Wednesday 28 August 2013

Welsh Interlude

 David James Woodford-Nant Francon
© the artist. Photo credit: Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales
So, from time to time, I could escape from the war to the hills, and early in the winter of 1943 there were a few glorious days spent at Ty Gwyn farm in the Nant Ffrancon Valley with Charles Marriott and other friends. This valley has the reputation of being the coldest in North Wales. As we sallied forth from the shelter of the farm house an icy blast, such as I have seldom encountered in the Alps, buffeted and tore at us. But it was fine, fine as I have rarely seen it in Wales. The hills looked treble their normal size with the detail of the lower slopes still indistinct in the early morning light, while the summits gleamed, snow-capped, far above. The sky was a uniform pale steely blue, the ground hard as iron, so that we walked dry-shod where normally one would sink into marsh.

Along the old road to Ogwen we passed many stone strongholds of the same grey as the mountain, but with oblong slits striking a sinister note and reminding us that this was wartime. We climbed the Sub Cneifion Rib, above Llyn Idwal, and decided it was too cold for pleasant rock climbing. So we made our way up the nameless Cwm towards a likely-looking snow-gully. Mist came swirling down, unaccountably, from a clear sky, and whenever there was a break we looked quickly up, spotting and trying to memorize landmarks to guide us. The snow was ice-hard and gave out a peculiar hollow treacherous sound to the blows of the axe. We roped up. It was already late, for we had spent too long on the icy rocks of the Sub Cneifion Rib. By good luck we hit on the base of our gully, but decided to keep to a steep grassy rib bordering it on one side, thinking thus to gain height more rapidly.
I was now to learn something quite new. We found ourselves on frozen turf at a steep angle on which the axe made not the slightest impression. Only an automatic drill might have been effective. We left that rib just as quickly as we knew how and dropped back into the gully with a sigh of relief. Progress here was slow for quite a lot of step-cutting was required, and when the slope curled up steeply into a small cornice I could almost imagine myself back in the Alps.

It was 4 p.m. when we scrambled out on to the summit plateau between Castell y Gwynt and Glyder Fawr to find a scene of unimaginable beauty before us. Castell y Gwynt, the Castle of the Winds, was transformed into a fairy fortress with the snow-plastered rocks glittering in the golden-red light of the setting sun, while the snow on the plateau was frozen into a brilliant sea of ripples shadowed now by the low sun and thrown into relief.

Back by the shores of Llyn Idwal we were under a clear evening sky, though mist still hung on the mountains. The wind had dropped and the stars appeared like so many pin-pricks into infinity. Ty Gwyn and its clump of pines made a dark blotch just visible from the road. We had been out for more than ten hours and the welcome of a blazing fire and a generous farmhouse meal heightened the feeling of escape from reality.

Chris Bonington's nephew Liam climbing Nea Morin's eponymous route on Clogwyn y Grochan.Photo:Berghaus

Another glorious and this time absolutely cloudless day, saw us clambering up the yellow bone-dry grass slopes of Mynydd Perfedd. Sheltered from the cutting wind, we were soon perspiring in shirt-sleeves; but for the frosty nip in the air it might have been a summer's day. From the summit plateau we looked up and across to Foel Goch and Y Garn and thought the gentle slopes on this side would make admirable practice ground for skiing. Snowdon was unaccountably missing from the landscape, and recollecting loud rumblings in the night we wondered if the Germans had dropped a bomb on it. But the summit peak was only playing hide and seekbehind Carnedd Ugain and its sharp point soon peeped out reassuringly as we made towards Y Garn.

We glissaded down the snow and peered over into the Devil's Kitchen. Normally there is a sizable waterfall here, but this was now frozen solid and a more awesome, gloomy place one could scarcely imagine. Somewhere I had read that "Several attempts to scale the Devil's Kitchen had ended in disaster" and I could well believe it. Still, what was visible of the finishing traverse at the top seemed fairly clear of ice and we decided to go round and have a look at it from below. The cliffs were festooned with enormous icicles, and with a queer formation that I don't remember ever having seen before; it looked as though water had frozen solid in the act of shooting out fanwise over the edge, forming something like half an open umbrella with extra long spikes and deep-cut bays.
The Devil's Kitchen was blue ice from top to bottom, and we had to cut steps right from the start. Oddly enough it seemed less cold inside the cleft, but how nightmarish it would be to be transfixed by one of the gigantic icicles hanging over our heads. The large jammed boulder gave us some trouble —it was just a huge lump of ice, and in the end we had to use combined tactics. Below the steep crack beside what is normally the waterfall, we paused. At the best of times this is an impressive spot — the guidebook says of the climb: "Severe, owing to its character." On this occasion, though a magnificent sight, it was frightening enough to conjure up the mythical afanc (abominable Welshman?) from the cavernous depths of the frozen waterfall.

