The 2003 Issue - Preview
(A summary provided by Editor C.J. Orr)


Mark Garthwaite on 1st WA Cat Crawl VI,7 (N. Peak, Cobbler. Photo: Andy Clark)

Summary of 2003 Journal Articles

'They say if you can remember the sixties you weren't there. But I was.' So begins Dennis Gray's essay A Dreamtime In Auld Reekie in which he recounts his time staying in Edinburgh during that period, mixing with, and doubtless being changed forever by, such characters of the Scottish Climbing scene as Robin Campbell, Eli Moriarty, the Marshalls and Graham 'Typhoo' Tiso and others. For anyone interested in the arcane lore of the 'Squirrels' this is an important reference. 'It was into the bosom of the latter (Squirrels) that I was gathered when I arrived and first impressions did not disappoint, varying little from the forecast made by an old acquaintance, Tom Patey, regarding the hedonistic possibilities of climbing with such an organisation.'

It is a very select few who can even imagine what it is like living with the image of a new rock climb at the very cutting edge of the game, at the very boundary of the possible and nurturing that image through months of sinew stretching nerve shattering effort and frustration until it is finally brought to fruition. Club member Dave McLeod is a fully paid up member of that elite group and in An Inward Adventure he has produced a fine piece of writing built round a new route on the overhanging Chemin de Fer face at Dumbarton. I think what impresses most here is the need for mental rigour and discipline as well as physical ability. 'Finally, I spent the rest of the time just sitting in my harness, 120ft up on the headwall, staring at the rock in front of me, computing all the information I had just soaked up and trying to take it from the imaginary towards a sequence of movements which one day might be a route.'


Dave MacLeod on Requiem E8 6b, Dumbarton Rock (Photo: Nick Tarmey, Dave MacLeod Collection)

Peter Biggar takes us back to gentler things, but perhaps bigger issues that none of us can opt out of. In his short story The Secondsight the setting is not that far back in time, and may indeed be present day, but the pace is very much that of bygone days, of primuses and porage oats as opposed to Trangias and energy bars. It deals with death in the mountains on more than one level and is a cleverly crafted tale which makes a deft and imaginative use of language, especially in the area of description, where the trap of purple prose awaits the unwary. 'As the breeze shifted the clouds, warm shafts of sunlight came through making the myriad dewdrops sparkle on the spider's webs. Away down in the valley, smoke rose from dwellings by the river and a small boat moved imperceptibly over the surface of the sea-loch on its round from one orange buoy to the next.'

Winter Climbing has become a fleeting enough business in recent years so it stands to reason that it will be even more ephemeral in the warmer climes and lower altitudes of the Galloway Hills. Stephen Reid travels in hope as he takes us over the Silver Flowe to sample the delights of Dow Spou ' An easy climb by today's standards, but given a clear day of sub-zero temperatures, it is hard to imagine a finer place to be or a route more likely to be enjoyed by everyone, whatever their ability.'

There are two characteristically idiosyncratic articles from Al Scott, Psyche Ling Weekend describing the culture shock experienced when returning to winter climbing after a break of eight years. 'It's like riding a bike - you never forget how to do it.' Or is it? 'My gear-ratio was all wrong - riding a bike, riding a bike- My 'gear' was ancient, a 20 year old Charlet Moser curved axe, a mid Eighties expedition freebie Cassin Ice Hammer (rubbish, no wonder they were giving them away) and a pair of old Salewa crampons with the points all but filed away.' There were other changes too 'The crags soon came into view and it was with incredulity I saw there were millions of the buggers! A swift head count revealed it was closer to 150.'

Al's other contribution Finnieston - Greater Himalayan Traverses and Urban Rescues takes a wry look at the famous Finnieston Walls, or 'Finnie' to the cognoscenti, as a forcing ground for Glasgow climbers. 'The premier rock-climbers training venue in Glasgow (or should that be the rock climbers premier training venue?)' Sample the delights of this urban venue and share the author's angst at the desecration wreaked by 'Scratchy The Dry Tooler.'

Family Life

North East Outcrops Guidebook Editor Neil Morrison on Family Life E3 5c, Bridal Cave, Longhaven Sea Cliffs (Photo: John Wilson)

Death On The Mountain by Gair Swanson may sound mundane and predictable but believe me it isn't. Let's list the characters that make cameo appearances, Jim Reeves, Buddy Holly, General Pinochet, Alisteir Crowley, Michael Scott (ask Iain Smart), Mary, Mary quite contrary and Timothy Leary. Then there's the props. A B&Q pressure hose, a Tailor's dummy, Brussels sprouts, a Volkswagen 'Surfing Van,' a tin of polish and a Rogan Josh. Now the trick is to incorporate all of that, and more, into your main setting, Coire Etchachan in the Gorms, without the use of an over intrusive shoe horn. Your man Swanson manages it. How? Well that would be telling wouldn't it?

