Saturday 30 June 2012

Powerful Moments: Two climbing classics revisited

Joe Simpson (left) and Mike J Harrison.

The following review from David Craig was first published in the London Review of books in the late 1980's and critiqued two books which came out within twelves months of each other and which went on to become classics within their own right.
In Powerful Moments David Craig reviews Joe Simpson's eventual blockbuster,Touching the Void and Mike John Harrison's gritty work of fiction- Climbers.

Both books are world's apart in terms of style and content with the former drawn very much from the traditional mountaineering boys book of adventures school of outdoor literature, whilst Climbers owes more to the late 50's,early 60's socio/cultural northern realism which sprang from the typewriters of authors like Osbourne,Delaney and Wesker.

Friday 22 June 2012

Spanish Rock: A magical mystery tour

Photo: Steve George 
Rucksack club sun/rock Spain 13th February 2012

We came round the corner in the dark, back to the marina where the car was parked and Steve said, ‘Oh no… the gates are shut’.  These were like electric prison gates.  My heart jumped, because for the last bit of finding our way though the deserted apartment-land, I was working out what we should do if the car was locked in.

I am shaking my head, one of Steve’s wind-up jokes; then there was this very small sign, we didn’t notice when we left the car- Prohibited Parking-.  Holding my breath we checked for wheel clamps or a ticket.  Let’s get in the car and drive, logically came into my mind. ‘One drink at the bar’, said Steve without a care in the world, so I followed, easily persuaded and after the second or third toast to the route, I ceased to worry.  We listened to Iggy Pop on Spotify with a great barman, who had just given us a free ’one for the road’ cerveza when the text came though from Chis and Pete,  ‘Where are you?  Everyone but Tappers and Alison and us are worried about you!’….

The route came about because I wanted to climb on a sea cliff. ‘Magical Mystery Tour, your route’, said Dom, ‘I had a magic day with Helen on it’. Ant told us about the scoop traverse with no hand holds, in my head imagined the top of ‘The Slide’ on Lundy.  I vaguely remember someone mentioning a big abseil, I’ve done some big free sea-cliff abs into’ Spellcaster’ and ‘Street Legal’ in Pembroke, so must have dismissed this bit of vital information.

Not so early in the morning we set off (due to me faffing around, I’ve put this in for Steve).  It was perfect weather, dawdling at a view point, taking in an impossible looking sea cliff, where ‘The Missing Link’ is, (we found this out later) we chatted away.  All seemed straight forwards until we lost the path.  We made our own path which was ok at first but became harder and harder going and no sign of a path at all. After a few hours we sat pulled thorns out of our legs and worked out that today would be a recce day to find the top of the route and the proper path. We identified herbs and worked our way down to incredible turquoise holes dropping down to the sea.  Then, out of the blue, by chance, we found a ledge with three good bolts.  It must be the abseil for The Magical Mystery Tour.

It was 2.30pm. I sat and soaked in the sun, looking at the glittering sea and skyline of Benidorm, not a worry in my head.  After a bit, Steve started doing gear stuff, getting out the rope ‘What are you doing?’
‘We can do it’, said Steve, ‘we’ve got four hours’.  Bloody hell, better focus, get my climbing head on.

I tore out the route description from the guide and Steve started setting up an exceedingly complicated knot; this was a triple bowline and uses up lots of rope,  ‘Is the rope long enough to reach the bottom?’
‘I’ll check’, said Steve disappearing over the edge, muttering, ‘I hate abseiling’. Strange for a rope access man?  ‘It’s ok, there’s a ladder’….‘The rope reaches’, and he was gone….

Rope went slack; I clipped on my descender, checked buckle, screwed gate and followed.  By the old broken wooded ladder there was a free section, just thinking…mmmm; when I got to the lip of the gigantic cavernous cliff.  Nothing for it but to go slowly and carefully down like a spider on a thread; thanking God for the thick rope, wishing I had my little ab gloves, should have done the prussic thing, started spinning round and round, feeling sick heading down to huge cactus plants ….

