Bradford Lads in Action: Pete Greenwood on belay watches Harold Drasdo inch across the steep expanses of Gimmer Crag in the English Lake District. Photo Drasdo Collection©
Peter Greenwood, who has died aged 78, was one of the boldest and most agile rock climbers in Britain in the 1950s. Joe Brown and Don Whillans, from Manchester, attracted the headlines,especially for their feats in Snowdonia and the Alps. The finest Lake District climbers – Greenwood and Arthur Dolphin, Harold Drasdo and Paul Ross – were their equals. They mostly came from Bradford and made it to Cumberland after hair-raising motorbike rides from Yorkshire.
At that time, the hardest new routes up crags were rarely inspected beforehand from an abseil rope; they were climbed straight up with minimal protective gear and no specialised footwear. One of Greenwood's most direct lines, the well-named Angels' Highway on the Castle Rock of Triermain, near Thirlmere, was swarmed up on impulse when another possibility nearby looked too hard on the day. It is 120ft (36m) high, without a resting place, and so steep that from its foot you have to lean backward to focus on its summit. Greenwood pioneered it, with just one sling for protection on a creaking flake of rock.
Greenwood was born in Bradford, and educated at the city's Belle Vue school. He trained as a motor mechanic and first climbed in the gritstone quarry at Ilkley. His hardihood was typical of his generation. Most of these men were on a working-class wage. Their Cumbrian predecessors, Jim Birkett and Bill Peascod, would sometimes travel hundreds of miles by pushbike to reach the fells. In Greenwood's words: "We were never turned back by much, however wet it was. We'd come all that way, so we had to have something to show for the hours and hours on the road."
If the rock was wet and slippery, they put socks over their gym shoes. On the second ascent of Deer Bield Buttress, in Far Easedale, in 1951, Greenwood wore out his socks: "This solution came to me. Take off the dirty wet sock, hold it in my teeth, take off the plimsoll, hold it in my teeth, take off the sock, hold it in my teeth, put on the plimsoll, put the sock on top." It must have taken all his balance and persistence to manage such a feat on a nearly vertical rock wall, in drizzle.
After putting up 28 new routes in the Lake District in six years, Greenwood abruptly gave up climbing. He was about to marry Shirley, a teacher, and he saw climbing as too dangerous for a husband and father-to-be. "When I gave up, I bought some pegs [pitons], and an ice-axe, and a peg-hammer, and a krab [karabiner] to hang on the wall of our new house" – which they named Deer Bield. For the next 25 years he worked mainly as a builder, with his own business based in Carlisle, and put up more than a thousand houses in north England. He was a devoted salmon fisherman and for years had a beat on the River Avon.
In the late 80s he returned to the crags and still balanced up them with the old unhesitating placement of feet and hands, although "half a million fags and 50,000 pints later" (figures he worked out with some care) he found that "the strength and the drive" had waned. They still shone out from his straight and challenging look and the humour and candour of his talk.
He is survived by Shirley, his children Susan, Denise, Paul and Shane, and six grandchildren.
• Peter Greenwood, rock climber and builder, born 29 September 1931; died 2 February 2010