Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Another Green World: Climbing's lost horizons

The Green Man: Harold Drasdo on the first ascent of Jac Codi Baw. An HVS climb on the remote green cliffs of Arenig Fawr. A route which like nearly all hereabouts,will almost certainly have never received a second ascent.

I recently blogged about the situation in the Lakes where the Fell & Rock Club’s latest guide to Borrowdale, had left out hundreds of obscure, off the beaten track, or rarely ascended routes, to the chagrin of a lot of older traditional climbers. Many of whom had seen routes they had probably put a lot of effort into, consigned to the archives or even oblivion? Just after that I read of a range of cliffs in north Wales- which had never even been in a guidebook despite climbers including myself and veteran Showell Styles, putting up routes there- had been worked on with all the ‘new route’ information and route descriptions appearing online.

I must admit, despite my own penchant for climbing in back of beyond locations and in many instances-certainly when an area guidebook was being prepared- recording those routes and submitting the information to the guidebook writers-I and many other climbers I know, had operated a somewhat arbitrary policy of leaving some cliffs unrecorded. Certainly if they were fairly remote, in a guidebook no mans’ land or later discovered to harbour rare plants or wildlife . The cliff mentioned above is one such cliff. A winding edge of rather loose pale rock which is quite vegetated and home to ravens, peregrines and foxes.

It just seemed totally appropriate that climbers should leave the coal black corvids and fleet foxes to their own devices. Hence my disappointment that the cliff had been developed. Of course, the likelihood is that now its been worked on and recorded, the explorers will inevitably move on to the next Crag X and this cliff will quickly return to being an unfrequented backwater. In fact throughout north and mid Wales, the vast majority of cliffs have become unvisited backwaters and I guess this will be the case in Scotland and the Lakes.

Some climbers appear to be driven to mop up and record climbs on every piece of undeveloped crag they can find. Regardless of scale or the the length of route. I’ve seen micro climbs recorded that are barely boulder problems in length but hey ho...line em up and we’ll knock em down! It might get a mention in the glossies or online but in the greater scheme of things, these new routes are inevitably destined to be binned. Along with a great many old routes which have been recorded since the second world war.

At one time, this would have distressed me. After all, one of the first articles I ever had published in the climbing media, back in the early 90‘s, took the Climbers Club to task for leaving routes by people like Ron James, Tony Moulam, John Neill et al, out of the latest guidebook which covered the Tremadog/ Moelwyn area. After all, I argued, if climbers of their status and reputation felt their routes were good enough to be recorded and submitted then what right had the guidebook committee and team to leave them out of the definitive work?

However, I had not anticipated how traditional climbing would evolve over the next thirty years. Squeezed by new activities like mountain and road biking, paragliding, bouldering, sports and indoor climbing. Now enter fat biking, packrafting, kite surfing etc etc. For young people who want an outdoor fix these days then there are certainly easier ways than lugging a 40 pound rucksack up to a remote cwm and either working out a project that will never be repeated,or trying to find a supposed classic climb which they quickly discover, has now disappeared under a mantle of vegetation.

There are a fair few virgin crags which I’ve climbed on in recent years which are nevertheless still worthy of bringing into the public domain by virtue of their accessibility and quality of climbing. However, the other side of the coin suggests that the majority of remote, unrecorded cliffs and even many established cliffs which have fallen out of fashion, perhaps really should be left to the slumber in their splendid green isolation.

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