Friday, 5 February 2016

Wild America: A personal celebration of the national parks....review



Veteran outdoor journalist Roly Smith and acclaimed photographer David Muench have brought their respective skills to bear on a rather fine coffee table tome, 'Wild America: a personal celebration of the national parks'. Although the work will of course be of interest to US readers, it will probably be equally appreciated here in the UK where most people's knowledge of US national parks begins and ends with Yosemite and Yellowstone.

In fact the US National parks-of which there are now 59 across 27 states-precede our own by almost 80 years. Compared to the relatively recent first UK national park established in The Peak District in 1951, the aforementioned Yellowstone national park spread across Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, was established in 1872.


In 'Wild America' the author's offer a modest 21 of the sum total of US parks based on personal favourites. However, included in this 'Greatest Hits' selection are some real humdingers,including many of which were unfamiliar to myself. The vast majority are as expected,concentrated in West/Mid West of the United States with a high concentration around  'Abbeyland'; the mountains and deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Only two parks in the East appear. Arcadia in Maine and Shenandoah in Virginia.
With roughly four pages allocated to each national park, Roly Smith's text combines his personal impressions and descriptive notes with historical details and anecdotes. Each section beautifully illustrated by David Muench's sumptuous photographs.


Some fascinating historical facts jump out at times. For example, when the Shenandoah national park in Virginia was created in 1935, the indigenous 'hillbilly farmers' were evicted off the land by the state. The theory being,that national parks had to be empty uninhabited wilderness. Perhaps that would explain the present day survivalist tendencies and paranoia displayed by the redneck constituency!

For the casual observer of national parks stateside,it has always seemed ironic-for me at least-that the land of the free appears to operate quite a rigid,structured and decidedly authoritarian approach to how its parks are used. For example,entrance fees and strict control over wild camping within the confines of the park. Edward Abbey in his essays describes taking a great delight in ignoring 'keep out' signs and tearing down fences in the wilderness areas whenever he had the opportunity! As a former national park employee,he was on record as lamenting the drift towards tourist consumerism and the taming of the wild places of south western America.


That being said, the US's approach to establishing national parks-the latest being the magnificent Black canyon of Gunnison, granted national park status by President Clinton in 1999- shows up the UK's rather timid approach. For example,anyone familiar with north Wales would ask why the boundaries of the Snowdonia park have been so arbitrarily set? Why is most of the wild Hiraethog, The Berwyn mountain range, The Dee Valley, even the Clwydians not included in an extended national park or even set in a new NE Wales national park?


Probably because the farmers and landowners object,as they did when the Cambrian Mountains were proposed as our first national park in the 1930's. But I digress; to get back to Wild America. It's only flaw as far as I'm concerned is the fact that the author is no Ed Ebbey. The approach is rather touristy and tame.Lacking the investigative spirit of ' Cactus Ed' the author contents himself to guided walks and looks on from a safe distance as it were. Without this spirit of adventure,the book lacks the excitement that a seasoned backpacker like say Chris Townsend would have brought to life.


That being said, it's still a lovely little book-just 96 pages- which I'm sure will stimulate interest in areas unfamiliar to the reader. The photographs are never less than exquisite and its a nice little work to dip into for inspiration when the grey skies of Britain threaten to tip you into depression!


Wild America will be published in the UK in April. You can pre-order it from Rucsac Readers 
 
John Appleby:2016 
 

Friday, 29 January 2016

Haskett Smith-The Revenant!


August 3, 1913

'W. P. Haskett Smith Dies in Canadian Rockies'


Such newspaper headlines, would without any shadow of a doubt, cause consternation among the climbing world of today, let alone at the turn of the 20th century when he was at the pinnacle of his unwanted fame. But in August 1913, this could well have been the headlines in British newspapers of the day, putting a shocked climbing fraternity in mourning, for the loss of a climbing pioneer who was hailed as the ‘Father of British Rock Climbing’, as a result of his solo ascent of Napes Needle on the slopes of Great Gable on 2nd or 3rd July,1886. In essence, this was the first recorded rock climb undertaken, not for Alpine training as was generally the norm at that time, but for pure aesthetic pleasure of movement up rock for enjoyment, thus making it a sport in its own right as opposed to being a ‘gentleman’s Alpine training playground’.

Climbing organisations such as the Fell and Rock, Rucksack Club, Alpine Club and Climber’s Club, would on hearing such devastating news, work frantically to get obituaries written for their next Journals. Talk around the smoking rooms of the Lakeland Hotels climbers frequented at weekends and holidays, and in particular, the Wasdale Hotel, would endlessly centre on such an event, as it sent turbulent ripples through the small but close knit climbing community that was growing in the United Kingdom, none more so than in the English Lake District. Memories would be invoked of a similar event six years earlier, when such clubs were saddened by the death of another pioneering climber – John Wilson Robinson, a close friend and climbing partner of Haskett Smith’s. How could the climbing fraternity lose two such climbing icons within a decade of each other, both being viewed as an intricate part of the Lakeland climbing scene of the day!


Questions would have been asked: ‘Why did he go to Canada?’; ‘Who was he with when the accident happened?’; ‘How did the accident happen?’; ‘Where did it happen?’; ‘Who or what was responsible?’ among endless other searching questions, climbers were eager to find answers to.Having spent the last 14 months researching material for his biography, the potential seriousness of this incident can now be told in full.


W. P. Haskett Smith and his younger brother Edmund L. W. Haskett Smith, had been climbing together constantly since 1881 when Walter P. first visited Wasdale in the English Lake District, leading a combined Oxford/Cambridge classics reading group over a two-month period. It was here that he became acquainted with Frederick H. Bowring, an ardent and prolific walker of the Lakeland fells and mountainsides. It was said of him, that he knew the Lakeland fells and mountains like no other, including hidden gems yet to be discovered by any resolute climber.


Early days;The Wasdale Inn.Photo F&R Club
 
Bowring often took groups of reading parties on walks along little known tracks, leading them under and alongside the many crags and gullies that can be found on the Lakeland mountains. In effect, he became Haskett Smith’s walking and climbing ‘mentor’, encouraging him to climb and explore the gullies, those already climbed and those waiting to be climbed. Haskett Smith and Bowring, formed such a close friendship, that in order to honour his ‘mentor’, Haskett Smith sent him an inscribed copy of his 1894 first climbing guide – ‘Rock Climbing in the British Isles, England, Volume 1’.


Throughout the 1880’s and 90’s, Haskett Smith climbed prolifically in the Lake District as well as other places in the UK, mainly with his younger brother Edmund who he was close to. His 1886 solo ascent of Napes Needle, an iconic object in its own right, is well known throughout the climbing and mountaineering world, as is many of his other first ascents. What is not known widely, is his keen interest in sailing and cycling which he did with his good friend Maurice Byles in the early years of the 20th century. They frequently cycled to Dover, took a ferry to France and then cycled around the Benelux countries, often putting their cycles on board a sailing boat, sailing along the French and Dutch coast lines and stopping off to explore new countryside by bicycle. Once they had satiated themselves, they returned to their sailing boat, stored the cycles aboard, then sailed off again to seek other new places to explore.


Whilst he had many climbing friends and associates throughout his rock climbing years, it was his brother Edmund who he was closest to and who was in effect, his ‘best friend’. From 1882 onwards, both brothers regularly travelled to Wasdale together and whilst they did not always climb or walk together, they enjoyed spending time in each other’s company, possibly because both were introverts, being relatively shy and having no need to enter into constant conversation when in company, preferring the quietness and beatitude of their situation.


