Friday 25 September 2015

Ukrainian overlords of the underworld

An 11-person team of Ukrainian cavers were wading through the snow on the way down from the Arabika massif in the western Caucasus on a January night. They had just descended the Krubera Cave to a depth of 1710 metres, thus breaking the world record. As they neared an avalanche zone above the tree-line, they split into two groups, so that if one was snowed under, the other would be able to attempt a rescue. Snow thundered down and the youngest member, Anatoli Povykalo, just 18, was overwhelmed. The others dug him out, unharmed. They spent the night in the forest, where hundreds of trees had been snapped off a few metres above the ground. Next day they reached the trail-head and were trucked out to triumphant receptions in Kiev and Moscow.

Some months later, I sat with six of the cavers in a garden sixty kilometres south of Kiev. Hazed sun shone mildly on Alexander Klimchouk’s house in the village of Grebenyi. Klimchouk is an authority on limestone aquifers and Senior Scientist of the Geological Institute at the National Academy of the Ukraine. He is a short, fit man in his early fifties with a dense bandido moustache, a speaker of lucid English and a fluent interpreter. From the outside his house looked deserted. One end was half built. A tin chimney poked through a plastic roof. On the northern gable, a 12 mm perlon rope was hanging, placed there so the Klimchouk family could practise single-rope technique, ascending and descending with jumar clamps. Alexander’s son was on the Krubera expedition.

His wife, Natalia, takes children underground from the age of four, including her own grandson. They go especially to the gypsum caves of Moldova, which are largely horizontal, and the second-longest system in the world after the Mammoth Caves in Tennessee. ‘The entrance to them is so tortuous and tight,’ she told me, ‘that we call it Chinese Communist Party.’ Inside the house, in an upstairs office with a bed in it for me, a caving archive is housed on grey metal shelves and cabinets. The wooden walls are covered with colour photos of limestone grottoes and finely printed maps of cave systems wriggling through the earth like intestines.

The garden where we sat eating whole salted fish brought by the team and pizzas baked by Natalia was disheveled end-of-summer. Tired marigolds drooped between patches of cabbage and salad. In the drought the well had failed, and Alexander slid twenty feet down in his caving harness to fix the pump. The Dnieper seemed unaffected by drought: on the way from Kiev Alexander had driven down a rutted clay track to show me the river. A straggle of bungalows ended in a fine villa, much better painted and curtained than any other house we passed; a burly caretaker lurked in a doorway: the British Ambassador’s out-of-town pad. The river powered slowly past, lazy currents ruffling its dove-grey and pearly surface.

The banks were thick with trees, with one hut among the bushes on the far side. Alexander likes to paddle across at night in a rubber dinghy and fish for catfish by torchlight. Beyond, the Ukraine stretched away in calm immensity. At the roadsides women offered buckets of earthy carrots and potatoes for sale. The fields are as scruffy as those of central Ireland fifty years ago because nobody has the capital to buy or hire agricultural machinery since the dissolution of the collective farms.

I wanted to know the attraction of the black and lifeless world undergound. Klimchouk and his colleagues liked the opportunity to travel, they told me; they enjoyed ‘extreme climbing’, which they had gone in for in the Carpathians when they were students; caving was ‘like geology’; it was romantic camping in the forest at night; it was good to go to absolutely untrodden places; it could be as beautiful underground as anywhere on the surface. Alexander also saw caving in its historical context: ‘Really, in the Soviet time, caving for us was a shelter. And things were well organised. Things were cheaper, and people could not lose their homes. We could make three expeditions to Central Asia. Now when you talk to people you see the dollar signs in their eyes. This bandit capitalism, they don’t do sponsorship. The businessmen throw away thousands in the casino.’ So the Ukrainian cavers set up a company called Paritet (‘Equality’) to carry out repairs on bridges and high buildings. The profits pay for expeditions.

