A Weekend with Duncan Drake

© BrianT
Dolomight wrote on 13 Sep 2007 ( thread)

On, or around, Sunday 9th September 2007 Duncan Drake (49) took his own life.

Duncan had climbed at the highest standards since 1980 when he and Pete Gomersall put up one of Britain's first E5s. He climbed grade VI on ice, A4/5 aid routes and, recently, 8a sport routes. He also caved at a high standard, was noticed by the British ski jumping team when one of his first jumps came close to the British record, and had a natural ability at any sport that was risky enough to interest him.

Four years ago he suffered a mental breakdown and overnight he changed from being one of the fixtures at Leeds Climbing Wall to giving up climbing altogether. He has been struggling with mental illness ever since. That struggle has now ended.

Because Duncan had climbed for so long, many of his earlier climbing partners have moved on and are difficult to contact so could anybody who knew him please pass on the sad news to those who might want to know. Please contribute to this thread (- click here -)

Ian Fenton continues below:

Duncan Drake soloing Black Wall Eliminate E2 5c
© BrianT, Jul 1982

Duncan Drake
© Ian Fenton
I had climbed with Duncan quite a few times, then I spent a weekend climbing with him. I guess this summed him up, it went as follows:

I had to work Saturday mornings, so I met him at Almscliffe at 1pm. He had soloed a few routes by the time I got there then we soloed together. We started off with Z Climb, Finale Slab, then Crack of Doom; Duncan then decided we should link them all! So I followed him soloing the NW Girdle, all the while Duncan checking I was OK and giving me a running commentary on the awkward bits. I begun to understand what a steady afternoons soloing was about. Then Duncan said he always finished off by doing a few shorter ones -- Dolphinian, Demon Wall and Black Wall Eliminate which certainly finished me off. Next was the trip back to his place in Bradford for a curry and a few beers.

The plan for Sunday was Malham. Some of the lads were doing necky aid routes whilst we were hitting the Right Wing. We did a few routes together, then Duncan disappeared off to the top of the crag for a few minutes for a quick pee I thought. I was to lead Wombat, which had recently become harder with the demise of the big flake at the top. I was beginning to feel the pace a bit, so with Duncan belaying I set off slowly and plodded up to the top of the groove, prior to the hard head wall. I committed and stood awkwardly on the final break, then went for the top but it was covered in a fringe of grass. I quickly moved slightly left, grabbed the top and ... I was flying down the crag.

Big cheers from the teams on the aid routes and great laughter from Duncan, and then encouragement to have another go.

"There's a huge jug on the top edge," he said.

Off I went up again, up out of the groove, this time reaching slightly rightward, again nothing I could hold and I went flying down the crag. More laughter, more cheers and this time Duncan made a real chuckle. I just knew I was being stitched up! He shouted to go again but I was doubtful.

"Just reach under the big fringe of grass."

Off I went, flicked a couple of turfs of grass off and grabbed the huge finishing hold, the bastard had put a turf over it!

There was hilarity all round the Cove. When he topped out he said we would just do Sundance Wall as a final route. I was fairly wasted, but went along. He set off quickly, and whipped up it, just struggling at the natural thread, from the ledge I could not see him. He shouted for me to second, my arms were like lead. I arrived at the natural thread to have one rope running up the outside (as it should do) and one rope running through the thread, he had stitched me up again. First that big tuft of hair, then his glasses appeared over the edge of the crag, and finally that mischievous grin. What could you do? I sorted out my ropes, and tried to be grumpy as I topped out but just ended up laughing with him. The bastard had got me again!

I climbed with Duncan for a while after this, went away on holiday with him, went to his wedding, then we drifted apart. More recently I met him route setting at Leeds Wall, and he was climbing very well, 8a+. He had obviously come to terms with sports climbing, but still believed in taking the fall. He probably now would have gone round crags breaking all the cheating clip sticks, just as he had gone round removing bolts when he felt passionately about them.

Great times out.

A great person.

A great loss to climbing.

Ian Fenton

Brian T has also posted some photos of Duncan at his (UKC gallery)

Duncan Drake
© Ian Fenton

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21 Sep, 2007
Looks familiar - did he solo the Freney Pillar in Chamonix in about 1984? Somebody who looked very similar to him did.
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