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.