 Alexander Klimchouk

The cavers didn’t interrupt each other. They listened closely, although much of this must have been mulled over dozens of times. The leader of the record-breaking team, Yuri Kasian from Poltava, was the spokesman (translated by Alexander). He was perhaps 35, tall and broad with healthy skin and introspective blue eyes. ‘Among cavers,’ he said, ‘it is bad form to discuss the furthest limits too openly. If you bring too much equipment, the cave will be scared, and stop. So the record was only almost openly discussed. Alexander had told us it could be a record. First we create a cave in our imagination.

Then by our efforts we create it to correspond.’ Both he and Alexander were intent on defining the ethos of caving, its special style and demands. ‘In mountaineering you know your goal – the peak is on the map. Cavers have not so much preliminary information – this comes with exploration. So, when we descend, we have no horizon we are making for – there is only an apparent horizon.’ The effect on logistics is crucial. If there is no known terminus, how much gear should be carried? They took 2000 metres of rope and 300 bolts. They also knew that if anything went wrong, they couldn’t be rescued.

It had been discovered that there was a continuous channel from the entrance to the Krubera at 2200 metres above sea level to the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Fluorescein dye put in at the top had resurfaced a fortnight later in a cliff spring that fed a rock pool on the Black Sea shore 20 kilometres away. (The world record is in Turkey, where dye reappeared 130 km away after 366 days.) A geologist called Kruber was the first to look for caves in the Arabika massif in the early 20th century. In the 1960s, Georgian cavers found an open-mouthed shaft and went 60 metres down before they were stopped by a squeeze that looked impassable. In the 1980s and 1990s Klimchouk’s team spent three seasons, with six people working every day for four weeks each year, attempting to force their way down between the jammed rocks and the wall of the shaft. The blockage went on for a hundred metres. ‘It was really terrible. The water trickling down is at 1.5° Celsius. We were drilling and planting charges for hours, day after day. For it to work, you must drill the hole in exactly the right place, then plug it thoroughly.’

By the autumn of 2000, ‘we clearly heard the “call of the abyss” and sensed the smell of extreme depth.’ They had reached 1410 metres and could feel no draught: it looked like a dead end. Removing the fixed ropes on his way up, Yuri found a crack leading to a passage that meandered, blocking the light from his torch. Might this be a way further down? They decided on a winter expedition, when everything above would be frozen and the waterfalls would have dried up. The cave mouth is on a ridge of mountain where rocks crop out above valleys of wild grass. Here in summer shepherds carry Kalashnikovs left over from Georgia’s war of independence from Russia, in case they have to use them in aid of Abkhazia’s current struggle for independence from Georgia.

It’s a dangerous place: as the cavers waited to cross into Abkhazia, among rooting pigs and cars with bootfuls of tangerines for sale, everyone assumed that they were drug smugglers. Finally, on 28 December the cavers were put down on the high snowfield by helicopter, and began digging out the entrance with shovels. In the unedited black and white film of the expedition, someone shouts, ‘Jump on it!’ when the caked snow won’t collapse. Two days later they brought in the millennium with champagne and fireworks. Five days of hard work followed, spidering down into the darkness of the big vertical pitches,wriggling through hundreds of metres of fairly level passageway. The rock was so sharply sculpted that it tore their boots.

A photograph shows Yuri and his wife Julia Timoshevskaya sitting in their nylon igloo tent, cooking and reading by the light of their carbide lamps, content in their frail bubble of blue fabric which glows like a lantern in the horned and groined imprisonment of the rock. ‘It was a dream cave, ideal,’ Yuri said.

 ‘What I like is lots of vertical pitches and as few meanders as possible. We found no great difficulties, just plenty of technical work, which is a pleasure for cavers.’ He came over as wonderfully cool. Describing a long abseil in the neighbouring cave, the Kubishevskaya, he said: ‘We were in the cosmos – in total darkness, rotating. It abolished fear, because there was no visible bottom to pitches, wriggling through hundreds of metres of fairly level passageway.

