Andy Pollitt dusts off the photo albums and reminisces with another of Britain's top climbers in the '80s - Stevie Haston. Despite not being the best of friends in their youth, the pair seem to have mellowed with age and made up...
Ha, Ha, Haston.
By Andy Pollitt [with the intelligent bits contributed by my mate Charlie Creese].
Nah dear readers I haven't developed a st, st, stutter as yet, it's just that Stevie Haston regularly cracked me up and split my sides with his self-opinionated braggadocio back in the 1980s in what these days of H&S Regulations would probably be tantamount to workplace bullying.
Indeed, to pinch a classic old movie line; 'I first met Stevie Haston many, many years ago when he was an angry old man.'
But honestly, Mr. Haston was somewhat like a bullying big brother towards Jerry Moffatt and me when he 'ruled the roost' in North Wales, was 'Boss Cocky' [extremely cocky actually] and Jez and I were youthfully improving by two on-sight trad lead E- grades a month. Yet whilst some of Steve's posturing may've been considered a tad OTT, he most certainly brought a welcome splash of colour to an otherwise dreary, grey North Wales. [I think Andy Boorman came up with that line]?
Yeah see, Jerry and I were definitely the two best 16yr old climbers around the coast at the time and Steve - who was about six years our senior - just knew he wouldn't hold his 'reigning champ' status for much longer and we figured that realisation irked him something rotten.
As a 54 year-old man now, with Steve being sixty, I guess we can both look back at those highly competitive times and probably share a few mutual cringes. And hopefully a chuckle too.
See really, Stevie had two clear and distinct options there: take us two kids under his wing, nurture us, offer advice and guidance and be our friend - or shun us and belittle our efforts. I mean, of all the kids in the adoption agency me and Jez were the only climbers [sc]reaching out for help! We probably coulda 'n shoulda pooled our resources really, but we're talking three of the biggest egos ever here - so us three settled on adversarial stances.
No, Stevie never 'came to the party' so things became - and remained, particularly 'frosty' for several years.
Now in discussing our collaboration for this article it became apparent he was somewhat ambivalent at first but eventually succumbed to my charm and doubtless he'll be along any moment [he's 2,625 in to another 3,000 pull ups apparently].
Yet we need not dwell on tawdry times past, though in Steve's own words in an email just the other day: 'You know I thought you and Jerry were a pair of jerks."
Oh, and here he comes now look...
Thanks Andy, I'll tell you the truth also. Loads of people have pulled the "Stevie Haston is a violent thug" thing with me recently in books and stuff, and I'll just say this; most people simply like me, and I am nice to people who are nice to me. In the past (and it is in the past) ethical arguments could sometimes get heated. And please, the arguments were certainly not just by me.
Differing ethics country-wide led to lots of confusion and sometimes heated arguments; look at the crazy stuff about Indian Face. I was brought up to respect the best kind of ethics even though I, like many, bent them when it suited me or when I was weak.
Today much of yesterdays' tittle-tattle can be forgotten and we can look instead at the great routes. Having said that it's nice to be able to out-climb Jerry, Dawes et al as they are fat and over the hill.
Speaking of you and Jerry; you both grew slowly into great climbers. You added great routes and although Jerry only added Master's Wall it was his day of soloing on the Cromlech a few days before that I thought pretty good and deathly bold.
AP: Fair play Stevie but Jerry also did Masterclass, Oyster [free] and Liquid Ambar in North Wales don't forget.
So you were there on Cloggy when Jerry did Masters Wall yeah?
SH: Yes I was on Medi and Jerry stopped and looked up at me cos he was stuck high above gear and asked what to do….I said "Jerry old son you gotta go for it, you're way too far above your gear, go for it slowly." I was terrified for him.
AP: You didn't fancy Indian Face? Or The Bells?
SH: No, I had too much respect for Dawes and Redhead on that type of ground. I climbed with them both and they were both masters of the steep slab. I was good on slabs but I preferred steep, and I wanted to party rather than leave a legacy. You must make a difference between people like me who were just players in climbing and others who saw climbing as a stage to write their name in lights. I also had great respect for the Sheffield lot who were improving the tech side of climbing.
AP: You knew me and our mate Paul Williams and everybody, how did you actually feel towards us [really?] as you never showed much affection.
SH: I loved you both. Paul could be silly with his Tory views and his Daily Mail reading but without Paul and his "fathership" a lot fewer routes would have been done.
AP: Fathership, yes, defo.
SH: Yes he kinda adopted people, he was a good friend to Ron Fawcett and to you, wasn't he? I climbed with Paul a lot but we had some big arguments about politics.
