Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Pedwars: Half Munro-half taking the Biscuit?

Clyde Holmes painting of Pedwar peak Graig Goch near Bala

I notice that mid Wales's answer to Nicholas 'Map-Man' Crane is back in the news.Myrddyn Phillips of Welshpool who first came to my attention through his real life 'Englishman who went up a hill and who came down a mountain' role in reappointing a Nantlle hill,Graig Goch, a mountain- and more recently Tal y Fan and Thack Moor in Cumbria-has offered the hillwalking community a new category of hills to bag. 'the Pedwars'. A range of hills above 400 and between 499m (1312'-1637').

In the UK,it's the generally accepted consensus that a mountain is an independent high point above 2000' or 610 metres. So those hovering around the 608/609 point are of supreme interest to Myrddyn and his associates who have taken it upon themselves to reinvestigate these borderline peaks. The aforementioned Nantlle, Tal y Fan and Thack Moor measurements have been accepted by the Ordnance Survey who will amend future maps with the new heights.

As for 'the Pedwars'- which are roughly half the size of a Scottish Munro-  sounds like a ameinable little project for jaded hillwalkers. Collecting the full 477 compliment of wee Welsh peaks which are generally off the radar of rufty tufty peak baggers. By chance I have investigated a few local Pedwars myself in recent months which I've blogged about and I can confirm that many of these minnows have a unique charm and isolated quality,despite their lack of scale.

However, I'm a bit confused as to just how many mountain classifications there are. According to the Go4aWalk website, it offers the following information in answer to a similar query...

A Mountain in England, Wales & Ireland is defined as being a high point over 610m (2000ft) above mean sea-level with 30m (approx 100ft) of 'prominence' or 'ascent' on all sides.English and Welsh mountains are also sometimes known by the acronym Hewitt which stands for Hill in England, Wales or Ireland over Two Thousand feet. There are currently 527 Hewitts in the British Isles - 178 in England, 138 in Wales and 211 in Ireland.
In Scotland it is more complicated. A Mountain in Scotland is defined as being a high point over 915m (3000ft) above mean sea-level with 30m (approx 100ft) of 'prominence' or 'ascent' on all sides (known as Murdos) or a high point over 610m (2000ft) but under 914.9m (2999ft) above mean sea-level with 150m (approx 500ft) of 'prominence' or 'ascent' on all sides. These lower mountains are called Corbetts (between 2500ft and 2999ft high) and Grahams (between 2000ft and 2499ft high).
Munros are Scottish Mountains over 915m (3000ft) high that have been 'elected' to Munro status by the SMC (Scottish Mountaineering Club).
There are currently 443 Murdos, 221 Corbetts, 224 Grahams and 283 Munros.

What about The Marylins, Deweys, Nuttalls,Wainwrights and Birketts??? How about a classification for all the high points over 50m in Essex? We could call them 'The Jades' or 'The Chelseas' ?... 'I've completed the Munros now I'm off to nail some Essex Jades'..which sounds just wrong on so many levels!

PS: The title will mean little to anyone not familiar with cult Scouse band 'Half Man-Half Biscuit'!

Unnamed Pedwar near Cerrigydrudion

Monday, May 27, 2013

Clog and Troll will never die!

I was sorry I couldn't get down the the Llanberis MR team gear sale at the Heights this  weekend.  A car boot sale affair  which sees the £10 pitch fee going to the team funds.
I've got so much outdoor gear which has accumulated over the years that unless I open a mountaineering museum, the assortment of old ropes,ironmongery,tatty rucksacks,
crampons. Along with scratched helmets, scuffed slings and general tat  is just going to remain as an assemblage of boxes and rucksacks buried away in an under-stairs alcove.

The collection grew somewhat last weekend when I paid a visit to my old friend Harold Drasdo,the veteran climbing activist and writer who now lives on the North Wales coast. I had twisted Hal's arm to do a book review for Footless Crow and as I was leaving he took me into his garage and said..'you may as well have this'.... tipping a rucksack full of climbing gear out onto the floor. It's not the first time he's given me a load of climbing gear. But this time it was more poignant as the old climber like his friend and contemporary David Craig, has had to come to terms, as an octogenarian, with the end of his hugely respectable climbing career. (See David Craig's At the Corrie of the Black Raven). Another climbing friend had recently given up climbing and passed on all his winter gear and a while ago I came across a box full of climbing gear in a junk shop, including climbing guides which appear to have once belonged to Hamish Brown.

