Sunday, December 30, 2012

Confessions of an ex mountain rescue team member

The author is hauled up into a Sea King like a sack of spuds.

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was a member of a north Wales Mountain Rescue Team. Not one of the main Snowdonia teams-Ogwen or Llanberis-but a team on the National Park periphery which has an urban area within it's designated domain. Neverthess,the extensive area did include mountain ranges,moorland,extensive forests and popular crags. Despite this and despite the regular training exercises which naturally included crag rescue and recovery,most of the call outs involved searches for missing persons.More often than not in urban areas.

Naturally,as someone who had joined the team in the expectation that my skills as a climber might be employed from time to time in this area, I soon discovered to my growing dismay, that in effect I was only ever called on as a spare search dogsbody. Quite often in an urban area where I felt the use of a trained MR Team was being criminally misused.

The final straw came for me after two incidents in one weekend. In the first incident, a party of three French tourists became stuck in a local gorge and the other incident involved a climber who had fallen and been injured and who needed to be carefully recovered from the base of the cliff and taken to hospital.  Sadly,in both incidents the North Wales Police-who oversee MRT call outs-sent in the Fire Brigade! This was particularly galling and humiliating as the team had been practicing gorge rescue and recovery the previous weekend. It was clear the police appeared to have no confidence in the team.

After some acrimony between myself- who was fighting for a specialist crag rescue unit within the team-and what I saw was the lame and acquiescent leadership who were accepting this ridiculous situation, I packed it in with no regrets and walked away from mountain rescue never to return.

I was reading over Xmas that the new team which evolved from the team I was in, were involved in a 10 hour search during Xmas morning for a missing person. A man who turned up the next day. This set me thinking and took me back to my days with the team which covered this area. My main thought was, is it really the responsibility and duty of the police and MR teams to search for people who are depressed and who want to make a dramatic gesture or is this Nanny State-ism in over-drive? If someone leaves a suicide note and wants to take their own lives they will. If someone leaves a suicide note as a dramatic gesture then should we indulge them...that is the question?

In my experience, these people normally arrive home the next morning, colder, stiffer and sufficiently chastened not to want to repeat the experience. It's a interesting social question though. How far should the state interfere in an individual's life? Does the individual have the right to spend the night in a forest or in a ruined cottage on the mountain, without the agencies of the state kicking into action? I'm not talking about individuals and groups who get lost in an upland environment when the mist comes down and the weather breaks. Obviously,these people need the skills and experience of a MR team.And I'm not suggesting that a climber who falls and breaks his leg should have to crawl back to his car and drive himself to hospital. I'm talking about normal people who either want to disappear for a day or so for whatever reason and the lame brained who some might argue are worthy candidates for the annual 'Natural Selection Awards'.

Another incident which caught my eye was a couple-drawn from the latter category- who were rescued from a classic V Diff rock climb in Snowdonia. It took them six hours to climb 150' and they still had the same distance to go to complete the climb so they phoned 999 and asked to be rescued. You have to say FFS!!! It's obvious that these 'climbers' could be seen as falling into that overpopulated 'wazzock' category. If it takes you 6 hours to complete 150' of easy climbing on a popular crag then really, you should take up ten pin bowling or something similar Any climber worth his or her salt could complete this climb, even in bad conditions or rig up an abseil retreat. This is a V Diff in North Wales we are talking about, not Troll Wall!

Anyone reading the call out list for a busy team like Ogwen can see how pathetic many of the call outs are. People getting a bit disorientated on Tryfan in perfect conditions in the middle of summer and calling the police and asking to be rescued.

Unfortunately, society through its police and rescue agencies indulges it's lame brains. I'm sure that if- as in a lot of continental countries-people had to pay for mountain rescue, most of these individuals would think twice about making that call. Perhaps then they might engage their brains, use a bit of common sense,put one foot in front of the other and make that epic trip down Heather Terrace to the A5!

I could never again be involved in mountain rescue as I just haven't got the patience or the tolerance required to spend the evening searching a forest for someone who has had a row with his wife and wants to make a grand gesture, or, who has to set off one summer evening to bring someone down from the hill who is 'a bit tired'. I'm afraid the older I get the harder and more intolerant  I have become of wazzocks.

Certainly I have become pretty detached from what mountain rescue has evolved into in the UK over the decades. A worthy and valuable institution whose raison d'etre has become diluted and corrupted by social and political factors. Time was when climbers used to carry their injured comrades down from the crag on barn doors; these days,volunteer MR teams spring into action if someone twists their ankle on the Pyg Track or if a D of E party gets lost in Gwydyr Forest in August!!!...No thanks. Been there, done that and bought the T Shirt !

The author (left) in the dramatic rescue of a dummy from a towering inferno. Actually Rhyl Fire Station and I think the dummy was called Mick?

* I should add that my involvement in the MR Team was way back in the 1990's. I am aware that the new MR team which evolved from that team is a far different beast with regard to it's professionalism and healthy relationship with the emergency services.

Friday, December 21, 2012

So this is Christmas.....and what have you done?

Christmas Curry: HS-4b. First ascent Xmas day 1953.Photo Don Sergeant/The CC

I've always wanted to make a first ascent on Christmas Day. A rock climb as opposed to a winter climb that is. I'm not a huge fan of winter climbing although I've enjoyed the odd foray on the white stuff, I'd much rather feel the sun on my back and be climbing warm rock in a T shirt and shorts than dressed up like the Michelin Man with ironmongery strapped to my frozen appendages. Not that you get many days in December that you can don summer apparel but you can get out (rock) climbing though.

