rawalpindi after a few minor travails and the little organization for our expedition was soon done, enabling us to repair to the British Embassy Club for some light refreshment.  Some hours later, refreshed as newts, it was down to a "relatively” sober Charlotte to pour the team into our hotel for a few hours sleep and out to the airport at five the next morning for a flight to Gilgit.  Unfortunately her valiant efforts came to naught as the flight was cancelled, not entirely unexpectedly as it was pouring with rain.  We now had a choice: wait for the weather to improve and keep coming back to the airport and risk the same problem or get a bus up the Karakoram Highway.  John, Joe, Jungle and I were somewhat reluctant to do this after our experiences on the way to Tupopdan  two years earlier but we reasoned it could never be as that again. So, Joe and John wandered into town and a couple of hours later returned with a Transit van and reasonable-looking driver.  At least he didn’t appear to stoned out of his crust and half asleep.
It was quite a good journey in the end, just the usual assortment of mudslides, rock falls and divers natural impedimenta and in a mere 19 hours we were in Gilgit. After a pleasant couple of days Joe left to go to Skardu and now having no-one to argue with we hired a minibus and set off for Karimabad.  We weren’t displeased to leave Gilgit as there was an air of unease in the place after the massacre of possibly hundreds of people locally in a dispute over the end of Ramadan.
Charlotte set off for home from Karimabad and we were soon ready to leave this wonderful oasis in the midst of dramatic Karakoram scenery.  A short but exciting jeep ride took us across the valley into the kingdom and village of Nagar where we debouched onto the verandah of the (closed) Government Rest House.  Nagar is a delightful place, cut off from the hustle and bustle of the Hunza Valley and very tranquil.   We had tea on the palace lawn with the Mir, discussing events in Pakistan and life in Slough.  Slough?  Yes, Slough .  It emerged the Mir had visited relatives there and seemed disappointed when we had to confess our ignorance of the town.  At the end of tea his son solemnly informed us our route up the Gharesa Glacier was quite impossible for porters and armed with this somewhat discouraging information we set about organising some.
There was no shortage of volunteers and negotiations over wages and clothing went well.  Then came what we thought would be the tricky part.  We’d been led to believe by Victor Saunders that the men of Nagar would only walk for two and a half hours or so and call this a stage.  We wanted none of this and chief negotiator John insisted they must do double stages each day.  They looked at each other, did some quick talking, and to our astonishment agreed.   Settling down to sleep that evening we felt very pleased with ourselves, thinking we’d pulled a fast one on the wily locals. At 5.45 the next morning our eight men arrived, shouldered their loads and we set off.  A bridge long past its cross-by date led across the Hispar River and we were soon on a faint path traversing a long, steep scree slope.  A slip on this would have meant certain death, but only after a long slide whilst reviewing life’s cruel and bitter ironies.  After five hours exciting walking we were in a narrow gorge and the porters stopped at some large boulders to begin making tea and chappaties.  This was evidently a campsite and we settled down for an afternoon of lazing around enjoying the scenery.  However, our festive mood was rudely interrupted half an hour later when the porters packed their things and carried on walking.  Why were they going on?  We’d done six hours already.  Perhaps they knew a better site a little further on.

