Perfect Partners #10 - Rab Carrington and Martin Boysen

© Neil Foster

In this series of articles, Tom Ripley interviews some well-known climbing partnerships to dig up their dirty secrets and find out what they really think of one another...

In the 1960s Martin Boysen was one of Britain's foremost rock climbers and leading mountaineers, making first ascents of now classic routes like The Skull on Cyrn Las and Cloggy's Black Cleft. He was also part of the 1966 attempt on Cerro Torre's SW Ridge and Chris Bonington's Annapurna South Face Expedition. Famously Boysen also got his leg stuck in a crack ("Americans would call it an offwidth crack. I called it something else.") on an early attempt on the Trango Tower.

Martin and Rab outside Ynys Ettws, reliving a fine day’s climbing on Dinas Mot.
© Neil Foster

Before Rab Carrington founded his eponymous down brand, he also was one of Britain's best climbers and alpinists. Making first ascents of routes like the Pin on the Shelterstone and the harrowing Pinch Direct on Etive Slabs. He also made an early repeat of Raven's Gully (listen to Rab read his Cold Climbs essay on that ascent here). Rab did much of his alpine climbing with Alan Rouse, notably making the first winter ascent of the Rébuffat-Terray on the Aiguille des Pélerins, a first ascent on the West Face of Aguja Poincenot and together with Brian Hall and Roger Baxter-Jones, the first ascent of the South Face of Jannu, in alpine style.

Rab and Martin started climbing together regularly in the early eighties when they both had young families, demanding careers and limited time off. After an abortive trip to Latok, they both gave up alpinism and have been climbing around the world together ever since.

Rab on Martin

How did you first meet?

Not such an easy question; the answer is fairly vague. We probably first "met" 45 years ago in Buenos Aires. We were both on separate trips to Patagonia and our paths intersected in the apartment of Edouardo Rodriguez, that may be the first time we met. However, 45 years ago the climbing community was considerably smaller than it is now and so everyone congregated in the same Pubs. So I possibly met him in the Moon or the Padarn. Though I may have "met" Martin all those years ago in no way did it mean that I knew him or climbed with him.

Did you know Martin by reputation before meeting him?

Oh yes! At that time there were a few recognised names in the climbing community. Brown & Whillans, Pete Crew. Martin was one of the elite, a God. He even featured in "Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia". Martin was renowned for his ability to drift over difficult passages of rock in a most languid manner. He had also done some of the hardest routes in Britain. So yes, I definitely knew of him.

What was your first impression?

Bearing in mind that at this point I hadn't climbed with Martin, I suppose my first impression was of a tall, somewhat dishevelled figure with a cigarette forever drooping out of the corner of his mouth.

What was the first route you climbed together?

When I first met Martin, I was climbing with Al Rouse (another long term partnership) and so I wasn't looking for new climbing partners. In 1979, my climbing with Al came to a sad conclusion on the slopes of Kang Taiga in Nepal when we had a major disagreement. Later that year, Sue and I moved to Altrincham where we joined the Altrincham All Stars on their Tuesday night romps. These centred on the Cheshire sandstone or Peak grit. Usually it involved soloing; rarely a rope. I traipsed along behind Martin as he encouraged me to solo Little Unconquerable on Stanage and Freddy's Finale at Wimberry... a daunting experience for me. The difference between us was he had a Master's Degree in jamming; I merely had a City & Guilds.

Rab and Martin at the top of Spanner Wall, Running Hill Pits.  © Neil Foster
Rab and Martin at the top of Spanner Wall, Running Hill Pits.
© Neil Foster

The first proper roped climbing that I recall was whilst we were both working in St Moritz on the Fred Zinneman film "5 Days One Summer". It was during this period that I really got to "know" Martin. Anyway, a crowd of us drove down to the Albigna area and Martin and I did a couple of new routes.

Why do you enjoy climbing with Martin?

Throughout the 80s and 90s both Martin and I (along with our wives) were busy working. We both had young families and as such time was precious. It was important that you had a reliable climbing partner. Martin was that person; always ready to get out climbing, keen to get away for the weekend; and always avid to go on holidays to unusual areas.

Reliability doesn't go far unless it is coupled with compatibility. As climbers, we both climbed about the same grade, generally we were equally brave, and Martin's ability in cracks compensated for my lack of jamming skill. Our ambitions were also well matched.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

For a couple of climbers (or a climbing couple) who have been together for thirty odd years it is very difficult to come up with a single stand out route and we have had many memorable days climbing. One of the days would have to be when we went to the Cromlech and I led Foil, Martin led Right Wall (with a cigarette break on the midway ledge) and I finished off with Resurrection. We have also had great days tucked into the Churnet away from the winter rains bouldering and chatting. However, if you want to be specific, I'll name two. On rock...The Rainbow of Recalcitrance must go down as one of the great routes of Welsh slate. The line is perfect, the holds minimal. We climbed it in fine style. However, on ice it must be Black Cleft on Cloggy. Martin had made the first ascent way back; we had a magical day doing it in perfect was still hard.

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Great climbing companion.

Martin is one of the "greats" of climbing as well as a great companion.

