Tuesday, 9 June 2020

The Final Pitch

Paul Williams classic shot of Trevor Hodgson on The Rainbow of Recalcitrance
I’m writing this on the other side of the world from that Welsh mining village. The sun is rising up over the Bridgewater Jerry - a curious temperature inversion that follows the river out of the mountains at dawn around these parts. Carlos, did you know the only time you can look straight into the sun is when it’s on the horizon. That’s got to be an allegory for something. Sunrise is the best time to study the sun.

I had never met you, Carlos. (Your real name was Trevor but it never suited you. So, we called you Carlos).

You were the reason I travelled to that god forsaken valley. There you were - a Paul Williams photo in a magazine. At the end of that fabulous runout on The Rainbow of Recalcitrance… Miles out… Not a runner in sight… Mantle-tipping on matchstick edges in your blue dancers’ tights… Attempting to put your feet were your fingernails were. Legend had it that you fell from that stance into the land that time forgot. Jules Verne wouldn’t have known what to make of you in your getup, but he would have found inspiration in the holes of Dinorwic I am sure.

Rain doused the smoke-filled Pete’s, rivuletting down the windows. We watched the dark quarry holes through clearing mist from the sanctuary of the cafe. Forsaken by God. Forsaken by government. We were left to our own fearful devices. Petty crime and petty sponsorship were the order of the day. Days of fearful hangovers and fearful overhangs. Nothing a few pints of tea wouldn’t sort out.

The same sun glowing on my face like an ember will glow for you. In about twelve hours the same sun will be rising on Flying Buttress.

We were lucky to live through those days. I don’t mean because of all the adventures we had that made us smile. No, I mean survive. It wasn’t a normal youth. Young lads like to gamble, I know that. That’s why insurance premiums are so high for the under 25s. And, without having lived through a war I had better not draw that comparison. But,day in, day out, taking untold risks above tiny fragments of brass, jokingly called ‘protection’. Loose blocks… Shelling sea caves… bombarding echos… strafing hillsides like bullets. Heads filled with drugs… Huge falls onto shit gear… Heinous lockins… Unprotected climbs… Unprotected sex… Partying ’til dawn… Break in and enter.

Do you remember Flying Buttress? ‘Course you do! My dad was dying in Lancashire. I took a break and came down to Llanberis. We climbed Flying Buttress on the Cromlech on Menlove’s 100th birthday. 18th June 2010. It must have been a loose and scary solo in 1931. He took cyanide a couple of years after the war. But why am I telling you this? Now you have left us.

1. 60ft/18m
Climb the crest of the ridge on large holds.

You came from the same town as me and had my mother’s maiden name, Hodgson. At the base of the climb we laughed at how we could have been related. Well, I feel like I’ve lost a brother.

I was on postal signing and sleeping in the women’s toilets in Vivian Quarry carpark. The ‘Merched’ had a hand dryer that you could tape over the button on cold nights, and the floor was not swimming in piss. You were toing and froing between Prestatyn and Llanberis, only returning home to sign on.

We started climbing together. You had this animal power about you that not many could match. However, it soon became clear that you were not interested in making a name for yourself as a climber, as were many of our tight group, myself included. Your passions went far beyond the insular world of rock climbing. And that was one of the things that was so special about you. You never gave a toss what anyone thought.

You laughed that infectious Kookaburra laugh as you put your rock shoes on. You wandered onto the heather-filled ledge and then up a wall past some vivid green holly. Then it was my turn to follow. I was always following - you or others I looked up to. Trev, you didnt feel the need to be the best at this or that, though you clearly could have been. You didnt feel the need to be recognised. You just concentrated on making others feel great about themselves and lifting them up with you.

2. 60ft/18m
Continue up to the pinnacles top of the ridge. Belay.

We found a house with The Lentil (he came from Tydyn Sian, The Lentil Farm), Gwion and The Harms. Together we held the infamous Ty Du Road parties and made a hell of a lot of mischief: some of it more legal than others. I remember it like the house off the 80s TV show The Young Ones, semi-derelict and always a riot going on… All rejects together.

You were troubled and would oftentimes go into a dark place. Then you would push your friends away. But we could all see the hurt. The wounds. You littered the steep streets of Llanber’ with the fragments of shattered hearts… Like broken teacups. But, given time, all those you loved with a passion, and rejected with a passion, still believed in you.

In the absence of a climbing helmet I was wearing a bike helmet. It wasn’t ideal headwear, but at least my head was well ventilated on that scorching June day. We were never ones for following blanket rules eh?

3. 20ft/6m
Climb down over the pinnacles to belay on the L wall of the gully - Castle Gully.