    A little further on proved to five hot, grueling hours and we finally stopped on a sandbank by the river .  As I gave Valerie a drink of water from the river (”Don’t  look at it.  Just drink it “)  I  realized we’d collectively shot ourselves in the foot.  To these men of Nagar a stage was five or six hours and we’d made them agree to do DOUBLE!  We were all too tired to think it through so convinced ourselves it must be a one-off and they couldn’t possibly walk as far tomorrow.  With that thought we slid into our sleeping bags while the porters made a big fire to cook their food for the next few days.  It would have made a brilliant photograph; crouching bodies silhouetted against the flames, sparks flying up into the blackness.  Unfortunately we barely had the energy left just to lie down and watch.
Dawn. We eased our aching bodies into some semblance of life and made tea.   None of us felt too good but Sue Webb looked exceptionally ill and was moving around as if in a daze.  She insisted she would be alright and we got underway at seven, slowly picking our way through prickly scrub and boulders, the heat building all the time.  Sue was going more and more slowly until after an hour she slumped to the ground.  It was pretty obvious this was as far as she would get but it took over an hour to convince her that she had to go down.  Eventually she agreed and we arranged for one of the porters to go with her.  Our other Sue, terribly disappointed, felt she ought to go with her friend, and the three of them turned back.
 Around mid-day we crested a small rise to the left of some cliffs marking the snout of the Gharesa Glacier.  The view from the top was depressing.  A river of rubble stretched as far as we could see: no path, no ice, just rocks and boulders leading up into the clouds.  We looked at the way down onto the glacier.  “Jesus” said John.  “Bloody hell “said Jungle.  “Eek” said Valerie.  “Oh my God “said I, my knees rapidly turning to jelly while a giant crazed butterfly did somersaults in my stomach.  A horrifically steep three hundred foot slope of loosely compacted soil and boulders led down.  I began to think maybe the Mir’s son had been right all along.  After some debate one of the porters walked to the edge, and with a cry he trusted to the will of Allah and hurled himself at the abyss.  Everyone watched with fascinated horror the ensuing cloud of dust and stones. When it cleared there was our brave pioneer sitting safely at the bottom.  This raised a great cheer and one by one the rest of the porters followed suit.  Unfortunately we had no option now but to follow, which we did: very, very slowly and in a state of abject terror.  Going back up it on our way out didn’t bear thinking about, so we didn’t and started walking again.
It was an endless, grinding slog.  The cloud cover meant there were no views, just our feet, one step after another along that highway of shifting stones and it was a weary and dispirited party that eventually caught the porters up at a huge boulder.  They soon made themselves a shelter from rocks and tarpaulins while we dug out a flat space for ourselves.  We’d been on the go for eleven hours.  Exhausted and hungry we rapidly demolished a mulch of Smash and tinned fish which in the circumstances was wonderfully delicious.
The porters were up and away early.  We hadn’t slept well and were very reluctant to emerge from our pits.  When we finally did it was a mad scramble to pack and catch up with our team who were disappearing behind another mound of rubble.  I silently cursed those who’d told us the men of Nagar were lazy and untrustworthy and we were not a jolly little group as we followed them.  The normally irrepressible Jungle was very quiet, lost in his thoughts.  John looked a pale shade of green as he plodded along and Valerie worried about feeling dizzy and nauseous.  I felt pretty dreadful too but tried to cheer her up by singing a song, until a well-aimed stone persuaded me to stop.  Feeling awful was hardly a surprise though as we were at about 14,000 feet on only our third day out.
 Our tiredness and depression steadily increased as we reached the top of each pile of stones, only for another to be revealed in front.  It wasn’t until the early afternoon that the sequence was broken when we came across some bare ice.  At this point our intrepid body of porters shot down a slope of loose rocks and then proceeded to climb what looked like a vertical wall of gravel.  Valerie, who’d just done an involuntary bum slide when a rock deliberately tripped her up, gave me a look that said “I am not going up that.”  I think we all had the same thought but as all our gear was by now fast vanishing on the backs of our highly-trained racing porters we had no choice but to close our eyes and attack the slope.  Fortunately the angle was quite reasonable once we’d embarked on it and after a short level stretch we found our beaming chaps sitting in a small, grassy hollow.  We’d arrived.  Base Camp!
It wasn’t too bad a spot for a Base Camp.  Compact and bijou, some flowers, but no water.  For that we had to scramble down the moraine and hack bits off the glacier. We got the tents up and soon had it made it into something resembling a not totally unpleasant spot. Wojtek turned up in the morning and told us of his adventures while our altitude sickness slowly dissipated.  We stayed there for ten days in very poor weather, long periods of rain or snow only allowing us a couple of forays up the glacier towards Trivor or Lupghar Sar.  When we did see the mountains they looked awesome; all extremely steep, most unclimbed and unnamed.  We bivvied out on one of the forays, only to end up covered in deep, wet snow and demoralisation gradually set in until the  decision  was made.  Down.
 It didn’t take long to pack.  What we couldn’t carry we made up into four loads, cached them securely in a small cave, and set off down that long road of builders rubble, the sun now seeming to mock our running away.  John and Wojtek thought they could see a better way at the side of the glacier and went over to try it.  Jungle pushed on ahead but we met up with him at the huge boulder of our campsite on the way up.  There was no sign of John and Wojtek.  We shouted for a while but there was no answer, so in the absence of any better ideas we had some food, left a note and carried on.  By 5.30 we were very hot and tired and still quite a way from the gully of our nightmares.  Valerie had had enough for that day and wanted to stop.  I was glad of the opportunity but Jungle had run out of cigarettes and was determined to go on as far as possible, in the hope of finding John who might have a couple left.
Spotting a stream on the other side of the glacier we began to slide and fall through the boulder field towards it, cursing and grumbling.  Suddenly we came across a small, sandy beach, just big enough for two sleeping bags end to end.  A tiny, clear stream flowed past.  We couldn’t believe our luck; it was perfect, an oasis in the chaos of the glacier. That evening was a good one, lying in our bags drinking hot chocolate and watching the sun set behind Bojohagar.  Sleep, though, didn’t come easily.  We had that gully to climb in the morning.We were away at six and sitting near the bottom of the gully an hour and a half later.  There was no sign of the others and we felt very isolated.  Looking up the gully I said “We go in from this side, cross over there and then up that bit”, pointing vaguely uphill.  “No we don’t” Valerie replied.  “We get in there, cross that bit and then up.”  “No, no” I countered, gesticulating wildly.  “It’s bloody obvious.”  “We came down that bit, crossed there and finished on this side here.” “Rubbish” she answered, jabbing her finger in the direction of the problem. “Richard , you’ve got the memory of a squashed slug. 
In a bag. We go across from here, up that bit, cross over and then up.”  “Cobblers.  We get in there, go up that bit, then cross and up.”  “THAT’S WHAT I JUST SAID.”  “YOU DID NOT.’’  “I DID.”  Just on the point of mutual strangulation we stopped and began to laugh as it dawned on us that our furious shouting was due to the fact that we were both utterly terrified at the prospect of climbing the wretched thing.Order restored we approached the bottom. In a fit of uncommon chivalry I volunteered to go up, leave my sac, come down and carry up Valerie's load.   It was every bit as bad as I had imagined it would be and I really didn’t want to do it twice, but there was no choice.  Fortunately, my bout of temporary insanity lasted just long enough and we were soon both sitting at the top, after a nerve-jangling experience. 

