/ NEW ARTICLE: The North Face Races - by Gordon Smith

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Gordon Smith takes us back to the mid Seventies and shares some of his Alpine adventures. An all star cast help him along - 'Dirty Alex', 'Black Nick', Terry 'Kingy' King and John Bouchard amongst others.

"My original plan had been to take a look at the wall in the afternoon sun, and then sleep on top of a plastic bag that I had with me, and return down to Argentiere the next morning. But like all well made plans, the plan went awry..."

Read More: http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=990
fimm on 05 Jun 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

That is an excellent article, than you very much.
Doug on 05 Jun 2008
In reply to fimm: Thanks 'Jock'
(& Jack for posting it)
Mike C on 05 Jun 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Good article Gordon. It looks like 3 hours or less was the going rate for routes on the Courtes North Face way back then :o)
Mike
Gordon Smith on 05 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to Mike C: I had fun reading your article, and the other one I found on UKClimbing by you .... but the best thing was finding out that you used to be as silly as I was!!
Mike C on 05 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith:

Ha! Thanks. I dare say we weren't the only ones though.
sutty on 05 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith:

Excellent, brought back a lot of memories that. Understated as well, just what a newcomer wants to sandbag them.

I am glad I had more sense than Clough, he decided that the N face of the Droites would be suitable as my first route in the alps, till I showed him my crampons with no front points on and mentioned that I could fall off an ice covered pavement.

Frank4short - on 05 Jun 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC: Great article, one of the best i've read on here in a long time. I particuarily like the contrast between the accent of the Nth face of the courtes in it & the article on the swiss route on the courtes also recently posted on here.

Respect to the old foggies ;-)
Gordon Smith on 06 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to sutty:
> (In reply to Gordon Smith)

>
> I am glad I had more sense than Clough, he decided that the N face of the Droites would be suitable as my first route in the alps, till I showed him my crampons with no front points on and mentioned that I could fall off an ice covered pavement.



I thought that you chaps howked steps in your day ... what do you need front points for if you have a ladder of steps to walk up? Couldn't you have got Cloughy to chop your ladder of steps for you??? No excuse for wimping out!
In reply to sutty: As our elder statesman, Sutty, do you feel that about 25 years is the right amount of time to pass before you can start talking about "the cosseted climber of today"? In the 70s were you chaps saying of the youngsters - "the cosseted climbers of today with their nylon windbreakers and fancypants helly hansen jackets! When I was a lad..." And what will the hardmen (and women of today) be saying of the young tigers in twenty years time? "the cosseted climbers of today with their nano-climate-control suits! Pah! When I was a lad - we just had goretex XCR and primaloft!"

;-)
Philip Smith (kipper) on 06 Jun 2008 - 212.148.161.3 [inetgw-64-pri.nhs.uk]
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Really enjoyed reading this article can we have more like this please!!!

sutty on 06 Jun 2008
In reply to TobyA:

No, I am in awe of what a lot of people are doing now, and doing when I was climbing, and of things that people like Buhl, Rebuffat, Cassin etc did before.
There have always been real hard men pushing the boundaries with poor equipment while we we pissing about on second grade of difficulty routes.

Modern gear may get you up some stuff too dangerous to do in the past but the grade just keeps going up. Look at the stuff Andy Kirkpatrick and John Arran and others are doing, you have to have that bit more get up and go to do that sort of thing, Like Gordon and Alec and Nick and Tasker had all those years ago.
In reply to Philip Smith (kipper):
> (In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC)
>
> Really enjoyed reading this article can we have more like this please!!!

Your wish is my command!

Mike C's:
http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=1087
http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=249