Climbing rocks began to interest you less and you established a string of businesses - mostly on the ropes. All great ideas. But with each venture you seemed to find yourself on the ropes, for one reason or another. Yet, after each failure you just rebounded. After each fall you would brush yourself off and climb out of that particular hole. We both moved on… You to the North Sea, I escaped to Australia. We saw less of each other, but when we did I found myself laughing around you like in past-times.

4. 50ft/15m
Climb the large rock steps on the L wall, then step around the corner crossing a little groove (or reach this point from below) to a traverse line. Take this easily L-wards to an exposed stance by a large flake.

You could climb this blind-folded Trev, I say. “Oh wait, you’re nearly blind so you might as well be blind-folded!”

Hey, you, watch it.”

You reach the stance. 'OK Paul'.
I traverse towards you as you collect the rope in neat loops over your feet. I keep seeing your mustachio’d chops, even though you haven’t worn that style for more than two decades.

You started a family with Emma. Leo and Eira, you are so lucky to have had such a remarkable dad. Whenever I want to remember you Trevor I just have to visit Ty Du road again in my head and there you are, raucous behavior …Cheeky downturned smile.

I am studying the sun as it rises. It is as if I am watching you being reborn.

5. 65ft/20m
Climb the steep wall behind the flake to gain a gangway. Follow this R-wards past a ledge to belay below a chimney.

As you led up the lovely sculpted pockmarked slab, you remarked on how incredible it was to be grasping the same holds as Menlove did in 1931.
This route is like living museum piece.” Not like other museums were everything’s behind glass… Don’t touch the exhibits. Here you are invited to climb all over the artefacts.'
"I’m making the very same moves as Menlove… Look.”
The whole of the Pass is a museum and each creator of a new climb donates that climb to the gallery of the Pass.

See, the Eckenstein Boulder where Oscar taught Archer-Thomson the art of bouldering. Just out of sight is Cenotaph Corner were Brown placed the Chock Stone which is still used. Over to the left is Nea where Menlove went second to Nea Morin. Over the other side you can see Kirkus’s Direct Route on The Mot. And Boysen’s spacewalking Skull… Evans, Ingle, Whillans, Birtwistle, Livesey, Banner... Names of legend.

But king of all of The Pass in his day was Menlove Edwards.

And don’t forget Marlene On The Wall by Trevor Hodgson.” You cast back a downturned grin.

Then you cakewalked up the rising traverse and out of sight to a belay…

And now you’re gone.

The rope comes tight. We forgo all the usual rope commands “Safe,” “On Belay,” “Climb When You’re Ready.” We instinctually know what the other is up to. Even though we haven’t climbed together for years. As I climb I look down through my legs. The road is right below my heels. I continue to a huge loose block. I could have reefed it off but there were people everywhere down below. And, besides it might have bounced all the way down to the road, a thousand feet below, just like the Cromlech boulders had thousands of years ago. They are now sat in the car parking bay.

I am having the time of my life. Thank you Carlos. As I round the arête. I ponder on the word. Arête does’t just mean ‘edge’. It also means the realisation of one’s potential, or living up to yourself in true existential style. Sartre would have been proud of us. We were certainly fulfilling our purpose on this earth that day.

As I scupper round the arête you come back into view. There, at the belay, you snap a pic with your phone. I teeter up the ramp traversing over ‘the polish of thousands of passing climbers’. I unclip the one solitary runner. I couldn’t contemplate a fall now. I would have taken a massive pendulum. But, you knew instinctively what ground I was likely to fall off. What I would find difficult, or easy. This ramp was easy. I was with you in no time.

6. 50ft/15m
Enter the chimney, crux, and continue more easily to the top.

This climb saves the biggest challenge for high up. The crux is at the end. But you faced the final pitch with grace and bravery I’m told.

Do you recall, you led the chimney without putting in a single piece.
So you won’t have the added stress of taking runners out.”
I didn’t mind as there was no way I could swing with you holding the rope.

I had to have a tight rope here, on entering the final leg.
You were playing the opening rift from “Why Dya Do It? by Marianne Faithful on the rope (it was so tight).
Do you remember I played this all the time in Ty Du Road?”
You were laughing and singing, “Why did ya spit on my snatch.”
And you were just about keeping it together.
Are we out of luck now, or is it just a bad patch.”
I came to you. I collapsed on my back, arms out in the sheep nibbled meadow.

After, on the descent you spotted me every few metres of that loose gully. And by the time we got down to your heap of a car, I was well and truly shagged.

That night at the party you were enthusiastically telling Johnny, Emily and Ann of our day climbing together. I was in no state for conversation. My leg was shaking violently, and Johnny was attempting to ride it (we all dissolved into laughter).

And that was the final climb we ever did together.

What do you think Trevor? (funny how that name suits you now).


You are gone.

Route descriptions from Paul Williams’s Rock climbing in Snowdonia 1990.

Paul Pritchard: 2020