Todays photo to trigger a memory is of my friend Alec.
In yesterdays memory I chatted a little about my first foray into the harder scrambles in the 1990’s when my Dad and I went to the Isle of Skye. At about the same time I started going to my local climbing wall which in those days was an old church in Cheltenham called Chapel Rock. (It’s not there any more I don’t think). I did a weekly course learning how to tie in, how to belay and all that sort of stuff. My instructor was Matt Hammersly and I was keen to take my new found climbing skills outside. At that time Matt was an SPA and he told me I needed a Mountaineering Instructor if I wanted to learn to lead outside – there was only one locally and his name was Alec Roberts, based at Symonds Yat.
This was pre-internet and so I think I found Alecs number and called him up to book a day. My Dad and I then joined him for a day and learnt the basics of climbing outside. How to place gear, how to build a top rope system and how to use a guidebook etc. This lead to weekly visits to the small crag above Bishops Cleeve near Cheltenham where I became a top rope jedi with my friend Terry and occasional visits to Symonds Yat to climb classics like ‘Whitt” and “Vertigo” on the Long Stone Pinnacle or “Snoozin Susan” – the only multi pitch route in my grade at the Yat. (I even took Kate on that one, it was probably the last time she went climbing in fact!)
A couple of years went by and I decided to start on my outdoor qualifications. I did my ML training and my SPA training and then looked to outdoor centres where I could gain experience of working. One of those was Forest Adventure at Symonds Yat, run by Dennis and Cheryl and their chief instructor was none other than Alec. I shadowed him on some climbing sessions and then started running sessions for them myself – three hour slots where you would be given a group of twelve and take them climbing. The most stressful bit was always the rigging as Alec insisted that the ropes were stripped after each session so that we didn’t get in the way of proper climbers.
I don’t think Alec remembered me from my day of instruction but I remembered him and I was over the moon when he invited me out climbing as mates. I don’t remember doing much rock climbing – he would go off on his own and solo most things at the Yat that were in my grade – but I do remember a trip to Snowdon one winter for my first ever winter route. We climbed on the Trinity Face having driven up from Worcestershire in the early hours. I remember jogging to the base of the route in case there should be people ahead of us who might “nab the line”. Alec lead whatever we climbed (I don’t remember) and then on the easy ground to the summit suggested we moved together. I lead the way with no real concept of what we were doing and was slightly terrified when I realised Alec was moving along behind me with the rope free of gear between us – he clearly had more faith in my abilities than I did.
As our climbing partnership developed we started going overseas and the photo shows Alec abseiling off an ice climb in Cogne, Italy. We had flown to Geneva and my bags had failed to arrive. Keen not to miss any climbing we arranged for the bags to be delivered to our apartment the following day and headed out with one set of axes, crampons and boots. Alec lead the route, abseiled down and then stepped out of his boots so that I could have my turn!
I have climbed the majority of my Alpine routes with Alec. The Frendo Spur was our first North Face and we went on to do The Petit Macintyre, North Face of Grande Jorasses TD (we abseiled off from near the top), Pellissier Gully, Pointe Lachenal, TD, Albinoni Gabarrou Couloir, Mont Blanc du Tacul, TD, Traverse of the Matterhorn, D, Mont Blanc du Tacul – North Face – Chere Couloir & Contamine-Grisolle Routes and Mont Blanc via the three Monts.
It has to be said that whenever there was hard work to be done such as digging a snow ledge or arranging the V-Thread Abseils – he was always better than me. Perhaps I had the edge in loud coloured clothing though.