The end result of these usually unsolicited donations is a collection of rucksacks stuffed full of equipment. A lot of this stuff is still serviceable. Wires, slings and hexes which I would still use quite happily. However, a lot of gear has passed into the 'Whillan's Whammer' catagory of the weird and the wonderful.. Quirky, heavy bibs and bobs which have seen their usefulness and practicality superseded by design,engineering and material advances in the recent decades. Apart from the general disappearance of pegging from the climber's repertoire, who would use a heavy steel krab these days. Ditto a knotted sling or extender; a hawser rope and sling, a clog ascenduer or a climbers belt?

A lot of tat still is useful in modern climbing as in situ gear, left on the crag and used for abbing from or carried in winter to be used in the eventuality of  having to retreat from a long mountaineering route. Better to sacrifice some tat than expensive new gear. It's also useful if you do a bit of tree surgery or you need to do some roof work on your house. Many a time I've dangled from a Sycamore on an old steel krab attached to a tatty sling and linked to Troll Harness. Spiraling to earth down the stiff mantle of a Cairngorm or Viking rope.

Perhaps sometime this year I'll persuade someone to join me on a traditional old climb on a cliff like Lliwedd. Only using  old gear. To get into the role I would need to get myself a moth eaten cable knit sweater,some stiff breeches-which I have somewhere-one of those old school Joe Brown/Snowdon Moulding helmets, a Peter Storm Kag, and sport a crushed, stained Woodbine nonchalantly tucked behind my ear.

Monday, May 20, 2013

On the rock with the Trail guy

 Tom Hutton-left-and the author in picnic mode

I first came across Tom Hutton through his Trail magazine features which I found to be amongst the most interesting material within the magazine. In particular,I liked the fact that in what was essentially a hillwalking magazine, each month, Tom was offering route descriptions and topos of recommended easy climbs.

I understand that Trail have dropped this element from the magazine which I think is a real shame. Note to editor; many climbers came into the sport from a hillwalking background-myself included. I don't know on what grounds it was shunted out but I'm sure there are still a lot of Trail readers who would like to see this feature back. These days,Tom still does turn for Trail but is just as well known for his popular mountain bike guides and as the chair of the BMC in Wales.

I first met Tom in rather sombre circumstances in October last year. We met up a The Goat Inn at Maerdy to travel down to Liverpool to the funeral of our mutual friend, David Hooper. A much loved and sorely missed compadre and stalwart of the UKC forums. However,today was a new day and the rare sight of blue skies and Welsh sun presented us with an overdue opportunity to do some cragging.

Tom Hutton leading Stoneweaver.

Tom had suggested The Llanberis Pass but with the Llanberis triathlon on and with weekend parking being a bit dodgy in The Pass I suggested we take a look at a little crag which had been developed  and which would feature in the next CC Carneddau guidebook. Craig Eithin is a fine little dolerite slab near Capel Curig which sports around a dozen middle grade routes, all within a couple of technical grades. Guaranteed peace and quiet,south facing and looking out to Siabod and Yr Wyddfa, with nicely cropped grass at the base, it's the perfect crag in fact for a climbing picnic. I believe in France they have particular family friendly crags were you can do a spot of climbing and then lay back and enjoy a pleasant repast .Sounds very civilized to me.

This little crag was first mentioned in the logbook of the Midlands Mountaineering club in 1947 when several routes were done but not described. In the last couple of years the crag has been worked on with all possible lines climbed, graded and documented.

With a fairly short day on the rock ahead of us,we each led a couple of routes before heading back to our cars parked behind Joe Browns in Capel, where we said our goodbyes and arranged to meet up again soon. I noticed  as I was leaving that Conwy Council have changed the public conveniences behind Browns into one of those posh bogs that you have to pay to use. Bloody cheek!  They'll be turning the car park into a pay and display soon I expect. One thing for sure; hell will freeze over before I'd pay for a slash or to park my wreck!

Dragonfly Wall-VS-4b

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

From Cwm Pennant to Wyoming

 Photo: Slam Media

Following a recent blog post Nantmor Ghost Materialises, which detailed an old climbing name from the past who had popped up in a Welsh language programme with legendary Welsh climber,Eric Jones. I'm delighted to have tracked down the actual programme on Clic, S4C's equivalent of BBC's iPlayer.(Link at the bottom of the page) The programme, 75:Byth Rhy Hen, (75: Never too old) is actually a really inspiring example of the eternal spirit that lives inside of all true lovers of the mountains. Jeremy Trumper and Eric Jones were both 75 when they climbed The Devil's Tower in Wyoming. As a warm up,they were shown in the programme,roaring up the Pass on their motorbikes to climb the classic Brown/Whillans E1, Cemetery Gates. The S4C website offers the following information on the programme......