I had climbed it before and knew that the pitches were not really difficult, but nasty little thrills of apprehension kept running up and down my spine. I moved slowly over the ice-covered rocks towards the foot of the crack, and the nearer I got the steeper grew the walls. How cold it all was! Would there be much ice up there? Once I had started, I shinned up as though the Devil had indeed come out of his Kitchen and was at my heels. For some unknown reason I felt impelled to go all out and style went by the board, as my shins and knees showed later.
Perched up on the first stance I looked straight down between my legs into the dark cleft below. Charles, who had watched my frenzied antics with some amazement, now came up slowly and deliberately in perfect style despite his rucksack and two ice-axes. I felt I was being silently though nonetheless effectively, reproved, and since some explanation seemed called for, I remarked that had been afraid of my fingers getting numb.
This announcement met with polite, but quite obvious incredulity, and the reply that his fingers were beautifully warm, in fact he was altogether too hot. I was now thoroughly warmed up and feeling capable of tackling anything, but there was no need for any heroics; curiously enough the actual pitches were almost free of ice and, barring the cold were scarcely more difficult than under normal conditions. When we reached the top the sun had gone. Once again we made our way down the now rather worn steps, which we had cut two days before.

The shadows were already deepening as we ran down to Llyn Idwal and Ogwen. On the road to Ty Gwyn I paused time and again to look back at the delicate crests of Tryfan and the Glyders and to the black mass of Y Garn and Foel Goch outlined against the pale, starry sky. Peace reigned over all and some of that peace we took away with us. 

These were the last days when I could still look forward to telling it all to Jean [Morin].

Nea Morin: First Published in her autobiography 'A Woman's Reach' 1968

Friday 23 August 2013

On the Road : Josh Sutton's Guyrope

 Obligatory cheesy photograph of the author

First off..the title of Josh Sutton’s first book ‘Guyrope Gourmet’ is slightly misleading if you include all elements of canvas dwelling. No problem if you're dossing in a huge frame tent; however, for habitues of one man backpacking tents, then clearly, the latter constituency will have great difficulty putting Josh’s ideas in practice. I can’t see Chris Townsend or Cheryl Strayed carting cast iron cooking pots, barbeques and two ringed cookers -with grill- across the wilderness somehow. Nor can I see the intrepid backpacker on the Pennine Way, happening upon someone selling just caught lobster, freshly pulled asparagus or newly bagged pheasant. That being said, this is a really fine little book for those who are doing their travelling by car or motor home. 

The author, Josh Sutton describes himself as a free lance writer specializing in camping cuisine and Guyrope Gourmet is his first foray into the book world although he has had articles published in various publications including, The Guardian, Camping World and Yorkshire Post.  A clue at the intended user is provided by the cover photograph which shows our genial author perched outside his 70’s bay VW Camper. This is not to confuse Josh with another wandering foodie who also happens to be 30/40 something male who travels the land rustling up mouth watering meals in his..errrm...70’s bay VW camper! 

The other V Dub chef, Martin Dory, had a TV programme ‘One Man and his Camper Van’ aired on BBC2 but I caught it  for the first time recently being repeated on the Quest digital channel, and a very pleasant 30 minutes of televisual time it was too. But that’s enough of Josh's  V Dub culinary rival... to get back to the work at hand.

Guyrope Gourmet is attractively put together and usefully structured. After the intro, he advises fellow galloping gourmets on ‘kit and carboodle’. From utensils to larder items. I must admit, I am really taken by one of his ideas. That is,ripping out the drum from a trashed washing machine and using it as a barbeque and fire pit. I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground from now on to check on friends or family who have recently suffered a flooded kitchen!

As for the recipes themselves....Well, as you would expect, they are perfectly straightforward although as previously mentioned, some of the ingredients are not exactly that easy to find. Particularly,if you are in the back of beyond. Hence, a bit of careful planning would be in order. Split into sections which include, breakfasts, pasta dishes, soups, meat & poultry, etc....It all looks pretty appetizing on the page thanks to the creative use of photographs and page setting.

Not that much within for vegetarians but for seasoned carnivores who want something more exciting than a Vesta beef curry or tinned stew next time they pull into a camp site- or even better- find themselves in some romantic far flung location- then Guyrope Gourmet ticks all the boxes. Middle Eastern lamb stew with shredded ginger and fennel it is tonight then!

John Appleby:2013

Friday 16 August 2013

Ron Fawcett....Young Pretender

The following interview, entitled 'Ron Fawcett: A brief interview with the superstar of British Rock' first appeared sometime in the mid 70's in the Geoff Birtles edited Crags magazine. Unfortunately, Crags didn't bother with such minor details as dates or-in this instance,authorship- so all I can tell you is that it appeared in issue three and I'm guessing the interviewer was Geoff Birtles himself?