I was thinking that a Christmas Day first ascent might just be a possibility this year. A rather ferocious crag we've been working on has a line which I've cleaned up which weaves an easy way through difficult ground and only looks about V Diff. I was thinking...if Christmas day is dry, I could shoot up to the crag about 14 miles away,solo up the line and get back before lunch.'s a possibility but given the endless rain in north Wales,it will more than likely be  dank,cold and dripping.

They have been quite a few Christmas day first ascents in North Wales though; the most famous of which is Tony Moulam's Christmas Curry at Tremadog. This three star Hard Severe is possibly the most popular route on any of the Trem crags.A fine steep little affair with an excellent 'Micah Eliminate' alternative finish.

Another starred Christmas route is Paul Work's lovely little severe, Christmas Climb on the isolated red crag of Craig Dyniewyd above Nantmor. Put up on Xmas day in 1947 it's route worth seeking out. Paul Work was a fascinating character who farmed in Nantmor not far from the crag. Proposed and seconded for membership of The Climbers Club by none other than Menlove Edwards and Colin Kirkus he is another of those fascinating fringe figures in Welsh climbing like John Kerry. Not a hard climber like Kerry, Paul Work's creative output was concentrated on the esoteric crags of central Snowdonia, where he made a series of easier long routes on obscure crags like Moel Hebog's Diffwys and the verdant Aberglasllyn Pass.

Menlove Edwards was in fact a neighbour of Work's at one time.Living on the other side of Moel Dynywyd in Hafod Owen which was owned by Colin Kirkus. In Perrin's Menlove biography,he mentions Edwards following Paul Work up Christmas Climb in what could only be described as an unstable mental state! It's worth mentioning that Paul Work's wife,Ruth Janette Ruck wrote a couple of proto 'good life' books..Hill Farm Story and Place of Stones which are worth seeking out.
I had the pleasure of putting up a slightly harder VS direct version of Christmas Climb with one of my son's Liam, 50 years later. Sadly the first ascent was in July not December so make that a half century to the year not the day. Still...I remember it being an excellent steep climb which I keep meaning to go back and repeat.

Traditional Route: S-4a: First ascent Xmas day 1964.

Another Christmas Day climb which I've done at least half a dozen times is Traditional Route above the Swallow Falls between Betws y Coed and Capel Curig. This nice 4 pitch severe was done on Christmas day 1964 by the Drasdo Brothers, Geoff Roberts and Malcolm Feeley. The party sauntered up from the Towers outdoor centre -did half the climb-returned to the Towers for Christmas dinner and went back in the afternoon and finished the climb. By the time they had finished it was in pitch black and it became every man for himself as the party by now, were spread out all over the crag. The successful team then headed into the Gwydyr Forest to enjoy brandy with John Disley who lived nearby. Sounds very civilized and almost Victorian in it's hedonistic concept although it's probably a record for the time taken to complete an 150 severe!

Christmas Retreat in The Arans is possibly Wales's remotest climb. Done on Boxing Day 1965 this is a route which I've stood under and worked out possible variations. Unless you are staying over the top in the Bryn Hafod mountain hut though,this is one Christmas Climb which is guaranteed to remain in splendid isolation.Certainly an idea I had for a direct version of this climb has remained on the back burner. Having done the first three mentioned Christmas climbs I can confirm however, that they are all crackers!.....Did you see what I did there?...happy winter solstice wherever you find yourself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A winter walk in the white forest

After yesterday's winter perfection- wall to wall blue skies and sub zero temperatures-I really wanted to make the most of the day which forecasters predicted would be more of the same. Ideal conditions it seemed, to get out into them tha hills and do something more strenuous than tapping a keyboard.. However, as always happens, I found myself tied to the laptop-in this case finishing a book review- and left it too late to get down into northern Snowdonia.

Not that I was planning to join the crowds in the winter honeypots. I've noticed an astonishing lack of imagination from winter climbers planning their Welsh campaigns. Reference my last post about winter climbers as internet nerds. The forums suggest that these activists are as blinkered as muffin the mule when it comes to choosing a venue. Cwm Cneifion, Cwm Lloer, Y Garn and The Ladders. Actually, I tell a lie; not many people seem to be suggesting the latter. It appears that 90% of them are heading for the former destinations. It must be like Piccadilly Circus up in Cwm Cneifion at the moment!

With time limited and with the dramatic leeching of daylight after 16.00 hrs, I settled for a well trodden local dog walk up to a little high point here in N/E Wales, Craig Llechen. It was below freezing all day and the ground was bone hard.
A beautiful hoar frost enveloped the hollows and the air was so still it was left to the occasional clapperclaw of a raven to break the monotony of my crunching footsteps and a panting dog.

The little top is marked by a memorial cairn to a young guy who took his own life but whose time on earth was dedicated to helping those with learning difficulties. It's quiet spot with stunning views of the main Snowdonia peaks and further south, The Aran and Arenig massifs.

As always, I didn't see a soul all day..... Which is just how I like it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Desperados...The Welsh winter climber as an internet nerd

Moel Lyfnant summit in the Arenigs

It's that time of year again in North Wales. A time when the winter climber, spends more time on the internet than in the mountains. Scanning every available weather forecast. From the Met Office to some pine cone observing fruit cake who forecasts to their delight, the arrival of sub arctic conditions by the end of the week. The climbing forums too are a popular gathering point for those for whom the expectation of perfect conditions are a seasonal triumph of hope over experience.