So many of us have dream impossible things, but Jeremy Trumper from Gwynedd was determined that he would make his dream a reality.
At 75 years old, with the company of his great friend, renowned climber and adventurer Eric Jones on the adventure, Jeremy set off from Cwm Pennant near Porthmadog to the state of Wyoming in America, with the intention of climbing to the summit of the eminent Devil's Tower.
Follow each step of their journey on 75: Byth Rhy Hen (75: Never too old) on Thursday 18 April on S4C.
"I started climbing when I was in school. At fourteen I went to the scouts and the famous climber Showell Styles would lead us on climbs."
Jeremy Trumper ran a caravan park and farmed a small holding in Cwm Pennant all his life, so leisure time wasn't something he had in abundance to say the least.
"I didn't climb in Europe until I was in my forties, but I'd climb with the Porthmadog Climbing Club often, and that's where I met my wife, Margaret."
And it seems that it's Margaret who's responsible for igniting Jeremy's obsession with the Devil's Tower in the first place.
"One Christmas she bought me a book which was full of amazing climbs all around the world, and that's when I first came across the Devil's Tower. And since then I've been obsessed with the idea, and determined to climb to the summit."
Devil's Tower is a strikingly steep rock that rises over 1,200 feet from its surrounding flat landscape. Located in the Black Hills of Crook County above Belle Fourche River, the igneous tower is a popular location attracting climbers from all over the globe.
Finally, in September 2012, when Jeremy was retired and had reached 75 years of age, after over ten years of imagining and hoping his great dream came true.
"It was such a great feeling, something you've dreamed about for so long coming alive, and it was even better than I'd imagines. I was so glad to have Eric by my side as well; I couldn't have found a better friend to come along on the adventure."
The challenge of bringing the excitement of any sporting event to life on screen is important to Aled Llŷr, but Jeremy and Eric's story really touched a nerve with the programme's producer from Slam Media.
"What delights me most about this story is their friendship. They are both fine men - they've lived and their values and friendship are something special. I hope the programme will inspire the viewers, however old they are."

The programme will be online until May 25th and is only available to UK residents.

 To watch the programme, just click on....75: Byth Rhy Hen 
Click 'S' for English subtitles.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The art of Lomography and talking digital photography blues.

Anthony Gormley's Another Place: Crosby Beach, Merseyside. Taken on a Holga 35BC film camera on out of date 200 ASA film. Original-unedited Print.

As someone who is more a happy snapper than a fully fledged photographer,I'm always impressed when I see a professionally created landscape photograph. An image which transcends the mere technically proficient capturing of a scene, by instilling mood and atmosphere into a composition. However, the digital revolution has brought near professional results within reach of just about anyone who can afford a decent camera and who can find their way around an editing suite.

One of the unforeseen side effects of these technical advances, has been the way landscape photography has evolved into a creative yawn fest. I very much include my own compositions in this. I was downloading images onto my laptop the other day and I could only think..God...these are dull! Images that while being reasonably sharp and well composed,lacked any element of creativity.

 It made me hark back to my earliest forays into the world of photography when with my first proper camera-a Soviet Zorki 4 Rangefinder camera- I was taught the dark art of developing and processing black and white film. For this education-and the donation of a Gnome enlarger and all the necessary equipment, I will always be grateful to a guy called Bill Simmonds.Now long dead I imagine? Bill was an old black guy who worked as a storeman in a laundry company in Chester where I was driving a van, and it was he who taught me the basics of film photography and developing.

Like most happy snappers, I gradually got lazy and moved over to idiot proof compacts and digital photography, but in recent months,my interest in film photography, in particular lomography has grown  in proportion to my increasing boredom with digital photography. If you are not familiar with lomography then here's a brief rundown.....

 The Lomo 35mm film camera was a tiny Soviet compact camera based on a Japanese Cosina to which it was identical. My memories of owning a Lomo in the early 80's was that it was very crudely built compared to Japanese cameras.It's results were frankly weird and unpredictable. Over saturated images with unintentional vignetting ( darkening at the edges) and prone to light leaks. Mine didn't last very long before the winder broke and I gave it away.