‘Pull me in Steve’, I yelled.   At last the bottom, looking up at free hanging iron ladder and rope; there’s no way I’m going out up there!  That was the scariest ab I’ve ever done in my life. Steve cracked on along the ledges, so I coiled the end of the rope and went to find him, thinking, we’d better get up this pretty slick or we’ll be in trouble. Good job we took the description.  We checked it at each stance, everything fitted round an arête, up, down and along the ledges.  Gradually the exposure grew from below and the overhanging rock above got nearer.

My lead, I read the description about three times, 4-, 20m /traverse left, two scoops, pull over an overlap to belay, 2 bolts.  There were in fact three scoops.  The first was insignificant and I put three bits of gear and set off telling myself, ‘Don’t fall off’, thinking, ‘ just round the corner and I’m there.’

Undercut rock dropping to the unknown, traversing, stepped round the arête, too high, getting pushed off by the overhanging rock and saw two massive scoops strung out down below and up, the first with one old rusty bolt for protection.  No hand-holds, perched on little square foot-hold, I slowly got my balance and worked towards the bolt (better than nothing).  I left the bolt and traversed looking for holds telling myself it’s only 4-, pulled into the next scoop with two wonderful bolts for the belay, clipped in, safe and breathing again.  I suddenly felt isolated hanging there in this scoop of overhanging rock; until Steve ambled round the corner smiling and said, ‘ How did you get there?’  It looked difficult to get out every way.  Bolt to the right, two pitches left.

Steve led off to the bolt, an arête and traverse, he went on to the second belay good gear. We didn’t risk using any of the ENP nut holes.  Last pitch 40m 5a crux Steve set off with a few grumblings, steep rock, not much pro and in no time at all he was at the top. 

‘Hope I can follow’, crossed my mind as I got the gear out; followed the rope then the huge adrenaline buzz of topping out. We’d got it in the bag, a traditional alpine handshake, sorted the ropes and followed the well cairned path as the sun was setting over the towers of Benidorm, what a great magical mystery adventure.

With muchas gracias to Steve George, Dominic Oughton and everyone at the sun-rock meet.

Jill Sumner 2012

Monday 18 June 2012

The Hope Project continues its rise from the ashes.

It is over four months since To Hatch a Crow became the first outdoor media to publish and account of the racially motivated arson attack on black outdoor charity organiser, Sam Farmer and his family at St Agnes in Cornwall. After the story was picked up on one of the world's biggest climbing forums UK Climbing, the initial outrage felt by members of the outdoor community quickly developed a positive and constructive momentum as hundreds of members who had been moved by the story offered help in the form of cash and equipment donations.

Watching the unfolding story develop,some of the UK's largest outdoor equipment manufacturers including, Wild Country, Annapurna and Marmot weighed in with financial support and equipment donations. Leading climber Johnny Dawes also dropped in and stayed with Sam and his family to give his support and with an offer to run climbing courses at the project this summer.

As things stand right now, Sam tells me that progress has continued on an upward curve with work on a new toilet block and showers almost completed. A debating area dedicated to Sam's friend and popular UKC contributor Dave Hooper- who has been battling illness these last few years- completed and a 'butterfly area' -which is a protected wild section of the site- created.

The official plans submitted by The Hope Project seeks permission to build a stable block for horse and larma trekking with changing rooms and a gallery within the structure. THP's planning consultant Paul Bateman said today that he was hopeful that the local authority planning committee would have some positive news on the application by the end of the week.

In the mean time, members of the climbing community continue to turn up at St Agnes to offer hands on help and moral support in the ongoing development of the site.Developments which have been recorded by print/visual outdoor media and news agencies.

Fifty Youngsters from inner city Liverpool are already pencilled in to stay at the site in August and experience what will be for most of them,their first chance to try their hand at outdoor activities and experience living under canvas. An unforgettable experience for them on the fabulous Cornish coast.

The Hope Project

Thursday 14 June 2012

Day walks in Snowdonia: Review

The latest volume in Vertebrate Publishing's Day Walks series,sees seasoned writer and photographer Tom Hutton putting  Eryri under the spotlight and offering twenty circular routes which,the publisher claims, are suitable for walkers of all abilities.