Such was their close ‘brotherly’ bond, that when in 1898, Edmund moved to Nova Scotia in Canada to live, Walter P. felt bereft at losing not just a brother, but a close friend and climbing companion. Both of them were aware, that Walter P. (or Haskett Smith as he was, and still is known by), was receiving all the attention from the climbing fraternity, in relation to the many first ascents he is recorded as doing, especially in the 1880’s.It would appear, that it is Haskett Smith’s name (meaning Walter P. and not Edmund), that not only appears in climbing guide books as being the person who made the first ascent, but that climbing history does not give Edmund a mention at all. This despite the fact, that whilst they climbed unroped and it would be Walter P. who summited first, the fact that Edmund followed within minutes, appears to have gone unrecognised.


However, for his part, Edmund was happy with this situation for two reasons: first he had great respect for his older brother, and secondly, he was happy with not being in any ‘spotlight’, shunning attention of any sort. 
Haskett Smith was pleased when Edmund returned to England in 1904, as it gave them opportunities to continue their adventures together, although Edmund was less interested in climbing and more interested in traveling and seeing ‘new worlds’. Things would not last however, as Edmund returned to Canada again in 1912 with his family. And so it was, that a few months after he led a small group on the 2nd ascent of Gillercombe Buttress Gully (May 5th), and which in retrospect, was one of his last climbs, Haskett Smith sailed for Canada to visit Edmund who was now living in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia.

Within a few weeks of arriving, the two brothers lost no time in going out walking to explore the wide expanse of wilderness that surrounded the small town. Edmund by now had a camera, and whilst his images are generally too far away to get a clear glimpse of his subjects (sometimes of the landscape and other times of his brother Walter), his diary and photo album captured the spirit of Haskett Smith as an individual, free from the constant attention others made of him for no other reason than to feed their own egos by saying they ‘rubbed shoulders’ with the ‘Father of British Rock Climbing’. (And who says that the birth of celebrity status is a modern phenomenon!)
                                                                        
In late July, he and Edmund travelled by train to Calgary, calling in at Banff on their way to Jasper, before making their way to Mount Robson where they had been invited by Arthur Wheeler, founding President of the Alpine Club of Canada, to call on him during their month long annual summer expedition camp, which was being held from 28th July to 9th August in the Mount Robson Pass area. Due to the high numbers attending the camp that year, two subsidiary camps were set up, one about six miles down the Smokey River and the other beside Calumet Creek in Moose Pass. In both camps, seventy-three people were under canvass including a native from Penrith in Cumberland – Horace ‘Rusty’ Westmorland, who when aged 11 back in 1897, had met Haskett Smith in the Lake District.


At the time they met, the Westmorland family were having a picnic beside Grisedale Tarn above Ullswater, when they saw a climbing party descending Tarn Crag, walking towards the tarn where they were picnicking.The party consisted of Haskett Smith, Geoffrey Hastings (who knew Thomas Westmorland), Ellis Carr and John W. Robinson. They had been trying to make the first ascent of Big Gully on Tarn Crag (now called Chockstone Gully), but were unsuccessful due to loose boulders and stones festooning the gully floor, making movement difficult and potentially dangerous. Haskett Smith later wrote about this attempt: “As any attempt far outweighed the sport, retreat was the better course of action, and so we traversed off the route by the grassy ledge that separates the lower and upper two pitches.”
On meeting, Hastings introduced the others to Thomas Westmorland and his family who invited the four climbers, to sit awhile and partake sustenance from their picnic hamper.

 
For his part, Thomas Westmorland was a well-known local climbing and fell walking pioneer, known for being adamant, that it was not the done-thing to use a climbing rope, under any circumstances. The Westmorland family as a whole, were very ardent outdoor enthusiasts, spending two weeks every Easter and eight weeks every summer, camping on the shores of Ullswater near Howtown, from where they would frequently explore the confines of the Northern Fells and beyond.


Thomas’s only son Horace, (who received the nickname Rusty whilst serving in the Canadian Army in France in 1914), has the distinction of being taken to Norfolk Island aged one by his parents for an open air over-night bivvy; then three months later, being carried to the summit of Helvellyn in order to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee at the country’s biggest mountaintop bonfire; at aged four years being taken by his father, to climb (unroped), the rough rock strewn walls of Brougham Castle, just as he himself had done when he was the same age; and in 1901 aged fifteen, being taken up to the summit of Pillar Rock via the Slab and Notch route (unroped of course), by his father, making him the youngest person at that time to have done so. [His sister Alice was also with them, but she was aged 16!]Now, sixteen years later, Haskett Smith and Rusty Westmorland were to meet up at the Alpine Club of Canada’s annual camp, where both took great delight in reminiscing, not just about the Lakeland climbing scene and mutual acquaintances, but also about Rusty’s first ascent of Chockstone Gully (Big Gully) on Tarn Crag in 1910, the very route Haskett Smith along with Hastings, Robinson and Carr, had attempted back in 1897, but had failed.

 
It was unfortunate that the weather around Mount Robson for the first few days, was not conducive for climbing or ascending major peaks, although this did not deter Rusty from making several first ascents himself as he was hoping to impress Wheeler, who ultimately decided who should be invited to become a member of the Alpine Club of Canada. As Rusty wanted a job as a mountain guide, he knew that being invited by Wheeler to become a member of the Club, it would ‘open doors’ for working in an area where there were innumerable virgin peaks waiting to be climbed.As it happened, after five days of rain, they all woke to a cloudless azure blue sky without a rain cloud in sight. This spurred the members to form climbing groups and decide on where they would go. As Rusty knew that the Haskett Smith brothers were leaving in a few days’ time, he agreed to lead them on a long walk up to Robson Pass summit, as he knew the route through the uncharted wilderness.
                                   
As they approached Emperor Falls area, there was a great deal of water runoff from the rocky slopes towering above them, and as they negotiated a narrow part of the trail, the waterlogged rock slope started to slide downwards. Whilst Rusty and Edmund managed to get clear of the falling stones and rubble, Haskett Smith did not and was hit on the legs.

His injuries were so bad, that he had to be carried back to camp by other members who were luckily nearby. However, their camp was too far away from civilisation for anyone to be called in to treat his leg, and very quickly, his injuries led to blood poisoning. This in turn made him dangerously ill and so he had to be carried down the long mountain trail to a suitable place where he could be transported by vehicle to the nearest medical centre in Jasper.
He remained ill for several weeks which did little to ease the turmoil Wheeler was experiencing, at the thought of possible headlines: ‘W. P. Haskett Smith, English visiting climber dies as a result of a rock slide during the Alpine Club Canada’s annual camp’. This was clearly something he did not want to have ‘on his watch’.


History as we now know, tells us that Haskett Smith recovered from his injuries and his blood poisoning abated, allowing Wheeler to breathe a grateful sigh of relief.It is interesting to note, that after this incident, there is no record of him ever rock climbing again. Indeed, it was from this period in his life, that his siblings noticed a change in his behaviour, in that he started to shun being with groups of people. Indeed, it is well recorded in the Fell and Rock Journal, that he often went out walking with groups on a club meet but at some point, walked off on his own, making his own way back home, or to the club hut they were staying in.In addition to ‘wandering off’ from his group, there was a subtle change in his personality and general demeanour as well as his dress code. His family noticed that he began to develop a general negative ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude towards material possessions such as the Trowswell family estate in Kent and its contents, which he inherited on his father’s death in 1895.