Ron Fawcett is a 21-year-old student teacher—six foot two, eyes of blue and rapidly being recognised as the most out­standing British rock-climber since Joe Brown. Born and bred at Embsay in Yorkshire, a few minutes' walk away from the gritstone of Crookrise, he began climb­ing in the good tradition of finding his own way to the crag at the age of fifteen. By the time he was 16 his name was becoming known, and as teenage flash-in-the ­pans go, he has been busy dazzling others for the last five years.
His climbing partner, Chris Gibb, says that Ron's likings are sex, women and Pernod. Doesn't drink beer, likes apple crumble with custard and loves girlie mags. Likes heavy rock music, doesn't change his socks and is as tight as—very thrifty. Hardly ever eats and is the second ugliest climber in the U.K.; also hates people talking when he is climbing, and is an erotic sun-worshipper. You might well wonder what all the fuss is about—but if you know anything at all about difficult climbs, his record speaks for itself. He can put into one month what it takes most ten years to achieve, and manages it all with amazing grace.

How long did it take before you started leading extremes? 
After about a month of climbing at VS, HVS standard, I went on to the harder routes at Malham, which are good HVS and XS by Lakeland and Wales standards, After about four or five months I was leading things in the Lakes like The Ghost, Triermain Eliminate and so on.
This was at the age of 15?
You had no tuition, then?
No, no, I just climbed with a group of friends.
Were there any early influences?
Well, I met Al Evans early on. He was climbing in the Lakes a lot at that time and he directed me on to the hard climbs of the day.
When did you first start doing new routes?
The first decent one would have been Mulatto Wall at Malham when I was 17.
So what have you been mess­ing about at for the last four years?
Well, in that time I met and climbed with Pete Livesey. I came across him just climbing around Yorkshire when he was doing climbs like Face Route, Rebel and Jenny Wren. So I began climbing with him and did routes in the Lakes with him like Cruel Sister and Risus on Pavey Ark, both second ascents. He was obviously by far the most outstand­ing climber in Yorkshire. He and John Sheard were doing all the hard routes.
What did you learn from Livesey, who didn't come good until his late twenties?
Obviously Pete set out to make a name for himself, and in the first year he climbed hard, he did it. Hie trained on walls—Bradford, Roth-. well, Leeds. And where he worked then, at Scunthorpe, they 'had a climbing wall and he trained on this regularly, systematically using. weights, carrying weights, traverses. I think that was the first time this was ever done to such an extent. The techniques he developed in­doors he then applied to the crag.
So you learned the importance of training.
Right. He had been a top class runner and had applied the principles of his athletic training to climbing.
When you were 15 you were a very skinny youth. Now you have got one or two muscles which don't come from no­where. Are you using a training programme?
I saw Livesey improve his tech­nique through training.
You are avoiding the question. Just how do you train?
In winter I climb on gym walls and try to vary the visits as it can get 'boring. But it gets to be a big social event. It is really good in some ways; better than going on the crag in winter. You don't get cold, you can have a brew in the cafe. Also, I go running in the winter.

Some of the Yorkshire lads run before starting to climb. Why is this?
I just need to warm up and get my blood circulating. Any athlete warms up first—why not for climbing?

I feel certain that some of the best climbers around are exer­cising like mad behind locked doors. So come on, cough up and let us know what you do. Press-ups. How many?
One or two.

This is like robbing the Crown Jewels!
Well, 200 straight off before I get tired. But then again, top gymnasts could probably go on to 1,000.

