Saturday, 12 July 1975

When I was Young by Colin Beechey **RUBY ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL**

When I started climbing 23 years ago, there were two routes in Wales that everyone had heard of but few had climbed - Cemetry Gates and Centaph Corner. In those far off days in the early sixties (pre-Beatles, mini skirts etc for those old enough to remember) they were still considered to be among the "top ten" hardest routes in Wales. They had few ascents and myself and others could only look at them in wonder as we struggled Spiral Stairs or Flying Buttress. This probably seems unbelievable now when youngsters straight from school lead E2 within a dew months of starting to climb. In those days anyone leading more than severe was not easy to find and a V.S leader was a breed apart. I can vividly remember being in a noisy Welsh pub in 1965 that was silenced when someone let slip that the climber in the corner had done all the V.S routes in the Llanberis Pass. He was the ultimate hero and mouths dropped open in amazement and awe, none daring to approach him. How I longed to be a "V.S man".

After struggling V.Diffs and Severes in all weathers for a couple of years my eyes were opened when I climbed with Rolend Edwards (still putting up new E3's in his late 40's) in 1966. He took us up our first H.V.S routes and showed us how to use the then "modern" protection - meccano nuts on bootlace nylon and the newly invented "moac" chocks. He was a superb technician and would spend hours on a pitch fiddling tiny nuts in the most unlikely places, He also realised that we had already climbed technically 5a and 5b moves on our "classic" routes in the wet with big boots and sac on. Also as a recent visit to Ogwen confirmed, our polished unprotected "Hard Severe" leads equated to H.V.S in Pembroke or elsewhere.

Encouraged by this I gradually picked off most of the classic V.S routes in Wales, never quite achieving all the V.S's in the Llanberis Pass as some bugger kept putting up new ones every time I neared my goal! An equally depressing fact was that guide book writers kept mucking around with grades. For example after we climbed our first "extremes" such as Sickle, Brant Direct, Kaiserberge Wall they were all demoted to H.V.S.

Another important aid to climbing we found was to never read guidebooks until after you had climbed the route as descriptions often designed to put you off. For example who in their right mind would go near Munich Climb, V.S on Tryfan that was described thus:

"Only strong and competent parties should attempt this as it is not easily protected and there have been too many fatalities here. The crux is extremely exposed and a bad place to fall"!

At last by the mid 1970's after a year of doing pull ups above the toilet door at work I felt that my arms were strong enough for Cenetaph Corner, now downgraded of course from extreme to a mere H.V.S. I found it steep but not unreasonable, provided of course you used the peg for aid and a rest as everyone did in those days.

Cemetry Gates was left well alone as it sounded too steep and open for me - that was until this summer when after 23 years apprenticeship I finally felt ready. Thus, on a warm July morning, I found myself sorting gear under the route. I now had dozens of chocks and slings but still scorned "Friends" as nasty, mechanical monstrosoties that ripped trousers and were impossible to retrieve whenever I used them.

Feeling extremely nervous I set off, the first thirty feet were wet from recent rain, and even reaching the first hard move seemed bad enough. A sweaty handhold and a bold swing up and left out if a niche brought a massive spike into reach and a rest. I was now committed and moved on quickly up the crack with another fingery move where the crack closed in. Above the crack continued but the moves onto the so-called belay ledge were done in a panic when my foot shot off leaving me suspended from small finger pockets. My arms were so weak that I could hardly pull onto the ledge and only after putting on three belays could I relax. I brought up my partner and then launched myself at the final crack, finding it as hard as anything below. Finally I pulled up over the top into sunshine with a whoop of joy, the whole route having taken only thirty minutes to climb.

We felt elated and content as we ran back down the screen to the car park......that was until a spotty youth in leopardskin tights, casually doing one arm pull - ups on the Cromlech boulders said

"Great crag that mate, my first trip to Wales this, I've just lead Left Wall and yes, that easy route on the right, Cemetry Gates I think its's called "

You can't win can you?

[By Colin Beechey, mid 1970s]
Cemetry Gates on UKClimbing
Cenotaph Corner on UKClimbing