Whilst we can only speculate as to the effects the accident may have had on his demeanour and general attitude in later life, what we do know, is that there were several cases of his family members suffering from some form of mental illness, indeed, his parent’s first children were twin girls (Thermuthis and Henrietta, born 1854). Thermuthis died in 1864 aged 10, and Henrietta spent her life (she died aged 60 in 1914), in and out of mental institutions and never appeared on any family census data. Then there was his older brother Algernon, who died under strange circumstances when a shotgun he was cleaning, ‘accidentally’ went off shooting him in the head.
Being a member of the infamous Canning Club, a popular Victorian haunt for upper class homosexuals, which included titled gentry and a grandson of Queen Victoria, coupled with the fact that another member of the Canning Club was Montague John Druitt, who after his mysterious death by drowning in the river Thames, became a suspect for being Jack the Ripper, may of course, have had nothing to do with Algernon’s death!

And finally, it is recorded in various climbing club journals as well as being known to his relatives, that not long after the rock slide incident, he tired of attending climbing club annual dinners where he would always be called on to ‘tell a story’ or to give a talk, and was known occasionally, to give ‘short shrift’ to such requests, leaving onlookers, perplexed and bewildered at this unexpected retort.
This aside, it is fortunate, that any newspaper headline stating: ‘W. P. Haskett Smith Dies in Canadian Rockies’ was never written. If it had, we would have been sadly deprived of a plethora of written articles, not just on climbing and climbing personalities, but also on his other areas of interest: genealogy; philology; etymology, and all things antiquarian.

Frank Grant:2016

Note: Haskett Smith’s on-going biography, already some 70,000 + words, is still looking for a publisher!
Frank Grant
Carlisle

 

Friday, 22 January 2016

'Christ you know it ain't easy': Climbing 'The Rock'

The most baffling part of the climb was getting to the base of the Rock. Or so we thought until we embarked on the Face itself. On a Saturday we started to ask our way along the limpet-horde of wrecked garages and scrapyards that encrust the base of the reef. Nowhere does the 500-metre soaring triangle of raw limestone actually sprout from common ground. These rusting corrugated-iron shanties shut us out. At Rock Haulage Ltd, 26 Devil’s Tower Road, a tanned and stubbled man is standing in the doorway of a den stacked up with cannibalised cars. When I say, ‘We want to climb the cliff here,’ he says instantly, ‘Are you sure?’, looking me full in the eye. He is friendly about access but must clear it with his boss, who ‘should be back by 6’. As we talk, the crag leans over us hugely.

For a few hours Neil (my youngest son) and I work out at the other end of Gibraltar, on the sun-warmed and flowery tiers of Buffadero Bluff, where I had climbed two years before. When we get to No 26, the door is padlocked shut. At No 24 (Rock Services Ltd) another tanned and stubbled man, younger but with a bigger paunch, is sharing a brew in the doorway with a stoned-looking man whose lower face is invisible behind a luxuriant walrus moustache. They too must wait for the boss, who ‘should be back soon’. The Paunch says: ‘I wouldn’t have the guts to climb that. Or the brains.’ At this my own guts turn to water. The sun dips, more tea is brewed among the scarred limbs and torsos of unidentifiable cars. Paunch takes us through to the back and gestures at a great sagging hole in the roof: ‘A big rock came through there. Whole place was fuckin shakin’. He grins, half-proud of his desperate environment.


Giving up on the invisible bosses, I wander along Devil’s Tower Road to what looks like the only other feasible access, a pair of open steel gates in a solid, well-painted yellow wall. It’s Royal Navy property, apparently. A young serviceman in a blue uniform and beret was here earlier. Now the yard inside is deserted, seemingly disused. Nothing could be less shipshape or Bristol fashion. The bare concrete is littered with stones from fist to skull-size. A reinforced concrete walkway leads to a painted metal door in the base of the Rock. As I walk about eyeing the drifts of nettles and sagging mesh marking the boundary with the cliff, the young rating comes out of the door and says: ‘Can I help you?’


‘Yes,’ I reply, ‘we could do with a strong boarding-party, preferably with helicopter back-up.’ Actually, I utter my usual request for access and he beckons me to follow him into the Rock. Inside, a few feet from the seeming dereliction of the yard, are passage after passage lined with immaculately-maintained consoles, generators encased in metal, vents and piping and wiring and needles in dials quivering with massed voltage or tonnage or whatever. From here, I suppose, are powered the instruments with which the Forces monitor all shipping and aircraft movements in the Straits. An RAF flight lieutenant has already given us clearance (by letter) to finish our climb beside their little nest of masts and pylons; a major in the Army has given us clearance to approach the base of the cliff. The Face itself is owned by the Gibraltar Government, which doesn’t care what we do. Now only the Navy stands in our way.


Deep inside the Rock, entrenched in his phalanxes of generators, a less junior naval person is sitting at a desk in a cubby-hole, under a closed-circuit TV monitor, entering figures in a ledger. When his mate explains my mission, he looks openly derisive and phones his superior: ‘There is someone here, sir, who wishes to climb the Rock, because he, er, likes doing that kind of thing. Can we give him clearance to access the cliff. No? Very well – no chance at all? Thank you, sir – very good – g’bye, sir.’ He then explains with relish that nobody is ever allowed use of the yard, ‘not even our own vehicles’, because rock-fall is so frequent; that’s why they’ve built the covered way. I’m left to find my way out, which I do, planting a little Semtex here and there.
 


John and Yoko celebrate their gnarly first ascent of The Rock:

Christ you know it ain't easy,you know how hard it can be,the way things are going, they're going to crucify me

The Ballad of John and Yoko:Lennon/McCartney

Back at No 24, Paunch and Walrus have sportingly agreed to open up for us next day and let us through. We are ‘armed only with an old photograph’, as they say in adventure stories. Adrian Cabedo, the Gibraltarian most expert in the Face, has lent us his print of the photo used by the first ascensionists in 1980 to record their routes. Broken lines in ink mark Metroway on the left, climbed by Smiler Cuthbertson, Don Whillans, and D. Coward, and Regina Mater on the right, climbed by Ben and Marion Wintringham. Adrian has told us how he was hit by a falling block, which broke his arm. He had to be rescued from the Notch, the col between the massif and Devil’s Tower.

Cuthbertson has encouraged me on the phone by saying that their line was ‘very good – it takes an Alpine-type curving crack. It’s about VS’ – Very Severe – ‘with a Hard VS bit where it goes through an overhang on jugs [big holds]. No, it wasn’t all that loose’ – the article in Climber and Rambler in 1981 had used the word ‘loose’ many times – ‘only near the start, where the weight of the whole Rock is cracking it a bit.’ On the other hand, the people who work in the firing-line have stressed that ‘a lot of rock has come down the last few years’ because of heavy rains.

On the light-table in Adrian’s artists’ shop in Irish Town, his big slides of the Face shine glamorously silver and proud. The details of gully, groove and vegetation which they are too small to show are more or less visible in the grainy murk of the large black-and-white print. In the morning we can see detail in plenty – the curving crack, perhaps three hundred metres up, blocked by a rugged cave (the HVS crux?); the steep groove which is the entry to the upper Face, with its bristling ilex copses; the lower part where smeared-looking brownish walls must be outflanked by puzzling a way up labyrinths of cracks. The Face hangs over us, scoured by the dawn wind whisking along the coast from Algeciras. Hundreds of gulls straight above our heads are gyring in brilliant sunlight which turns their flight-feathers into ermine fringes.


