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Book Review: Himalaya—A Human History By Ed Douglas

This is an enjoyable, interesting and thoroughly dangerous book of 528 pages, published in 2020 and according to Ed Douglas 25 years in the gestation. I was given a copy as a gift at a recent “significant” birthday. 






Dangerous? I thought my final trip to the area would be a planned trek last summer 2020 up the Baltoro glacier, but then postponed. Now, after reading this I’ve added to that list: treks to Shivling, Nanda Dev and the Singalila Ridge in Sikkim. Each of those can be tackled late in the year as the nights draw in here and the clocks change. So, in effect extending the year. And dangerous also, because my reading has led me to order three more books for follow up certain aspects and people.

Many of the characters and incidents it describes  were either simply new to me or perhaps with better explanations than I’d had previously. Just a few which stuck in my mind are: George Bogle, the first “Westerner” to go to Tibet in 1774. The British/Nepali war of 1814-16 and it’s historically important settlement. The Gurkhas. The bloody history of the Nepali Royal families. Taking tea from China to grow in Assam and Darjeeling. The visit of the Nepal Royal family to Queen Victoria in the UK. Mummery’s untimely death on Nanga Parbat in 1895. Younghusband’s brutal assault on Tibet in 1904. That George Everest never saw the mountain. Alex Kellas, the little known mountaineer and forerunner to Bill Tilman who died in tough circumstances. How the current Dalai Lama was chosen aged 4 in 1939 and the position of the Panchen Lama. The Indo/China war of 1962 and Ngawang Sangdrol and the human rights injustices by China in Tibet. A thorough list really would be endless. 


The book is good describing the ongoing political machinations over the centuries between Tibet, Nepal, China and the East India Company and then the British and India. And explains why Nepal managed to maintain it’s sovereignty despite at one stage in 1791/92 the Chinese at war coming within 35kms of Kathmandu. As would be expected from Ed Douglas, there is plenty of mountaineering history too. 
I do have to say though that I would have expected more on Bhutan and it’s history, both ancient and more modern given especially that the famous Bird’s Nest Temple in Paro is on the cover.  There is very little of the British war against Bhutan—the Duar War—in 1864. And, nothing about the Lhotshampa expulsion of the Nepalese into refugee camps in the 1990s. (NB interestingly the US has taken some 80,000+ Bhutanese refugees and the UK just a few hundred). Nor, the coming of democracy there from 2007 on. 

My only other slight criticism is that some of material, particularly the descriptions of ancient Buddhist sects or the various members of temples or royal families, is somewhat dense and needed reading more than once. To be fair, that’s probably a reflection on me!


An excellent tome, helpful maps and thoroughly recommended to get an overall understanding of the history of the Himalaya high mountain area. 

Keith Gaines, Baslow (February 2021)

Peak Boundary Walk continued


Adrian and Keith 1-1 in Lockdown

Still in lockdown, we saw the weather was going to be excellent if a little chilly at the outset. So we decided on the Wildboarclough to Bollington stretch of the path. We were not disappointed, great views—8.5 miles, 470m ascent. Shots are Top of Shutlingshoe, looking south from Tegg’s Nose and Keith by White Nancy above Bollington. And, a beer in Bollington Brewery shop at the end! An excellent day and closing in on ending in Buxton. 


Adrian and Keith

Well it’s been a different year

So 2020 started off wet and drizzly and then….the world broke.

 

Coronavirus put paid to all of spring and much of early summer…. while some of us managed to get out cycling or walking it was late on before climbing restarted. It wasn’t all wasted time though, Stuart and Dell got involved with making some homemade PPE while Tim got reacquainted with his kiln.

Eventually though members started to get out climbing though still mainly in small groups. Tuesday nights have restarted but often s crags ….so Same.Same.But Different.

Harborough

 

Intake

 

Bamford

 

Newstones

 

Hopefully this is start of a good late summer and autumn for climbing even if it is harder to meet up and climb like a club. Please continue to be safe both in the the ‘normal’ sense when out but also in the new world affected by coronavirus

 

Thanks to Tim for all the photos, if any one else has anything to say or show, please send your photos and some text to me.

The Damp Squib of Winter

Will it EVER EVER EVER stop raining. This year seems overly damp, and its not just that its rained a lot, its that any dry day seems to have fallen on a weekday.

So what have we been up to since the outdoor season stopped…

AGM – The (ahem) highlight of the club year was held in October. All the committee appointments were re-elected and plans were made for the both the winter and for the following year.

Weekend Meets These continue throughout the winter and the highlight is always the Christmas meet

 

Boundary Walks – Caroline has continued to organise and lead the ‘walking the boundary’ walks.

Club Bonfire – Its a great tradition, fire, chatting and snacks…. what could be better

Indoor Climbing – The club have been out most Tuesdays to a variety of walls.

Christmas Drinks –  A fabulous night at the Old Clubhouse in Buxton with a buffet, quiz and just a great chance to chat and catch up. Thanks to Tim for arranging.

 

So as we head into 2020 we have a few things to look forward to;

  • Burns Weekend Meet
  •  Self Rescue session at Whitehall
  •  More indoor climbiong
  •  Full Moon walks
  •  Hopefully some winter weather
  •  Outdoor climbing

A Dream

Well it was a loose arrangement, which I had supposed was tenuous at best and completely forgotten about already at worse, but nevertheless I had kept the weekend free – just in case. Amazingly, almost magically some might say, everything came together remarkably quickly during the previous week. Rachel had messaged me asking ‘Are we going then?’ to which my first thought was ‘How the hell do I know’ but then I checked the weather and thought ‘It’s good, how has that happened’. My next thought was ‘We’d better get our crap together then as this might never happen again in my lifetime’. So I started frantically contacting Alan who was primarily in situ back from the Pyrenees and had then been asleep for 2 days as far as I could make out. I had already made a mistake of misfiring with the weather for Dream earlier in the year and didn’t want to repeat this. So I had to wake Alan up, somehow!

