Friday, 18 July 2014

Fugitive from the Führer...Lake District wanderings





Pillar Rock from Black Sail: A Heaton Cooper.Photo Heaton-Cooper Studios

IT began early. Ever since leaving Germany as a small boy, a fugitive from the Führer, I have been surrounded by all sorts of mountains; that is probably the only thing I have to thank the Führer for. The first were the cliff’s and hills of Majorca, an island where the most varied beauties of hill, plain and shore are compressed into the space of a few square miles. When we had been set free from the schoolroom some hot summer afternoon, a pack of us, wearing only shorts and a pair of alpargatas – light canvas shoes with rope soles which every- one in these parts wears – would rush out over the parched heath towards the fresh air of the seashore and the cliffs.

And what adventures we had among them, those fantastic limestone shapes, their features wrinkled by wind and sea into countless corrugations which the alpargatas gripped with delightful firmness; with their great mysterious caves, in which the breakers boomed resonantly over stolid ranks of sea-hedgehogs and other queer-shaped creatures. This was the training ground where I first learnt to climb with all four extremities, There was one particularly large cave, with a chimney at the far end; you climbed up this, and suddenly you’ emerged from the cold clammy recess on to a sun-baked plateau high above the sea. It was a new surprise every time we did it, and rather what I imagine the "secret" chimney on the Bhasteir tooth to be like. But the Spanish sun in summer has little in common with its feeble counterpart of more northerly latitudes, and soon we would be scampering off again to the shelter of our caves.


Once I was taken for a holiday to Valldemosa, a little village tucked away among the central hills - the place where Chopin spent leisured years composing his most entrancing melodies. They were parched, sparsely vegetated hills, crouching low as if ducking from the stinging rays of the sun. The name Georges Sand gave to the island, "La verde Helvecia", the green Switzerland, must be taken as artistic license; those hills were more the sort of thing, I fancy, that the Author of "Don Quixote" had in mind when he described that wretched knight’s wanderings through the wastes of the Sierra Morena. The cool vineyards and gardens of the village were definitely more inviting.


Another place that deserves mention is the great mountain under whose shadow I lived for a while, Mont Serrat, in Catalonia, a great jagged rock peak rising abruptly from the foothills of the Pyrenees. It gives pretty good climbing, and its rock towers are popular with Spanish mountaineers. Perched somewhere near the summit is a monastery, famous all over Spain.


The Civil War turned everybody’s thoughts to anything but mountains, but as fate would have it I found myself not long after its outbreak among the Dolomites of Southern Tyrol. It is hardly necessary to say that they were a revelation. Their gigantic size and appalling steepness, and especially the absolute bareness of their gleaming white rock, overpowered the mind, but yet at the same time held out a promise of joys to come. They became to me what the engine-driver’s cabin and the pirate’s quarterdeck are to other boys of the same age, and I can remember with what mixed jealousy and admiration I saw bronzed and tough-looking Italian youths setting out for the mountains with axe and rope. That was one of the few good things the Duce introduced, the training of young people among great peaks, and we might with advantage imitate it, as Geoffrey Winthrop Young has suggested.

The most impressive of all those magnificent mountains was the Langkofel, a lengthy ridge buttressed by huge towers, and a true climbers’ paradise, as readers of Smythe’s "Adventures of a. Mountaineer" will know. 

 Bowfell Buttress above the Langdale Valley


But it was left to that perfect miniature of mountain landscape, the English Lake District, to turn admiration into action. In 1940, hustled out of London by anxious parents, I woke up one morning after a night journey by road from Windermere to find Buttermere Moss looking down at me through the window. A modest sort of mountain, you may say, but to one who had barely seen a molehill for years it was lofty enough. Well, there I was, an hour later, puffing and blowing up my first real hill. Standing at last upon the summit, out of breath and up to my ankles in one of those ubiquitous Lakeland bogs, I felt at last the true joy of the mountaineer, and made a firm resolve that before the year had passed I would set foot on all the dozens of peaks that were visible even from that low eminence.