Early ascentionist-Don Whillans.Photo John Cleare
We wade waist-deep through jagged layers of car-body and collapsing drifts of rotted timbers from demolished houses. We gear up and uncoil our ropes among beds of nettle and corn marigold which have been turned into a rock garden by dozens of stones showered down by the Face. I lead off up easy, flowery ramps, then a series of rounded rock steps and bollards. When the drag of the rope starts to hobble me, I look for a belay and can find only a crack between an unstable rock and the shoulder it’s parting from. I put in a nut on wire and yank it to test it – the lips of the crack splinter and I replace the nut further down.


Neil reaches me and climbs on through, then belays surprisingly soon. I find him eyeing a 40-metre cracked slab which steepens into a wall before fading back into the ilex groove. The rock of the steepest part is suspiciously discoloured. We’d noticed in the Dolomites that only white or grey limestone is strong limestone. Below us the scrap-yards are starting to shrink, so directly underneath that stones loosened by our feet plummet onto the rusty roofs. The crash-crash arouses the guard dogs in No 26: a brown Alsatian, a white Alsatian and a pair of dusty blackish mongrels. They bark furiously, fight each other in little circles, then settle down again in the shade. As I do myself for the next half-hour – hour – hour and a half. Why is Neil so slow on that comfortable angle? There must be a reason for it – he is trained and fit and very much at home on vertical Spanish limestone. As he puts on yet another nut and stands staring expressionlessly (balefully?) upward, I call ‘What’s it like?’ and he answers: ‘It’s horrifying. And I can’t see where I’m going.’ He keeps on going as the sun above the container ships moves round towards Africa and the white dazzle it’s been making on the face of Regina Mater to our right turns fish-grey.


When Neil reaches a steep discoloured area, I’m encouraged to see his feet, as he steps up on protruding wafers, disappear almost completely. I’d been expecting mere toe-holds. He still gains height at the pace of a tendril unfolding in time-lapse photography and keeps looking all ways, across to right and left as well as up. Then he disappears–always a bleak juncture for the second on a steep and problematic route. And time passes, and the dogs wrestle, and the wind dies into the warmth of noon. Down in the car park Anne gets out of our hire car from time to time – too miniature to be recognisable – and a man, presumably Walrus, mooches across the road and back again. The ropes are taken in by the invisible Neil and vague shouts from him tell me it’s time to go.


The ‘slab’ is fairly steep, and quite blank apart from the black cracks that seam it–all too closed to help us except the one Neil chose, which is wide enough to take a boot. The fissure is choked with rubble – precariously lodged. Its right edge is mostly strong enough to act as a handrail, and this is all right as long as the bounding rock is not too steep. As it nears 80 degrees, I’m forced to search for lodgments for my feet. Nothing but wee bevelled facets. I feel like a frail bubble of flesh, inhabiting a thinned air. At home it would smell of earth and moss. Here it has the fish-and-distemper whiff of gull guano with a sweetish-resinous under-smell of sub-tropical flowers – the wild candytuft and com marigold which adorn the face.


These tiny footholds might do if the handrail had continued solid. It’s cracked through now, in places cuttingly sharp, and the fissure is stacked up with big wedged blocks half a metre square. They have fine edges, my fingers itch to clutch them and heave up on them – they’d unstack like children’s bricks. I could lay-away rightward on the handrail – it’s too nearly vertical. When I sketch the move, I start to lose it and my toes slur downward half an inch. Sink your hand in the crack – feel up as far as you can – there must be something. My forearm disappears up to the elbow, my fingertips feel a little upright edge: if I laid-away from that it might put less of a destabilising stress on the wedged block, and the one above it, and the one below it. This is madness, nobody and nothing can live in all this totter and collapse. (Neil did.) I make the move. I think I remember a moment’s grating, like a tooth starting to come out of your jaw under the dentist’s forceps. Everything stays put. I can’t trust my full weight to that block I just pulled up on. I do. It holds its own (for another year or two). I leave this place of barest equilibrium and step thankfully up beneath the discoloured overhang.


Those fine big shelves are cracked right round. One of them looks to be lodged in a lateral crevice like a packet in a letterbox. I repeat Neil’s steps, trying to perform the trick of withholding half my weight, making myself lighter, weightless even. Again no downward lurch, no crash (of rocks or bodies) onto tire rusty roofs. I ease myself out of the perpendicular world and stand in a brief daze among more or less solid ribs upholstered with little flowerless plants. Neil’s dirty white helmet comes into sight above the lower lip of the ilex groove. He has found a roomy stance. I ensconce myself, tie on, take off my helmet and let sweat pour down my forehead.


The debriefing is terse – we both want out of here. ‘I just carried on,’ he says, ‘because there was nothing else to do – nothing was strong enough to rope back down off. It’s horrific. D’you think it’ll get any better?’ We peer upward, knowing we can tell nothing from down here. We’ve climbed about eighty metres – so how much more is left of Cuthbertson’s ‘start’? I nibble melting chocolate and swig lukewarm water from my rucksack. Neil says: ‘If only we could get to that tree ... D’you want to lead this next bit?’ Want? Want? Yes, it’s only fair. I add some of Neil’s gear to my own rack of nuts and slings and step up onto the solid left rib of the groove. A small ilex grows in the middle of it, shading a gull’s nest with two big turquoise eggs blotched brown like gravemarks on a hand. I have to step into the bed of the gully, which is hard without breaking the eggs. The rock of the bed is made up of arrow-heads in crazy paving. ‘Crazy’ is right – each one shifts and could easily be lifted out. The rib is now vertical and blank. When I give Neil the disgusting news, he says with little emotion: ‘What d’you think then?’
‘Shouldn’t we go down?’
‘What about your book?’
‘That’s okay – this is just one aspect of Gibraltar. And anyway, isn’t all this interesting, in its horrible way?’
‘Is there anything to go off up there? What’s the tree like?’


The tree is hard to suss; its base is defended by huge nettles. I seize it as low down as possible and give it a shake. It is so thin it trembles, and it is only rooted in such soil as has gathered here, dusty-gravelly, shallow, friable. The thick brown root, then, on which the nest is draped? Respectfully I lift the nest a little, trying not to send the eggs rolling down among the guard dogs, and the root turns out to be a rusty rod – not a tube, a rod, planted at a slightly upward angle in the bedrock of the rib. A dream anchor. I put a sling round this memorial to long-ago sappers, another round the tree-stem, and climb back down to our eyrie. Then we set up our abseil and retreat. The Face gives its last grimace: as I plant my feet on a plaque of rock near the overhang, it shatters and a fusillade hits the roofs with the biggest crash so far. For the rest of my backward-downward journey, I’m staring up at the edge where the rope goes tautly over, wondering furiously if the strain is about to burst the stone, twang the rope onto a freshly jagged edge, cut it right through and ...


When we rejoin Anne, it turns out that ours was not the only danger. Walrus had offered her a cup of coffee, then bolted the door of the cabin and started kissing her. She got the bolt shot back, he shot it to again – finally she laughed and talked her way back outside. It seemed the final squalor of a day bristling with pitfalls – an episode on rock that couldn’t have been more grotesquely unlike my preference for a Wordsworthian experience. The colossal triangle with its soaring, skyward-reaching grain is one of the most handsome shapes in Europe. We have done our best to ruin it. No great rock in the world has been so hewn, mined, drilled, shelled, blasted. The Spaniards threw a quarter of a million cannonballs at it in the Great Siege of the 1780s. The British Army blew and dug out gun emplacements inside it, and air-raid shelters during the Second World War.



