Friday, September 2, 2016

Lakeland legends gather for an evening of stories and insights

Nick Wharton climbing on Gouther Crag
A Kendal based climber and guide book writer is bringing together three rock climbing legends, whose achievements span the last 70 years, for an evening of stories and insights.

Nick Wharton, whose work includes two climbing guides to the English Lake District, says Paul Ross, Pete Whillance and Dave Birkett continue to inspire rock climbers to this day. And that despite advances in climbing technology and safety some of their climbs remain unrepeated or rarely tackled.

“This is a rare opportunity to hear the three men talk about their achievements and the motivation required to operate at the cutting edge of climbing development. It is also a great opportunity for the audience to put their own questions to them” said Nick Wharton.

“Paul Ross, Pete Whillance and Dave Birkett each made rock climbing history and continue to be passionate about a popular sport that appeals to all ages.

“In the 50's and 60's Paul Ross, from Keswick, established many climbing routes around Borrowdale, Langdale, Thirlmere and Ennerdale which continue to challenge climbers today. In the 70's and 80's Pete Whillance successfully tackled free ascents of notoriously difficult routes which are still revered and considered too bold for most climbers. They include the depths of Hodge Close Quarry to the heights of Great Gable as well as other notable classics in Scotland and Wales. From the 90’s onwards Dave Birkett, born and bred in Little Langdale, pushed standards to dizzying new heights. From his first ‘E9’ on Iron Crag in Thirlmere in 1992, to the current day, he has left the trail of often unrepeated lines that most climbers struggle to contemplate. Many are on the buttresses of Scafell, England’s highest mountain, where his grandfather farmed.

“The Lake District has been at the heart of rock climbing developments since the very earliest days of the sport. Each generation has produced its own leaders who have set the standards for others to look up to and try to follow and those legends include Paul, Pete and Dave.

“The evening brings together three larger-than-life characters who will share with us their motivation, vision and drive to achieve all they did. I hope they will inspire the audience to find their own adventures” he added.

The evening is being held at Brathay Hall Clappersgate Ambleside on Friday 16 September at 7pm. Monies raised will support local charity, Brathay Trust’s work with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. To purchase a ticket, priced £20 which includes a hot pot supper, visit Brathay’s website:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Boardman Tasker 2016 Shortlist.

Interest in the Boardman Tasker (BT) Award for Mountain Literature remains as great as ever and this year’s competition has resulted in 35 books being submitted,from personal journeys and adventures, poetry, biographies and autobiographies to novels.  For the full details of all the submitted books, please see the new BT website, The last three
years have seen well over 100 entries and a very high standard of submission has generally emerged.

The BT Award highlights afresh the memory of Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker,but it seeks to do more than that. The Award recognises and rewards outstanding books of literature concerned  with the mountain environment, books which will in turn challenge and inspire their readers, perhaps to climb or to explore the world of mountains,perhaps to write or perhaps to look at the world in a different way. Perpetuating and refreshing the challenge and inspiration of mountains through literature is one way in which the BT Trust seeks to remember Pete and Joe.

This year’s judges Graham Desroy (Chair), Terry Gifford and Helen Mort have selected the following books for this year’s shortlist:

Alex Honnold with David Roberts
Alone on the Wall

(Pan Macmillan)
The cover of this book sends a shiver down the spine. The life of an unroped solo climber is its sensational subject. But it is the quality of Alex Honnold’s articulation of his approach to this purest of pursuits that grabs the reader, together with his honesty about the personal costs of his lifestyle and amazing achievements, contextualised by David Roberts in this well crafted book.


Simon McCartney
The Bond

(Vertebrate Publishing)
Simon McCartney’s title is the theme of his book the bond between climbers upon which he increasingly comes to rely in his accounts of two epic new routes in Alaska in 1978 and 1980 that demonstrate a remarkable self awareness verging upon hubris, as he readily admits.


Steve Olson

(W.W.Norton & Co)
When a smoking Mount St Helens actually erupted on a spring Sunday morning in 1980 fiftyseven people were killed, some as far as thirteen miles away. Steve Olson not only tells their personal stories, but also turns the tension between the science and thecultural assumptions at play on that day into a drama that reads like a tragic thriller.