It wasn’t allowing a great deal of time, but two years later the ambition had been fulfilled and surpassed. There was the mighty Grasmoor, (the Lake District has of course a scale of adjectives all its own), with its halo of lesser heights, Hobcarton, Sail, Causey Pike; the ridge of High Stile, above Buttermere, with its grand view and succulent bilberries; massive Pillar Mountain and the slender Steeple, rising from the deserted valley of Ennerdale. Then again, a kindly walker took me up the Guide’s route to Scafell Pikes, the highest of them all; this is a fine mountaineering route, winding its way up the mountain’s flank to land one on the boulder-strewn summit plateau. One would have thought that a debris-covered, windswept summit like the Pikes would be even less inviting than the hills of Majorca; yet it is a remarkable fact that the bare stark nature of many of the Lake District hilltops lends them a peculiar attractiveness.

Perhaps it is due to the part they play in furnishing the contrast in a land already rich in contrasts: steep rock face against gentle grass slope; dry bracken, russet heather and grass against blue lakes and grey rocks; and the most obvious contrast of all, the ceaseless changing of the weather. Then there was the true sovereign of the Lakes, Great Gable, a mountain of many aspects, but majestic in them all, and possessing one of the best views in all the district; Skiddaw, the shapeless mass that looks so imposing and is so impossibly tame, with its complete lack of contrast and its path fit for a four-in-hand right up to the summit; Catbells and Maiden Moor, odd-shaped sentinels of Derwentwater.... there seemed to be no end to the summits we could tread. 


And then, just when I was beginning to feel myself the "Compleat Mountaineer ", vast new fields were suddenly opened up by the possibility of climbing. I had always thought of rock-climbers as very superior persons who were on the plane altogether from us humble walkers, until one day I found myself gaily scaling the vertical side of Pillar Rock with a sangfroid I should have shuddered at a year before. This New West climb really does merit the attention of all climbers, from the trembling novice to the most hardened veteran bred in the tradition of de Selincourtian gravity-defiance. It has plenty of exposure and sensational positions, it is steep in the most modern meaning of the word, and in its three hundred feet or so of continuous climbing it calls for all types of technique.

It starts with a "staircase ", traverses off the "landing" to a steep groove, soon after which the climber can spread-eagle himself on a step even wider than the notorious Strid on the North climb. Then follows a beautiful chimney, complete with chock-stone, and topped by a wicked vice which most people attempt the first time they do the climb, in the mistaken belief that the route continues up it. As a matter of fact, it emerges from the chimney to follow a traverse which is almost completely hidden from the climber inside the chimney. This traverse is not lavish with its handholds, and gives exhilarating balance climbing. Finally there is a dose of good smooth slabs, which take one right out on to the summit of the Rock. The sort of perfect climb that a valley-bound cragsman might compose for the solace of his imagination, as a gourmet on a desert island might conjure up visions of the perfect meal. And yet withal it is easy enough, unless of course it happens to be raining.


There are plenty of other climbs of moderate difficulty on the Rock; the North climb is of course one of the classic climbs of Great Britain. There’ is one place on it where the leader unropes and makes a long detour to avoid the only tough place on the climb, which incidentally makes up for all the other tough places that aren’t. When I did this I spent a considerable time trying to locate my second when I had reached the top; while his mind was no doubt filled with the most gloomy forebodings.


The Pillar Rock is impressive enough, especially if you approach Low Man in mist, (the normal state), when the great steep ribs soar up into what seems to be infinity. But, even on a fine day, I know of nothing to compete with the face of Scafell for sheer splendor and power of rock scenery. One gets a good view of the whole thing from Pikes Crag, but I found it most awe-inspiring to scramble up the bed of Deep Ghyll, an enormously deep ravine cutting back between the sheer walls of Deep Ghyll Buttress and the Pinnacle. On either side you have the walls of the ravine, and between them a narrow field of view filled by Great Gable and Pillar. We tried one of the climbs on the Pinnacle Wall of the ghyll, known as Jones and Collier’s climb, which was first climbed by the great pioneer Owen Glynne Jones. It consists mainly of a continuous traverse above an overhang, with the bed of the ghyll dropping away below. We did it in boots, and as a result I would recommend rubbers for this climb; the holds are strictly of utility quality.