If charges were to be set off inside it now, the whole North Face would quake and the cracks all over it would spurt out dust like smoke. Will it ever settle down again into solidity, having shed all its man-made debris, or will its racked body give off shards for millennia until it is transformed into unimaginable shapes, or no shape at all, as it takes the first shock of the African tectonic plate on its grinding northward voyage and the doors which Hercules opened five and a half million years ago, start to close again?

David Craig: 2002 
 

Friday, 15 January 2016

Sandbagged


Southern Sandstone
A personal memoir and some history
Harrison's classic 'Slimfinger Crack':Photo Gordon Stainforth

SANDBAGGED
The rendezvous of fools, buffoons and praters, cuckolds, whores, citizens, their wives and daughters’. Edmund Waller, a poet who expressed his opinion about those visiting High Rocks in 1645.

On the night of 15th October 1987, I was in Maidstone giving a lecture to the local climbing club. At the end of which, around 10pm I moved out of the lecture venue, and joined some of the attendees in the adjacent bar of a local pub. As I did so I noticed that a strong wind had developed, and that some detritus was being blown around the yard we crossed. When I emerged an hour later and started to walk to my car, parked out in a road nearby, it was like being in a storm on the Cairngorm plateau. But with small bushes and tree branches hurtling westwards driven by the strongest wind I have experienced in an urban area. After being hit by a fairly substantial tree branch, I realised this was serious, and that to try to drive to Groombridge, where I had intended to stay with Terry Tullis the Warden of Harrison’s Rocks, might be suicidal.
Battling against this maelstrom I ran back into the bar I had recently vacated, to join some other drinkers as frightened as I was by the unbelievable conditions on the outside. And there we stayed all night, sitting in chairs, listening to intermittent news broadcasts on the radio, for the TV was down. We learnt that the wind nearby had reached 115mph, and even in central London gusts were being experienced of 94mph. Although the hostelry I had sheltered in was substantial, the building creaked and groaned as each blast screamed by.
This was the great storm of 1987, the one that Michael Fish had got so wrong earlier that evening on the BBC’s main weather forecast, when a worried viewer had phoned in enquiring if a hurricane was on its way, and she was assured by him ‘that it was not!’. It actually was an extra tropical cyclone we experienced that night in South East England, where 15 million trees blew down and 18 people died in just a few hours. The wreckage blocked roads and railways, and damaged many houses and buildings with the total cost of the storm amounting to billions of pounds.
On re-gaining my vehicle the next morning, the storm having totally abated I was relieved to find it had survived its battering with just a few indentations, but on driving on to Groombridge and Terry’s bungalow set outside that village in the grounds of a country estate I was to find he had not been so lucky. A huge tree had fallen onto the side of his dwelling, badly damaging his motor car, and trapping him inside his house. He had needed to climb out of a back window, which had required quite some contortions on his behalf. At Harrrison’s Rocks, on the twenty minute walk in through the Birchden Woods, huge swathes of the forest were down. Surprisingly some areas were totally intact, whilst in some others it was just as if some giant hand armed with a huge axe had cut through a passage many yards wide. But actually at the Rocks the damage was not so bad, something that Terry as the Warden and I as a member of its Management Committee was, relieved to discover.
This news that we had found that Harrison’s despite such a catastrophic- event was still reasonably accessible for climbing might not be historically interesting to Northern climbers, but these Rocks are probably the most popular outcrop in the UK. When I was at the BMC in the 1980’s we did a survey of use and found that on many summer weekends over 500 climbers visited the site. And ignorance of just how good the climbing can be on the southern sandstone outcrops, often clouds opinion in other parts of the UK as to their worth.
Pete Robbins, one of today’s leading rock climbers, after being persuaded to visit High Rocks almost against his better judgement, came away declaring that ‘this is one of the best crags in Britain’. And it is not just the climbing that is good, often the setting of outcrops such as Eridge Green and Bowles besides Harrison’s in their woodland sites are memorable. The list of outstanding climbers who were inspired into the sport or were regular visitors at these venues is also impressive; Nea Morin, Eric Shipton, Menlove Edwards, Chris Bonington, Martin Boysen, Julie Tullis, The Holliwells (Les and Lawrie), The Wintringhams(Ben and Marion), Mick Fowler and so many more.
My own first visit to the southern sandstone occurred in the winter of 1959, I had met and climbed that summer in Wales, at Almscliff and in the Peak District with Phil Gordon and Martin Boysen, two of the area’s leading performers at that date, and both members of The Sandstone Club. This led on to me being invited as guest to their annual dinner at the High Rocks Inn and to bolster my appearance I had enlisted Vin Betts and Ron Cummaford, fellow Rock and Ice members to travel south with me. We stayed at the club’s hut (formerly a tea house) in the grounds of the High Rocks, and on the Saturday drove across to Harrison’s. I climbed with Martin, and initially found the idea of top roping, which was the norm, rather off putting, but after a momentous struggle on a route called Niblick I realised that not only were the climbs hard, but that the rock was much different, and more friable than the gritstone I was used to. It was on this climb that I was initiated into the ‘Harrison’s move’. Pull on a side hold with one hand, press down on a hold with the other and rock up high on one foot.

Still not realising how hard some of the routes were I set off solo, up the famous Slim Finger Crack. This is climbed by a layback followed by a rock over high onto a sloping, rounded ledge out on the right side ofthe fissure. This was covered in loose sand and I nearly slid off because of this, and after such a heart stopping moment I was happy to only top rope from thereon. The climbs on southern sandstone are what we call ‘knack’ routes on gritstone; on many of them you need to get the move and hold sequences right, and local knowledge can make the difference to a successful ascent or not. I was to find this out later that afternoon when I was talked by a ground crew up both the Unclimbed Wall and Edwards’ Effort.
It was like playing a musical instrument under instruction, and though the climbs are short, 30ft to 40ft maximum, they are unusually sustained.
The Sandstone Club were the leading pioneers of the area during the 1950’s and early 1960’s and they were responsible for some of the outstanding new routes which were climbed at that time. Routes like Coronation Crack (5c), the Lobster(6a) and Advertisement Wall Direct (5c) at High Rocks and The Banana (5b) at Bowles. I was pleased to get to know them on this first visit, and later several members such as Julie and Terry Tullis, Billy Maxwell, Paul Smoker, Doug Stone, Barney Lewis and Mike Davies became good friends of mine. I was eventually to be made an honorary member of the Sandstone Club.
The hut we stayed in at High Rocks was I guess typical of a climber’s howff of that period, it was rudimentary but it bred a close camaraderie amongst its denizens, and there was a large turn-out of members at the annual dinner on the Saturday night. The club had good relations with the staff and landlord at the Inn, and the evening was typical of such climbing club events of that era. After dinner, some witty speeches were followed by a music session, provided by Paul Smoker at the piano, playing and singing from his own repertoire of climbing themed ballads, and then a ‘games’ session. This is where my two Rock and Ice companions came in, for Vin Betts was our outstanding limbo dancer, and Ron Cummaford a master at wall squatting.
Unconquered Wall:Gordon Stainforth
Our southern friends had no answer to their skills at these pastimes (Vin could dance under a rope held only 18 inches above the ground), but they outshone us at diving over chairs. These were wooden ones with high backs, and after three in line only Billy Maxwell was left to continue taking part. This not only took great athletic skill but it was obviously dangerous, with fractured ribs almost certain if you failed to clear the obstacles.
 