Do you think training is essential today to climb at a competitive, standard?
I think it must be. It is getting now that people do a lot of boulder problems, repetition climbing, just for training.
Are we a long way behind athletes for fitness?
Yes, I certainly think we must be.
Will training seriously push standards forward? Might we see a grade 7 before you are thirty?
Yes, even five years ago people would have thought a route like Cave Route at Gordale would have been impossible free. Now it's gone, and there are routes comparable in Derbyshire. So there you are proof.
Stamina seems to be the factor common to the best climbers of today. Is this the kind of strength you are seeking?
Yes, take Livesey again. He's very fit overall. The fitter you are, the safer you are going to feel and keep overall control, mentally as well. So you know you can climb down or push yourself further. If you are unfit you lose control, start shaking and lose your mental grip.
Moving on to equipment, we now have such sophisticated protection as to make falling off an acceptable strategy, whereas 20 years ago this was in most cases out of the question. How does this in­fluence your standard?
Some days I go on the crag knowing 'I will probably fall off and I don't care. It is part of the game to me.
Does the equipment and the attitude it produces allow you to climb to your limit?
Virtually, yes.
Well, it sounds a stupid attitude really.
I think it's good.
The word is that you have to be pretty ugly to climb good. 
Obviously! Livesey is the ugliest climber in Britain and would do Madame Tussaud's a treat. The uglier you are the better you climb.
What about all these high minded ethics that are flying about?
I think a lot of it is a load of rubbish: purely because the people who preach it don't practice it. Just who doesn't yo-yo? If you have to lower down off a runner to rest—just who does take all their runners out 'before trying again. You tell me. But I do feel that if a route goes free then I either climb it that way or go down.
Well what about, say, Great Wall on Cloggy, which is one of the best climbs in Britain, and within the scope of many with, say, one or two aid points? How do you justify depriving all these climbers of their pleasure?
Personally I would do it only free. But for others, if they want to use aid—use it. It's not doing me any harm. Cenotaph Corner is a better example.
How do you use the modern equipment to its best advantage         
This is a personal thing. I always wear EB footwear and if not in shorts I wear 'Helly-Hansen polar  trousers and jacket, which is warm,hard wearing and allows total flexibility. I also use a harness and rack my wires on my right, smallest first,getting bigger to the back. I carry my chalk bag in the middle and my  hexentrics and slings on my left, same again, smallest first.If the climb is hard I might carry one wire on eack krab. You get it off to a fine art. which is necessary on a steep climb. the main thing is your system works.

Which Climbers do you rate?
Apart from my dad, Jerry Peel Ive seen climb a lot. He's very cool.
Jerry is a classic example of a power climber.
Yes, but he's very good on technical stuff as well. You would have to see him to see how good he is. And there's Tom Proctor as well. On his home ground he's very good — very strong. John Allen has always impressed me, and of course Livesey. I think he is the best rock-climber in the world. Definitely!
Why Livesey?
Results. Look at the top 20 routes in this country and he has either put them up or done them.
What is all this about erotic pebbles in the chalk bag?
A necessity. You must 'have pebbles—two big round ones.
What about chalk? As you well know there is much criticism about its use. Do you feel you have made an inferior ascent of a climb when you use chalk on a climb done previously without?
No, not really. As long as I did i­f free I'd be happy. I buy it by the kilo.

What about the environmental problem? Fair enough on lime­stone, it is not visible from a distance, but on gritstone it is a real eyesore. How do you settle your conscience on this issue?
I admit it is unsightly but makes the climb easier, which is what it's all about.
So for you chalk is a selfish thing?
Yes, perhaps it is. It's one of thos things. We all use artificial aids ­EBs, ropes, runners. Fair enough they don't leave a mark, but they a degrade the climbing to some­ extent.

Do you think chalk is here to stay? Or will it go out of style as with pegs?
I think it is here to stay. Chalk makes free climbing easier.
So how do we solve the environmental problem?
Maybe coloured chalk.
Where have you climbed outside Britain?
Yosemite, Saussois, the Vercors and the Berchtesgader.
Where for you is the rock climber's Utopia?
Yosemite, without any doubt.
What did you do over there?
Mainly the shorter, harder routes, and the Nose on El Cap in 18 hours climbing time 
Who is the kingpin over there?
Hard to say really. I wasn't there it in the main seasons and consequently only met a small group. But of those I saw I should think John Long, Dale 'Bard, Ron Cork these were really outstanding. I did the Nose with Long.
How does, say, Long rate with British climbers?
I should think over here he would rank with the best.
Why have you not climbed in the Alps yet?
Quite simply, I don't like the cold. That's the main reason.
Is it true that you are an erotic sun-worshipper?
Definitely, love it.
Do you enjoy competitive climbing?
Yes, who doesn't, whatever his standard ?

What about organised competition climbing?
I don't know. This Russian business seems a -bit far-fetched, speed climbing and all that. A lot of it seems away from the point of our way of climbing. We are already forging ahead at top-level free climbing and leading, whereas the Russians are top-roping.
Do you think we would have the high standards of to-day if it wasn't for our own style of impromptu competition?
No! Take Derbyshire as an example. 'For a few years a handful of you local lads had it virtually to themselves. Today there is a strong team getting to Derbyshire all the time and things have hotted up. Routes are getting harder and no doubt this is due to the competition.
Are we going to see a breakthrough to 6b soon?
It's not so much a sudden jump as a gradual progression really. But I feel it is not far away.
 So here you are, a 21-year-old star, and you've never been a plumber or a margarine sales­man—amazing. Do you really bath in rubber gloves to keep your hands from going soft?
You can't publish that.

It's all right, the tape's switched off.

Crags 4: Apparently Chris Bonington's head appeared,top centre, just as Geoff Birtles was taking the shot.However,GB refused to have CB in the picture and tippexed it out. Ahh...the good old days before photo editing suites!

First published in Crags 3 (Date Unknown?)