Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Right Angle HS at Gurnard's Head, Cornwall by Iain Peters and John Gerber. UKC user James Mann has submitted a fantastic photo feature and video interview to commemorate the event. We've been told that the full film has been kept secret from Iain - we hope it brings him many happy memories as he celebrates today!
On 26th of August 1966, Iain Peters and John Gerber set out along the West Penwith coast towards the Gurnard’s Head with the intention of making the first ascent of ‘the extreme to end all extremes.' While this didn’t quite turn out to be the case, they did succeed in climbing what has turned out to be one of Britain’s finest Severes, even provoking an admission from Ken Wilson that its omission from Classic Rock was, “One of the few mistakes in judgement I ever made.” The combination of its magnificent, wild surroundings, unlikely line and the grade of Hard Severe - wending its way through terrain usually reserved for harder routes - have justifiably made Right Angle an enduring classic and a memorable experience.
‘Nobody will ever want to repeat a route so easy. Where was the route that would make my reputation?'
Iain’s involvement with West Penwith stretches back to 1954, when as a six year old, he first stayed at the Count House with his grandfather, Admiral Keith Lawder, who was about to take on the hut's custodianship. On that trip they climbed Alison Rib, Black Slab and Ledge Climb on Bosigran and Iain was hooked. Over the next ten years or so, West Penwith and Bosigran especially, became the centre of his climbing universe and he climbed most of the existing routes, thus laying the foundations for a variety of later adventuring.
Living at the Count House during the summer of 1966, Iain, after a pint too many, was ejected from the Gurnard's Head Hotel and decided to walk back along the coast path in the rain. Peering over the edge, he saw the corner of what was to become Right Angle's final pitch and knew that he had to come back for an attempt.
That attempt came a few weeks later when he managed to persuade John Gerber, a visiting southern sandstone climber, to take a look. After pinching the hammer from the custodian’s cupboard and soloing up Doorpost to stock himself with a couple of Biven’s pegs, they wandered along the coast path.
Quickly, they found the traverse in to the ledge just above the sea, thumped in a peg and psyched up for the corner pitch. Iain climbed up to the roof fully expecting things to become desperate and to his surprise, the amenable corner pitch unfolded before him, easier and easier. He banged in his second peg at about eighty feet and continued to the top. As he brought up Gerber, Peter's feelings turned to anger, ‘Nobody will ever want to repeat a route so easy. Where was the route that would make my reputation?' They returned to the Count House where Iain, still feeling disappointed, wrote it up in the logbook. The rest, as they say, is history!
Wandering along the path out to the Gurnard’s Head, Iain’s affection for the route is clear as he recounts finding it. A rain squall blows in from the wild Atlantic as we reach the gearing up spot. A wasted walk? “Let’s take a look. It’ll dry fast if it stops raining.” Waves boom into the zawn as I photograph Iain and he swears at me. A party of five, big seas, rising tide way off low, howling wind, “Well we’re here now. Might as well give it a go.” Have I learned nothing?
Sometime later, we hunker into the belay beneath the corner as a wave hits first the two of us, and then Iain, who is hanging on tight about half way along the traverse. Iain reaches Sammy and me, who are by now soaked to the skin. Simon, who with his son Ben has already reached the top, snakes down a rope into which Iain ties and disappears upwards. Sammy and I weather more waves which fire out of the corner cave with increasing ferocity. My hands to stand on see Sammy up the slippery, soaking moves above the belay and then I am alone, braced against the icy blast which comes with every wave now. I look out to sea. I know before it reaches me that it won’t be good. As it rears up towards the cave, I grab the belay with both hands and hold on tight. An explosion of white cold. Boiling fear. I am now facing outwards, hands torn clean off the slings. Time to move. A thumb up from above and I pull apart the belay, stuffing the pieces into my saturated jacket. Stuffing myself into the unhelpful crack on the right, I fight past the roof and keep going for another thirty feet. Icy fingers claw and grasp, but no longer reach.
In the pub, post match analysis provides much laughter. Ben is twelve and won’t forget Right Angle in a hurry and Iain’s journey has come full circle, back once again to the Gurnard’s Head Hotel where on a dank, grey day in the summer of 1966 he decided to walk back along the coast path.
I’ll finish now and allow Iain to tell his tale, it is his, after all. But, before I do I must encourage you to take a walk along the coast path. You never know, you might just find a little treasure.
About the film
I recorded Iain back at the Count House later that night, with a half idea that I might write a little something about Right Angle. Watching it back the next day, I thought that others might wish to hear a little of his story and began to think about how I could share it. That’s when the film idea sprouted. I have never made a film before and I’ve kept it secret from Iain although his children and many of his friends are complicit. I hope you enjoy it. August 26th is the fiftieth, when hopefully fifty people will celebrate with Iain, a tiny, brilliant slice of history. I trust that the Admiral would approve.