 The Abraham 'Keswick' Brothers

One finishes to the top along the famous Knife-edge Ar0te, which is ascended horseback-fashion on account of the considerable drop below on either side. The Pinnacle has a number of things in common with the Pillar Rock, including a gap which prevents direct access to the summit. Below Low Man, falling sheer, is the Pinnacle Face. The routes up this face are climbs of the highest delicacy, with few belays worthy of the name the sort of place where the rule that the leader must not fall is expanded to include every member of the party. The face has a number of casualties to its discredit, and we left it well alone, until such time as we might become very much more competent climbers. We sampled the buttress climbing on Scafell by going up the Keswick Brothers’ climb, an old favourite, which works its way pleasantly up one of the steeply tilted strata which compose the left-hand part of Scafell Precipice. It is a true face climb, though it does sometimes delve into a chimney where a flake has split away from the main stratum. 


While it is true that a large proportion of the best climbing is in the central massif around Great Gable, that versatile mountain which attracts the climber as much as the walker, there is a great deal scattered more diffusely over the rest of the district. Gimmer Crag, for instance, proved to be an ideal place to spend a hot unenergetic summer’s day. Most of the climbs are hard, some of them very, but they are short, and the crag has the advantage of being easily reached; the climbs perhaps tend to be what is called rock gymnastics, but they provide at least excellent training. Langdale is dotted about with other climbs, for instance the classic Bowfell Buttress, surely one of the most enjoyable of its kind, continuous and not artificial. Dow Crag would almost constitute a life-study in itself, with its small area with an incredible concentration of routes of all types and standards. In the latter respect it differs from Lliwedd, which is more uniformly hard, I should just like to mention Gordon and Craig’s route, which we found remarkable for a long dead level traverse with so little lebensraum that it is necessary almost to bend double and lean out over space – a good test of balance.


Finally, there are any number of "outlying crags ", as the guide-books call them, the Mecca of those with a bent for blazing new trails. Thus the Buttermere region, and especially Birkness Coombe, above Buttermere Lake, has been extensively developed in recent years, as a glance at recent numbers of the Journal of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club will show. We couldn’t resist the temptation to try and make a variation to the "Oxford and Cambridge" Climb, in this coombe, just to shift the balance in favour of Cambridge; our success was highly questionable, as the said variation was partly done on a rope. However, it consists of swarming up a sort of pinnacle and then traversing horizontally across Dexter Wall to join the parent climb at the top of the second pitch, and is quite entertaining. This sort of thing is very small meat, but A. T. Hargreaves, who ought to know, assures us in an article in the above-mentioned journal that there are still various crags awaiting such intensive exploration as Buttermere has had.


During the war we have been restricted to the hills of Britain, though I imagine that most of us are not conscious of this as a restriction at all. We have learnt to cherish these hills for their own sake, and not to value them merely as a training ground for attempts on bigger game. The Lake District is far more than this; and have not Alpine and Himalayan climbers who spent early years on its crags always returned to its friendly intimacy after months spent on inhospitable snow and ice? Certainly, should it ever be my fortune to climb on bigger mountains, I shall nevertheless come back to the cradle of my mountaineering aspirations, the English Lakes. 

 Skiddaw from Derwentwater:Oil on board- J Appleby

RW Cahn 1944 




Friday, 11 July 2014

Bentley Beetham: Lure of the Mountains.....Review





I first came across the name Bentley Beetham not long after I had started climbing. It was on a wet visit to Borrowdale in the English Lake District and the name kept cropping up in the guidebook we were using. Classic easy routes like Little Chamonix and Corvus featured of course, but other routes within Borrowdale’s verdant maw, peppered the guide. The earliest being, Woden’s Face route in 1921 running through to what appears a swansong climb, Calf Close Buttress in 1952; an obscure five pitch ‘Diff’ described as ‘A useful ascent on to Glaramara’.

At the time I imagined Beetham to be another Millican Dalton. ( See Terry Gifford’s- Millican Dalton-Professor of Adventure) I had a picture of a tweedy eccentric risking life and limb to climb vegetated horrors on every virgin piece of rock in the valley. Although there was an element of truth in that perception, the real Bently Beetham, was, as is inevitably the case, a far more complex and rounded mountaineering figure than I could ever have imagined.


Bentley Beetham and charge on unnamed Lake District crag:Photo Bentley Beetham Collection

It came as a complete surprise when I discovered that Beetham had been an accomplished and experienced mountaineer, ornithologist and photographer who was a regular visitor to the Alps and Greater Ranges, and had in fact, been a member of the legendary ‘Mallory/Irvine’ 1924  Everest expedition.  An expedition where with Mallory, he was considered one of the strongest and fittest members of the team and as such, was very much in the frame for a summit bid. 