Mark Vallance
Wild Country

(Vertebrate Publishing)
More than the story of ‘the man who made Friends’, this book reveals that the spirit brought to bear on friendships, climbs, BMC management and tough business dilemmas,can be harnessed to deal with the onset of Parkinson’s disease in a direct and at times humorous narrative.


Robert Wainwright
The Maverick Mountaineer

(Allen & Unwin)
It was the Australian rebel George Finch who demonstrated the value of oxygen in reaching almost 27,000 feet on Everest in 1922. But Robert Wainwright’s biography also reveals an eccentric scientist and inventor whose complicated personal life extended to his strange relationship with his son, the actor Peter Finch.


* All comments on the books are courtesy of Terry Gifford

The winner of the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature will be a book that Pete and Joe would be proud of being associated with.  The winner will be announced on November 18th 2016 at the Kendal Mountain Festival after the BT Shortlisted Authors event. Stephen Venables, mountaineer and writer will chat with the shortlisted authors, and they will all read from their books. The anniversary of Pete and Joe’s Changabang in 1976 will be marked by a display. 

See for further details.
Steve Dean
Boardman Tasker Charitable Trust

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pilgrimage to Hergest Ridge

For those of a certain age, the name ‘Hergest Ridge’ is more readily associated with a 1974 Virgin label album than the whale back sweep of high ground spanning the England/Wales border twixt Herefordshire and Radnorshire. Released in 1974 by Mike Oldfield, the album was Mike’s follow up to the global phenomena Tubular Bells. Composed when he was just 17 years old and released as Virgin’s very first LP release a few years later; the album from the ‘Progressive Rock’ stable saw the young musician play over 20 instruments and recorded it as a unique instrumental album. In the 70‘s Prog Rock was known for its long winded instrumental passages- Think Yes, ELP, Genesis, Jethro Tull et al- but normal service was usually resumed when a 5 minute drum solo or Hammond Organ extravaganza duly returned to the vocalist. Tubular Bells was pretty unique in that Viv Stanshall's introduction to the instruments aside, the album was a pure instrumental work of classical ambitions.

Tubular Bells remains for me a timeless work which people will still be listening to in 200 years. However, at the time, the recording and promotion too its toll on young Oldfield and overtaken with the scale of its success and suffering a mild form of LSD induced pyschosis, he retreated to Kington just inside the English border in Herefordshire and under pressure from Branson to record a follow up, composed Hergest Ridge. The name chosen randomly by Oldfield. His eye settling upon the aforementioned 1500' massif which loomed above the town in a 'that'll do' manner.

The album never match TB in either sales of critical acclaim and even Oldfield himself says its not his favourite work, but for many-myself included- its more understated tone and themes still manages to capture one’s imagination. I love it!

Despite my regard for the album, until last week I had never set foot on Hergest Ridge. Despite it only being less than 90 miles from where I live in North Wales. Taking advantage of a decent weather window-see my last blog- I paid a flying visit to the area, intent on finally climbing the ridge itself. Most people it appears start from the lovely little town of Kington but studying the OS map, it looked as if the tiny Welsh village of Gladestry was a good option to gain the ridge from the west. Initially following what is the well trodden Offa’s Dyke path.

Fortunately the weather couldn’t have been better. Clear blue skies and not a breath of wind. Actually a breath of wind would have been nice as it got very hot on the ridge. Walking up from Gladestry was very like walking the little south Shropshire Hills in character. Sheep cropped grass, bracken, undulating bald hills falling into lush, pastoral valleys etc.

You could see why Oldfield liked riding a horse across the flat expanses of the ridge-the song ‘On Horseback’ closes the album....

‘I like beer, and I like cheese
I like the smell of a westerly breeze
But what I like more than all of these
Is to be on horseback.’

With the sun beating down we meandered across the ridge to the trig point, taking care to keep clear of a wild mare with her foal and from there, headed for the remarkable little grove of Monkey Puzzle trees, planted 50 years ago by someone who felt the ridge matched the Patagonian environment from whence they apparently first came. Leaving the Kington end of the ridge for another visit, we dropped down off the ridge and circled back to Gladestry.It had taken a long time but I’d finally made it and with the album booming out of the van speakers, we headed search of cider!