And you, you went from a snotty-nosed kid to being a great climber who mopped up some great routes like Skinhead Moonstomp. I always liked you because you weren't quite mad-as-f*ck Welsh climbing, but not boring Peak scene either - you were a better mix. [AP: Aww, stop it]. Notice I don't say we 'Welshies' were the best or anything, we just had a different approach and within our group we were different too. I liked loose rock more than most, and I was prone to taking the piss out of micro routes, things that I thought were trivial. I thought much of the peak trivial or too short - you know this otherwise you wouldn't have come over so much to nick some of our best lines!
AP: Right, good to have that done & dusted but let's go back to your roots – and routes. You were born in Malta? Or of Maltese descent and grew up in London yeah?
In 1979 you made the 2nd British winter ascent of The Eiger Nordwand and established the 1st ever Scottish grade IX with an ephemeral new route you christened Terminator in Snowdonia – a place you'd go on to call 'home' for an extended period throughout the nineteen eighties and nineties.
So it was the climbing that lured you away from 'the big smoke' then yeah?
SH: I was born in London, I am a cockney. Where I lived in London honestly looked like Beirut. Behind our block of flats were scrappy, bombed-out sites and the main drag had four brothels. I first went to live in Bradford, met good climbers at Bradford wall and Almscliffe. I did lots of soloing, broke my leg, blah.
Alex Huber bought a cow farm in Bavaria and he once said "Stevie you know you should do the north face of the Eiger, I just did it and it was harder than I expected." I had of course done it back when he was still in nappies!
AP: So what was so memorable for you about the eighties around Llanberis?
SH: It's easy Andy, the routes and the climbers and the fun. A completely different time, hardly any money (me and most of my mates didn't have a car and many were dossing on peoples' sofas). Parties, wine, women and song. I could do new routes when I had the motivation, explore, there were good friends there like Shagger, Yob, Mansick and the crew.
AP: But how were the routes special [and whilst I know the answer many readers might not]?
SH: The routes tackled were sometimes at or even above the limit of the climber. Take Indian Face; it was done or attempted by guys who had about 8a ability on bolts! Today that route will be attempted by people with 8b+ ability, so you see the difference – 'sporting' eh!
And who were the characters? Well there were lots for me, they stretch back further so you have Hank Pasquil and Ray Evans who tried lots of things on-sight before us. This previous bravery - even when unsuccessful sometimes, started a precedent which prevented people from cheating or doing too much inspection. Lots of stuff was badly cleaned, partially cleaned, or just briefly checked on a quick ab rope to see whether they were possible. "Possible" was often an optimistic assessment!
AP: I remember loads of us regularly gazing out the windows of Pete's Eats, staring at that amazing looking sheet of grey-blue rock across the lake in Vivian [slate] quarry. Well it was you who made the first move and produced one of the all-time iconic Welsh rock climbs ever – Comes the Dervish. It was E5 back then, very thin, well protected with small wires but really tough on the calves. I fail to comprehend how many ascents it's had by now but highly likely it's up there – if not surpassed Cenotaph Corner or Cemetery Gates up in the Pass. I imagine you're very proud having that one on your extensive resume?
SH: Not really! I showed the way with its quality but I stubbornly refused to put the odd bolt in. This was stupid of me (I can be) so I lost out on some great routes. I do love the colour of slate, I like the drabness of it, the empty soul, sombre morbidity, and the fear as you hear your runner tinkling down the slab cos you kicked it out! I preferred Reefer Madness - an E2, and Ron's face on it. Or Four Wheel Drift.
AP: Was it sometime in the later nineties you headed over the pond to discover the towering spires of the desert and free-climbed the 1000' Titan – a stand-out amongst the Fisher Towers via a series of desperately loose crevices called Sundevil Chimney? Care to expand?
SH: Our colonial cousins can be a bit slow on the uptake so they didn't realise Fisher Towers rock is really gritstone. American climbers before me had tried but failed - the great and late Charlie Fowler being among them. Sundevil has a few hard sections and I took some big whippers on it. 900 foot, in the sun, it was winter, finished in the dark, abseil, beers and sleep in the dirt. No bullshit with hashtags, a bit like North Wales in our old days but bigger!
AP: I suppose my chronology's a bit off but being such an outstanding and accomplished all-rounder I have always been so impressed by many, many, [Very Many actually] of your achievements Steve. From the gnarliest roof cracks on the planet to some of the utter horror shows you climbed on Gogarth [EG: Isis is Angry: Well you'd be bl**dy angry too if every time someone touched you a bit fell off!] and the Lleyn Peninsula and to what I believe is your real passion – the Alps, where you proved yourself unquestionably as one of the finest protagonists of all time.