Last year in North Wales was pretty grim if you were a white warrior. Not so bad if you had to get to work and get your kids to school though! As is more often than not the case, it was generally mild and wet. The December of 2011,by contrast was exceptional. Temperatures hardly getting above freezing during the entire month and often dropping to minus 15 C. By January however, it was over and the rest of the winter wound down to spring in it's usual dank and mild way.

This year the tabloid rags,The Express and Mail are predicting 'the worst winter for 100 years' based on non existent weather companies. See George Monbiot's piece a while back. I was just looking in on the annual Snowdonia Conditions thread on UKC, and it came as no surprise to see the boys with their toys throwing their rattles out of the pram at the suggestion by one sensible winter enthusiast who put forward an ecological perspective.

"Got to say that I'm saddened at the amount of people getting out on Clogwyn Du just because its rimed. I know some of the harder routes are glorified dry tool routes anyway but Ive just read Andy Mountains blog where someone got out yesterday on Torquing Shit admitting complete unconsolidation in the snow and turf, with no ice. Climbing 2 pitches in one of the most ecologically delicate and sensitive parts of the cliff. Don't you guys read the white guide? Your effect on the flora and fauna up there is devastating, and publishing your climbs just encourages others to "have a go anyway, despite poor conditions".
Not only that its trashing routes for when the conditions do get right- potentially only a few days wait away.

Take a look at the guide,even better- go up there in summer to see the absolute mess your picks and crampons have made of Manx Wall etc.'

Wise words but words which appear to have fallen on deaf ears judging by some of the outraged replies summed up by one poster.... " blah blah blah. Rant rant rant. Just get out there and climb FFS!! '  Why not. Who cares if incredibly rare Alpine plants are trashed, so long as Harry Hotspur and his chums from the Uni MC can wield their big shiny tools.

Why does winter climbing attract more dickheads than any other branch of mountaineering?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Copyright shenanigins...When climbing's creative worlds collide.

Yeatsian scribbler- Dr Seamus o Perrin in his cloak of many colours

I'm always surprised at the curious,paradoxical attitude some outdoor writers and photographers have about copyright infringement. Usually the worst offenders could be described as having 'right on' political views and championing an egalitarian  approach to art and the creative process. However when it comes to copyright infringement they are as  prickly as Donald Trump after being told his bete noire has just become 'Scotsman of the Year'!

As someone who essentially puts out work under a Creative Commons licence- Attribution-Non Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 UK).... which in plain English means the reader is 'free to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work ' with certain conditions...'Attribution — You must give the original author credit....Non-Commercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.....No Derivative Works — You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work. ' blah de blah...

Looking in on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter I often pick up on a media bod, say a photographer-not usually a follower or friend- bleating about some geek lifting a jpeg off Google images and using it on his blog A blog which probably gets 5 visitors a month! I always want to say..'For Christs sake, catch yourself are no Ansel Adams pal and your chocolate box photo of Tryfan has as much artistic merit as a Paddy Power betting slip !'...You can tell I was brought up on a Huyton council estate can't you!

I've been lucky to have had the freely given support on Footless Crow from many of our best outdoor writers and photographers. Many of whom have given me previously unpublished work which obviously would have a monetary value if published through a magazine like Climb, TGO,Trail or Climber. And that's the deal. The writers and photographers freely give their work for the entertainment and edification of the reader. Filthy lucre is kept out of the equation!

Despite the contributions of many of UK climbing's leading lights, I have never approached someone who many consider is our best climbing writer- although personally I think David Craig and Harold Drasdo are better - That's none other than Jim Perrin whose output is in the Barbara Cartland league when it comes to writing quantity. That's 'quantity not 'quality' if you can't find your reading glasses.

Why so... you ask? Well for a start he would undoubtedly tell me to feck off!!! However, I'm only too aware of how easy it is to get your fingers burned if you get involved with the Perrin Oeuvre.

Many moons ago the Climbers Club-one of the UK's oldest and most respected clubs- was in the process of publishing a special anniversary journal and the joint editorial committee, comprising of some of our leading writers and climbers, felt they had been given a verbal approval from the author, to re-publish a Perrin article in the journal.  What followed was a rather shabby episode which hardly covered the writer in glory. It appears that Perrin took exception to the edit and furthermore denied he had given permission in the first place. Not content with slapping down the editorial committee he then took the Climbers Club to court and in the event the club had a not inconsiderable settlement to find.

Let's run that by you again. A leading climbing writer whose work often involved  writing articles for UK outdoor publications, based on the freely given interviews by venerable club members like Joe Brown and Jack Longland, sued a climbing club..'club' you will note...not News International. An action which obviously impacted on the club's not exactly overflowing finances....Yes I know!

Someone recently sent me extracts from respected UK mountain media man Jim Curran's autobiography. It revolved around a Perrin article in the UK media describing Curran as 'one of the worst climbers he had ever climbed with' a climber who was 'in an incompetence league of his own'. For Jim Curran, who apart from his work as an art lecturer, was also working as a climbing camerman and rigger, the professional knock on effects could have had a devastating impact on his reputation and career.

What followed was another shabby episode involving 'the UK's finest outdoor writer' and a respected fellow outdoor media man which involved everyone from Sir Chris Bonington, Stephen Venebles and the Boardman-Tasker committee. In contrast to the 'JP V The CC' case, the 'JC v JP' case ended up in the former's favour with Perrin's magazine-Climber &; Rambler having to issue an apology to Curran and pay damages.. I suggest if you want the full bizarre details of the case you read Jim Curran's autobiography 'Here, there and everywhere'.