First off, I must say I like the pocket size format. Roughly the size of one of the Climbers Club's slimmer guidebooks. This is very much a book you can take with you into the hills as opposed to a coffee table tome which might well be fine for planning a trip but useless out in the field.

Tom follows a detailed introduction covering all bases,with a four part series of walks divided between northern, central and the less frequented south Snowdonia area. The fourth so called 'bonus' section offers a couple of classic easy scrambles in the north of the park.

Each walk opens with brief resume of the route followed by a list of the key high points. A more detailed description is offered before the directions are given which are broken down into sections. Obviously,walkers using the guide would be expected to supplement the guidebook with a map and compass/gps. If a thick hill fog descends on the walker en-route then even the most detailed walking guide will be found wanting!

The guide uses 125.000 OS maps to detail each route. For those using the appropriate OS map, each route can be easily copied from guidebook to map, thereby ensuring that even in poor conditions,the experienced walker should have a good idea at what stage they are on the walk.

Even for grizzled mountain veterans,Tom's guide offers some interesting variations on old favourites which may have been walked in part before,or as a variant.

The guide is liberally sprinkled with the author's evocative photographs and will certainly stimulate some great adventures I'm sure. An excellent little book for the visitor to north Wales who is perhaps less familiar with this beautiful area than their more regular haunts. Given the obvious labour of love that Day Walks in Snowdonia has been for Tom, I'll even forgive him as the current chair of BMC Cymru for calling Yr Wyddfa-Snowdon- the highest mountain in England and Wales !

John Appleby

Day Walks in Snowdonia is available from Vertebrate Publishing

Friday 8 June 2012

I feel rock


El Cap's East Buttress route starts high above the valley at the end of a ledge system on the mountain's right flank. It's a beautiful sunbaked route on a bulging rounded buttress of fine weathered yellow rock. If you're waiting there to start the route, it's slow-- because there are usually several Japanese teams hurling themselves at the first pitch like demented bananas. So have a look over the end of the ledge.

Below, in deep-contrasted shadow, is a tremendous corner sweeping down for 600ft. Continuous -with smooth wide walls, one overhanging and one just leaning back -the hairlike corner crack makes no secret of its challenge.

If you're into laybacks, then this is it, you've found it at last -the spiritual home of laybacks, whence came all the other little laybacks in the world. In all this climb's length there is just 10ft. of bridging on the second pitch: the rest is just pure apelike joy in every conceivable kind of layback position.

The start is ten minutes from the road and blatantly obvious. Senses are immediately stirred by the incredibly harsh light-and-shade chequer work of the corner's beautiful slabs, features obliterated by deep black shadow on brilliant sunlit stripes. It's hard to be single minded enough to concentrate on the first pitch of laybacking -but there it is, there's no other way.

Laybacking is a strangely committing kind of climbing. It always feels like that's it, once you start. You just stand there looking at it, building up for a rush, and although you know the crack will take good protection, you can't see where to put it once you're arched up in a layback position. There's always a tendency to get going and forget the protection. As the Editor would say: "Just lay back and enjoy it."

The first pitch is a wicked curved slash like a sabre scar, but it's just my size. 40ft. up, 20ft. to go, and I put a chock in. Handjam-size, number 9, pick it out on a tatty white tape and throw it in

I threw it in: it went right in, two feet in, krab and all, out of reach. I was broddling round with my longest wire, and was just pulling the tape out, when I saw one of those sights you just don't want to believe or accept. In the crack behind the nut was a hand, yes a hand. It still had chalk on, and grubby fingernails.

Not only was the sight of a hand completely unacceptable to me, but also it was dragging the nut away, my nut, into the depths of the mountain. I instinctively let go of the tape, and I remember thinking that dozens of climbers have probably lost their hands that way. best to let it have the nut and clear off. At the top of the pitch I grabbed the tree, tied on and checked to see if my feet were still there -you never know with hands in cracks what they're after.

Behind the tree was a perfect dark chimney parallel to the cliff face. Creeping out of the base at ground level was a giggling Yank with my nut.