In Vertebrate Publishing’s The Lure of the Mountains...The life of Bentley Beetham- the 1924 Everest Expedition Mountaineer, author-the late Michael D Lowes- has brought to life this fascinating figure through what was obviously a labour of love. Beetham was a pupil and later, a master at the Barnard Castle public school in County Durham, and Michael Lowes was a pupil at the school under Beetham. Like so many Barnard Castle pupils over the years, the author was inspired by the subjects enthusiasm and love of the mountains and his passion culminated in later life, with his stewardship of  ‘The Beetham Collection’. The subject’s vast selection of glass plate and film photographs kept at the school. And of course, the authorship of this fine little book.

Within, this modest 150+ page work, Michael Lowes has managed to capture the true essence of a man who was part adventurer and part a real life ‘Mr Chips’. A tweedy confirmed bachelor whose life-man and boy- remained within the Barnard Castle school orbit. Beetham’s roots were  as you would imagine, typically middle class. A late Victorian son of a bank manager who died when Beetham was four, the young Bentley was sent off by his mother Frances to boarding school where, amongst the Northumbrian countryside, he developed a love of the natural world.

Particularly the subject of ornithology, an area where his life long love of photography was shaped. Indeed, it was while scrambling around searching for birds nests that Beetham developed his early climbing skills. It was these skills and his expertise in this area that persuaded the explorer, J Foster Stackhouse to select the 25 year old for an expedition to the remote Jan Mayen Islands. An expedition where Beetham would be the team ornithologist and photographer. In the event, the author describes an expedition where everything that could go wrong did go wrong! In fact, the author’s dry wit shines through in ‘The Expedition that Never was’ and I defy anyone to read this chapter without a smile on their face. What a great Ealing comedy this would have made. 


Photo:Bentley Beetham Collection
 
Not surprisingly, Beetham’s  Everest trip and his preliminary expeditions take up a substantial section of the book but even within the tragic context of that fateful trip, the author lightens the tone with selective quotes from Beetham which are often highly droll. For example, describing the appalling poverty and unhygienic conditions they encountered in one Tibetan village, Beetham observes...

If one has not seen Phari,it must be difficult to believe that something like 8000 people can continue to live together in such an appalling state of filth and insanitation as there exists. One would have expected them to have been blotted out long ago by some infectious malady; their persistent existence is a flaunting insult to hygiene.

After the high point of Everest, Lowes describes Beetham’s climbing career as not so much winding down, but with the subject now more content to explore the Lake District an unearth new routes within these less challenging climes. However, he continued to venture abroad and in particular, became an early explorer and enthusiast for Moroccan exploration. Regularly visiting the High Atlas mountains during his extended school breaks. Usually, on his own and using local guides.

Beetham’s often unorthodox approach to his academic responsibilities are touched on by the author. An approach that at one stage looked as if it would cost him his career at the Barnard Castle school. However, his popularity with the majority of pupils saw him home and he continued in his role of tweedy schoolmaster until he retired in 1949.

After retirement, he continued to climb in the Lakes-As a long term member of the Fell & Rock Club he regularly used the club’s local huts to base his new routing explorations. In 1953,at the age of 66, he went along with another expedition to explore the unknown Himalayan Api Range. Sadly, ill health forced his return and what might have been a remarkable final flourishing in the greater ranges was not to be.

Beetham died after a stroke in 1963. The archetypical Kipling-esque Victorian school master and mountaineer had managed to reach his twilight passage in an era where man had orbited the moon and the first stirrings of Beatlemania had rattled the cage of drab, post war cultural conservatism.

Author Michael D Lowes died suddenly in 2009 after completing Lure of the Mountains. Another former Barnard Castle pupil, Graham Ratcliffe-current chair of the Bentley Beetham Trust-took on the task of seeing Michael’s work through to publication and it is to the credit of all concerned that the book is now out there in the public domain. An invaluable work on a unique figure in the world of mountaineering  whose story had to be told. In keeping with the subject, Vertebrate have published the work in a charmingly old fashioned cloth hardback cover which evokes Beetham's bygone age.