So...there you have it. If you are considering putting out a blog or a website which uses the material of others,be careful.Most outdoor people are only too happy to give their support in a spirit of cooperation and the wider dissemination of their material. However,a few can I put this? far up their own arses they are looking at that morning's breakfast!  It's a jungle out there kids and I wouldn't want to see a letter from Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners dropping through your letterbox. The moral of the story? some people create for pleasure, some create for profit. If you want to read a Jim Perrin essay then buy one of his books. I'm guessing that the former member of the Communist party who once titled an article 'pay me my money down' would rather walk over burning coals than not be paid for his work.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Clocaenog Forest...A hard rains gonna fall

Annual flooding events in North East Wales:brought to you courtesy of the Welsh Assembly,The UK Government, The EU and the energy corporations whose interests they represent.

According to the 'experts' - That nebulous constituency which every newspaper from The Guardian to The Sun like to quote- we can expect extreme weather patterns to increase in the near future.Leading to situations like this week's extensive flooding in north Wales and other parts of the UK.

Much has been made of the increasing tendency of housing developers to build housing projects in areas vulnerable to flooding. One such area which has suffered extensive flooding in recent years is the nearby town of Ruthin with the neighboring city of St Asaph taking the dubious title this week, of the UK's most seriously affected conurbation; with most of the lower town flooded and one person- a 92 year old woman-tragically killed in the event.

The cause of the flooding in North Wales...the catastrophic inundation of low lying areas due to local rivers being overwhelmed by the amount of water pouring down from the uplands.Now...bearing this in mind, how about this for an environmental policy which comes straight from the 'lunatics are running the asylum' school of planning. In this case a policy supported by the UK and Welsh governments under a directive from the EU.

The rain in Spain might fall mainly on the plain but in North Wales it falls mainly on the uplands. The Vale of Clwyd which is at the centre of this week's flooding is contained by the Clwydian range of hills to the east and to the west, an extensive area which includes the Hiraethog uplands. A wild and beautiful area which sadly,because of it's elevation and small population has been chosen for extensive industrial development in the form of huge wind farms.

One central location for a massive wind power plant development is Clocaenog Forest. A vast mostly coniferous forest which since Welsh government reorganization comes under the authorities' control. The forest is to be developed by the global German energy corporation RWE. In a conversation a couple of years ago with the local MP and current Welsh Secretary, David Jones, he revealed to me that up to three quarters of the forest could be clear felled to accommodate the super wind farm planned by the German corporation..

Leaving aside the forest's important role as a wildlife habitat.Not just for common species like Deer, Foxes,Ravens and rodents which live in the forest,but also for rare species like red squirrels, black grouse and undoubtedly-based on anecdotal evidence offered by several locals- the only site in Wales where Pine Martens survive. A fact conveniently ignored by the corporate giant's environmental consultants. Contrary to EU wildlife protection legislation.

And if we can also leave aside the forest's important role as a centre for outdoor activities and recreation. The real crime...and there is no other word to use in this the fast approaching ecological and human catastrophe which will follow in train when the forest is developed as North Wales' largest onshore wind farm.

Any amateur ecologist will tell you that the extensive removal of trees will carry a potentially serious knock on effect on the surrounding environment. Trees bind and contain the soil and vegetation,they also absorb much of the heavy precipitation that falls in these upland areas. Carry out large scale deforestation within a fixed location like Clocaenog Forest and the environmental consequences are only too plain to predict. Clear felling and grubbing up peat based soil beds, laying down dozens of miles of new roads and tracks,installing pylons,substations, burying hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete in the earth etc. This can only seriously limit the capacity of the forest to retain water. Add the grubbing up of surrounding peat based moorland and you have the makings of environmental devastation.

Water tables will be affected, over ground and underground streams will be diverted or blocked altogether. Without tree cover,water run off will be increased with the many small streams and rivulets which run down from Hiraethog to feed the rivers in the Vale of Clwyd, carrying a significantly increased volume of water.

Flooding in the towns and villages can only become an almost annual event in light of the industrialization of Hiraethog and the Clocaenog Forest. Perhaps the Welsh Assembly wants to turn the Vale of Clwyd into a giant lake?

Meanwhile,over in Frankfurt, Munich, New York, Chicago, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the shareholders will be rubbing their hands at the huge-UK subsidized- profits their corporations are making from these developments in rural North Wales. After all; there's not much money to be made in protecting red squirrels,pine martens and roe deer or from protecting the inhabitants of some distant Welsh town or village from the devastation and misery of flooding.

Fortunate for these corporate fat-cats that in the UK our politicians serve capital and not the people. You would think that the Treweryn debacle in the sixties had never happened.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

To the the West

Beautiful day today in North Wales. Sub zero temperatures,blue skies and snow on the high mountains. I took a drive west to see John Redhead at his lair near Llanberis. The drive through Snowdonia was rather fine albeit interrupted by all the road works around the north Wales climbing capital. I always find it difficult to drive down The Pass without nearly crashing the car because I'm constantly craning my neck to take in the crags and today, see if anyone was mad enough to be climbing.

Despite the clear skies, it remained arctic-ally cold throughout the day. However, the Cromlech boulders were seeing some action from a gathering of young guns wrapped in their duvet jackets and Buffalo smocks. What is the collective term for boulderers?  'A chalkstorm' of boulderers perhaps.