The next pitch looked potentially even more horrific. A slab of rock weighing a few million tons had split, leaving a curly crack, then one side had slipped a couple of feet so that the curls on one side were out of phase with those on the other. Could it be a giant American meat grinder?

Our fears were allayed. The crack proved to be perfect jamming -just throw a fist or a finger in, and let it" slide down until it jams. Easy, just like that for 120 perfectly vertical feet.

The last pitch was another leap into the unknown. Run into the back of a 20ft.-wide cavernous chimney and bridge out of its roof, funnelling up into a narrowing fissure, squeezed out into space on a fist jam; layback and mantelshelf on to it, another jam for fingers only, and grab the top.

The trouble with Kilnsey is that the reasonably-angled slabs turn out to be overhanging, and the steep wall leading to the roof overhangs seriously. _

So the concept of the route was all right. The discreet wall trending to the shallow delicate groove-line -in turn becoming a cobra-headed corner, curving, poised. All right when it was a germ of an idea that quickly grew to a route that had to be done, a last great problem that we naively thought everyone was after.

But when it came to cleaning it. that's when realization dawned. Trying to reach in. Spinning on the long rope; flailing with a wire brush at the head wall; looking down at the rope shaking in space some 20ft. clear of the 'slabs' below. Bouncing around trying to get in and grab a piece of rock to clean -and that flicking rope cleaned out its own gully up above, the falling debris knocking bits off cheekbones and arms. And waking up from unconsciousness on the ground, with a red-hot figure~of·eight still melting the rope.

It was ridiculous, but too late. We'd blabbed, set it up: now we were set up.

Discreet walls were first. I never want to see another wall as discreet as that. Small hidden holds 10ft. apart with smirches, nickets and wrinkles in between, but where to go? Half lines leading to whole truths. And I follow one and see another, go again -and now suddenly I can say the climbing is unreasonable, but I think we mean the climber has lost the reason. So I hang on half a wire nut and smash hell out of my number I Clog, and make it thread a hole it wouldn't before. And I feel safe now, perhaps it's not so unreasonable --but it's too late, because Ron is pulling me down with plenty of reason bottled up in his paws.

At the thread Ron loses his reason, sees it is unreasonable, grabs the thread, rests, then spies a reason, a line of reasons leading to the groove. He likes the groove because it's hard, all go, but not unreasonable -and at the top, a perfect perch, two by one, two nuts and a peg.

Above, the cobra was wet, and to pin it down would have been too much, and the elder I was resting on broke off, so we broke off.

And we waited for the drought and with the waiting lost all reason, rushed past the thread and barely made it, strength failing 50ft. out. The elder was weak and needed tying up to a stopper thread.

I become an overhanging gardener and look for sheep to heal or pines to plant out -but there aren't any here, and I have to think about the cobra's head yet to come. I've seen this bit before, from my rope before it cleaned me off, so I climbed with confidence. Safely past the cobra's still-weeping eye, sneak left but can't rest beneath a wall that's not the one I knew on the rope. The wall has aero-bubbled rock bulging up to back-to-jugs 15ft. above. Deep breaths, nine or ten ---I like to think it re-aerates my blood, but in reality it's a simple task I can concentrate on -nine or ten, then go. Just-made-the-jugs, but perhaps it was a do-it-better-next-time move; it was, however, still the longest stretch I can do.

Up, and I persuade the second not to bother -I want it to be my experience for a year or two. I abseil down, as far out in space as possible.

There's not much to recommend Wellington Crack to the seeker of the aesthetic in climbing. The ugliness of the situation (Ilkey Quarry) is enveloping, the crack itself more of an evil unnatural slit -no comparison with the perfect Yosemite crack carefully dividing and apportioning sweeps of clean rock.

No, if any beauty is to be found in Wellington Crack, it can only be through feedback from the body and its movement.