I could imagine, dimly, what this must have been like from my own experiences underground. I once crawled and downclimbed to the foot of the enormous chamber called Gaping Ghyll inside Ingleborough in Yorkshire, and stood on the shingle of a shallow river looking at the hole down which you can be winched by the Bradford Caving Club each Whitsun week. It is far higher above your head than a cathedral roof. A full moon was shining, making icy shimmers on the cascade that fell in pulses onto the stones at our feet. Quite different was a struggle into the other flank of Ingleborough, through a route called Millipede Crawl in Southerscales Pot.

The rock roof angled lower and lower. We walked crouching. We began to creep along on our knees. Sharp fallen stones bit into our legs. At the terminus we stood up inside a bell of rock, and looked down into a perfectly circular sump of perfectly still, perfectly black water.
In the great dark atrium in the Kubishevskaya, Yuri had walked for three hours round the edge of the chamber before realising that it might be very difficult to find the hanging rope-end which was his only way back out. When they reached a depth of 1710 metres in the Krubera, the cavers were dangling above a lake and had to throw a spare rope for some time before they managed to reach a beach. They could feel no draughts and boulders plugged all the visible exits, so they had to conclude that this was the end of that particular route.

There may be other ways to penetrate still lower in the Arabika. For the time being, however, the Ukrainian cavers are concentrating on a new possibility, in the Aladaglar massif in the Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey. A difficult, even dangerous place, either above or below ground, it is also very beautiful. In one of their photographs of the mountainside, three white cascades burst and pour from three mouths all level with each other. The water enters the ground two thousand metres above, so there is a possibility of a new record descent here.

On the drive back to Kiev, Nikolai Soloviov, a veteran of 17 Arabika expeditions, curled up in the closed car boot to make room for me, and then climbed out in town grinning. He and Yuri showed me the old town where Bulgakov lived in an ornate brick house now adorned with a big black cat with a pink spotted bow-tie. We finished up in McDonald’s, the first in the Ukraine, opened in the 1990s to queues of thousands. It was my birthday, although I kept this to myself.

On the way to the airport we passed two cows on the motorway verge, herded by two women in drab coats and headscarves, wearing boots and talking hard to each other. Road-signs pointed to Kharkov and other places I remember from the war maps on which my brother and I drew red arrows in 1942 to plot the Nazi Army’s push for the Baku oilfields. One of the last trucks I saw before we turned off was from Barrow in Furness, 15 miles from where I live.

David Craig: A version of this article first appeared in the LRB

Friday 18 September 2015


George Smith in turbo mode at Gogarth:Photo Tony Loxton

There are two ways to gain the area known as Easter Island and whilst one presents difficulties that might only be overcome by hard core boulderers or those prepared to swim when the relatively easy sea level traverse below main cliff suddenly peters out, the other- although more conventional- is nevertheless not without hazard. Gaining its name on account of some massive freestanding blocks a short distance down an initial descent gully which with some imagination bear resemblance to the carved heads of their Polynesian counter parts. These quartzite cubes can be identified after descending a less distinct path a short distance beyond departure for Wen Slab. Gearing up by The Heads, the next section, particularly when glistening with dew, has on occasion proved severe enough in its gripping insecurity inclined at an uncomfortable angle with mud footholds, to force some teams back up the malevolent slope before setting out retrospective rappel anchors or simply abandoning the process and going somewhere else.

Easter Island: Photo John Redhead
If however the hand of success has smiled then a narrow rocky promontory is reached, from where a thirty metre abseil gains sea washed rocks before the fabulous super crack, E2, to act as a landing pad from which it is possible to explore the surrounding zawns which contain routes on excellent rock.Golden quartz streaked and white with thin cracks like Neutrino 6a, deep overhanging chimneys like Ormuzd E4 and grooved walls rising majestically straight from the sea, E1, and some way to the left when looking from a canoe, Tumbling Dice, a Jim Moran E3, all bearing an unmistakable quality trade mark.

