Friday, 23 September 2016

Voices from the Past

I stand and peruse the multi-faceted stacks, each calling for me to go to them and expose their treasures held therein. They look tired, dusty and have been ignored for far too long. They yearn for the touch of human hands, they long to be of value again, and they have a need to be seen, wanted and loved. I notice that some stacks are leaning to the left whilst others to the right but was relieved to note, that some were standing firm and resolute after all their years of being ignored. It was always my intention to visit the stacks to sample their delights in whatever shape or form that may be, yet every time I set off to carry out my intentions, I talked myself out of it and went off climbing somewhere.

One particular Sunday, I was not feeling too good and decided that this was the day I would go and visit the stacks and do what I had promised myself all these years to do. So there I was, standing in front of the stacks, shades of brown, rough, smooth edges, some higher than others and whilst others were more inviting than some, I forced myself to go to the one that was always the one that I thought about; standing alone on my far left with its wide base tapering into the small block that was its summit.

My hands started to shake at the expectant desire and fear that could well be my reward for daring to be here once again after so long an absence. Desire because I knew what delights I could experience and fear because of the possible outcome if I had made the wrong decision all those years ago.

I took a series of long deliberate breaths before reaching out my hands to the stack standing before me, it appeared to be leaning towards me as if to greet and old friend. I lifted the top cardboard box off the stack and blew off the dust that had slowly accrued on its summit surface, it had begun; the attic was going to get its first clean out and the contents of the boxes, would once again be revealed to my eyes. Excitement levels rose as I ripped off the sellotape, wondering why I had placed there instead of putting them in the bin as I was asked to do by my good lady wife who said my study resembled a magazine warehouse that had been hit by a hurricane.

A grin that would shame any self-respecting Cheshire cat, spread across my face as I saw the pile of old climbing magazines. As I sat down beside it, I knew this would be the only stack that would see the light of day, the rest would have to remain where they were for another forty odd years!

Excitedly as a child opening their Christmas or birthday presents, I lifted out the first magazine and flipped through it. The next magazine had a picture of Everest on its front page which invoked a memory going back to 1953 when I was nine years of age.

The school took us all to the local cinema in Fareham to watch a film of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which included a few minutes of the first ascent of Everest. It was at this point that my life suddenly that day, had purpose – to be a climber.

As it turned out, within two weeks of seeing the news film, I was climbing on the rough walls of Portchester Castle and exploring the local area for rocks to climb, which came in the shape of old military installations and chalk quarry walls.

A few more magazines later, there was a picture on the front cover of the Eiger and I recalled that on 15th birthday, I got a copy of The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, and after reading it, I wanted to be the first Englishman to solo climb the Eiger North Face. My heart rate had increased as the tsunamis of childhood memories came flooding back, not just the good, but the bad through the loss of so many good climbing partners and companions – Chalky White killed in the Alps – Tom the Milky Bar Kid killed in Snowdonia – Geordie Brown killed in Cyprus – and recently, Rup killed on Ben Nevis in Scotland. At this point, I decided I had had enough of clearing out the attic and what was needed, was a quick drive to Headend Quarry on the Caldbeck Hills to celebrate the lives of those friends I had lost, and of course, to satiate my desire for climbing rock.

As I started to pile the stack of boxes back up, one slipped out of my hands and fell to the floor where it spilt it contents like the Langdale Scree slopes. I got a plastic box and started to put them in. The last item I picked up was a toned copy of a 1975/76 Durham University Mountaineering Club Journal which I had totally forgotten I had. I carefully stacked the boxes back up, shut the attic door and with the booklet in hand, went down to my study where I intended to read it to refresh my memory banks of my time as a student at Durham when I spent more time climbing on the Belling, Causey Quarry, Bowden Doors, Shittlington Crags, Crag lough and Peel crags, Simonside crag and a host of others, rather than in lectures.

Sitting in my study with the coffee machine spluttering into the pot, I started to read the Journal. Names of my fellow committee members invoked smiles, grins and images of them and what we looked like back in the 1970’s with our long unkempt hair and couldn’t-care-less attitude.

I immersed myself in a world of memories as I read every word that was typed, smiled at the matchstick images that represented the world of climbing mishaps, and felt very nostalgic when I read my own articles and and interpretations of the psyche of the ‘student climbing scene’.

Then towards the end of the small A5 stapled Journal, two articles struck a chord and which related to my earlier mentioning of the loss of so many good climbing companions. The first was an article titled ‘Alpine or Siege’ by Pete Boardman (pages 23/24), and the second article was titled ‘The Dinner Climb’ by Trevor Jones (pages 48/49).

I had forgotten that they had contributed articles to our small and insignificant Mountaineering Club journal, and realised that these were lost gems of voices from the past. I decided to share them with you, by reproducing them exactly as they were written.