Your proudest Alpine achievement?
SH: I was climbing in the Alps in winter at 16 years old.
Pride might not be the right word Andy, it's more proper due process for me. Certain mountains require a certain approach, a certain esprit. I soloed nearly a hundred hardish big routes. I snowboarded lots of steep couloirs, I climbed beautiful cascades. My finest achievement was sharing this with my ex-wife Laurence who loved the mountains too. A physical embodiment of this love was when I soloed The Walker Spur in winter. I'd been down south baby-sitting a depressed Patrick Edlinger, living on nuts and berries. I came back raging fit.
AP: And like a fine wine you've not only matured but literally gotten so much better with age. I mean, 9a sport at 58? Now come on, that's bl**dy ridiculous man!
SH: Climbing with better climbers, opening your mind so you climb without fetters. Training, yoga, having a harbour where you can hide from the storm. And then of course you need to want it. "Authentic desire" as Redhead might have said. "Legacy" as Dawes might have wanted, love and respect as generally most want. In my case I really love big roofs, and some were beauties. Hard work though as you know. Age is a construct; a set of chains and chains are for clipping not restricting you. Lots of people gave up too young like Jerry, while others continue - look at Mr Moon he did 9a at 48 after me and he looked magisterial on it!
AP: So now we find you residing back in Malta, Gozo to be precise and climbing on your beloved sea cliffs and deep-sea diving. You talk on your personal blog that you sometimes feel "old" but heck mate, you're as fit as a Mallee Bull*.
* An Aussie-ism and self-explanatory.
Before I forget, Charlie states that Caravaggio hid out on Malta whilst on the run, so this poses the question; "So, Stevie, what did you do?"
Anyway, as you glide [gracefully or otherwise] into your early sixties and with another thirty-odd years to go hopefully, who, how, why, where, what and when brings you the most joy these days? Is it the memories? Moments of quiet reflection perhaps, or the 'now' or even the future and do you still breed rabbits?
SH: Climbing still rocks my boat. Parties don't. Meeting up with the crew from the Peak or Wales is fun - remember I lived in Wales and was previously one of the original Stoney dossers too. Today I like watching people do my good routes here on Gozo, seeing their joy. I do also like sharing my sport with people, teaching etc. When I was young I was more selfish and a bit highly strung.
AP: My brother Dave and his talented wife Val own & run Yoga Hotspot in the wealthy suburb of Chatswood, Sydney. I know you're a keen yoga participant so out of the kindness of our hearts the Pollitt bros. wish you all the best with your Upward and Downward Dogs, Side Crows and Reverse Triangles.
SH: Yoga is good for me, it helps me moderate myself, I did it when I was young but my energies were huge then. Still today yoga is more important for my Free Diving and interpersonal stuff.
AP: The research and development and promotional work you do with Grivel and Scarpa affords you some spondoolies plus the ability to travel the globe, which must be tiring yet nice at the same time. How does that fit in with your peaceful island lifestyle? It must always feel great to get home after yet another trade show in Utah, Munich or Taipei? Oh, and you do a bit of guiding down there too don't you?
SH: I don't travel much, I miss the mountains but that desire, that fire we spoke of is largely gone. The times we had, are they possible now? All that death, all those mates "brown bread". If - as you said, we had all been chummy we might have taken climbing to a new level. I miss my mates holding my ropes, looking after my back. I miss seeing you Andy. Ben and Jerry coming through, it was an ascending curve. My mates Chris Gore, Mick Fowler etc. too. Don't forget it was not just northerners; that's just revisionist history. Also don't forget Pat Littlejohn and Pete Livesey. Throw in Phil Davidson (first solo of Right Wall) you see. And obviously you know as well as I, it wasn't the numbers, there were lots of smiles, chuckles, belly laughs, and outright hysterics along the way. But my path was a bit darker. I lost lots of mates, so climbing, partying and snowboarding etc. took the shadows away.
AP: Well Stevie old mate that was a blast and I can't thank you enough for taking the time.
As our curtain closes though, I must remind you for the umpteenth time to write your autobiog sometime alright.
Oh, and come visit me down here in Oz.
SH: I would like to add Andy that I feel very privileged to have shared UK climbing with so many great people. The stories, the routes, so many brave leads by so many brilliant climbers, probably my proudest thing is however knowing so many of the UK's fabulous climbers, but also many Frenchmen/women and Americans and just being part of it.
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