JR was outside with photographer Tony Loxton when I arrived. Mooching about in the late afternoon sun before a trip down the road to The Caban where John had an installation piece ready to be...installed.  I took some shots for a book review of John's Colonists Out by Brian Trevelyan- Footless Crow tomorrow,- and after a slice of cake and a few shots of John with his work, I bid the artist adieu until the new year and meandered back to NE Wales. At the Pen y Gwryd turning, I stopped and watched the last sparks of the winters' sun peter out behind the mountain.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

After the floods

Unless you've been locked in a cellar or have been out of the country in the last 24 hours,you can't have missed the headline news reports from north Wales which have focused on the extensive flooding.Particularly in NE Wales where I'm based. The nearby Afon Alwen which falls from the Hiraethog moorland to the River Dee, resembled the Dudh Kosi yesterday in it's foaming ferocity. A bridge constructed of huge industrial girders which normally sits six feet above the gently flowing trout river was totally destroyed. Leaving just a section of girder and hand rail poking out of the roaring waves.

Cwm Lloer

This morning I wandered down to see how wild it was. Although it had subsided, it was still pretty rough...a white water paddler would have had a blast ripping through the gorge-normally grade 3 although at the moment,at least grade 5.
By mid morning the clouds had started to disperse and with the clearer skies came a dip in temperatures. The Berwyn range to the south sported a covering of snow on the highest peaks and a fleeting glimpse of the main Snowdonia peaks to the north revealed a white mantle illuminated by a low sun.
Breasting the cairned summit of Craig yr Llechen on Hiraethog, an impressive mountain panorama opened up before me. A few photographs later and I tumbled down the southern slopes and headed for home. The thermometer was dropping fast and the forecasters were predicting the onset of winter conditions. The main peaks hinted at what might be approaching?

Yr Wyddfa

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

John Redhead... Still alive and back in the Guerilla Groove

John Redhead and friends doing a guerrilla book promo

Wandering down from the crag at the weekend and a friend casually mentioned 'I see JR is dead'...Christ!...nobody told me!!! I couldn't believe that the demise of an iconic member of our Welsh climbing community should be related in such a casual and matter of fact way. A mere throwaway afterthought. How did that happen?

One too many of Pete's Eats bacon butties maybe? I imagined him, toning down the rose madder with a touch of titanium white; suddenly clutching his chest, eyes in a shocked stare before crashing into his easel and sending a fresh canvas somersaulting across the room. 'He died still holding his best hogs hair brush' they said. Or perhaps a French hunter mistook him for a rampaging wild boar and gave him both barrels??

Then the penny dropped.They were talking about Larry Hagman, not the climbing artist we refer to as 'JR'. Confirmation of John Redhead's well-being arrived next day in the form of an email informing me he was back in a flooded 'Beris' and looking to restart his guerrilla book signings. For those out of the loop, this is where the author arrives in a lay-by in a friends burger van and sells signed copies of his latest work-Colonists Out- before moving on. Extracts of the book have exclusively featured on Footless Crow over the last 18 months and I've been delighted to offer what support and publicity I can to support the starving artist and his extensive clan.

Look out for a review of said book by Brian Trevelyan in the next few weeks.

In the mean time,let's hope we get a break from the monsoon rains we've been having here. There's not going to be too many people out and about in North Wales at the moment, so would be purchasers of CO are going to be thin on the ground.For those who wish to investigate further,copies of Colonists Out are available direct from the author himself at John Redhead/Books


Monday, November 26, 2012

Crag cleaning: Yes...but is it art?

 Andy your heart out!

As I was hanging on my shunt at the weekend from an old 'retired' 11mm rope- which like me appears to have developed middle aged spread- I called across to my partner, 'you know...I think I prefer gardening to actually climbing!  Well...perhaps I exaggerate a tad, but there is something intrinsically satisfying in cleaning a potential new route or cleaning up a crag face. I see it as almost an artistic activity. Creating something out of the natural materials at hand..a la Andy Goldsworthy.

If you have never swung a pick into a bed of vegetation resting on a small ledge; given it an exploratory tug and felt it submit .... then you will not appreciate the creative satisfaction achieved through that climbing practice known as 'gardening'. The pick head is applied with one hand as black fingers curl under the sod and peel it away and send it falling into space. Revealing  pale pink tinged stone underneath. A perfect hold for those who will follow. Carry that out on an extensive rock face and you have the makings of an extremely satisfying creative experience. You will have created something which has both aesthetic and kinetic qualities which can be enjoyed and appreciated by others.

In the early ninties I was heavily involved in new routing on the then undiscovered tirerd crags of Simddu Ddu on Arenig Fawr. I can't imagine how much vegetation I removed....a lot!.... but as anyone familiar with Arenig would know, it was but a merest pin prick on an elephant's hide, for the cliffs hereabouts are as verdant and impenetrable as any Welsh cliff. At the heart of the campaign, you would heard the explosion of huge sods and rocks exploding in Simddu Ddu's dark amphitheatre far below. Echoing in the distance like the sound of artillery on a distant battlefield. One route 'Heart of Darkness', a remarkable route which climbs Simddu Ddu, (The Black Chimney) itself, finished via a steep corner which I climbed ground up. Cleaning as I went with nothing more than a nut key and my torn fingers. Later,when I went to the other side of the amphitheatre and lay down on my belly, peeping over the vertiginous edge, it was a real buzz to see the beautiful line which I had created. It gave me the same satisfaction as painting a landscape which works.