 Fifteen minutes later we came across the others, still in their sleeping bags.  We swapped stories and I was pleased to hear they’d been just as worried coming up the gully.  It was good to be all together again, though this didn’t last long.  Wojtek’s toe was very bad  so he wanted to walk down slowly with Valerie and me but  as John was down to his last three cigarettes  he and Jungle wanted to get to Nagar fast to resupply, which was fine as they could then organize porters to go up for our gear still at Base Camp.  They set off as soon as they were up, leaving the three of us to amble along behind.
 The rest of the walk out was uneventful, thankfully, and late the next afternoon we were eating fresh apricots in Nagar.  That same evening we got to Karimabad and met up again with John and Jungle.  Six days later our gear arrived, the ‘unreliable’ men of Nagar having surpassed themselves, wading through two feet of snow to get it.  Now it was time to go home, a little disappointed maybe, but richer for a great experience in a wild and remote area and, in the words of Rum Doodle,” the porters were splendid. “

 The Team

Richard Haszko 2009©

Photographs: Haszko Collection©


Tuesday 17 November 2009

This Friday: Richard Haszko in the Karakoram... exclusive

Coming up this Friday, another Footless exclusive. Richard Haszko takes us to the remote Gharesa Glacier in the Karakoram region and is joined along the way by Joe Simpson.

Friday 13 November 2009

You are being watched !

Steve Dean was born in 1950, in South London and educated at Bec School. He was introduced to the mountains of North Wales by early family holidays at Dolgellau and started rock climbing at Harrisons Rocks in 1967. During five years at University in Cardiff, he climbed extensively in Wales and Scotland and made early visits to the Western Alps. Since 1974, he and his wife Janet have lived in Derby, close to the crags of the Peak District and he has only recently retired from a career as an urban planner.Steve’s biography of Colin Kirkus Hands of a Climber was published by Ernest Press in 1993. Since then, he has written extensively for High magazine, Climber, Loose Scree and the Journals of the Climbers Club, the Rucksack Club and the Wayfarers Club. In 2004 and 2005 Steve was a judge for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and is now on the committee of the Boardman Tasker Trust. He tries to get out on the crags and hills as frequently as possible and his love of climbing and the mountain environment continues to inspire him.