In a narrowness opposite the promontory from which the ab is conducted, few climbers could fail to notice two striking crack lines and whilst the right hand fissure diagonals into a horizontal quartz rail, joining the arête is Phagocyte, HVS. The central thinner incursion running the impending wall’s full length in lightning strike style with an overhang at maybe three quarters height, is Wonderwall. It was for this prize that Laurie Holliwell came in April 1969 with Dave Potts. Usually partnered with his brother Les but this time with another of the London based team they would drive the A5 at breakneck speeds in order to make the Padarn by last orders on Friday evenings before climbing all weekend. Invariably repeating the process throughout the year except when venturing to the Alps or Dolomites on midsummer holidays. In this sense they were the forerunners of a tradition later taken up by Mick Fowler often with Mike Morrison or Al Baker who would also come from the south with a zeal for adventure and a legacy of serious routes such as Heart of Gold on left hand Red Wall in 1978, on Death Trap 1982, also E5 in Mousetrap Zawn, showed that they did not fall short of finding it. 
Home on the Range:The author talks down to George Smith:Photo Tony Loxton

In 1969 armed with some pegs and perhaps other rudimentary nuts and slings, generally inadequate for the task ahead, Laurie set off on Wonderwall much to Dave Potts’s amazement, “It looked preposterous to me: it wasn’t as if he was making for anything, just more overhanging rock”. Laurie was firing up cracks and flakes which did appear to close out, so thin once in the short groove barred by overhangs, that it made the climb look impossible from below. Never easy the initial section does however succumb to forceful jamming and hauling by which climbers au fait with these burly techniques can gain benefit. Somehow overcoming the awkward predicament which the tight groove had forced upon him, Laurie got  a peg under the overlap then another out on the right wall from which, with aid, he was able to grasp what ‘Smiler’ Cuthbertson would later refer to as “ A Golden Wonder flake”, and semi laybacking its edge was able to continue on improving holds. Perhaps in the same way that he’d been caught in action on Park Lane in Ken Wilson’s iconic photo.

Wonderwall thus entered the psyche of the Gogarth cognoscenti, magnificent in line this fifty metre masterpiece boxed in Easter Island’s atmospheric ruggedness had by the early 1970s gathered a reputation as a mean strength sapping stamina test which had subsequently rejected many suitors in their desperate quest at aid reduction, including Alan Rowse who after slumping onto the peg concluded “ I knew I had become a mountaineer”. Alex Sharp then a student at Bangor University who would write the next Gogarth guide eleven years after Crews’ original 1966 version was the eventual all free leader of Wonderwall which he completed with Hank Pasquill in 1974.

Photo: Tony Loxton
Shortly after Alex’ s guide came out there was a blitz on Gogarth the next year in 1978 which also saw climbers armed with friend protection for the first time, the almost perfect protection device for Gogarth podded cracks and fins. Championed by Al Evans, Jim Moran and Geoff Milburn amongst others many fine routes were added all over the cliffs yet at its end even this onslaught left much untouched ground including a direct version of Wonderwall which after an ascent of the original route seemed at least worth considering. 

In good conditions I had noted that a climber in reasonable fitness with strong calves was able to maintain a semi rest position in Wonderwall’s slim groove under the overhang. From here it would surely be possible, barring bad rock, to probe over the roof searching for holds on which to pull over and, if lucky, place some micro wire protection in the form of tiny brass headed RPs that had for the last few years complemented Friends as revolutionary protection devices. Although due to their small size they never inspired as much confidence as a good Friend placement they nevertheless sufficed in hairline cracks where previously such features were deemed unprotectable. Familiar with finding suitable slots form many successful and unsuccessful slate episodes I figured Wonderwall’s extension might be better suited to ‘eat’ these mini lifesavers than soft parallel sided slate. No amount of speculation could prove if this was so and thus resolving to at least peer over the roof it was inevitable that this plan would at some point be galvanized into action.

