Bonners and The Villain circa 1985.
I was watching 'Whillans last climb' the other night. If you haven't seen this classic piece of climbing footage, it features, rather poignantly, Don Whillans re-climbing Cemetery Gates on Dinas Cromlech with Joe Brown, 30 years after they made the first ascent. This is the mid 80's, a few months before Whillans died. Not romantically-if you can die a romantic death- like Bill Peascod, climbing with Don and Bill Birkett on Cloggy- but at home, in bed in Penmaenmawr.
Going back to the video; it emphasized just how far Whillans had let himself go from the height of his twentysomething powers into a fifty two year old, heavy drinking, chain smoking flabmeister. Unlike his former partner who remained svelte and superfit. It was sad in a way seeing Whillans '14 stone of fighting flab', following 10 stone JB up the Gates. It must have been somewhat humiliating for a proud man to struggle as a second up a route which at one time he would have cruised up.
It made me wonder, what exactly is the tipping point where being overweight really kicks in and begins to sabotage your technical ability? Personally, I've been carrying extra weight for years. Fortunately, not climbing at a particularly high standard it hasn't really bothered or affected me that much. I've also known lots of heavy climbers who don't appear to have suffered too much from being a bit porky. Of course at the leading edge of climbing, someone like James Pearson isn't going to lead an E10 if he's a climbing Robbie Coltrane or Hazel Findley won't be floating up routes if she had a Waynetta Slob physique. However, for mere mortals scrabbling around in the lower and middle grades, it seems you can lead at a decent standard and still be chunky....or can you?
Hazel Findlay:No Waynetta she.
For years I've hovered between 13 and 13.7 stone which for someone of 5-10”,according to the BMI index is a good stone overweight.. After a nasty dose of flu a few weeks ago, I lost my appetite to the degree that it hasn't returned and I'm finally eating less and losing weight. At this rate I'll soon have crept into my BMI range for the first time in years. Unfortunately, being at my statistical fighting weight has coincided with a general physical deterioration, crocked shoulder, stiff knee etc etc, so losing a stone probably won't really make much difference. But still...I'll feel better putting on a pair of 501's and not grimacing trying to button up!
The other side of carrying a few extra pounds yourself is when you find yourself partnering a lard arse.The trouble with partnering a fat partner on the rock face is the ever present dread you feel at the prospect of them falling off! In the old days before belay brakes came in and when climbers used waist and shoulder belays, it would have been like being a block of chedder being sliced by a cheese cutter if someone fell or you had to lower them. Some of those Edwardians were as fond of their food as their climbing.
The 'well padded' author:Photo Al Leary
I remember lowering a chunky partner down from the top of a single pitch route from the ground and as he descended, I passed him going the opposite way at some speed. I don't know who was more surprised!
It makes you think though. Just who is the UK's best fat climber? Is there some 5-8”- 16 stone E8 leader out there? Answers on a Cornish Pasty to ' Britain's Best Fat Climber. Crow Towers, Llanbachofbeyond, North Wales.