James Marjot on the second pitch of Smurf Traverse (HVS 5a-US 5.9)Alan Leary©

And so it came to be that it was July and I was out on the Anglesey crags in the ever-fit company of Mick Wrigley. We are both Gogarth fans and the week had started off well; Mick had led us up The Strand on a beautiful afternoon. The climb is described in the guidebook as "one of the outstanding climbs of North Wales" and it is quite brilliant, one of the finest pitches I've ever climbed. The Strand is however on the Upper Tier and to get the full Gogarth buzz you do really need to be down at sea level. The Main Wall or Easter Island Gully with a bit of a sea running sharpens your senses no end and gives the full Gogarth experience. On this basis, the next day saw us walking up from the Holyhead quarries towards North Stack.
Now, for anyone who has not been there, North Stack Wall is an awesome place, with a sombre atmosphere. A conveniently placed telegraph pole serves as an anchor for a very steep 100ft abseil down to the back of the zawn. From the rocks at the foot of the abseil we could see that the sea was still breaking with gusto over the boulders at the foot of the wall but that the tide was now going out. We decided to sit around for a while until our route was accessible and my eye was drawn up the main part of the wall. North Stack Wall is about 120ft high, is very steep and composed of bright white quartzite. The stupendously blank section on the right contains some of the most serious rock climbs in Britain, including The Cad (E6), the Clown (E7) and The Bells! The Bells! (E7). These are not routes for mortals. They are technically very hard and appear to run to little in the way of protection. I was awed by the place, there would appear to be little or no margin for error there. Fortunately, to the left of these modern horrors are some friendlier mild extremes like Talking Heads and Nice n'Sleazy and we had our eyes on one of these once the tide backed off.
As we waited below the wall, the sea gurgled away beneath the huge boulders and I picked up a familiar growling sound that drew my eyes up to the more broken crag on the opposite side of the zawn. To my delight there were row upon row of Razorbills standing on their ledges like wooden soldiers. Periodically one would fly out over the sea and then loop back to the ledge constantly chattering. These cheerful birds are one of my favourites and they all eyed us with curiosity as we scrambled about on the boulders below them.

By now the sun was shining brightly over the sea, the sky reflected like bright diamonds on the constantly broken surface of the water, a pleasing contrast to the shadow of the zawn itself. Mick had decided to opt for the excellent Nice n'Sleazy, a steep groove line that soared up from the large boulders below us, many of which were still under water. Now, Mick is not normally an impatient sort of chap, far from it in fact. Today, however, he was raring to go, but the entry into the route from the boulders is a tricky one. He was soon soaked below the knees as were both ropes and after much laughter and cursing, we decided to wait a little longer until the sea retreated. Before too long he was on his way and from my vantage point on the zawn floor the climbing looked excellent, steep and technical but with reassuring protection. About halfway up the pitch Mick looked down and called out "....ey, we've got some company." Sure enough, just off shore the head of a seal popped up out of the water, followed by another and another and another..until there were twelve, all carefully scrutinising what we were doing. Their ease of movement in the water was a joy to watch and I loved their whisker laden faces staring at us with bright, intelligent eyes and with obvious interest. I was pleased to see the seals, they are a frequent feature of climbing at Gogarth and they brought a delightful humour and warmth to this serious place.
Mick finally reached the top of the pitch and got himself safely belayed. The ropes went tight and I set off up the tricky initial wall into the main groove. The rock is a little brittle in places and very steep, but the holds are positive and reassuring in the main. Some way up the pitch, I looked down on the seals who were continuing to peer up at us.....we were clearly the main entertainment of the afternoon.
At the same time, we were also under scrutiny from the Razorbills on the cliffs opposite. Often when on a pitch or belaying on a sea cliff, I've noticed that some of the Auks and particularly the Razorbills, are genuinely inquisitive and fly out from their roosts seemingly to check you out. So it was today as the occasional one swept round to see what we were up to. It was the same delightful innocence as that shown by the seals and it added to the charm of the place.
I carried on steadily up the pitch removing Mick's runners as he took in the rope. The crux was right where it should be, at the top, and then I was up onto the grass slope by the wall of the coastguard station. I pulled the ropes through from Mick, started coiling them and as I did so I looked down to the sea. The seals had moved on but the Razorbills were still soaring out over the zawn, inspecting the crags below us. High above the beautiful clear song of a Skylark filled the summer sky. We sat awhile and just sorted out the gear. Later we walked back towards Holyhead in the early evening breeze, content after a good day. Gogarth in the summer is a wonderful place and there is something strangely intense and satisfying about doing a good route there. It remains a place scorned by many but a delight to some. What the birds and animals make of our antics remains a mystery! The Gogarth habit had returned; two weeks later we were back and taking the magical mystery tour that is Red Wall.

Gogarth:Red Wall (Alan Leary©)

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Coming up: Steve Dean on the magic of Gogarth

This Friday, Steve Dean recalls idyllic days spent at Gogarth and finds himself taking a birds' eye view of his surroundings!

 Gogarth n'all:Alan Leary©