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©

Friday 6 November 2009

Why we never went climbing !

Ken Latham was born on a traditional hill farm in the north Snowdonia village of Rhyd Ddu in the shadow of Yr Wyddfa and the Nantlle range. From an early age mountains became a powerful influence which drew Ken back to north Wales after his family moved to Liverpool when he was twelve. He began his climbing career in earnest when he was sixteen.
In Liverpool, Ken worked at the Ellis Brigham mountaineering shop during the 1970's and early 80's which had become the hub for local climbers. As a member of the local Vagabonds club he climbed with legendary figures from the contemporary Liverpool scene including Pete Minks and Al Rouse.
During the 70's Ken climbed a lot on the local sandstone quarries on Merseyside such as Pex Hill where he was involved in over 20 first ascents and freed several other Pex classics which had previously been bolted and pegged.After moving back to Wales in the late 70's Ken lived in Llanberis and even survived a spell at Al Harris's infamous house of fun, 'Bigil" !
He decided to return to full time education as a mature student and completed his degree at Aberystwrth after which he settled down for good in north Wales with his wife and two young daughters. It was at this time that Ken really indulged his passion for hard Welsh classics after teaming up with fellow 'Footless' contributor, Mike Bailey, ticking off routes like Ten Degrees North, Left Wall, Vector and Castell Cidwm's brutal Central Wall.
A member of The Climbers Club, he has contributed to the club's journal and despite reining in his rock climbing activities in recent years due to some operable hand and shoulder problems, Ken still gets on the hill at every opportunity and has rekindled his passion for photography.

It was Andy’s idea to go for a pint first; I was all set up to leave after work. “Just a quickie while we decide if it’s Wales or the Peak. What do ya think? “Yeah I’m up for that youth; Good idea youth, get them in then”.

The Newington began to buzz as familiar faces turned up, Brian and Pete joined us at the table and another round was soon being ordered.

 “You two heading for then, Wales?”
 “Maybe the Peak . Weather doesn’t sound too good in Wales what about you guys? “Na, been out bouldering a few nights this week, I’m knackered.”

Six ‘o’clock came and went. More beers came and went; by eight o’ clock getting out of the pub was looking unlikely. By closing time we were definitely not going far.

“Stuff it youth let’s get some chips we’ll doss in the car and drive to Helsby in the morning eh?
 “Yeah matey, no probs”.

We sat on the steps of the old bombed out church, filling our faces.

 “Got your “Cabin” card with you?”Andy pipes up
 “Oh ay youth never go without it, just in case of emergency like, you know. Got two free tickets to the circus as well”
 “Some guy asked me to put up a poster in the shop. Gave me two tickets.”

Now Cabin cards were as rare as hen’s teeth. They were a magical pass that gained you access to the legendary Cabin Club at the top of Liverpool’s Bold St. It was the place to go for a fun filled evening: if you ended up in your own bed after a night at the Cabin you had failed in your mission. The night was going to get a lot longer, I thought, as we queued at the entrance with the nighthawks of Liverpool. Inside, the music was reaching a crescendo as we headed for the bar and more beer.

We spotted them in the corner, through the haze of smoke; she looked really nice; Andy’s wasn’t bad either
“Come on youth; let’s ask them for a dance.” We plucked up the courage and as usual the line went:“Are ya dancing?” “Yeh.. ya askin?”  "Am Asking", 

 “All right then as long as me mate dances with your mate.”
Eventually the question is asked,
 “Where jer werk?”

Most of our crew were either students or worked in mundane jobs. I worked in a shop and Andy was a paint tank cleaner. Not the most glamorous of career prospects and offering few exciting chat-up lines, but all was not lost: at this point you would invent a dream job to impress the young lady.
“Oh, I deliver Ferraris around the country that’s why you haven’t seen me here before” or “I’m just over calibrating Jodrell Bank’s telescope ,an asteroid had knocked it off kilter, top secret though- say nowt.”

“Oh, friggin ‘ell, I wouldn’t dare”
 “Hey Lizzie, ee werks at Jodrell Bank” she hollers to her mate
 “Oh yeh .They offerin’ cheap loans then?”

This time though the jobs were going to be a bit different,
 “Where do ya werk then?”
 “The circus”
 “The circus?
 “Yeah me mates a high wire walker and I get shot out of a cannon”
 “Yeah it’s true; here’s  a couple of tickets to tomorrow’s show”

 Half an hour later Andy was on another mission, chatting up a stunning long-haired blonde who asked the same career-loaded question. He told her he had just qualified as a vet, confident that would improve his chances, but she HAD just qualified as a vet, so that attempt failed at the starting blocks.
After a long night we staggered out in the small hours and found the car, where we got into our bivvy gear, wound down the seats, and went to sleep. In the morning we awoke to monster hangovers, too knackered to even think of going to Helsby. Instead we went home to steaming mugs of tea and bacon sandwiches.

And that’s why we never went climbing.

 *This tale is set in the heady days of the early 70’s and is probably not very politically correct  at the present time , for that I can only apologise. As Jim Royle would say” Pass us another beer will ya Barb”.

Ken Latham© 2009

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Coming this Friday. North Wales climber Ken Latham and a cautionary climbing tale set in 70's Liverpool which essentially revolves around sex and booze and rock and roll. You don't get this sort of thing in Climb !