It is hard to describe the High Rocks area exactly, for climbing there is almost like being in a cultivated park. After King James the second visited the area in the 17th century it became a woodland resort, and a tourist attraction which offered a maze, a bowling-green, gambling rooms, tea houses, and cold baths! An aerial walk with a series of bridges linking across the top of the crags was built in the 19th Century, but it was to be the Sandstone Club members who really opened up the Rocks to climbing, for in the 1950s and the early 1960’s led by Max Smart, Dave Fagan, Paul and John Smoker, Billy Maxwell and Martin Boysen almost 70 new routes were pioneered there. When we visited in 1959 the last great problem was the Lobster, which had never been led. This starts by climbing up a fissure to a steep headwall, replete with a deep pocket. Vin Betts nearly managed to solo this, but fell reaching for the top of the climb, whilst heaving strenuously on the finger slot. 
‘Bang’ he hit the ground from a height of over 20ft, and lay winded for some while to our consternation, but eventually he staggered to his feet and rounded on his erstwhile fielder, John Smoker. “Yer were supposed to catch me yer know! Yer a bloody Cockney drink of water!” This latter term of abuse Vin had learned from the master himself, Don Whillans, with whom he climbed on occasion, including the first ascent of Cloggy’s Slanting Slab. My own best effort at High Rocks during this visit was to on sight the Advertisement Wall Direct (5c) on a slack top rope.


Niblick-Gordon Stainforth climbing:Photo-Gordon Stainforth
Historically, Harrison’s Rocks has an interesting back story climbing wise. They are named after a local farmer William Harrison, who also manufactured firearms in the area during the 18th Century. But the crags were first explored by two members of the Alpine Club, Charles Nettleton and Claude Wilson in 1908. The first named had noticed them whilst riding along the Valley with the Eridge hunt. They left no record what actual climbing they did…. if any? The present era of development really began in 1926 with Nea and Jean Morin, who having climbed at Fontainebleau decided that the sandstone outcrops in south east England might also be worthy of some investigation.
They encouraged other climbing friends to accompany them such as Gilbert Peaker, Eric Shipton, and E.H. Marriott. They made some outstanding first ascents for that date such as the Long Layback, Unclimbed Wall and Half Crown Corner. (Jean Morin was a leading French alpinist who was to die tragically in the war). On my first meeting with Nea Morin at Harrison’s, more than 50 years ago, she marched me along to the Half Crown Corner and explained that the route had been so named, because her father who was present at the time, offered to pay her a half crown (15p) if she could manage to climb it, which she did making the first ascent. With Nea encouraging me I also managed to do that, but I found it a brute of a climb on which I struggled so hard I was nearly sick.
By the 1930’s the outcrop was so developed that the first guidebook appeared, written by Courtney Bryson. This was published by the Mountaineering section of the Camping Club, who by that date had become regular visitors at Harrison’s. Another group also active at that date was surprisingly the London section of the Junior Mountaineering Club of Scotland (a long way from the Club’s home base!). One of their members, E.R. Zenthon pioneered in 1941 a girdle traverse of the crag, which was over a 1000feet in length, and more than 20 pitches in all. This group also published the first comprehensive guide to the whole district in 1947, ‘Sandstone Climbs in S-E England’ edited by Ted Pyatt. This was revised and updated by him in 1963, helped by Dave Fagan and John Smoker of the Sandstone Club, the first such to be published by the Climbers’ Club.
It is interesting to record some of Pyatt’s comments recorded in these guides here, first noting that ‘the rock is sedimentary of comparatively recent origin’ (hence its friability) and noted the changing fashions of clothes worn by climbers at Harrison’s in those eras. ‘The wearers are divided between those wearing the oldest of old clothes and those sporting flannels with the crease still intact, or those dressed in good class mountaineering garb’ By 1963 many of the regulars must have been abroad, and doubtless observed how well turned out Continental climbers were compared to their British counterparts!
During the war a climber who had been forced south from his earlier pioneering in the Peak District was Frank Elliott, who made several first ascents at Harrison’s but everyone else’s efforts in this direction were to be eclipsed in 1945, by a shooting star Clifford Fenner, who was responsible for a real breakthrough in standards at the crag with first ascents of the Slim Finger Crack and Niblick. This latter must have been one of the hardest outcrop routes in the country at that date?
Once into the 1950’s and with a slow improvement in overall living standards, the rocks reached a popularity which could hardly have been anticipated. Harrison’s became the best known of the sandstone outcrops, and some of the long term regulars became worried about the problems this was bringing, particularly erosion caused by the friction of ropes biting into the rock at the top of the crag, the wearing down of holds because of the use of inappropriate footwear, and the need for some form of a climbing code of conduct.
In 1958 Nea Morin, Dennis Kemp and Ted Pyatt purchased the crag, this being done with the sole intention of preserving the climbing facilities. They did this on behalf of all climbers and gave Harrison’s to the BMC. There was a problem however for the Council could not then own land, being an unincorporated body, and so a solution was found in that the Central Council of Physical Recreation would hold them in trust, and a joint BMC-CCPR Management Committee was formed to look after the rocks. One of their first actions was to publish a code of conduct for climbing at the outcrop, vibrams and nailed boots should not be used: only soft soled footwear being possible, all belays should be indirect, using a long sling and karabiner, and a system of voluntary wardens was agreed.
One of the CCPR Officers was Joe Jagger, Mick’s father! He was a leading figure in the development of outdoor pursuits, and he wrote a successful book about canoe camping. Later he also made several instructional videos, and he organised numerous courses on canoeing, walking and climbing. His climbing video featured a young Rolling Stone, Mick climbing at Harrison’s. I only met him once, and that was in a corridor at the old CCPR HQ in Park Row in London. I was introduced to him by Fred Briscoe, just at the changeover of the CCPR staff and facilities into the newly created Sports Council, early in 1972.
 We started discussing the future administration of Harrison’s which was being transferred along with Plas y Brenin, into the new National Centre’s programme, when a burly guy sporting an England Rugby Football blazer stopped by us, and vehemently declared at Joe(obviously having recognized him), ‘If I had a son like yours I would horse whip him’. He then moved off down the corridor, leaving the three of us staring in amazement at his huge backside. I often wonder what he would think of now, ‘Sir Mick’ a darling of the establishment and his band The Rolling Stones, acknowledged as one of the most outstanding rhythm and blues band in the history of popular music.
The ever increasing popularity of Harrison’s began to cause serious problems during the decades of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, for with increasing car ownership, the volume of parking in the nearby village of Groombridge became a difficulty for both locals and visitors. This forced the Management Committee into action; and after negotiations with the Forestry Commission, a Car Park was built on the edge of Birchden Wood, and a toilet and washing block added in the interests of meeting local hygiene standards. To climbers from other parts of the country this may sound extreme, but by the date these facilities were built besides the hundreds of climbers descending each weekend on the site, mid-week many youth, school and disabled parties were also visiting the area, to say nothing of the walkers hiking through the woods.
I continued to visit the area, especially once I had become the first professional officer in the sport at the BMC in 1971. Old friendships stayed intact and of two in particular, their memories have stayed with me throughout the subsequent decades, despite their tragic deaths whilst climbing. The first such memory is of Julie Tullis, who I originally met in 1959 and with whom I remained in contact with her and husband Terry, until her death on K2 whilst descending from the summit of the mountain caught in an horrific storm, during which several other climbers also perished in early August 1986. Julie had started climbing on the sandstone in 1956, where she met Terry.
They were probably the best known couple in the area, and from 1970 until 1979 they ran a climbers cafĂ© and shop ‘The Festerhaunt’ in Groombridge. Unfortunately Terry was injured in a freak accident which limited his climbing, but this did not stop him from being a voluntary warden and then subsequently a full time professional in charge on the ground at Harrison’s. Julie was an all action personality, dark and petite,it was easy to underestimate her abilities and determination, for despite the demands posed by having a family of two children, she was a practitioner of Japanese martial arts, a climbing instructor and in her later life she had an outstanding career in high altitude filming on Nanga Parbat, K2 and Mount Everest.
She also with the legless climber Norman Croucher and Dennis Kemp climbed Huascaran (6,645mtrs) in Peru. And with the Austrian mountaineer, her filming partner, Kurt Diemberger she climbed Broad Peak (8051mtrs) at the age of 45 in 1984.The year of Julie’s death, her autobiography was published, ‘Clouds From Both Sides’ to wide acclaim.
After Julie died members of the Sandstone Club formed a committee to set up a memorial to her memory. I was privileged to be invited to help with this, and after many fund raising events and difficult negotiations over planning permission, we managed first to set up a camp site at Harrison’s in 1991, then an award for exploratory women mountaineers administered by the BMC International Committee in 2009.
Julie Tullis 
Dennis Kemp was also one of the most memorable of climbers who I first met at Harrison’s Rocks. He was very much responsible for publicising the need to combat the erosion occurring to the outcrop, and at his own expense produced a booklet about good practice to combat this. At first meeting he looked to me like a southern hippy, bearded and with straggly hair, spare, muscular and of medium height. But once I got to know him well I realised how talented he really was.
He worked for Kodak, and he was one of the first photographers in the climbing world to develop an audio visual show. He had been the photographer on the 1958 Minapin- (7257mtrs) expedition, a high peak in the Karakoram Himalaya, on which two of his companions Ted Warr and Chris Hoyte disappeared.
Despite efforts by Dennis and another companion to discover their fate, they could find no trace of the missing pair who had been in the lead on the mountain.Dennis’s audio visual of this expedition was outstanding, and I organised a showing of this in Manchester, where he received an ovation at the end of the evening from a group of hard bitten climbers, who were so moved by his story.

