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Rock Climbing: Adventure in bygone times

I’ve been enjoying your Intrepid Optimists stories, which seem to be chiefly about life and adventure in the tropics. I just want to say that, back in the 50s and 60s, there was still plenty of excitement to be had in the UK. I’m talking about rock climbing.

In those days my mate Pete Berwick, (sadly deceased) and I lived in Oldham.

After finishing work on a Friday afternoon, we would pile our gear into Pete’s decrepit, green Ford van and drive through the night to be in Snowdonia as the sun came out; not that it did very often.

There wasn’t much gear to take, as colourful Lycra shorts, chalk bags and artificial chock stones hand yet to be invented. All we had were our boots, a couple of carabiners, our homemade slings and two lengthy coils of rope.

If we were lucky we’d find a bunk in the hostal at Gwern y Gof Isaf farm, Capel Curig, near Betws-y-Coed. Sir John Hunt also stayed there while climbing on Tryfan in training for the ascent of Everest!   If not we just pitched a tent. Our heroes back then were the already internationally known climbers, Chris Bonnington (now Sir Chris),  Ian McNaught-Davis Joe Brown and Don Whillans.

Once, I remember us watching Joe’s every move through binoculars and making notes, as he made his way up the Crib Goch, so we could follow the same route. I don’t recall how much beer Pete and managed to drink when celebrating our 1st ascent of the 250 metre east face of Tryfan.

If we didn’t drive to Wales for the weekend, we would be on the nearby Yorkshire moors, dodging the game wardens to climb Stanage Edge. Our favourite spot, where we trained for our dreamed of someday ascent of K2, was the Downfall, on Kinder Scout. It wasn’t very high but the Chimney was still a notoriously tough, grit stone climb.

 Five years ago I returned to the area, to find it packed with climbers, awaiting their turn have a go. There were few to be found on that inhospitable landscape when we climbed there. With the international successes British climbers were then having, rock climbing was just beginning to be a popular sport. In 1960s we watched Joe’s televised rock climbs in Snowdonia, and were mesmerized by his technique when attacking a new route up the Old Man of Hoy, the 137 meter high, sandstone sea stack, in the Orkneys.

Another sport we enjoyed was boulder-hopping and the boulder strewn river Kinder, whose source is on Kinder Scout was ideal for this pastime. When we finished a day’s climb, we would often race at a breakneck speed, leaping from stone to stone down the river to Hayfield. They were great times and it is fun recalling them.
Jim Dawson, Kidderminster

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