Of course not everyone sees the removal of what are in fact micro eco systems in the same artistic light. Climbing in the above area with the renowned climbing writer, David Craig was a education with regard to the 'tread lightly on the earth' philosophy of climbing. David, apart from being a brilliant writer, has a sacred view of nature which in fact I share but not to the same... could I say, obsessive degree. Leading what became a new HVS route-Achilles Heel- David led the 5a pitch which was heavily coated with that black moss which coats a lot of north facing rock faces and delicately picked his way up without even the merest sliver of vegetation drifting down. Even passing a loose flake of rock and leaving it in place.In a 100' of climbing there was never the urge to rip into the face to create a placement or reveal a hold despite the fact that this delicate long 5a pitch was climbed on just two pieces of protection.

I have to say, as much as I admire the David Craig's of this world with regard to this holistic approach to climbing, I just think it's unnecessarily extreme. I come back to the artistic argument. I remember reading John Sumner's account of creating his classic V Diff..Willo the Wisp.. in Cwm Cowarch. After a gardening campaign lasting several days,he and his partner Jill, were left with a pile of vegetation standing 8' high at the base of the cliff.  However, that night, back at the Bryn Hafod Hut at the head of the cwm, the watery moonlight revealed the pale line of their creation which out of the shadows,revealed itself in all it's glory. A new rock climb emerged from the darkness like a Will o the Wisp!

The compulsive climbing  gardener's tools of the trade...

Retired climbing rope of at least 10mm or better still, a static rope. Old fashioned figure of eight descender. Petzl Shunt. Slaters hammer,plaster pick or short ice hammer. Stiff brush, nut key, Secateurs, small fold up saw, Old slings and general tat for fixing off.

And finally...think of those beneath you. I was working away yesterday at the top of the crag when the end flew off my slaters hammer and fortunately glanced off the slabby overhang below,to be projected out into space. 'Fortunately',because my partner was at the base of the cliff, quietly enjoying a butty. It's just a hunch but I think a solid steel pick head hitting a human skull from 130' might just make your eyes water!

John Appleby

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mountain writing...falling off the creative edge?

Acid House:

A month or two back I reviewed Nick Bullock's Echoes and offered the following thought... "I'm sure the author and publisher can rest assured that Echoes will be a shoe in for the 2013 Boardman Tasker short list. The good folk at Boardman Tasker cannot,it seems, get enough of works like Echoes which fit into a tried and tested structure and follow a formula which undoubtedly appeals to readers and reviewers alike. '

Fast Forward to this week and Andy Kirkpatrick's 'Cold Wars' has lifted the 2012 Boardman-Tasker Prize. Both works are fine books within the genre but both could be described as 'Ripping Yarns'. True they are both underpinned by the day to day mundanity of the writers lives but it's the tales of high altitude sub zero suffering and derring-do which are designed to give the reader his fix.

'His' ?..Well yes. I imagine that most readers of these books are male. I can't imagine women constitute a very large proportion of readers of mountaineering books. I  also imagine that the readership is largely confined to a certain age group. I'm guessing the 30-50 age group mops up the majority of sales. After that, the climbing reader tends to look on mountaineering books with a weary detachment. ' 'Read one mountaineering book you've read them all'  seems to be the perspective of the older climbing reader.

I know one of our finest writers-Harold Drasdo who has just finished a historic piece on climbing on Cloggy in the 1950's- hasn't read a mountaineering book for years. Preferring to lose himself in some obscure 1000 page Russian novel ! This detachment from mountain literature seems to be reflected amongst a lot of seasoned campaigners.

Getting back to the Boardman Tasker award. I think only once in it's entire history have I been taken aback by the judges choice of winner. That was in 1989 when it chose M John Harrisons' gothic novel 'Climbers'. Before and after it has conservatively hopped about between worthy but dull biographies, the odd work of fiction and ripping yarns.

Talking of Harold Drasdo; I know a lot of people were shocked when his excellent autobiography 'The Ordinary Route' was not even short listed! A book which probably should have won the BT that year. I seem to remember some boring Alpine work took the prize. You can probably pick it up on Amazon for 1p now.

Of course  it could be said that mountaineering is a rather narrow field anyway and what do you expect from a limited genre? At the moment I'm reading Richard McHardy's excellent self published 'Echoes of a Dream- A crag rats tale'. Will it get a look in in 2013. Ditto John Redhead's 'Colonists Out'?? Definitely too left field for the climbing establishment! A betting man would be inclined to look no further than a climbing name writing about doing big stuff in big mountains.

Link...Boardman Tasker

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chasing autumn ghosts

To boldly go where no man...well maybe one man but he's dead so we'll never know...has gone before.

Mid November, the darkness starts to roll in as soon as the clock strikes three and by rights,anyone starting an outdoor activity should be up and about by first light.Well....if you face a two hour or more journey to your venue of choice. Thankfully, my destination yesterday was just 30 minutes away with gentle 15 minute amble to follow.

We arrived at the crag in bright sunshine and just a base layer with a thin gilet was more than enough to keep warm and comfortable on the crag. After repeating an old route of my own-which I was delighted to rediscover was actually a really nice VS route-it was on to another 'project'. Lots of these things bubbling away at the moment. More's the pity we are falling into winter and not spring as it's going to be hard to put them all to bed in the next few months.