Available direct from the publisher..... Lure of the Mountains

John Appleby


 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Remembering Tom Patey





ON the jacket of the book in front of me there is a colour photograph of a climber swathed in awkward bundles of climbing rope, one hand on an ice axe plunged into dangerous-looking powder snow,the other clutching a short second axe. From the body rope hang ice-screws and pitons, and the straps on the boots show he is wearing crampons. The strong face beneath the shock of snow-rimed hair is not smiling. The mouth is open in an interrogatory glance, elongating the lines on the cheeks almost to lantern jaws. The man is Tom Patey, who crashed to his death on May 25, 1970. One Man’s Mountains is a collection of his best essays and verses, and they catch the spirit of the ’50’s and ’60’s as surely as Alastair Borthwick caught the 30’s in his classic Always a Little Further.
 
I discussed this book with Tom when We climbed the Cioch Nose in Applecross together only a few days before he parted from his rope while abseiling from a sea stack called The Maiden at Whiten Head, on the remote north coast. The day Tom died he was due to meet Olivia Gollanz, publisher of his book. They were going to discuss his work and he intended to resist any rewriting of it, “ Because I’ve worked damned hard on these pieces, and I need the money now.” Tom, the unashamed television climber, willing to take part in any B.B.C. circus for the fun as much as the reward, wrote the best of his work for sheer pleasure. And when he did write for money it was often to satirize “The Professionals.”  The book shows the evolution of a climber from days of innocence when he was a shy and retiring schoolboy, to his extrovert singing and piano accordion playing on Aberdeen Climbing Club meets, when the bar-room jollity was as important as the climbing. His chapter, “Cairngorm Commentary” catches the spirit of these times, and is, I think, one of the best pieces ever written on young men and mountains.

In it he describes his epic snow and ice ascent of the Douglas Gully on Lochnagar that I first climbed with Brooker, Smith, Taylor and Patey. It was November, cold, wet, and we went to Eagle Ridge of Lochnagar. Adam Watson was there, too, and we formed two ropes-Patey leading one and Brooker the other; It was my introduction to rock climbing on the mountain, so they had chosen the narrowest and steepest of the ridges. It was a test of adhesion to hard, slippery rock with hands half frozen by falling sleet, but Tom was exuberant as he scraped, lunged and grunted, drawing breath only to extol some feature of the elegant route that I might be missing. By contrast Taylor looked meticulously controlled and demanded his right to lead some of the choicer pitches.

Tom put our ascent to good use, by doing the climb again the following Week-end when it  was submerged in eight inches  of powder snow. His companion was Tom Bourdillon, who happened to be giving a lecture on Everest in Aberdeen and found that a by-product of it was to be doing the hardest climb of his life with the reigning Tiger. I remember on the Bealach nam Bo, as we sat in the car listening to the rain, asking Torn if he had regrets about being a doctor when he might have become a professional climber. His reply was vehement. I’d‘ rather be a good doctor any day. Climbing is not a reason for living. Providing a good medical service to a remote region like Ullapool and the North-West is as important to me as any climbing.

I've worked hard to build up that practice, and I’ve enjoyed it, though I'd like more time for climbing.”  Then he confided to me his remarkable intention to ‘solo the North Face of the Eiger that August. He reckoned from his past attempts with others that he needed only one good day to top the greatest mixed route in Europe” His words. His intention was to prepare the way so as to be able to go up in the dark when conditions were right, using his exceptional speed to forge up the dangerous upper part at break of day, before the stonefall barrage could begin.

Why did he want to do a route that had been done over a hundred times before, when he was such a pioneer of new ways? “ Because it has every problem in climbing heaped on top of each other. The big objection to it is the time it takes-so you are liable to be caught out by the weather. Get up it before the stuff starts to fall and you have only gravity to contend with. Every day you are up there lessens your chance of staying alive. And I Want to live.” Six days later, Tom was dead.

Ullapool lost a good doctor, as a great many of the townsfolk have told me. Winner of the Gold Medal for Physiology in his second year at university, he could have gone very far in medicine had he given free reign to his academic abilities. Good G.P. though he was, Patey had in him a tough, almost a callous streak, a demand that his friends be as hard as he was. Before he graduated I was due to give a lecture in Aberdeen, but collapsed with flu on the eve of departure from Glasgow. The doctor was called and pronounced me unfit to travel. “ Under no circumstances must you go,” he warned.