‘So if you you feel a little glum,
To Hergest Ridge you should come.
In summer, winter, rain or sun,
it’s good to be on horseback’.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Wild Campervan camping. The essential site tools.

Wild Camping in the Radnorshire Hills.Hats off to OS Maps and Google Earth!
About 9 months ago, after a gap of several years, I reacquainted myself with the joys of V Dub van life. After previously owning several classic old Type 2 ‘Bay’ VW Campervans I acquired a 15 year old Type 4 Turbo Diesel camper which given the current inflated market, cost less than I would have paid for an average warts and all Bay. I love the old aircooled V Dubs with a passion but there is no getting away from the fact that they are expensive to run and as reliable as a Nigerian Internet scam! Delivering no more than around 26mpg, the underpowered 1600 engine is not renowned for a long, trouble free, high mileage life. I remember a trip down to Cornwall a few years ago when I saw about three old buses laid up on the side of the road, engine door up and owners scratching their heads! Been there, done that and bought the T shirt! doesn’t matter whether what mode of camper you are in, what appeals to most owners is the freedom it delivers to go away on a whim and take advantage of a clement weather window and head for a destination which is perhaps unfamiliar. Having a van is a flexible way of having this option although whether or not you could describe it as a ‘low cost’ option is debatable given the cost of buying, taxing, insuring and maintaining a camper. Of course, saving accommodation charges will save you a lot of dosh if you are away regularly and if you own a decent VW with low depreciation costs there is a chance you will be able to sell your vehicle for virtually what you paid for it. However, to really make it pay and to exploit its potential you really need to ‘Wild Camp’. That is avoid camp sites at all costs. Those hideous private sites where you may pay up to £30 a night for the privilege of parking up in a field full of caravans, tents and vans.The heady aroma of barbequing Asda burgers and minging cider, the sound of Radio 1 and screaming children your soundtrack for the evening. Sheesh !!!

No siree...To experience real freedom while saving yourself a fortune, you really need to use your nous and find yourself a quiet place far from the madding crowds, where you can park up for the night and relax after a days climbing, hillwalking or just bumming around as a regular tourist. I write this having just returned from the Radnorshire Hills on the Wales/England border. Its an area that I’m not familiar with but I was determined to combine some walking- taking in some 2000‘ peaks- with some wild camping, and this is where the old and the new mapping elements mesh perfectly for what the American’s call ‘Stealth camping’.

One of the best ways to find a wild camping spot is to use a good old fashioned Ordnance Survey map with Google Earth. You can easily scan the area you intend to visit for potential sites and then use Google Earth to do an aeriel recce and switch to street view if possible. Using this method, in the last couple of months, I’ve found a wonderful remote spot on the Northumbria coast just a short stroll through the sand dunes to an empty beach of golden sands. And a couple of days ago I was high up amongst those Radnorshire Hills, close to some great little peaks and as peaceful and undisturbed as you could wish for.

Wild Campervan Camping.Meet the neighbours!
True, wild camping in a camper is not for those who seek those home from home comforts. Going to the toilet involves a spade; having a shower usually involves either one of those plastic solar showers or a bag of baby wipes, and if you are of a nervous disposition and with every creak of a branch or snap of a twig, you imagine that an axe murderer is creeping ever closer- then stick to the sites. However, statistically, you are more likely to have a weirdo holed up next to you on a camping site than wandering around in the back of beyond.But if you really want to exploit wild campervan camping's potential, then you really need to combine the traditional navigational properties of the Ordnance Survey map with the amazing features within Google Earth's global mapping framework.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Crow and Stone

Stonecrop: First Ascent.Craig y Wernas.Nantmor.

But by now the stone is dust-flying in vain,
And Crow has become a monster-his mere eyeblink
Holding the very globe in terror. 