This project looked hard. No way I could lead this mother!  It was mid afternoon by the time Mike began his sortie. Delicate but engrossing slab climbing to reach the overhang. In a wild position my partner discovered the tell tale signs of an old peg-circa 1960's. Someone has passed this way before and we think we know who. Sadly, said suspect is long dead and the fact that he never recorded it suggests a failed attempt. By three I was started to feel the effects of the increasingly viperous wind blowing up the valley and admit to feeling a sense of relief when my bold partner announced he was leaving it for a warmer day...phew!

One thing about this month.We've managed to get on the rock every weekend which suggests it hasn't been such a bad month in Wales so far. The pattern has been rather consistent. A bright sunny morning with the clouds rolling in and the wind increasing in the afternoon. Let's hope next weekend the sun remains in control until it disappears over the mountain. We might find more clues hidden away within the dark recesses of the crag.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Andy Kikpatrick's Cold Wars wins the 2012 Boardman-Tasker

Congrats to Andy Kirkpatrick on picking up his second BT award with Cold Wars at the Kendal Mountain Festival last night. I reviewed Cold Wars last year on this site-since shunted over to Footless Crow- and gave it a reserved thumbs up despite the book springing from an overworked genre within mountain writing. Actually, I was planning to write a longer feature about the Boardman Tasker award and its innate conservatism when it comes to evaluating mountain literature so watch this space.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Catch Odyssey- a road trip... as a free to view stream until the 20th

Hansjorg Auer crushing Strawberries: Photo Hot Aches

Just a head up to advise that the splendid people over at Hot Aches have made one part of their new climbing movie double bill 'Odyssey- A road trip' available as a free to view Vimeo stream until the 20th.
Having watched it last night...Footless Crow review to follow soon...I can safely say that as with all Hot Aches productions-The Long Hope..The Pinnacle etc- you won't be disappointed.

Featuring UK climbing's poster girl, Hazel Findlay plus James Pearson, Hansjörg Auer (Austria) and Caroline Ciavaldini (France), The Dom Bush one hour and five minutes film follows the dynamic twentysomethings across the UK, beginning in Northumbria and taking in Gogarth, The Slate, Tremadog, Pembroke before heading back oop north to round off on Langdale's Pavey Ark.


Hot Aches: Odyssey a road movie

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

North Wales' secret bothies

The author contemplating throwing another dead rat on the fire

I was surprised to find out that there are only seven official MBA bothies in the whole of Wales. It set me thinking; just how many unofficial bothies there are? If you include natural features like caves, shelter stones and then add in old railway carriages, shepherd/shooting huts, workman's shelters and the like,then there must be dozens of upland dosses scattered around the mountain areas.

Living in North Wales affords me the time to engage in an activity and scuttle off home at the end of the day for a hot shower, a beer and a warm bed. If I had travelled hundreds of miles though and didn't want to fork out for accommodation, or more likely in my case-being an anti social git- did not want to crash in a hut/hostel with a host boozing,belching and farting ramblers- the idea of having a stone cottage to yourself is extremely appealing.

OK, these places are generally cold, dirty,lacking in amenities and you might wake up in the night and find yourself staring into the black eyes of a Rattus Norvegicus, but then...A roaring fire, a bubbling saucepan,a bottle of red,a good book to read by head torch light and outside, the sound of silence. Yes; That floats my boat for sure!

Where are these lonely dwellings you may ask? Well...rather than risk upsetting those who are aware of their locations and who want to keep them secret,let me just suggest,you step off the beaten tracks and head out into the north and mid Wales backwaters. For it is usually far from the madding crowd where these magical places lie; although even close to the North Wales honeypots you can often find a comfortable doss for the night.

Think of the money you would save if you were staying a couple of nights in a YHA hostel. You could buy a case of the Co-op's best Rioja for that!


Mountain Bothies Assoc

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bradford Lads gather for Dungeon Ghyll reunion

Photo: Neville Drasdo

Check out my piece for The Guardian's Northerner blog about the legendary Bradford Lads reunion tomorrow at the Old Dungeon Ghyll.
Bradford Lads: the boys are back at the Old Dungeon Ghyll | UK news |

Monday, November 12, 2012

Usual media suspects fabricating weather scare stories

Note to Daily Express editor.That white powdery stuff is snow.

For those who live in  upland areas in the UK, warnings of severe winter weather conditions in the media carry more of an impact on the reader than someone living in the relatively balmy English south-west or the Channel Islands. Despite winter climbing activists living in their urban environments,rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the mountains swaddled under a blanket of snow and subjected to sub-zero temperatures, those who have to get to work, get their children to school, get out to the shops or receive fuel deliveries are,not surprisingly,less enthused by the prospect of severe winter conditions.

Thankfully, history provides evidence that the worst tabloid offenders,The Daily Mail, Express and the 'quality' right wing Daily Telegraph, are generally as accurate as Mystic Meg's daily horoscope. The worst offender is undoubtedly the appalling Daily Express. A newspaper with a proven track record for fabricating weather scare stories. Guess's at it again this morning.

"Coldest winter weather on the way'...runs the headline

"BRITAIN can expect the first big freeze of winter by the end of the month, sending temperatures plunging to -15C.Forecasters warned last night that the entire country was set to shiver with bitterly cold winds, harsh frosts and snow, all likely to last into December.'

Can I be the first to say 'Bollocks ! George Monbiot as far back as June offered compelling evidence that these weather scare stories are based on non existent meteorological organizations or just totally fabricated by journalists.