I phoned Adam Watson with the bad news. He was sympathetic. Somebody else would have to be found to take my place. An hour later the ebullient Patey was on the line, assuring me that most doctors were fools, that a man like myself shouldn’t be stopped by anything so trivial as flu . . .So I arrived in Aberdeen. Gave my talk, was whisked about from one house to another afterwards,and finally driven to Ellon in a snowstorm to arrive in the early hours of the morning at a stone cold house. What Patey did not tell me was that his parents were away and that the house had been lying empty for the last three weeks. The bed was like an ice-box.

Yet I enjoyed myself, watching him sit down at the piano the moment we came into the house and, between songs, hearing him enthuse about climbs he had done and was going to do. The fact is that Patey had a way of expanding you with his presence. Our eighteen years of age difference disappeared. The University Lairig Club flourished then as never before or since. With upwards of seventy members attending meets, these trips to Lochnagar were brought down to package-deal terms at 5s a head.

Many came for the jollity, though nearly all enjoyed a little fresh air prior to the evening’s entertainment. I have never been a lover of big parties, so I was rather shaken when Tom joined our party one New Year, with what looked like one of these meets of lads and lasses. And they brought with them a potent concoction of spirits, and as Tom took liberal swigs between dance numbers, his agile fingers became livelier and livelier on the accordion. He was still playing when most of the dancers had collapsed. I don’t know when he went to bed. But he was with us in the morning for a climb which he declared to be a new route. True, he looked terrible, pale as a ghost and racked by a cough. But this was not abnormal. The cough came from smoking, the face belied a man with so much stamina that frequently ran to the crags, punched a few hard routes and jogged back again.
There is a question-and-answer song about  Tom....How does he climb, solo and so briskly?.......On twenty fags a day, and Scotland’s good malt whisky.
 
Tom’s own satirical songs published in the book are subtly delightful, especially his 'Alpine Club Song'.

Our climbing leaders are no fools,
They went to the very best Public Schools,
You’ll never go wrong with Everest Men,
So we select them again and again, 
Again and again and again and again.
You won't go wrong with Everest Men,
They went to the very best Public Schools,
They play the game, they know the rules.

Listen to the “ Hamish MacInnes’s  Mountain Patrol” song.

Gillies and shepherds are shouting Bravo,
For Hamish Maclnnes, the Pride of Glencoe.
There'll be no mercy mission no marathon slog,
Just lift your receiver and ask them for DOG.
They come from their Kennels to answer the call,
Cool, calm and courageous the Canine Patrol.
Sniffing the boulders and scratching the snow,
They've left their mark on each crag in the Coe.


All sorts of characters are mirrored in the verses with an economy that any writer would envy : Bill Murray of the 30’s, Chris Bonington and Joe Brown of the 60’s, the stuffier members of the Cairngorm Club none with wickedness for Tom was essentially a kindly man, however hard his exterior. For example, I offended him once by writing an ill-chosen phrase which made it look as if I numbered him among the vain-glorious whom I was criticising. He could have satirised me and made me look a fool. He merely told me I was, but accepted my explanation and we remained friends.

He was a son of the manse. But I never heard him talk about God until our last day in Applecross. He opened his heart on many things as we talked in the car. Tom had no conventional religion, but he believed that the good in man lived on after he was dead, therefore there must be an all-seeing God. We talked about the Himalaya, the Mustagh Tower, Rakaposhi, and the Norwegian routes he had been making with Joe Brown. None of them shone for him so much as his early days with his Aberdeen friends.

He did not think it was sentiment. In these early years all of them were true mountain explorers, opening up new corners of Scotland for the very first time. With the rapid sophistication of climbing and its organisation in the ’60’s something simple and joyous had vanished. There was too much emphasis on reputation, too much talk about character-building.

Freddy Malcolm and his friend “Sticker” are recalled in the book. They were the leaders of a tiny group of working lads who called themselves the Kincorth Club. As Tom says, they came to regard Beinn a’ Bhuird as club property and built a subterranean “ Howff on its flank. I was proud to be asked to be their hon. president. These boys had a quiet style, so quiet that “night after night their torchlit safaris trod stealthily past the Laird’s Very door, shouldering mighty beams of timber, sections of stove-piping and sheets of corrugated iron. The Howff records the opening ceremony:  'This howff was constructed in the Year of Our Lord I954, by the Kincorth Club, for the Kincorth Club. All climbers please leave names, and location of intended climbs ; female climbers please leave names, addresses and telephone numbers'.