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So we finally managed to all meet on the Tuesday evening and make a very brief plan. As with all plans it was subject to negotiation and change, especially as we hadn’t all been present at the same time whilst making the plan. Anyway, after dog walks, traffic incidents and etc etc we ended up in the car park at Breakwater Country Park just outside Holyhead at some point on Friday afternoon. We were organised in that we had ropes and stuff and even change for the ticket machine. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze and I was starting to think ‘This could actually happen.’IMG_9655.JPG

So after a brief panic, whereby I was in charge of ‘the yellow rope’ which somehow managed to get a knot in it that I had to untangle whilst dangling wildly off the abseil rope, we settled in and started enjoying the climb. The first pitch had to be led by either Rachel or myself, as Alan had already put his dibs on the last pitch. We missed out the low tide pitch (because it wasn’t low tide and climbing under sea water (or any water) always makes things a bit slippy) so it was nice and neat with a pitch each to lead. Obviously the obligatory arm wrestle was had to win the first pitch. Just kidding ladies don’t arm wrestle, just like we don’t sweat, fart or belch! It was more of a: ‘Well after you’ ‘Well I don’t mind after you’ arrangement which Rachel gave up on first.

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I was feeling slightly nervous for a moment or two and then a large seal appeared and reassured me the everything was indeed fine. We watched the seal for a while waving at us and performing water backflips while Rachel finished the first pitch. For those who don’t know (and haven’t seen the videos) Dream of White Horses is pretty much one huge traverse around a huge boiling cauldron of sea off the coast of Anglesey at a place called Wen Zawn, Gogarth. If the name alone isn’t Tolkienesque enough to give you the jitters, you then have to abseil into a very small little standing area (well for 3 of us it was) and then you’re off. If you go up the wrong way you end up on an E2 called Zeus and if you fall off you end up in the sea with the seals (and possibly mermaids). As a point of interest on another sea cliff near there, there is another route called Icarus which I thought fits in rather nicely with the whole going too high (and meeting the gods) or going too low thus falling in sea concept. On another point of interest the other really good HVS to do at Wen Zawn is called Concrete Chimney. I’m not quite sure how the mythical naming went awry with that one, perhaps they asked a really boring quantity surveyor what he thought and he said the first thing that popped into his head.

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The first pitch of Dream is basically quite a good rising hand transverse but the foot holds are a bit dodgy in places.   However, the foot placements were nowhere near as dodgy as some of those down New Mills Torrs so it all felt relatively secure. I think it was at the end of pitch 1 that I became aware of Rachel’s pink cordelette. Although apparently it isn’t a cordelette, it’s a similar piece of equipment which has been designed specifically to annoy Alan. It is not tied in a closed loop like a cordelette but runs free at the ends. And run free it did. I think it does have a technical name but henceforth we dubbed it ‘the pink floppy thing’.

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So then I was up. Not much happened really. I climbed it, belayed slightly too early to a rusty peg (with back up nuts) and brought the other two across. We had an interesting vertically aligned arrangement on this stance which resulted in some good photos of the top of my head.

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Alan then got to the last pitch which was very long and looked impossible from where I was standing/semi-hanging precariously. So I was very pleased he was leading it and actually seemed to want to. The balance and precise micro-route finding looked critical. I was only belaying and yet there was some nervous tension for me when I could see that one of the ropes was looking decidedly like it might be getting jammed under a undercut flakey spike. It was too late to shout Alan as he was well past it and I couldn’t flick it from my end either. I cursed myself for not noticing it sooner. I just had to hope it would keep moving through. I tried to leave that rope relatively slack so it wasn’t forced up deeper into the groove. It worked and soon the pitch was done with some inevitable rope drag at the end but nothing insurmountable.

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It was my turn next, our juxtapositions didn’t allow for an arm wrestle, so I was assertive and just said “I’ll go next”. I soon found out that being the middle person on an incredibly scary traverse using double ropes is actually much more scary and dangerous than actually leading it or being the last person. I clearly hadn’t thought this through. When you are the middle person you have unclip your rope and clip it to the other rope. Without going into the micro detail this means that then your rope stretches away from you (for what seems like miles) before it is clipped into anything else leaving a swing of perhaps 6-7m (maybe 9 or 10m with rope stretch) which (x2) is a lot of fall (15m or so).  On the bright side it was completely overhanging so I would only be falling into thin air (and then dangle) and worst case scenario it would be the sea. However, obviously this ridiculous and preposterous scenario didn’t enter my head as with every climber your one thought in these situations is – I won’t fall off. At one point a large (though fortunately not crucial) hand hold detached itself and I found myself shouting ‘below’ to the seals (there were two at that stage). Fortunately the climbing was well within my limits (and the others too) and it just seemed to pan out perfectly, indeed like a dream. Or even like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he has to cross the invisible bridge.

I emerged up a little corner to a grinning Alan. I then tried really hard to get a video of Rachel doing the last pitch but the gremlins stole that somehow. She eventually emerged, cocooned in slings with several pink tails trailing, and did a little dance. Impressive given the circumstances.

We had various other adventures over the next few days involving very hurty feet, some decidedly conflicting route descriptions, all to a backdrop of purple flowering heather and very yellow gorse with flitting painted ladies, bouncing choughs and diving peregrines.

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