George Smith and Martin Crook doing the bizz:Photo Tony Loxton
Although the summer of 1985 counted as little more than an unfortunate washout, Johnny Dawes had arrived on the Welsh scene by autumn and in 1986 was poised for meteoric reign not only on slate and Cloggy but also out at Gogarth and anywhere else for that matter there were tiny holds to cling. Thus the Llanberis dojo once again buzzed with expectation and many fine climbers influxed the locals to pump up the volume. If nothing came of proposals first ventured in pub talk by one half of the team failing to rendezvous next morning, it was hardly cause for concern since in a game akin to musical chairs those remaining keen simply went to Pete’s café, hung around for a while then after a meeting where the joint chiefs sat at the magic table discussing the days business, usually found themselves marching over slate footpaths bound for the quarries, or as unsuspecting passengers gripping tight in the back of the Dawes' Rascal van as it hurtled head long round blind bends and over humped backed bridges as if chasing the future on its way to Gogarth, up the pass, or Trem.

In the general melee Craig Smith had beamed down from Yorkshire, responsible for such slate enthrallment as Gin Palace in Vivian Quarry Craig would later in august partner Dawes on what most commentators would class as Gogarth's route of the year, Conan the Librarian, the obvious bottomless hanging groove which carves through the left hand side of the great sea arch opposite Wen slab which many had eyed but few had tried. Initially the top pitch had required an aid point but returning shortly afterwards a space walking horror in the form of Janitor finish was found at an equally terrifying version at E7. Before these events unfolded Craig had accompanied me in further exploring Easter Island during which he was to find intense technical challenges in the form of Boil all Irishmen E5 6b which follows incipient nano cracks in Hombres conspicuous right wall. The name being coined on the spur of a moment and refers to one Irishman in particular, who well known at the time acted as a sort of inebriated Llanberis Fagin.
Big George hanging out on Angelsey: Tony Loxton
Prone to making outrageous claims as to his climbing prowess, his only known Gogarth encounter ended barely ten metres from its beginning when, having descended part way down the aforementioned Easter Island gully the fear had come hard upon him and it was not until Stevie Haston, who he had gone to watch, emerged an hour or so later to effect kindly rescue that the Irishman’s ordeal came to a close. In his favour it must be said the Cuban heeled cowboy boots of the type worn by line dancers are not the most suitable footwear for over sea Gogarth descents. Also known as The Sex Lobster because of his reddish countenance it seemed only fair that we should immortalise him after swinging leads on the less difficult than it looks E3 arête spiralling down Super crack’s left wall termination. Marvellously exposed, the ‘Lobster’ was a route that the Irishman would later claim to have accompanied us on, and in some ways perhaps he had.

Anyone who has spent time climbing traditional routes will know there are two factors involved which influence the chosen routes outcome. One is the placing of runners and two is the actual movement upwards or sideways when facing technicalities as displayed by geological features on the rock face. Reasonable enough on paper the problem on more than rudimentary ascents is that it is very easy to become utterly pumped form placing runners especially if the correct size is not chosen first or second try. You could of course forget about a rack and tackle any given route solo, yet, as this was not my intention when setting off up WonderwallI was aware that any misplacements might easily result in retreat without even getting to venture on the proposed Dirrectissima.

Thus in June 1986 suspended from hand jambs after placing two good Friends on the introductory cracks I looked down to see Craig belaying slightly to seaward as small waves rushed towards the Zawn back then disappeared on outward pull somehow controlled by the moon. Pacing the crack and soon entering groove territory aiming for wedged shoulder semi rest, I became comfortable enough to clip an old peg then place some back up gear in the form of some welded in rock placements. Definitely good enough to hold a fall. Reaching over the roof’s apex and placing RP one and two about six inches apart, I noticed a sort of goblin eye pocket above the overhangs left wing. The awkward overlap now forced me chest backwards as if straining against a powerful frontal storm, yet holds such as could be found above, although small, allowed uncompromising moves to gain a strenuous standing pose weighted mostly on the left foot beyond the overlaps wings.

While John Redhead hangs out a dead crow.:JR Collection
Reaching for the RPs I swiftly gained two good placements in the head wall seam and also gained the first of excellent fins which despite the steepness could be exchanged for footholds. Chalking them first so as not to miss,at least they became amorphous, amongst the slightly sea grassed white wall. Pausing for a moment on the better holds there came some noise from the promontory which was now peopled by Trevor Carlos Hodgson and Skinny Dave shouting encouragement.