From bottom to top the crack demands unending attention to movement that is at the same time delicate yet strenuous, dynamic yet slow and balanced. Every: foot requires something different of the climber. Every movement of every part has to be considered. Every movement is deliberate and worthwhile. A knee or an arm too far out and the layback doesn't work, or balance is lost. Too far in, and you begin to swing outwards slowly but irrevocably: in three or four seconds finger friction will be lost, and you'll be away.

You'll realise the reason at the top, take pride in rive minutes of perfectly controlled movement, and the graffiti and litter and tourists' dogs arc unimportant.


Barry Bates's routes are all alike -sort of thin cracks that split smooth walls with no footholds.

Having fingers the same shape and consistency as Chouinard 5-1/2 Stoppers is a distinct advantage on these routes. For the rest of us, it's just a 150ft. exercise in every
conceivable kind of finger jam, finger layaway and a half-a-handjam.

Feet are a kind of embarrassment: there appears to be nowhere to put them, and if you start worrying about it, your hands fall out. I finally worked out that the best scheme was to hide them away underneath your knees and hope they'd get up the route on their own.

It's not a straight-in crack. It's angled slightly and this makes the climbing a little easier, all kinds of peculiar finger jams surprisingly sticking in place.

The rock is magnificent, even for Yosemite -one of those routes where you get back down and say: "Did I do that? Let's do it again." But you don't, because somewhere in your 'inner mind is a subconscious but compelling chink of cool beer cans ---or half-gallon buckets of sherbet ice cream, if your name's Ron Fawcett.


You've not come here for a weekend's cragging. The route is II,000ft. up a mountain in the middle of the Persian desert---just getting there is about as difficult as getting into Yorkshire.

If the inscrutable Eastern customs officers don't stop you, or the swarms of Kurdish brigands brewing up on glowing camel-shit cakes don't overpower you on the slopes of the mountain, then the ten-foot tabby cats called mountain leopards will certainly have you on top.

But the route is something else ---a slender, almost vertical 1500ft. pillar of limestone, featureless from a distance but, on closer inspection, revealing a texture like Aero chocolate. Rough little bubbles that allow you to claw the rock like a cat.

Once you've learnt the clawing technique, the climbing becomes superb ---just pitch after pitch of seemingly runnerless rock, and you simply claw your way up it.

The situation is a spacewalk: 10,000ft. below, like a relief
map, lies the barren ridged desert, stretching away to the oil
rigs of the Persian Gulf ghosting up from the haze.


To the unsuspecting British climber the High Sierra is unbelievably beautiful. Gentle forest trails and the occasional road wind across an 8000f1. plateau, dark sweet-smelling pine alternating with areas of sunbleached bare granite ---acres of glacier-scoured rock sprouting the occasional lonely, twisted Jeffrey Pine.

In the distance are a dozen or so domes of brilliant white granite rising in perfect curves from the forest. The tallest is Fairview Dome, an 1800ft. sweep of granite, perfectly circular, with curves that ensure its place as the most perfect and biggest breast in the world. There's no way you can drive past without fondling its smooth slabs.

So gentle at first that it's easy walking; almost imperceptibly steepening until the slab is a steep slab and friction is not enough, and the eye is drawn to the line, the only line, a pencil-line crack .creasing the surface of that cuppable tit.

Find the line, follow it, and be drawn through the slabs to the wall, through overlaps and roofs, the line still faithfully leading to the only possible finishing point on this mountain.

Higher, the walls gradually curve back again, easing off for three pitches before the last final thrust of what one can only call a nipple, whether it looks like one or not.

Do you know what it feels like to sit up there on the biggest tit there is, looking down on a pine-chested woman with eleven more tits all around you? Outasight, man.


lf you think you've ripped off the French in Chamonix, then it's only fair to let them do it to you ---they've got a special place for it, the Saussois.

It's just Stoney Middleton with French-speaking routes; sort of smoother, more subtle, more elegant. The French will laugh at your efforts to climb the routes in English: you see, the French still regard a fifi hook for a rest as free climbing, while you end up with dislocated fingers after failing to make decent hooks out of them. It's worth being sand-bagged to climb in English, though, just for the experience of swinging up highly overhanging and improbable walls on superb hidden finger-jugs, or to be confronted suddenly on an overhang with a thread that you can crawl into for a rest.