Sometime in the early 90's, two Austrian art students bought a second hand Lomo and just loved the very elements of a lomo image that would have seen a professional photographer hurling it in the nearest river. The cult of lomography had been born. These days it is a world wide creative movement but like all movements, prone to misinterpretation. For example, you don't necessarily need to use a Lomo camera-which are still being made- to take a lomo photograph. Various cameras are classified as 'Lomography cameras' but what they have in common tends to be their technical lack of sophistication and agricultural build quality.

Lomography is often also referred to as Analogue or Lo-Fi photography. If you look on eBay at cameras being sold as 'Lomo' type  then you will see a huge array of cameras from quite sopisticated SLR cameras to 90's compacts. Basically, anyone selling a camera like this as a 'Lomo' camera is a con merchant. There are several cameras which are now included into the Lomo stable. Most notably the mass produced Chinese made Holga and the Diana. Both these cheap little plastic cameras use both 120 and 35mm film formats. The mainstays of the Lomo range tend to be Soviet/Chinese cameras such as the medium format Lubitel, the Cosmic Symbol/Smerna and the Seagull, but there are other cameras  from outside the old Soviet/China block which compliment the range. Like the mass produced mainstays from the East, these are inevitably totally unsopisticated plastic wind on 35mm film cameras which will take an image not unlike that taken by a Lomo or Holga. For example, in the last 12 months I've picked up a Prinz Junior camera-As sold by Dixons in the 1980's ( £4 in Church Stretton Antiques) and a similar model, an Inovar, ( £1.52 on eBay) which take Holga-esque images.

A fivers worth of 'Lomo'cameras.

A Lomo image is as distinct from a professional digital photograph as an Abstract expressionist painting is from a Pre-Raphealite work. Lacking the technical refinements of an expensive digital camera, a print image taken by a 'Lomo' camera is all about creating something different. Something which instinctively works through those very elements which would be seen as failings in a digital image.Over/under exposure, producing skewed light and shade, exaggerated colour and saturation, blurring and light slashes etc.

These days, a successful company in Europe is marketing Lomography as a life style choice. Promoting cameras like the original Lomo,(£300+ on some models) The sardine can La Sardinia ...the Sprocket Rocket ( A camera which shows the sprocket holes on a developed image) etc etc, but be warned. They charge an arm and a leg for these cameras. Much better for your bank balance if you scour the charity shops or eBay for a Lomo type camera.

Of course one area where digital will always triumph over film is in it's accessibility and ease of sharing images over the internet. Even if you live in a town with a local  film processing store, you will still need to cool your boots while waiting for your film to be developed. Then you will need to scan your prints if you want to use them on the net. However, there is something about a film image that works in that inimitable Lomo style which can't be replicated by photo editing of digital images. All editing suites these days it seems offer 'Lomo' and 'Holga' editing effects.Incidentally. the ubiquitous Instagram images and mobile phone photographic suites like Hipstamatic are unashamedly aping the Lo-Fi results of a lomograph film print.

While digital photography is here to stay and will continue to sweep all other formats before it. The fact that it offers the punter endless possibilities in creating image perfection is for me it's Achilles heel. Who wants visual perfection. I've got two eyes in my head that can give me that. I want a format which skews perfection in an artistic and creative way. Given the huge success of Instagram then it's obvious that even a huge company like Google have picked up on that.

words and images John Appleby

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What becomes of the broken hearted?

I stood at a crossroads...literally. My GPS indicated that I was close to the Fire Tower which had eluded me a week or so back (see All along the Watchtower). A fire break cut through the denser forest but that too had succumbed to natural regeneration. Would it go? At that point my eyes fell upon a simple post set back off the trail. I initially thought it was an old fence post but I was sure that I could see something carved beneath the lichen. Perhaps it marked the way to the Fire Tower or was a waymark-or blaze as they call them in the States-  indicating an old pathway that had been swallowed up by the forest. Picking my way across the rough ground I saw that it was indeed carved with an inscription....'Julian..  14 April 93.. died of loneliness'. about a left hook into the emotional solar plexus! First thoughts of course..Who was Julian? followed by how did he die of loneliness? It was exactly 20 years ago almost to the month. Given it's position I wondered if perhaps I was the first person to see this? You immediately think of a young male suicide. Suicides are sadly all too common in these remote forests and backwaters and appear to be nearly always men. As the crow flies,about a mile away is a little cairn atop a little peak which takes in the vast panorama with the main Snowdonia peaks to the north and the wild Berwyns to the south.