In his article Older, Wiser - 40 years In Mountain Rescue Leader of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, Terry Confield takes us back to 1964 and the formation of what is now recognised as the busiest outfit in the country. Hardly surprising is it! Way back then ' --- the team was lavishly equipped with 12 ice-axes, 12 pairs of Robert Lawrie MkIV boots, 12 pairs of mitts and 12 yellow waterproof jackets with 'Mountain Rescue' stamped on the back.' Other glimpses into the Rescue's past (accompanied by photos) include the fact that ' One of the great benefits of a rescue on The Ben was being able to place the casualty on the British Alcan small gauge railway after the long carry down the Alt a'Mhuilinn. This trolley was known to the rescue team (but thankfully not to the casualty) as the 'Dead Man's Bogie.'

Back to the Young Guns and the hard stuff, in winter this time. Alan Mullin gives us a look at his motivations and ambitions with another top end winter solo in A Hard Days Night. In describing his new route After Dark (V11,7) in Coire an Lochain, climbed as an on-sight solo at night, he talks openly of his attitude to fear '----- I was now aware that fear no longer presented itself as the intimidating emotion that I had experienced in the beginning. My sense of it had been placed well into the back of my mind and it no longer represented a great threat' Anyone involved actively or passively in the Scottish Winter scene knows that Mullin is pushing himself hard in the physical and technical arena. Perhaps less evident is just how hard he is pushing, and has had to push, to achieve the mental discipline so necessary for what he does.

That he has upset others along the way is also self evident but there are signs in this essay that Alan Mullin is beginning to round off some of the edges of his character that he will not tolerate others trying to do for him. 'It was 8am and I had been climbing for five hours. It had been, as they say a Hard Day's Night. As I walked over the plateau towards the ski-centre, the sun was just rising and its golden hue covered the ground before me. These were the moments I had usually taken little if any notice of. But as the years go by I find myself appreciating the beauty of my surroundings more and more and for once, I bathed myself in the sunlight, up there alone where I felt completely at home.'

In his unusually structured piece The Final Year? - A Climber's Introspection, John Steele offers 'A personal account, an examination of a CLIMBER'S thoughts and recollections as he comes to realise that his decades of mountaineering activity are about to change down a few gears, maybe even go into idle. Perhaps he is not alone in his tale.

The observations are loosely based over a year's mountaineering activity, during which time the CLIMBER has seen that the sands of time, the tank, is running low to empty and the road end appears to be in sight.'


Jason Currie on the Grand Traverse of the Rabada-Navarro (ED-) on the West Face of El Naranjo de Bulnes, Picos de Europa, Northern Spain. (Photo: Adam Liversedge, Jason Currie Collection)

'Today it seems that no-one is much farther than a helicopter, boat or lorry ride from one's destination, and, once there, umbillically linked to civilisation by radio, satellite and perhaps even postcard. One can summon support, and for all I know, a delivery from the local takeaway, at the flick of a switch. A few years ago an application to The Trust for expedition support quoted 'Bus' as means of access and 'Guidebook' as the reference to previous exploration. The world has happily become a safer place, but sadly, a much smaller one.' So writes Mike Fleming at the start of his article GIVE ME SUNSHINE (Retrospective on the 1961 JMCS East Greenland Expedition.) This major piece of work will revive memories for many and will doubtless inspire the present and future crop of Greenlanders. Perhaps they, unlike Mike and his team cannot so easily do a Star Trek and go where no man has gone before, but make no mistake there's still plenty out there.

Cairns Dickson offers a humorous and informative article on climbing in Colorado. Last Summer - Rambles in the Rockies and High Sierras - but, be aware, this article does not do exactly what it says on the tin, at least not if my understanding of terms like 5.13c is correct! One of Cairns' biggest fears on this trip was bears but his mind was put at rest on meeting a local who told him that he needn't worry, 'bears, you don't want to worry about bears ------ it's the mountain lions that you really want to worry about, they'll stalk you for days.'

Rounding off the main articles is something which I imagine would be classified as 'Faction'. M.G. Anderson's Dropping In On Friends is a humorous tale of an unplanned night out on the Cairngorm Plateau, but to say more than that at this stage might spoil things a bit. I will tell you that much of the dialogue is peppered with what Terry Gifford, reading it for this years W.H. Murray Prize termed ' the Royal language of Lower Deeside.' Some southerners might deem 'the lower language of Royal Deeside' more appropriate. But perhaps this is purely a value judgement based on limited contact with persons from that region. Derek Pyper has kindly offered to translate if required.


Ramtang (Photo: Chris Comerie)

That covers the articles. The remainder of the Journal will have other reports, many of them, though in smaller print, at least as interesting and as readable as the main articles, while the following are regular sections: New Climbs Section, Munro Matters, In Memoriam, Proceedings of the Club, JMCS Reports, SMC and JMCS Abroad. Add to this Book and Journal Reviews by acknowledged experts and it all adds up to a journal packed with good reading, useful information, outstanding colour photographs and more.