Alan Heason's:
http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=803

Enjoy,

Jack
Gordon Smith on 06 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to sutty: Hi Sutty. You know, folk always seem to mention Alex when they talk of the talented climbers of the mid seventies ... Kingy (Terry King) was, in my opinion, the most talented alpinist of that era and he rarely gets mentioned....I had to point this out to Jack for the blurb about the article. Kingy, Dirty Alex and I did almost all of the start of the Desmaison route (original start up to where the 1977 start merges with it) entirely free in big boots before traversing onto the shroud in 1975 (to avoid the rocks falling down the initial couloirs) - with Kingy poked up the hardest rock bits on the sharp end. He also led the original (Cassin) start to the Walker in 1975 entirely free in big boots. Kingy was staggeringly good (and fast) on rock and great on ice after I'd learned him his lessons on Slav Route on the Ben in the winter of 1975.
Gordon Smith on 06 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to TobyA: It wasn't the climbing gear I was really referring to - it was the fact that many of us hitched to the Alps, camped illegally in the Biolay for free (and often got flooded out of our tents) - and our 'amenities' were the railway station WC and tap ... no flashy camp sites for us - lived sometimes on the pet-food grade meat on sale in Payot Pertin, bivied in plastic bags, lived by collecting empty wine bottles and returning them to the stores (there is a story behind that one which I might cough up sometime), etc etc. Now I read of climbers taking cheap flights out to the Alps for the weekend or driving there for the season in their fine sedans (what happened to the old battered Mini Travellers, Ford Escort vans etc etc? Norton Commando was the up-market way to travel to the Alps in those days). And THEN we can start talking about the modern gear ....
Gordon Smith on 06 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to Gordon Smith: I forgot to add, TobyA, that when we were climbing in those days Heckmair was our hero (I don't believe HE was a Nazi, any more than any of us would have been - to get cheap gear etc). Kingy always used to shake his head and point out to us youngsters (me and Dirty Alex) how tough those guys really were, and how cossetted we were! After all we hitched to the Western Alps, we didn't walk or bicycle there!
sutty on 06 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith:

There were, and are a load of staggeringly good climbers who rarely get mentions. You would know several in your area of climbing that others never heard of. Think of people who you associated with who did some really hard routes yet never get mentioned. For example, some of the Black and Tan lads are virtually unknown outside a small group of local climbers but did hardish routes in the alps.
You need to read old journals from all over the place to find out about some outstanding achievements.

I think digging back into the AC journals and Mountain would bring some to mind.
Luca Signorelli - on 07 Jun 2008
In reply to Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC:

Very good story - any chance we will get more of this? It would be great to read some Brit exploit on the Italian side instead of all those anthills above Chamonix ;)
Luca Signorelli - on 07 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith:

Very good story Gordon, but there's one bit of your article that's puzzling me:

> Whilst preparing to descend from the Refuge d'Argentiere, defeated in an attempt on the North Face of the Triolet with one of the old hands, the sky being very clear and the weather cold, I happened to notice a very pretty mountain face that really struck my fancy.

>"Wot's that then? Wot's that face over there? Can't we climb that one?", says I champing at the bit because our idleness had robbed me of some climbing.

>"Oh no. That's the North Face of the Courtes. You have to be an expert with years and years of experience to climb that one. It's very hard."

Waitwaitwait - someone first tried to lure you on the NF of Triolet, and then, when seeing the NF of the Courtes, he was all "no, you can't climb THAT one, because of it's too hard and scary" Where did that guy got the topo of the area? From a Monty Python sketch? You were lucky not to climb with him anymore (if you did)! ;=)
TRip - on 08 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith:

Brilliant Gordon!

You've got me well and truly phyched for my summer Alpine Debauchary. I'll let you know my time on the Swiss Route.

Thanks.
ads.ukclimbing.com
Gordon Smith on 08 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to Luca Signorelli: Hi Luca. In those days the NF of the Triolet was like a standard route for Brits to do, whereas the swiss route was more of an unknown quantity .... the Triolet was MUCH safer in those days than it is now - the seracs seem to have advanced a lot and got much bigger. I, being an 18 year old clueless beginner didn't know any better anyway. One thing about the Swiss Route, it is a VERY pretty route. By the way, it was the year before I met Kingy. Did you get hold of Kingy yet?
Gordon Smith on 08 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to Tom Ripley: You being an aspiring (ie young) stud, if you are going out early (ie if it's still snowy) can I recommend the Heckmair-Kroner route on the NF Charmoz as a great training route ... easy approach, reasonably easy descent and a good hard 1 day mixed NF in the middle!! Don't solo it unless you are bonkers .... it's hard! If you do it take photos and tell me how it goes!! Do the Swiss first. First climbed in 1931 - Heckmair was Kingy and my hero!!
James Gordon - on 08 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith:

Gordon,

I always enjoy the "last of the grand old masters" telling it like it was! Really, it is inspiring and motivates me to ask myself questions I might not otherwise and reminds me that we do have it easier now.

What I wanted to ask was this: you say you don't climb so much now? If you look around at other alpinists (of the last few generations) often it seems that some of those at the top of their game, "gave it up" quite early in life? It is deliberately trying to elicit a reaction (i dont want to seem confrontational nor provocative, only interested) BUT why?