Had they arrived twenty minutes earlier they may have gained great amusement by watching the struggling leader scuffle to gain footholds in the eye pocket but as it was saw him set up for a final run, slings on flakes and ears, coming and going as Craig paid out, the nines in time honoured ritual, and I reached belay points whilst the great inanimate heads looked out to Ireland still a rope length away. ‘I wonder why’ they had seemed to say in the metaphysical void of their silent voices. Later any notions entertaining philosophic thought were soon impaled by urgent hunger, and as if as a reality check, after entering the tiger’s den of Holyhead where architects had not been kind and people endured, local girls out hunting for husbands on a Saturday night, traffic light gnarly in karaoke death masks not being complementary about our lurid attire. “Don’t think much of yours” they had said to each other laughing.

Author Martin Crook: Photo Tony Loxton. 

Martin Crook:2015.Previously unpublished 

Friday 11 September 2015

Fell Tiger....Harold Drasdo Obituary

Harold Drasdo, who died in hospital in Bangor, North Wales, last week after a short illness, was in the vanguard of the remarkable post war ascendency of working class Northern English rock climbers. Activists from the great Northern cities who challenged the previously entrenched dominance held by the middle class professionals who in the main, had had the field to themselves before the war.

Born in Bradford in 1930, Harold and his younger brother Neville, like so many northern activists, began their climbing careers by exploring the local Yorkshire crags and quarries. Inspired by  fellow Bradfordian, the legendary Arthur Dolphin, they soon began to look to the mountain areas of the Lake District, North Wales, Scotland and notably Ireland, where the challenges of the hardest routes of the era were accepted and first ascents began to fall.

As a leading light of the loose affiliation of Bradford born climbers known as ‘The Bradford Lads’ Harold began to rack up the number of first ascents in the Lake District with routes like North Crag Eliminate, Grendal, Anarchist and Sostenuto amongst his classic collection.

Despite mainly climbing within his Bradford circle, there was a friendly rivalry and cooperation with climbers from other clubs like the Manchester Rock and Ice club-of Brown and Whillans fame- and the rival Alpha Club. Activists from all over the north would  arrive each weekend-  wage slaves on Monday-Free men on Sunday- to share the same dosses, barns and huts in the main climbing arenas. Swopping tales of gnarly first ascents, irate shotgun wielding landowners and hinting at recently discovered unclimbed crags of rich potential!

Bradford Lads...and Lasses in Langdale. Photo Neville Drasdo
In the early 1950’s, Harold and brother Neville became the first British climbers to explore the great unclimbed cliffs of The Poisoned Glen, in Donegal in the far west of Ireland. At the time, Donegal really was the back of beyond and it took a great deal of planning and effort to just get there. However, their reward was several first ascents on the beetling 1000’ cliffs. Their activity piquing the interest of top British climbers like Chris Bonington and Allen Austin who came over and made their own mark on the cliffs.

Towards the end of the fifties- Harold who had trained as a teacher and was by now working as an outdoor instructor in a Peak District outdoor activities centre- took on the authorship of the Fell and Rock Club’s first climbing guidebook to Buttermere and the Far Eastern Fells. A daunting undertaking for someone who usually had to hitch-hike between some of the remotest crags in the Lake District in all weathers and often had to solo the climbs due to a lack of willing partners.

Throughout the fifties and sixties, as working class British climbers began to find the ways and means to extend their orbit to the continent, his explorations included trips to the Alps, the USA and Spain. It was while climbing in the Alps with amongst others the legendary Scottish climber Jimmy Marshall, that he met tragedy when a member of the party was killed during an abseil descent and on another occasion, he returned from a successful ascent to discover that Bradford hero and inspiration, Arthur Dolphin had been killed on a neighbouring mountain. His attendance with a handful of fellow English climbers at Dolphin’s funeral was movingly described in his autobiography, The Ordinary Route’.