In between the Arans and the Arenigs hover above the clouds. On this cairn is a simple plaque which remembers another young man who it reminds us 'dedicated his life to the disabled'. Two old farmers I met up there told me that he had committed suicide nearby. 'When they found him they didn't know who he was..took them weeks to find out' one of them said. No wonder Hiraethog translates as 'The moors of longing'. This is a melancholic place to be sure.

Getting back to Julian; thoughts and theories formulated in my head. Perhaps Julian himself had knocked it in before taking his own  Was this a special place. Somewhere he had regularly brought the love of his life.The one who had broken his heart and led him  to die of loneliness? If friends or family left it why such a maudlin statement and why did he die of loneliness if there were people who cared enough to come to this remote spot to remember him? Perhaps Julian was a family pet who pined away when his owner died?

I left Julian's lonely memorial behind and followed the trail which eventually reached the very edge of the forest. My GPS revealed the spot where the Fire Tower should have been but it was no longer there.Like Julian it had slipped into the past and no longer existed. At that point, Fergus disturbed two huge crows feasting on a lamb. One of them lazily took off and immediately crashed into the stock fence, catapulting back almost into the hounds' jaws. Recovering, it took off again and, seemingly gorged on fresh meat, cleared the fence with some difficulty and sluggishly took off into the West. The day before, a blue tit, obviously in a state of spring fever, had crashed into a shed at home. I picked it up and it had clasped my finger with it's long claws. Looking surprisingly perky considering it's situation. I prized off its claws placed on a shed roof,well out of reach of cats and eventually it took off and continued it's play making amongst the silver birches.

If I was native American or Australian aboriginal then I would probably consider crashing birds a portentous sign. 'These are the days of miracles and wonders, this is a long distance call'.

Homage to a Hound- Crafnant Valley

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fragments: The secret life of essays

I was sorting through various files and papers and rediscovered a number of old essays,short stories poems and even some short plays which I'd written years ago. Mostly pre word processor and typewritten-complete with tippex corrections- or scrawled in Biro. Amongst the collection of stuff-from a horror story set on a whaling ship in Newfoundland to agitprop plays- were some old climbing articles and related poetry. Some of these poems were so high flown they would have made a Victorian romantic disciple of Wordsworth blush, but I was surprised to find that some of these pieces still worked reasonably well.

It was interesting to re-read some old articles which had either been written as part of a collection of essays, originally intended to be brought together in book form-only half completed- or as magazine articles. These had either been rejected or never submitted. I found an old article a few years ago which was originally accepted for publication in Climber when Cameron MacNeish was editor but as it coincided with him moving out of the editors chair, his successor obviously wasn't so keen and he never used it.

It had gathered dust for ten years or so until I decided to dust it down and put it out on Footless Crow. Ironically, the article about Alistair Crowley's Himalayan misadventures-'Mountains and other Goats' is the most popular article ever published on FC,regularly topping the most read features despite it being on site for three years. Incidentally, I don't think it's particularly good-Robin Campbell's Crowley piece also published on FC is much more rounded and scholarly but hey...a lot of people out there like it so I shouldn't complain!

Amongst the material is a collection of articles which had been commissioned for a now defunct outdoor magazine called Outdoor Action. I had completed six features which were to be published in monthly intervals as 'Classic scrambles in England and Wales.'. Once again fate intervened.The magazine folded and the feature ended up never seeing the light of day.As did the 'action' slides I'd taken on each route.

Some of these essays are incredibly personal and poignant. One recalls a magic week on the Argyll coast 15 years ago with my kids and female friend and her two youngsters where under a roaring sun and sublime indigo skies we lived high on the hog and swam in green waters and climbed on virgin sea cliffs. Sadly she died suddenly two years ago after Leukemia took hold and went through her like wild fire. It took her life just three weeks after diagnoses.Re-reading it again and looking at the photographs taken at the time raises a tear and a smile

Another essay details the time I spread my Father and his dog Gypsy's ashes on Bryn Castell in Snowdonia. An event which bore incredible similarities, with regard to the elemental forces at work that day,with someone else whose mortal remains ended up on this little Scot's Pine topped knoll-Menlove Edwards.

I might use some of these essays online in the future.After all,what good are these pieces gathering dust and unread. Someone out these might find something in them hopefully. I might even give some of the poems an airing......Now,that IS a high risk strategy from which my reputation might never recover!