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

Being scared and climbing is a bad combination. It can get in the way of clear thinking. However, looking at it retrospectively, I would suggest a Winter route we did in Glencoe some years ago. I think it is called Crypt Route, on Bidean. Martin had done it before and declared it to be fairly straightforward. On this occasion the conditions couldn't have been so generous and the climbing was hard. I had led a particularly hard, but well protected, corner and ended up "belayed" on a little pulpit with little or no gear. I could look across at the plateau and fellow climbers were now descending; obviously daylight was drawing to a close. Martin had to lead up the last pitch. There was no gear and the climbing was continuously difficult. Skilfully, he engineered his way to the top. Any slip on his part and both of us would have been dead.

I don't think we mentioned the climb when we returned to our wives that evening. Sometimes you have to be selective about the day's events.

Rab takes a break from Mimosa, Running Hill Pits.  © Neil Foster
Rab takes a break from Mimosa, Running Hill Pits.
© Neil Foster

If you could change one thing about Martin what would it be?

In general, there is nothing I would change about Martin, although I could mention his winter dripping nose or the fact that he never tightens his bowline as much as I would like. However these are mere peccadilloes and hardly worth mentioning.

What are your plans for the future?

I think we are getting a bit old for having plans for the future. Over the years, we have learned not to make plans for the next day. Invariably, the weather is bad the next day and you have wasted all that time making plans.

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Martin?

Martin and I have climbed all over the world. We went to East Germany and Czechoslovakia whilst they were still behind the Iron Curtain. We've climbed in Australia and the Americas and had great times, however, only once did we climb in the Karakoram together. There were 4 of us and our objective was the magnificent North Ridge of Latok. Unfortunately, the climb was in very poor condition with too much bad snow. We made an attempt on it and had to contend with unstable snow slopes, a bivvy site which proved very inadequate and had to climb whilst being continuously bombarded by snow and ice. We abseiled off and returned home; not very enjoyable at all.

Has Martin ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

As I said previously, we never planned ahead, so I couldn't be disappointed. In recent years, I have done a lot more sport climbing in the UK, a genre that Martin is not so keen on. I've tended to pursue that midweek when I am not with Martin.

What have you learned from climbing with Martin?

How to jam. I've progressed from City and Guilds and now hold a very lowly Ordinary Degree in jamming.

Martin on Rab

How did you first meet?

In Buenos Aires. I was part of the Torre Egger expedition and Rab was part of a stalled expedition to Fitzroy waiting forever to clear customs.

Did you know Rab by reputation before meeting him?

Yes. I was aware of his feats on Scottish rock.

What was your first impression?

A fierce and angry man, with good reason; he was trying to negotiate the Argentinian red tape.

What was the first route you climbed together?

This was one evening on Wimberry. I soloed Freddie's Finale and Rab, not to be outdone, followed, which proved to be a daring feat with his limited jamming ability.

Martin starting Featherlight on Drws y Gwynt.
© Neil Foster

Why do you enjoy climbing with Rab?

We have complementary climbing skills but most importantly he is utterly reliable. He also has a good sense of humour and is fun to be with.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

This is a difficult one. We have had so many great adventures over the years. If I had to pick it would be Cerberus on Squamish Chief. I got the big pitch, and we had the delight of retrieving gear left by a young hotshot who had bailed.

Sum up your partnership in three words.

We like one another.

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

On Latok in the Karakoram. We were climbing in a heat wave and the snow was melting and dropping off the ridge like Mr Whippy. Then Rab climbed over 200ft up the steep and rotten snow to reach our high point. We could have died at any moment.

If you could change one thing about Rab what would it be?

I wouldn't dare!

Martin, Clare Reading, Donald King and Rab, at Halfway House, en route to Cloggy.  © Neil Foster
Martin, Clare Reading, Donald King and Rab, at Halfway House, en route to Cloggy.
© Neil Foster

What are your plans for the future?

If only!

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Rab?

We have climbed some sh*te over the years, but thankfully we are very tolerant and could enjoy just about anything.

Has Rab ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

No. We have frequently climbed with different partners and there has been absolutely no resentment towards what each other has achieved.

What have you learned from climbing with Rab?

I have learned that to climb hard slabs strong fingers are essential. I always thought it was all about footwork.

Thanks to Neil Foster for the images in this article.

About the Interviewer:

Tom Ripley  © Charlie Low
Tom Ripley has been climbing for over fifteen years in both the UK and abroad: personal highlights include an ascent of Denali's Cassin Ridge and first ascents in Patagonia and Peru. Tom is dedicated to sharing his obsession for all types of climbing through his work as a climbing instructor and guide.

Currently, Tom is part way through the British Mountain Guides' rigorous training scheme. And, as a trainee guide, he is qualified to guide and instruct rock climbing and mountaineering throughout the UK.

Whether you are interested in making the transition from indoor climbing to real rock, working towards your first lead climbs, gaining self-rescue skills, or climbing a classic route that has so far eluded you, Tom can help you achieve your goal. Staying safe, patience and adventure are always a priority. He can be contacted through his UKC profile.

7 Jun, 2018

Best perfect partners article yet.


7 Jun, 2018

Really enjoyed that. Heartwarming. Pictures complement the interview perfectly

7 Jun, 2018


8 Jun, 2018

Surely Mr Boysen deserves to have his complete name on the article link from the main page!

9 Jun, 2018

Great stuff.

Keep on trucking guys.

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