Photo: Climbers on John Sumner's classic 'Will o the Wisp': P Stasiw©
Thursday, 31 December 2009
Photo: Climbers on John Sumner's classic 'Will o the Wisp': P Stasiw©
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Carneddau wild ponies above Ogwen Valley:N Wales
Friday, 18 December 2009
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.
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.
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
Don Roscoe on Phoenix at Shining Clough: Don Roscoe©
Friday, 11 December 2009
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
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Friday, 4 December 2009
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Friday, 27 November 2009
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.
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 .....you'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.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Friday, 20 November 2009
“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.
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.
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. “
Photographs: Haszko Collection©
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Friday, 13 November 2009
James Marjot on the second pitch of Smurf Traverse (HVS 5a-US 5.9)Alan Leary©