I got to know Dennis well on a visit to Bowles Rock; he camped there alongside my family and self. My children were still young at that time and he made a great rapport with them, showing them how to use a camera, and shepherding my eldest son, Stephen up some easy rock climbs. He was unable to have children himself, for he had been badly injured by a sniper’s bullet at the end of the war. He originated from the Brighton area, but was wedded to climbing and the mountains. I never found out how he entered the climbing arena, but he was pioneering new routes as early as 1953 in Cornwall, including the classic Nameless Route (VS) on Bosigran with Nea Morin.
In 1974 he produced ‘The Know the Game Rock Climbing’ for EP Publishers which received BMC approval. This was a concise, easy to follow instructional book which became a best seller. By this date he had moved to live in Mold in North Wales, and I did meet and climb with him in the Llanberis Pass. But he did keep returning to his first love Southern Sandstone to renew acquaintance with the Tullis’s and other friends in the area. Surprisingly as he grew older he returned to expeditions in Peru and to travelling widely to climb in Yosemite and Australia.
His final trip of 1990 was to Arapiles in that country at the age of 67, where after leading a pitch of a classic climb ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz (23)’, a huge block he was belayed to, which most other parties had used, detached and killed him. The news of his death hurt all of us who were his friends, for he was a joy to be with and an enthusiast of our sport to his end.
Photo:The BMC
Generations of activists have now enjoyed climbing on the southern sandstone, their continued popularity is assured, and they are now as popular with boulderers as routers, and outcrops like Eridge have come into their own in that respect. Almost every decade an updated guidebook is needed to keep abreast of developments with over a 1000 routes recorded, and there is now a separate volume to the bouldering for so many such challenges have been developed.
My last visit to the area was as the guest at the 60th anniversary dinner of the Sandstone Club (It has now merged with the Tunbridge Wells Mountaineering Club). On the Saturday I was at High Rocks and I was surprised to meet climbers there from Eastern Europe bouldering, and a mixed, women and men large contingent of climbers from Germany who were routing. On the Sunday I was at Harrison’s and there I met a group of French climbers. Intrigued I asked why they were visiting southern sandstone, and the answer was like the other continentals I had met the day before they were working in the Big Smoke (London).
The Southern Sandstone has always drawn enthusiasts from that conurbation, and in recent years groups like the North London Mountaineering Club have been amongst the leading activists at the outcrops. Whose members, Mick Fowler, Chris Watts and Vic Saunders from this base have gone on to outstanding mountaineering careers in the Alps and the Himalaya, with both Mick and Vic writing, best selling, award winning books about their climbs.
Casual visitors have not always understood the delights of climbing in the region, the late Scottish ace Robin Smith thought that Harrison’s was, ‘a miserable outcrop for London picnickers’. But if he had stayed around long enough, learnt just how unique the climbing is, he might also like me have become enamoured of the whole scene.
Dennis Gray
How deep this feeling can make itself felt is perhaps best expressed, by the London based poet and a former regular at Harrison’s, Al Alvarez, ‘I can’t tell you how much I’d like to be back at Harrison’s, but you can’t climb with a bloody zimmer frame’.

Dennis Gray:2016 



Saturday, 9 January 2016

Hole in the Mind


The saddle above Craig Ysfa between Pen yr Helgi Du and Carnedd Llewelyn. The descent path to the Ogwen Valley begins on the lower central section of ridge
F. A. Pullinger,* was precise in not revealing the authors, titles or the names of the dead in his notes of 'references - not wholly accurate -' made in two books to the tragic accident by Ffynnon Llugwy on November 20th 1927, in which two young climbers lost their lives. As Editor he desired to put on record the action of the Climbers' Club on that occasion, until then held by the Committee as confidential. A sub-committee was appointed and a 'weighty report' established of full facts with certain conclusions drawn and acting upon these the resignation of an unnamed member was accepted.
Mr. Pullinger considered the following paragraph of the report retained its general value:-
It cannot in our opinion be too strongly emphasised, more especially in view of the number of inexperienced parties who now undertake mountaineering expeditions which involve risks, that the bonds uniting the members of a climbing party involves a mutual responsibility which is only terminated in death, by the safe outcome of the expedition, or by a voluntary and equal agreement to separate where no risk is in question. This is an obligation which rests on every member of the expedition, leader and led alike. In moments of dilemma or crisis the leader – or whichever of the party may have been selected by circumstances to succeed to his responsibilities – may be called upon to exercise a difficult discrimination, and, in the event of accident or mischance, to decide upon the order in which he shall fulfil his obligation to the several members of his party. He may, for instance, climbing with A and B, be forced to decide whether he will remain with B who is injured, or help first to get A out of danger. But his duty to A and B alike remains the same.
“Directly his duty to A is discharged – so far as may be essential for A's safety at the moment, and therefore, for a reasonable probability that A will dispatch ultimate succour – he is bound to make B his only thought; and, at any risk to his own safety or risk or survival, it is his duty, and the duty of any other member of the party still able to act, to return to B, and to share his situation until either life be extinct, or until the home-coming of every member of his original party, injured or capable, is ensured.”
Llyn Fynnon Llugwy: Mark Hughes
Thomas Firbank's book 'I Bought a Mountain', published in 1940 gives a version of the tragedy of 20th November 1927 when Norman Stott and Arthur Taylor died near Llyn Ffynnon Llugwy. They had climbed the Great Gully, Craig yr Ysfa with Francis Giveen and William Tayleur.
 
