Don Whillan's descriptive Roaches classic-Sloth
The naming (and shaming) of mountains
Napes Needle, Pisgah Buttress, Kern Knotts Crack, Eagle’s Nest Ridge Direct, Agag’s Groove, Frankland’s Green Crack
Pre and Post War....
Overhanging Bastion, Devil’s Slide, Savage Slit, Devil’s Highway, Leopard’s Crawl, Cenotaph Corner.
Moonraker, King Rat, A Dream of White Horses, Nagasaki Grooves, Praying Mantis, Footless Crow.
Gates of Delerium, This Septic Heil, Rubbelsplitskin, Cystisis by Proxy, Screamadelica, When Dildos Ruled the Earth.
David Craig’s piece...I’m not sure if you would describe it as a beat poem?...reflects comments he made in the early 90’s radio programme, ‘Hard Fire Inside’ about the importance he feels about first ascentionists choosing a route name which reflects a reverence for nature; be it descriptive, witty, imaginative or poetic. Citing imaginative Pete Livesey names, Dry Grasp and Footless Crow as names which fulfill this criteria, he continues in the programme, to outline his belief that a route name should ‘honour nature or at least how that person felt when they did that route’ He then goes on the offer some route names from the above ‘Present Day’ list which use sexual practices, pathological terms and physical deformity as terms which conjure up images of suffering, pain and cruelty.
Pandy Outcrop's Cannon Arete.Some route names you just have to go with the obvious!
Names which he sees as drawing from the Californian drug culture and which have no place in his opinion in British mountain culture. Certainly a lot of the route names which David finds offensive are from the John Redhead routes canon. Knowing both David and John well, the irony is that both these creative climbers are cut from the same cloth. Both sharing a romantic reverence for the natural world which they translate through their craft.
Getting back to the art of route naming; it’s actually harder than you think to come up with a route name which has real poetry in it. Something eloquent and descriptive of what has gone before...A Dream of White Horses, Darkinbad the Brightdayler, One Step in the Clouds, Space below my Feet, Margins of the Mind..etc. Some route names tell a tale.. Black Sunday in Eskdale describing the feelings of local climbers usurped the previous day by Welsh raiders! Sheepslayer in the Llanberis Pass recounting a trundled flake which...well you can guess the rest. Tremadog’s WOB translates as ‘While others bathed’ and recalls climbing on a scorching July day in 1956. Dolphin’s Lakeland classic Kipling Groove, named because it was ‘Ruddy ard’ and Communist Convert, because it climbed from right to left....etc
Some route names proved too hot to handle for conservative guide book committees. Menlove Edwards popular classic Flying Buttress in the Pass was originally named ‘Sodom’ but shocked CC officials persuaded him to plump for something more prosaic, although his Side Entry appears to have escaped the CC’s red pen. These days, although Dildos might once have ruled the earth in an age of psychedelic lycra and ripped tank tops, modern young climbers appear quite conservative and traditional in their choice of route names and I haven’t noticed anything particularly controversial recently.
Harold Drasdo on his own route-Gowder Buttress in Borrowdale
For my own first ascents in North Wales, I’m afraid I can’t claim any brilliant feats of imagination or poetic grand eloquence. More often than not, a lazy borrowing of a song or book title. A particularly strenuous HVS in Ogwen became Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms...geddit! A dangerous ascent in the Arenigs which required gingerly negotiating a dubiously wedged flake via couple of layback moves, became A Hat full of Hollow- borrowed from the Smiths album of the same name.. Another Arenig Route which appeared to have a shrine at its base became Pagan Wall and on the other side of the mountain, a route up the rather suspect Castell Cliff which passed though some pretty loose terrain was named Jenga for obvious reasons by Harold Drasdo.
Across on the main cliffs of Simddu Ddu, a heavily gardened route I made with said Bradford Lad was named Jac Codi Baw- JCB or literally 'John Lifting Earth' by HD while Iron John was not actually a piece of self promotion but referenced Robert Bly’s eponymous classic work which was popular at the time. Aja in the vicinity is not a tribute to Steely Dan’s finest work but a memorial climb to my late old man who had died a year before. AJA being his initials.
Those of a literary bent can identify the era of climbs by their names. Check those Tolkein Lord of the Rings routes on Carreg y Fran..Nazgul and Strider or head across to Cwm Pennant and witness JP in culture vulture overdrive with routes like Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, and WB Yeat's referenced The Widening Gyre, The Second Coming and Mere Anarchy.
Whatever the inspiration, these route names have got to be more appetizing than Route One or The Ordinary Route!
Ed Fisher on the appropriately named Roaches climb-Thug!
David Craig piece from The Way to Cold Mountain:Pocketbooks.
All photos by the author.