In the early sixties he had secured a position as warden and chief instructor at The Towers Outdoor Pursuits Centre in Capel Curig within the Snowdonia National Park and had married his lifetime partner, Maureen with whom he had worked at an outdoor centre in the High Peak. He was to remain in North Wales for the rest of his life. Despite his demanding full time position, his spare time was still spent climbing and exploring the cliffs of north Wales, with first ascents like Traditional Route and Plato’s Cave falling to his advances. During this period he had continued to write articles and essays for magazines and journals. Usually works of rare quality and insight, for within a sport which boasts a disproportionate number of  cerebral participants, Harold was a true intellectual, refined scholar and a first rate mind. Someone for whom the Greek classics and works of politics and philosophy were devoured as enthusiastically as the latest climbing guidebooks.

During this period in the late sixties and early seventies, Harold was working on the Climber’s Club guidebook to Lliwedd.  He became the first guidebook writer to pen guides for both the Fell and Rock and the Climber’s Club. His guide published in 1971 was-he liked to boast-the slowest selling guide in guidebook history, taking 30 years to sell out! However, for the uninitiated, the grim, vegetated 1000’ Welsh cliff did see it’s heyday in the Edwardian era and had long since been considered an esoteric venue. The previous authors, Archer Thomson in 1909 and Menlove Edwards in 1936 had both committed suicide by poisoning. Happily Harold survived ‘the curse of Lliwedd’ and lived on into old age.

In this period he authored the highly influential’ ‘Education in the Mountain Centres’ A work which emphasised the positive value of teaching young people to appreciate and value the natural environment whilst using its natural resources as an arena for learning outdoor skills and appreciating it’s fragile beauty. A message which was remarkably prescient at the time.

By the end of the 70’s he had jointly edited ‘The Mountain Spirit’- with US climber and academic, Michael Tobias. The work was an anthology of writings based on philosophical and spiritual interpretations which writers throughout the ages had placed on the global mountain environment.

After retiring from his role at The Towers he and Maureen threw themselves into rebuilding their smallholding home high above the market town of Llanrwst. A beautiful elevated abode which looked  out over the spectacular Northern Snowdonia mountains. With more free time on his hands, he continued to write-finishing his autobiography ‘The Ordinary Route’ - published by Ernest Press in 1997- and explore the crags of north Wales. By the mid nineties-and now in his mid sixties- he began a climbing love affair with the sprawling south Snowdonia mountain of Arenig Fawr. A peak which had never had a chronicled climbing history and more interestingly, a mountain which had inspired a unique Edwardian art movement- ‘The Arenig School’-led  by leading lights, Augustus John and James Dickson Innes.

Over a short period he established around two dozen first ascents on the cliffs of Arenig and continued to establish new routes on previously unclimbed cliffs in remote parts of Snowdonia.

After undergoing a hip operation in his early seventies, his climbing career began to wind down although he still got out into the hills regularly. With the demands of keeping on top of a smallholding becoming more of a thankless chore than pleasure, he and Maureen retired from the country life and settled in the historic north Wales coastal town of Conwy.

One of Harold's last climbs;The verdant Canyon Rib in Aberglasllyn Pass

A lifelong political anarchist and environmentalist, Harold’s attraction to the movements were based on an intellectual affinity to progressive ideals and a natural distaste for top down governance. He had penned a number of articles over the years for political journals based on his beliefs. As the new century progressed, his outdoor essays and articles became rarer and were generally limited to club journals.
Suffering a series of niggling health problems in his latter years, his activities by now, were restricted to less demanding coastal walks and his nightly visit to his local pub. It was after suffering a fall outside his local that complications quickly set in and he died a few days after being admitted to hospital. He leaves behind a rich legacy of rock climbs, writings and of course the gratitude of thousands of youngsters who had thrived through his enlightened approach and instruction in outdoor education. He is survived by his wife Maureen.

Born Bradford 1930- Died Bangor, N Wales 2015.