Ted Hughes: Crow and Stone 

In the late 90‘s, after spending some time with veteran climber Harold Drasdo, exploring and developing many of the remote, vegetated cliffs on Arenig Fawr,the time had come to move out of the wind and into the sun. In this instance, away from the dank, beetling cliffs of Arenig and head out west, to the relative tropical belt of Nantmor whose high points look out to the sea. The cliffs hereabouts had not seen much activity apart from Showell Styles and friends ‘more rabbit than tiger’ establishing a few dozen lower grade climbs on the cliffs of Yr Arddu. Another local activist, Paul Work who lived and farmed in the shadow of Moel Dyniewyd with his wife Ruth Jannette Ruck-author of a clutch of ‘back to the land’ books in the 1960‘s- climbed Nantmor’s best known route-relatively speaking- Christmas Climb.

A lovely little three pitch severe this, which snakes steeply but easily around the left edge of Craig Dyniewyd. Put up on Christmas day, 1947 with ES Trickett. In 1997- Fifty years on minus a few months- I did the direct VS version of the route with my son Liam and an excellent little route it was!

Exactly a year later, I had wandered down the valley to investigate an unclimbed buttress which looked to have potential. Just under 100‘ high and looking reasonably clean and sound, a couple of easy routes were chalked off before I took a look at the extreme right edge. A really interesting looking knife edge arete erupted from a blunt lower rib. Hard to guess how hard it would be but surely no harder than HVS?

I dragged my long suffering friend Harold D along to take a look. Through a haze of cheap cigarette smoke he offered a bemused smile in the manner of someone well used to my hyperbolic descriptions of my latest Crag X and slipped the ropes through his Tuber....remember them?

The first pitch went easily enough and landed on a heathery ledge from which I could look up at the knife edge and survey its potential. It looked steep but surprisingly amenable. Unfortunately, a great rotten looking spike of rock guarded the opening moves onto the arete.It would have to go. A few cursory heaves with my foot offered nothing more than a slight tremor. Holding its jagged top in both hands, I effected a rocking motion. It was moving slightly but still rooted like a rotten tooth in a scabrous jaw.

I decided to leave it for now and climbed indirectly up the back of the arete which required one dynamic move to gain what was an unseen hold. Given the lack of protection and the tenuous nature of this one move, I graded it E1. Harold watching me skitter about like a wolf on a lead declined to follow!

A week or so later, I returned with one of my sons-Liam- and his friend Henry, intent on extracting that rotten molar of rock and ascending the edge directly. As before, the blunt lower rib was ascended and I had time to tie myself off and concentrate all my efforts on removing the large flake which stood about 3‘ high. With Liam ensconced below at the foot of the slabby rib, I repeated my previous exertions, Rocking the flake back to front-side to side-back to front-side to side. There was definitely more movement.

With enough momentum, the flake would fall into the containing gully on the right. With Liam safely tucked away 45 degrees from where it would fall, I concentrated my efforts into rocking it back and forth. Every push increasing the wobble factor by an inch or two. Finally, the hideous fang ripped from its socket but to my absolute horror, it defied gravity and twisted away from its intended destination and in an explosions of grass and shards of splintered rock, headed straight for Liam!

At this point, Liam was about 30‘ away at the base of the rib and I still had time to scream a warning...What was it..’LOOK OUT’..’BELOW’..’RUN’!!!...who knows. Whatever I shouted,it was enough for Liam to press himself into the rock as the rotten flake glanced off the rib just above his head and practically parting his hair-he swears he felt the wind rush as it passed over- exploded into the field of scree beyond.

White faced and white knuckled with horror -as was poor Henry posted on the arete opposite where he was on photo duty- in the words of the man 'I got my shit together' and on auto pilot, completed the route as Stonecrop (Direct) .

Years later, I still shudder at what might have been. There are some things far worse than death and accidentally reducing your child to a pulverised mass of blood and shattered bone is one of them!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Eric Jones....The end of Tremadog's cafe society.

It was a tweet by Ed Douglas that alerted me to the fact that Welsh climbing legend Eric Jones was finally selling up his cafe/bunkhouse business and finally retiring. As if someone like Eric could ever retire! Incidentally, if you live in Wales or can get the ITV equivalent to iPlayer then there is a documentary ‘Never too old’ where Eric and his friend, the splendidly named Jeremy Trumper, climb The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. (ITV Wales 8pm Monday August 1st) I watched this when it was first aired on the Welsh language channel, S4c a couple of years ago and it’s well worth a watch.