When you look back at your contemporaries and your heroes was it ego that made you climb hard and when that was satisfied the urge faded? Did the philosophising about risk become more psychologically attritional as you got a wee bit older? Had you just done all the routes you wanted to do?!

I helped a non-climbing friend write an article for Rock & Ice last year about Tom Patey (he was fascinated by him). We interviewed various of his climbing partners. The guy who left me with a lump in my throat was Bill Brooker. An invidious comparison I know but if you compared his ostensible reasons for climbing with someone like Marc Twight (who I think is great) Brooker seemed so much more at peace with himself and I wondered if that meant he enjoyed climbing more?

Bit heavy for a Sunday but would love to hear any thoughts you had?
Gordon Smith on 09 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to James Gordon: Hi James ... I don't say 'I don't climb so much now' - I say 'I haven't even thought about climbing for twenty years!!'. It was just when I got broadband here in the Philippine jungles and I came across a blurb by Norrie about Wrygob and Pete Benson doing the Desmaison on UKC that it sparked my interest again (and brought back some feelings of the old obsession).

I reckon that you should start a thread to discuss the issues you raise ... it would be easier for me to discuss together with other people's input, rather than just give you an answer ... I've tried and scrubbed it out again and again!! The short answer as to why I quit (in 1979) at age 23 is that I met a girl and got serious (and got married). I discovered life outside climbing!
Gordon Smith on 09 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to Tom Ripley:
> (In reply to Gordon Smith)
>
> Brilliant Gordon!
>
> You've got me well and truly phyched for my summer Alpine Debauchary. I'll let you know my time on the Swiss Route.
>
> Thanks.

Remember, young Tom, that it's better to be a long lived climber who has fun climbing for many, many years than a short term, dead hero!!

'Courage is naught without prudence'
'Look well to each step'
'From the beginning, think what might be the end'
'The happiness of a lifetime can be destroyed by the folly of a moment'

You're a young stud, but do be careful!
Steve Long - on 10 Jun 2008
in reply to Gordon, I Loved your article and it brought back an important memory for me: you've probably forgotten but you saved my life in 1981! I had got most of the way up the Frendo Spur as my first Alpine climb (I know, a dumb mistake and I nearly paid the price!) but broke my wrist when a hex aid point ripped on the final rock tower (normally avoided these days) the guy I had been climbing with left me hanging from a piton for the night and then joined another team heading (thanks, Harry!) for the summit ridge, only about 50 metres away. I was feeling pretty rough and a storm was brewing: it looked like a very bad night ahead. Fortunately my good friend Ed Stobart (coincidentally soon to become a student for Terry King) took the telepherique up to look for me and met you: You dropped me a rope and helped me to the summit. I remember asking you whether I should give up alpinism but instead you gave me a great tick list! Nowadays I'm an IFMGA Guide and regularly coach young alpinists, (and often work with Grey Nick at the BMC), so thanks for giving me the opportunity!
Tom Last - on 10 Jun 2008
In reply to Steve Long:

Quality. What a good post!

Good on you both :-)
Gordon Smith on 11 Jun 2008 - 121.1.30.70 whois?
In reply to Steve Long: Why was the Frendo as your first alpine route a dumb mistake? Sh*t happens ... as I can attest to mpre than most! It happens to us all - I remember ripping out an RP #1 aid nut almost at the top of the headwall on the Salathe, and flying about 20 feet (into the pitch black as it was night and my pal had the headtorch and I very very nearly crapped in my pants - I ended up hanging about 10 feet out from the rock not knowing where the h*ll I was) .... but I was sensible - I did it at a spot where there were no inconvenient bits of rock to get in the way!! That's the lesson to learn ... if you have to fall off, make sure to move any jaggedy bits of rock out of the way first. That day at the top of the Frendo was a good laugh - for the rest of us, though probably a bit too painful for you to be laughing!! I'm bl**dy glad you didn't give up alpine climbing and it sounds as though you've done well for yourself!! I am now seriously regretting that I gave up the game!! BTW I like the 'Grey Nick' moniker ... though to me he will always be 'Black Nick', the terror of the Biolay!!
Steve Long - on 12 Jun 2008
In reply to Gordon Smith: well, Black Nick gave up climbing for years but got back into it and is having a great time! Maybe you should come and join us all - you still obviously love a laugh and an adventure and those are still the main requirements! If you ever get out to Snowdonia I'll gladly show you what Gogarth looks like these days. I'm sure we could drag Nick out as well.

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