L'Ange is the ultimate test of these techniques; nowhere is ~ there a poor hold, just steep sustained strenuosity up a highly improbable line. Protection is superb except at the start of the overhanging section, which is de-pegged.· 30ft. above and 15ft. out in space is a large jugular thread, ready threaded.

Just rush up this technical steep bit until good holds start you curving backwards up the roof. In such a haven of runners, that section is truly exciting. Next come two or three resting pegs, though it could be done without if you hadn't been to the pub the night before. That's the other place the French are out to rip you oIT -but we beat 'em.

When the landlord realises you're English and not just noddy Frogs, he produces a free round of strong green liquor from a bottle wrapped in a towel. When you've drunk it, he whips off the towel to reveal a pickled python, and you're supposed to rush off to be sick.

Not so our team -the landlord's jubilant garlic grin turning sour as John ordered two beers and another round of snake juice, s'il vous plait. The angel, it seems, is no match for the devil.


A foreboding, harsh grey cliff glowering at an equally angry-looking sea. A 150ft. sheet of smooth wall is dominated by a leaning headwall seamed with ridiculous-looking grooves [Penlire Head, Cornwall}. The start of Darkinbad does little to ease your mind ---a lurch from a boulder on to a wall of no return.

Then suddenly things change, and the whole wall is a mass of tiny twisted cracks and holds, each one containing hundreds of friendly acrobatic shrimps -it's alive. Everything is enjoyable, you're among friends -millions of climbers whiling away their time on a vast handhold sanctuary.

Just wander up that vast wall, always heading for a shallow alcove below the nastiest of the hanging grooves above. You set out up the groove; steady laybacking to a roof where you gradually realise that you're trying to layback with your feet above your hands and there's no horizon left.

The shrimps above are disturbed by a blind hand creeping over the roof, feeling around, finding a flat hold with a useful crack down the back; a body and legs follow, and all end up teetering on the flat hold with the useful crack.

The rest is a foregone conclusion, and you can lie in the sun in perfect Japanese film-maker's grass until your second gets annoyed and begins to drag you over the edge,

Pete Livesey

First published in Crags magazine 1976.

Friday 1 June 2012

The Rock

As a climber of course, it was the mountains and the cliffs that attracted me to North Wales. As the late Paul Williams, climber and journalist, used to say of his divorce, "It was the climbing, youth, the climbing." I bought Paul’s house near Penisarwaun, or rather Coq au Vins, as Paul called it, after it had become a hollow shell of post-family life. I think it had ceased to be a home and had settled into a base camp of primitive needs. An easy clue was the shelf loaded with cans of baked beans in the kitchen. “I prefer to shite in the garden, saves paying some fucker to empty the septic tank.” His real home was the search for new rock and his family ‘all that could put up with him, laugh and hold a rope’. A bold soul facing the dagger.

On our first day at the new home, Ochre had chased and killed and eaten a cat. I had just cleaned up bits of cat from the drive when the neighbours came round to say hello. Robin and Betty were local folk and easy going. He had been a preacher at some time and worked in the quarries. He showed me his hand where he had lost a finger in a slate-dressing machine. They mentioned that they had lost their cat! As Betty was affectionately describing it I noticed a cat collar by the hedge with a name-tag on it. I ambled over and put my foot over it. We said we would keep an eye open for the moggy! Cloggy had also been a favourite hunting ground of hers. From high up on the cliff hanging from my digits, involved in my own ‘hunt’, I often saw her doing the ‘rounds’ from rucksac to rucksac, converting someone’s lunch to scraps of paper and tin foil. She owned herself on such days. Her attempt to ascend Idwal Slabs after she caught sight of a goat high up was sensational! Our freezer was normally full of all sorts of ‘hillkill’!