It’s some years actually since I’ve been in Eric’s caff or even climbed at Tremadog but it was always a great haunt. Even when the weather was too wet to climb, you could always fester and watch some brave souls having an epic on Valerie’s Rib as the rain washed down the slab.

Of course being situated right under the cliffs, it has become par for the course for Eric to be called to action in the event of an accident or emergency. Sadly, on the odd occasion an accident has resulted in fatal consequences, more often than not though, it has just been a crag fast climber who has pushed their limits and found themselves strung out in no man’s land, unable to advance or retreat. One amusing incident recalled a climber with his knee totally jammed in the crack on Shadrach. A pleasant if unconventional VS climb with three options to climb the first pitch. Possibly the worst being the aforementioned crack-tip do ‘The Brothers Start’ to the right,much more pleasant.

With the leader totally jammed and unable to extract his knee, one of the party ran back to Eric's to grab a bottle of Fairy Liquid which on his return, was liberally applied over the now battered and bruised limb resulting in an eventual extraction.

The caff and its genial host have been part of the Welsh climbing scene for as long as most can remember so it will be sad to see him go.

Let’s hope whoever takes over Eric's business keeps it as is and doesn’t decide to turn it into a fast food outlet or curry house. Although ‘Climb and a Curry’ does have a ring to it actually!


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tell me when the light turns green

Still from 'The Wanderer': Craig Dinas, N Wales
I’ve been trying to digitalise some old VHS video tapes which contained a fair bit of camcorder footage and which with the system I’m using,copies straight onto DVD. So far...not so good. The old tapes have obviously deteriorated and the DVD copies are not exactly HD quality! Lots of flickering and glitches. Apparently that also has something to do with the recording software. The footage has lost quality when seen on TV but it does run at real time without flickering and glitches. I do have the original High 8 mini tapes so I’m tempted to see if I can record straight from the analogue camcorder to disc or hard drive.
Harold Drasdo on his own route.Moss Rib

Its an interesting thought though,when you consider the thousands of hours of rare and irreplaceable climbing/outdoor footage-both on cine film and video tape-  that is buried away  and forgotten in drawers,lofts,cupboards and sheds. I blogged a while ago about some rare climbing films which had totally disappeared and were last heard of in an elderly woman’s shed in Aberystwyth. Of course amateur footage taken by those recording their adventures is always going to be fascinating for the individual to look back on. However, there must also be a fair bit of as yet undiscovered footage taken on Cine 8 cameras and analogue camcorders which feature many iconic figures.

The late Harold Drasdo once loaned me a DVD of old climbing footage featuring Joe Brown. I recall there were at least five films going back to the 50‘s and 60‘s which included footage of JB climbing in Jordan. I’ve never seen or heard of these films being distributed in the wider world?

Phil Livesey at the start of The Wanderer

Talking of HD, it was nice to see I had a bit of footage of him climbing his own route, Moss Rib, which he put up with Tony Moulam on Craig Dinas near Betws y Coed.I’ll always regret not taking more camcorder footage of my climbing adventures as many of the people I climbed with are either now dead, have moved away,or have given up the activity. 

Ken Wilson’s recently republished ‘Snapshot’ was a remarkably prescient take on the world of climbing photography which although originally published in 1981, even then lamented the fact that the sexy action shot had become the norm within climbing media while the ‘snapshot’ which recorded more accurately climbing culture as most people experience it, was being forgotten. In a way, these old amateur video camera recordings from the 80‘s and 90‘s form an important part of Ken’s ‘Snapshot Culture’. Recording an important period in climbing history in all its glorious vivid over saturated glory! 

'The Big Yin' Pen Tyrau: Arenig Fawr

Fixing on a few stills from the footage, although as photographs they would be considered terrible, there is something of a ‘Lomo’ quality to them. They could have been taken on a plastic Holga camera...all light leaks, weird saturation, blur and Polaroid colours.

Perhaps an august body like the BMC might consider putting out a video appeal? Nudging the middle aged and older members of the climbing community to dig out those old videos and Cine reels before it’s too late?