Jack was very much the strong man of the club and as we ventured more and more on to steeper rock, he became the leading light so it was no surprise that he decided to join in on new routeing by starting with the unprecedented looming wall of Jasper in The Quarry where only the aid climb of Cabbage Crack existed and for that he pressed me into service. This was September 1963 and having climbed with Jack over the last year, my strength and experience had improved. Nevertheless, I was somewhat awestruck when he took me to The Quarry and pointed at his intended line which he had already named Jasper. Apart from Jack’s physical strength, he
also exuded confidence so it was no surprise that he named his route before even climbing it. To his great credit, it was a deliberate approach at free climbing bottom-up even though he had abseiled down and cleaned off some loose rock but that was all; no detailed inspection or practised moves and furthermore, no preplaced pegs, bearing in mind that we still didn’t have nut runners or harnesses. I couldn’t then think of another route of such boldness but Jack was undaunted and set off up the lower steep wall to the first break, itself a stiff enough bouldering problem where, hanging on with one hand, he hammered home a peg, clipped in and came
down for a rest. Then, he went back, stood in a sling and placed another peg and came down for a rest. Then, I went up and standing in a sling on the second peg, placed another and I too came down for a rest. This was all getting dangerously close to the overhanging groove at the base of the large flake, a point of no return. This siege started on a Saturday, continued the next day and again the following Saturday when we were now into October and time for Jack to make that momentous step off an aid sling and engage in steep free climbing on the great flake that looked as though it might fall off, which it did many years later one frosty winter’s night.
Regardless, Jack laybacked the flake and pushed on for the top with a long fall threatening should he fail. Despite the aid used, it was considered at the time to be a major climb and on reflection a harbinger of things to come. If Axle and Helicon had opened a first door, then this was significantly a second door that would change our attitudes to new free climbing opportunities and as Jack was becoming the leading limestone climber of his day, this became very exciting.
Whilst all this was going on, there were days when bad weather prevented any climbing and alternative activities were found. Most of the quarries were still active but not at weekends and Bank Holidays which allowed for access and mischief; nothing bad but rather more playful activities. We did, of course, play Pooh sticks in the Middleton Dale brook and as it was considered the norm to progress to Alpine climbing at some point which led to bivouacking being practised in unusual places.
Two of our members spent one night on the belay ledge of Froth, others would sleep on Windy Ledge for nostalgic reasons but Mac (aka ‘Drip Dry Mac’) Battersby took it to another level when he decided to spend the night sleeping in etriers suspended from the cross beam in the hut. Dressed in a duvet and pied d’elephant he settled down for the night whilst we all lay in the darkness listening to a shuffling about which lasted about an hour until there was a lot of commotion and the light switched back on. Were we amused?
Mac then became known as Walter Bonnattersby but, by then, many of us had nicknames. Quite why Brian Starkey became known as Wattles is still a mystery. It may have been connected with acne as, if anybody had an unsightly spot, the rest of us spent all weekend with a finger on our face in the same place. As I was the most pubescent of this lot I suspect I was the butt of this joke more than most. Even so, Brian does blush up quite a lot. Chris was quite greedy and had several nicknames such as Baby Face Jackson and had a penchant for rhymes with which he would regale us in the darkness of night whilst we were in our sleeping bags. The nickname which stuck for him was Hot Pants, emanating from an impromptu limerick he composed whilst we all lay in our sleeping bags in the darkness of the hut talking rubbish, awaiting sleep. It went:
There was a young vicar from Eyam
Who had an immoral dream
He woke up in the night
With a a terrible fright
With his knickers all covered in steam
This was youthful vulgarity at its best and it didn’t really get any worse.