Frank Grant: 2016

Pete Boardman:Vertebrate
Alpine or Siege
Climb Everest in September, be at home by October’. So read the graffiti on the boudoir walls of the camp II superbox. and all the climbing team of the British Everest Expedition South West Face 1975 were agreed – we were there because it was Everest and we wanted to climb it soon and go home. Alpine style is the ethic for the Himalayas of the ‘70’s, and the ascents in 1975 of Dunagiri and Gasherbrum proved this. Nick and Chris thought of their ascent of Brammah I, Doug thought of Baffin, Tut and Ronnie thought of the Pamirs, I thought of my climbs in the Hindu Kush and Alaska. It’s a matter of as much how you climb as the peak that you climb, how you draw the line between the possible and the impossible, between adventure and safety, impulse and planning, irresponsibility and spontaneity.

And yet there was the South West Face of Everest,8,000ft looming up to a plumed summit. Access to its secrets had only been achieved after a 2,000ft ice fall and a two mile walk under the dangerous flanks of Nuptse and up the Western Cwm at 21,000ft. Yes, in September 1975 looking up at the Face we felt humbled and that our big expedition was justified and that we were only capable of puny ant-like scratchings. For I was to discover that, beyond the end of the fixed ropes, there is a sense of total alpine commitment. It seems worthwhile to describe that sensation.

“Mount Everest, the Highest Point of Earth”. As a child I had two favourite picture books. One was written in the 1930’s and was called “The Winder Book of Wonders”. It had a picture of Everest, white- an ethereal rising in the distance out of the great brown plateau of Tibet. The caption beneath it briefly, enigmatically, described the disappearances of Mallory and Irvine on the summit slopes in 1924.

 The second book, “Adventure of the World” had a painting of the summit of Everest as the only peak visible, thrusting out of an endless sea of clouds, with the tiny figures of Hillary and Tenzing standing on the summit.

The 26th of September- the day I reached the summit with Sherpa Pertemba- started with a scene just like that second picture – it was as if a forgotten bell in a distant room in the picturehouse of my mind had been rung. We were moving across the great traverse of the upper icefield above the Rock Band, towards the gully that led up to the south summit. We had left the end of the fixed ropes and were now moving free and unroped, committed to our attempt. The cloud layer was up to 27,800ft, for the weather was changing. Below us there was an infinite cloud sea. Above us the wind was blowing ice particles off the summit ridge that were shimmering in the sunlight.

Our summit day ended in the tragic death of Mick Burke and Pertember and I having to get back in the dark to Camp 6 – a painful memory. But that morning traverse for me held the key to Everest magic.

Peter D. Boardman
December 1975  


The Dinner Climb

“You are old Father Jones” the young maiden said “and do you really expect to lead our young heroes up Praying Mantis?” “Of course dear child for I have 28 years of skill, experience and bullshit”.They twirled around the dance floor, alcohol slopped into his eyeballs and caused a qualm about trying a hard climb after a five month lay-off.

 By this time the young heroes were wrestling on the dance floor. Father Jones remembered the two bones he had broken whilst fighting. The broken leg over a disputed 17 year old beauty. The broken nose over being in bed with a young lady in circumstances which probably should not be explained in a journal as pure as this. Next morning, Fred, Chris and Andy together with Father Jones looked up at the leering crack of the first pitch of Praying Mantis, a rotting bootlace sling hung limply half way up.

Father Jones rushed at it in a bridging sort of layback. Just before the bootlace his dentures became dislodged. A vast National health bill seemed possible. He retreated. Fangs in position, he rushed again and lodged in a niche with a compression on a quarter of a cheek; feet flapping and trembling aimlessly. A high step and it was done.

Fred, Chris came up like wing gazelles but Andy lost interest and decided it was butty time.The last pitch was overhanging in its middle part the holds were all wrong. Suddenly he remembered Joe Brown’s advice “when its ‘ard, get yer leg right oop about yer ‘ead”. This Mancunian advice resulted in Jones's foot shooting off. The resultant heavy breathing was heard in Carlisle. It started to rain on the final few moves, but with one quick bound he was up.

Sunday night conversation:-
"Did you have a nice time with the young people dear?'....'Yes.'

'Did you hit anyone?'.....'No.'

'Did you crash the car?'....'No.'

'Did the police get you again?'....'No.'

'Were you sick?'....'Certainly not'.

'Where did you sleep?'....'In a tent.'

'What about your arthritis?'....'No reply.'

'Were there birds?'....'Er, can’t remember.'

'Did you climb?'....'Yes.'

'Did you fall off?'....'No.'

'Sounds as though it was a bit of a bore. Oh and by the way, I left the dinner dishes for you to wash up.'

Trevor Jones

The sorrow of death is not in the passing, but what could have been in life