Friday, 18 December 2009

The Leader

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

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 comers 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.