As far as reporting weather stories accurately , The Daily Express makes The Sun look like Granta! If The Express is reporting severe weather,better get your T shirts and shorts out of the bottom drawer.

Daily Express story
George Monbiot blog
Guardian article

Big rock candy mountain

Sundae dessert.

Well...I did post last week in November spawned a monster that you never know what to expect in November. Last week I was wet and cold as I looked out at Snowdonia's snow capped mountains; this week I was sweating in a base layer,on warm sun washed pale rock under an indigo sky.

It was part of an ongoing campaign to bring an undeservedly neglected crag into the 21st century for a new guidebook. In the weeks since our arrival at the crag, new routes had fallen like apples in September. Several excellent mid grade climbs had been created,most of them actually receiving stars. A project on a more shaded wing which had harbored more vegetation than the main faces,had been subjected to several hours of patient gardening.

Using a slaters hammer- pick at one end hammer at the other- turf had been hacked out,cracks revealed,heather pulled and moss scraped. It looked good. A natural steep lightning crack up a steep slab with a sensational finish on a tier above. Unfortunately, yesterday, after several days of rain, it was still damp and muddy. Despite a stiff brush being applied it was never going to be ready for a first ascent.

After missing out on a nice HVS first ascent across the way because I spent too much time hanging around cleaning up my project, I wandered across and abbed down an existing route which would benefit from a clean up due to lack of ascents. As I was hauling out some big sods which revealed perfect pale edges underneath, I noticed something flash by in the corner of my eye. My rope had dislodged a flake of rock above and it had hurtled passed my head, missing by a few feet. I wasn't wearing a lid and I don't think a Buff bandana would offer much protection in the event of a strike.

God...imagine the worst case scenario. No...not being hit by a flying rock but having to call the local MRT. I'd never live it down...if I'd have lived that is!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Helyg loses it's arboreal cover.

The Helyg Boulder

I haven't been passed Helyg-the historic Climbers Club hut in Ogwen Valley, N Wales- for a month or so but I gather a lot of it's tree cover has been cut back. The 80 year old conifers which were planted in the 1930's were apparently showing signs of disease and club officers, concerned with the legal aspects of a mature lodgepole pine dropping on a passing car, took the decision to commission tree surgeons to cut out the offending trees.

I'm sure it must make quite a difference to the old place. There was something special about the old stone dwelling nestling in the lee of the little copse. However, the good news is, the club will be replanting the Helyg grounds with a mixture of trees deemed ecologically appropriate to the environment. London Plane trees, Australian Eucalyptus or Japanese Acers then!

A few years ago, the club offered controversial plans to build a new car park near Helyg. Plans which somewhat divided the club and which-for the writer at least-were thankfully thrown out by the National Park planners.  One thing is sure though; by the time the new saplings around Helyg have matured, I don't think many current CC members will be around to appreciate them!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Slate of the Art


The story so far. Would be Banksy-London 'artist'  Jack Murray-travels to North Wales to...well...let Jack Murray explain...

 I went on a trip with a couple of other chaps to Snowdonia in North Wales to seek out an abandoned, mountain slate quarry, that was closed over 50 years ago. We found it, and it was definitely worth the 6 hour drive. A vast network of old tunnels, metal structures, workers huts, gravel pits and waterfalls looping through the side of a mountain is the best way to describe it. I brought some paint with me and dropped a little something at the highest point we got to. In the future I want to go back and paint site specific, 20ft plus, murals on some of the rock faces in the old quarry pits. Some people will cry and say I’ve spoiled the place and others will say it’s amazing but that’s just life.

The key quote in this being.... 'Some people will cry and say I’ve spoiled the place and others will say it’s amazing but that’s just life.' Indeed. In fact over on UKC a predictable backlash quickly fermented with comments ranging from.'-He should be filled in.'..'He's a cock, he's a cock, he's a cock' to 'we should all go and daub paint all over his "art", it's already shit so we can't go wrong.'

I have to say that although I'm in general agreement that North Wales' s industrial heritage should not be a blank canvas for metropolitan art tourists, as someone who considers himself an artist of sorts, I'm interested in true artists finding ways to utilize the natural-or in the case of the slate quarries-unnatural environment in a truly creative way. Of course local climber artist John Redhead has used the quarries for his sound works. Recording the natural sounds of the quarry to recreate a 'musique concrete' soundscape and using the quarries cabans as visual backdrops. Of course, talking of JR. The slate brouhaha brings to mind the Indian Face saga where he painted a small piece in acrylics on the rock scar he had accidentally exposed. The 'Philistine backlash'- as he might have called it- was as predictable as the UKC reaction.

For Jack Murray, his response to the climbing fraternity was to quite accurately point out that the slate quarries are the result of massive human exploitation. The effective rape of a natural green mountainside in the interests of profit. Of course climbers themselves are impacting on this industrial landscape through their very presence and through the placement of in-situ bolts and tat.'s not a simple question of environmentally aware climbers..many of whom have absolutely no problem with massive wind farms truly fucking up the natural environment...and some arrogant urban creative.

John Redhead's Indian Face piece

Perhaps in this instance we should take a leaf out of the book of two of our best artistic utilises of the natural environment, Andy Goldsworthy and Blaenau Ffestiniog's David Nash. Two artists who have both brilliantly exploited..if that's the right word..the natural world and if you can improve on nature-a philosophical question perhaps-then I would suggest they have often succeeded.

To quote John Redhead from my Guardian piece about him a couple of months ago..'Is sport the enemy of art?'...Hope not.
John Appleby