No outdoor centres could turn out lads like these.They developed their own characters and became First class  performers in any Cairngorm climbing situation, and most of their Winter pioneering of hard routes was done in the remotest corries. They knew what they were doing. This is how Patey sums up his companions of his Cairngorm days “The North-East climbers of the early ’50’s were all individualists, but never rock fanatics. There are no crags in the Cairngorms within easy reach of a motorable road and a typical climbing week-end savoured more of an expedition than of acrobatics. If the weather turned unfavourable, then a long hill walk took the place of the planned climb. All the bothies were well patronised - Luibeg, Lochend, Gelder ,Shiel, Bynack, the Geldie bothies, Altanour, Corrour and, of course, the Shelter Stone. At one and all you would be assured of friendly company round the fire in the evenings. Everybody knew everybody.”

But even the more halcyon days had their shadows as Tom recounts, when in August I953 Bill Stewart fell to his death on Parallel Gully B.’ Although his initial slip was a mere six feet, the rope sliced through on a sharp flake of rock and he fell all the way to the corrie floor. It was a cruel twist of fate to overtake such a brilliant young climber, and for many of the ‘faithful’ it soured the love of the hills they had shared with him.

“The majority of the old brigade took to hill Walking and skiing where they could forget unhappy memories and still enjoy the camaraderie of the hills.” But the impetus to make new routes, though by a smaller number of climbers, went on, and rich harvests were reaped by the “ faithful.” But the Aberdeen boys were no stay-at-homes. Patey’s men broke new ground in Applecross and Skye, laying siege to Alpine peaks of increasing difficulty season by season. Serving in the Royal Navy from 1957 to 1961, Tom was attached to Royal Marine Commando, thus had plenty of scope in a unit practising mountain warfare at home and abroad. Marriage could not have been very easy for his wife Betty, for a climbing genius is not the most restful man to live with.

Just look at his record over the past half-dozen years, with his assaults on Atlantic rock stacks and forays into every comer of the North-West, including the first winter traverse of the Cuillin of Skye, with a night out on the ridge. Then in 1970 he did what I think is probably the boldest piece of solo climbing in the history of Scottish mountaineering by crossing the great wall of Creag Meaghaidh, in 8500 feet of traversing in bold situations “ unrivalled in Scottish winter climbing.”

I know of no one who thought it could be done in a single day, yet Tom, starting around a normal lunch time, finished it in five hours in conditions which were “ . . . far from ideal-an unusual amount of black ice and heavy aprons of unstable wind-slab.” But as he says in the book, it was one of these days when a climber is caught up in his own impetus. One description made my stomach turn over in the sheer horror of the situation. He had made a false move and was trying to rectify it when the wind-slab ledge suddenly heeled off into space and I was left in the position of a praying mantis, crampon points digging into verglassed slabs. It was a moment of high drama-and horror best contemplated in retrospect. Hanging on by one gloved fist jammed behind some frozen heather roots, I had to extract a small ring spike from my pocket and batter it into the only visible crack. It went in hesitantly for an inch and seemed to bite. Then the crack went blind. Time was running out, as my supporting hand was rapidly losing sensation.” That piton simply had to hold him, and it did, as he used his teeth and free hand to thread the rope through it, then tested it by hanging free on it to try to pendulum on to a lower ledge from where he might continue the traverse.

What a situation! Suspended on an inch of iron which might or might not hold and certain death below if it failed. Even if it held he still had a problem of achieving a landing on the ledge. “ If I missed it or swung off backwards I would be spinning in space with little prospect of regaining the cliff face. I arrived in a rush, sinking hands, knees and toes simultaneously into a mound of powder snow.” He admits to teeth-chattering.” The way now lay open. Perhaps you have dismissed Tom in your mind as a fool for exposing himself to such extremes of danger and difficulty when he had a wife, three children and the responsibilities of a scattered medical practice. Yet as Christopher Brasher so well expressed it in his Foreword to the book: “What is a man if he does not explore himself; if he does not challenge the impossible?”

I believe Tom Patey was a genius.
Joe Brown and Tom Patey on St Kilda

Tom Weir: 1972