He begins, 'There are many climbing accidents, of course, but nearly all of them provide those involved with opportunities to show great courage and devotion.' Not the words attributed to Francis Giveen and William Tayleur, rather the conduct of them as survivors that deserved his strongest criticism.
He describes the weather as rough, a wet day, and how Giveen, 'a very fine climber' and leader of the other three novices were all at Helyg, the Climbers' Club Hut. All 'no doubt' were quite wet and cold before they reached the foot of the climb, two hours away over the Carnedds. The weather so delayed the inexperienced men to the top of the climb it was achieved by lantern light at seven that evening, led by Giveen.

'Soaked to the skin, half-frozen with cold, tired out, and faint with hunger' the long journey back to Helyg via Bwlch Eryl Frachog was hindered when Tayleur dropped the compass, which was lost. They struggled on and the lantern then gave out and in the darkness, Stott and Taylor 'blundered' into the lake. Stott scrambled into the water, rescued his companion and both collapsed on the shore.
Firbank suggested that previous to the disaster, Tayleur had been the 'most distressed, not being so physically strong as the others' and it was this that led Giveen to hurry him to shelter and to leave Stott and Taylor where they had collapsed, near the lake, where he dragged them behind a wind-break for shelter. Giveen and Tayleur then took four hours to reach the hut, where they ate then got the car out and drove to a hotel five miles away. A party was organised at once but the croaking of the ravens led them to the frozen bodies of Stott and Taylor. The rescuers recalled finding the bodies lying face down in a bog, their equipment still on their backs with Taylor smothered by peaty mud.
This is Firbank version of Giveen's evidence at the inquest but the story extends to Stott's father, who showed little sympathy to Giveen. He insisted how mad it had been to take three novices up so severe a climb in such weather. His criticisms became more pointed as he persuaded some friends to visit the scene where they found Taylor's watch, stopped at 6-40. In a letter to the newspapers Mr. Stott asked Giveen to explain what he had done in the twelve hours between the accident and him arriving at the hotel with Tayleur. According to Firbank there were 'ugly' rumours locally and when questioned Tayleur admitted he had not been exhausted, and Giveen solicitude had been misplaced.

Firbank surmised Giveen had anxiously persuaded Tayleur to hurry off the mountainside with him. Mr. Stott senior had stages of the route timed with Helyg from the top of the climb at two hours. Apparently Giveen and Tayleur had arrived at Helyg at 9.0 p.m., had a meal and slept until the morning. Farms close to the hut were ignored and when they arrived at the hotel they had breakfast before reporting the accident with no urgency. Firbank ends his retelling of the incident with members of the Climbers' Club hearing of the incident and threatening to resign unless Giveen was expelled. The enquiry held by the Club was disturbed before a final verdict reached was disturbed by Giveen as he marched in, resigned, laughed and cursed as he left. Giveen was considered to have been insane on the night of the accident.

'Over Welsh Hills', written by Frank Smythe, published 1941 devoted 4 pages to the incident. He described the Great Gully, Craig yr Ysfa and regarded its length and difficulty indirectly responsible for the worst 'catastrophe' that had befallen British mountaineering. Giveen is detailed the more experienced rock climber and only by his good leadership did they reach the top of the climb. The descent is as that of Firbank; the loss of the compass, the fall into the lake of Stott and Taylor. Stott who scrambled out then then bravely dived back to rescue Taylor, who was no swimmer. An effort that so exhausted the two that they collapsed face downwards on the boggy shore of the lake.
 
Smythe heaped the pressure on Giveen with a situation, not merely unpleasant before, that suddenly had become dangerous. He was of the opinion that Giveen should have saved the party by taking one of two courses that were open to him. He could have either got the two exhausted men to a dry and sheltered spot, given them all the clothing he could spare, restored their circulation as best he could or leave Tayleur to tend them and then race for the nearest farm, close to Helyg, half an hour or forty minutes from the lake. The other was to remain himself with Stott and Taylor and send Tayleur for help. Smythe was of the opinion that the former option was the best as Giveen knew the countryside better than Tayleur, who was tired and might be slow in summoning assistance.


Ogwen Valley
'What in fact did he do?' asked Smythe and described rather how Giveen did not follow his advice and he left Stott and Taylor where they had fallen, journeyed to Helyg and had a meal. They slept and on wakening realised their companions had not arrived and decided that something had to be done! Why had they not roused the neighbouring farmers? Instead they motored to an hotel several miles distant to seek help arriving there twelve hours after Stott and Taylor had fallen exhausted. The rescue party was immediately organised but arrived to find Stott and Taylor dead.

Smythe retold Giveen's 'different' account at the inquest and that he done everything possible for his companions and had only accompanied Tayleur because of the latters exhaustion. Arriving at Helyg he had set out immediately for help and a 'colourless' verdict was passed and indeed sympathy was expressed for Giveen. The anguish of Mr. Stott was retold with emphasis on the twelve hour delay from the time the watch stopped to the time of the summoning of help. Smythe prognosed insanity on behalf of Giveen and that Tayleur, a novice was overawed and overruled by his leader.
Although to some he thought it unnecessary to have included this tragic and unsavoury story he did so because 'in days when mountaineering and rock climbing are rapidly increasing in popularity among all classes and types of persons it cannot be too often stated that a sense of responsibility is, and must always be, the underlying note in mountaineering, the responsibility of the leader in the selection of a climb and the method in which it is carried out and the responsibility of each member of a party towards his companions. The sense of responsibility more than anything else promotes good comradeship and sound mountaineering.'
The accounts of the accident by Firbank and Smythe coincide but can be challenged. The party of four were not all at Helyg, rather Giveen and Tayleur stayed there from the 23rd October. Perhaps Stott and Taylor were at The Oakwoood Park Hotel, Sychnant Pass, Conwy, owned by Stott's father.
The Climbers' Club, then, as now, did and do not consider novices as members, Messrs. Giveen, Stott and Taylor were official members, and Mr. Tayleur's membership application was in the hands of the secretary of the Club.
At the inquest it was noted that they summited the climb at approximately 7.00 pm of the 20th November and thus the two men must have fallen into Llyn Ffynnon Llugwy some time after this. The watch, found stopped with the hands at 6-40 could have stopped either on the ascent of the climb or on the morning of the attempted rescue and probably played no part in the 'twelve hour delay' accusation. The time of 9 'o' clock for the descent from the top of the climb to the hut, as described by Firbank, paid no attention to the loss of the compass, the lantern that expired, the incident at the lake and the aid given to the two men before the descent to Helyg. The weather, 'wet and windy' was far more wintry in conditions with sleet and snow, an icy, ferocious wind and very low temperatures the order of the night.
 Helyg
The editor of the Climbers' Club Journal in 1943, Mr. Pullinger wrote only of two books but a third, probably 'not wholly accurate' exists, a novel entitled Bride to the Mountain (pub 1940) by Thomas Firbank, written shortly after the success of I Bought a Mountain, which draws heavily on the same experiences, largely based on the actual 1927 case with a description of a similar climb and tragic ending.
 * Editor of the The Climbers' Club Journal, 1943, Vol. VII. No.2, New Series, sixty-ninth issue, page 94 

Mark Hughes: 2016