I can relate to the rock as home. There is no boredom or ennui or obvious dagger. Moving on rock can be such an intense relationship. Perched on a cliff, your body frames that which keeps you alive. It is of the moment. One must relate to it and be easy and relaxed with it. As you move through the body re-organises itself to a new position, a new frame, a new shelter, and a new home. When I was being filmed climbing Norwich cathedral my internal dialogue was a cyclical - ‘this is my home, this is where I live, this is where I am happy and safe’. Resting my head on the crockets of rock on the spire and closing the eyes and slowing the breathing helped confirm my place on this Pierre de Caen limestone that thrusts up in mysterious allure.

My stumblings into climbing were fairly esoteric. It began by exploring the deserted, disused chalk quarries on the outskirts of Hull. Chalk, as a media, offers immediacy to movement like no other. I learnt to deal with each moment as it happens, unable to ponder or plan or map out a way up. As a general rule, more time was spent looking down following snapped holds and looking for a landing amongst the debris, than looking up! A new position, a new shelter, a new home is a transitory gift up its fractured and crumbling nature. It suited my impatience, waiting for paint to dry in the studio! Like painting, it was a solitary game.

The climbing has played its role and I am quite content now working out and moving leisurely on some boulder problem above a foam mat! In some ways this has brought me closer to the mountain, for although it is an intense activity, it doesn't consume the whole day. Also, you are closer to the earth, and the headspace allows for more consideration of the landscape and ones own interaction within it, not necessarily to do with a cliff seen in climbing terms. This is a dialogue with the rock in ways other than that of movement. It feels like the difference of a home with a lot of clutter that needs a lot of maintenance and consumerism and effort to one that is ‘honed-down’, to create in and make-out and pass through. Bouldering is like a social doss!

Sidelined and marginalised for too long, I seek out a culture that perhaps appreciates an alternative vision a little more. I think that when the society in which you live does not recognize or support you, there is a danger of turning into a bit of an outlaw, an outcast, a bit of an odd geezer. I have survived as such for too long in the mountains of North Wales and it is time to account for myself again, and work out in a situation that is more nourishing.

As a climber said to me while trying to break my fingers in a manly handshake outside Petes, “What the fuck are you still doing here - you’ve done it - you’ve been there – you survived.
Fuck off before it’s too late, before time replaces hero with cripple – keep it real, youth!” Thanks! So tabloid! Keep it real…! Hmm, as if some immortal image, some invincible memory keeps the energy real…like seeing an inspiring collection of photos…the need for immortality…as if hanging out doing other things, ‘in real time’, isn’t real! He made me feel like someone else’s property and I was letting him down!

Fuck off! His handshake was not greeting me but a memory of me. This was surely the ‘dead’ shaking hands. But for sure, being labelled is always an interesting human phenomenon – I will always let people down!

The rock is a sticky business when you have been actively involved with it, leaving you psychologically treading in an emotional wilderness, intimately still part of some movement, some bodily position on the rock face, hanging out there somewhere in the landscape. I see a nubbin of rock in a distant cwm high on the hill and my body inwardly wraps around its contours in a remembered, fleeting embrace. For certain, something watchful is left behind.

I received a letter some time ago from a climber who had had an odd experience whilst climbing on the Black Cliff of Clogwyn Dur Arddu. He had taken a fall on White Slab after being shocked at the presence and image of a man that had manifested behind him. Afterwards, he described this ghost apparition to his friend who suggested it could be me. I recall being pretty gripped on the ‘off-route’ first ascent of the direct. After being shown photographs of me, he shakily confirmed that for sure, this was the presence he witnessed.

 In the letter, he inquired if I had any suggestions or comments as to how such an abominable thing could have happened! It felt like he was seeking a claim for damages. Whether you take this stuff seriously or not, I firmly believe, and felt, that after the violent jarring of my near-death fall on Tormented Ejaculation, I lost something – dangling upside down with loose change spilling out of pockets! Perhaps that ‘loose change’ was a ‘life force’ left behind, only too happy to join the many who weren’t cheated? The two second negotiation ‘appeared’ to have avoided death, but it may have manifested something? How easy is that for the shadows to rejoice in Cloggy’s very own box of tricks?

John Redhead 2012

Extract from 'Colonists Out': Available to order from
Photos unless stated: JR Collection