UKC

Tony Willmott died 1972, anyone know any more?

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 profitofdoom 30 Jun 2024

Tony died in a solo fall off Direct Route (S 4a) at Avon in 1972. He was my best friend. I was out of the country when he died. I was later told that the rock was wet, he was going home (he chose to solo up rather than go up the path), he had a small backpack on, he was wearing home shoes, and he slipped off wordlessly and vanished out of sight. I know all of this from my friend (I asked him when I got back to the UK) who was tied in to someone else at the top of the pitch. He was watching Tony and saw what happened. That friend was naturally very upset about it. I believe Tony died in hospital a couple of days later. In a thread years ago people said he fell off the Arete, but that was wrong (as I said in a thread reply at that time).

What I'm asking respectfully now is - were any UKC readers there that day? Or know anyone who was, or heard anything at all about that day? Tony has been very much on my mind recently, maybe as I get older and frailer, or I don't know why. Now I am really really seeking anything anyone can add. Thank you very very much.

There was a brief article years ago in an Alpine Journal which offered few details, except to say it was an awful afternoon.

In my thread title I said "Tony Willmott died 1972, anyone know any more?" but I am not at all seeking memories of Tony other than of the day he died, or about what he had climbed or where he had been before: I knew all of that from Tony. What I am seeking is any memories or testimonies whatsoever from that awful day, thank you for understanding. PS Tony was a great guy and I still miss him. RIP Tony.

Many apologies and understanding and condolences for any of Tony's family, or friends, who may be reading this.

In reply to profitofdoom:

I knew Tony well (initially from him serving at the YHA climbing shop at Charing X, later on a trip to Andalsnes in 1969, then bumping into him occasionally at Avon Gorge around 1970-1.) All I can add, from someone who was there on that tragic day (I wasn’t) - can’t remember who it was - that he’d been smoking pot all morning/afternoon? and the implication was that he was a bit ‘high’/blotto when he set off home up some easy Severe. I remember him primarily as a great, larger-than-life character, absolutely bursting with enthusiasm, and always full of helpful climbing/equipment advice. A very tragic loss.

OP profitofdoom 30 Jun 2024
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Thanks very much for your super-helpful reply, Gordon. It was indeed "a very tragic loss", and yes Tony was "always full of helpful climbing advice": I climbed with him, and spent ages with him elsewhere. He was a far better climber than me, and very patient.

I had already heard persistent and no doubt true talk from witnesses about his imbibing that day. Thank you again for that anyway.

 Rob Exile Ward 30 Jun 2024
In reply to profitofdoom:

I met Tony not long before he died when he gave a lecture to Cheltenham MC about his ascent of North America Wall on El Cap. Both the slides and talk were inspirational. Afterwards he chatted to me and my mate - a couple of snotty teenagers - for hours, totally enthusiastic and totally non-patronising.

Not long afterwards, down the Gorge, I met the young lad (12, I think) who had found his body. Tony's mum had bequeathed all his gear to him - and there was a LOT of it - so the young lad, who was just starting to climb, 'wouldn't meet the same fate as Tony.' 

Post edited at 22:20
OP profitofdoom 30 Jun 2024
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

Thanks A LOT for your reply. I didn't know any of what you wrote in your 2nd paragraph. Fascinating and somehow comforting what Tony's Mum said and did. May that young lad climb long and safely and happily on Tony's gear.

 Sean Kelly 01 Jul 2024
In reply to profitofdoom:

Not sure if it has been mentioned, but reports at the time suggested he was soloing back to the top in hush puppies. Met Tony on the Mot who knew my climbing partner Dick from Pindisports. I always remember that big smile across his face. A sad loss before his time. Incidently  when we were traversing  Crib Goch the previous Christmas Day, Dick wanted to drop a tab of Acid. Fortunately I managed to talk him out of it. The consequences of such actions are too dreadful to contemplate, but drugs were quite prevalent at the time with some climbers.

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OP profitofdoom 01 Jul 2024
In reply to Sean Kelly:

> Not sure if it has been mentioned, but reports at the time suggested he was soloing back to the top in hush puppies......

Thanks a lot for your reply. Yes, Tony was definitely soloing in home shoes when he fell off (as I said in my OP. This is from my friend who was just above him when he fell and watching him closely.)

PS Bristol climbers at that time smoked joints very occasionally in the Gorge, but in my experience never climbed after one. Just my observation. EDIT, I am not at all contradicting Gordon about Tony imbibing before his fall. Just saying what was typical for Bristol climbers in those days. 

Post edited at 13:22
 jimtitt 01 Jul 2024
In reply to profitofdoom:

Reality check! I climbed with Tony for a couple of years and hung around with the Brisol boys a lot, cannabis was not the recreational substance of choice.

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 DaveHK 01 Jul 2024
In reply to jimtitt:

> Reality check! I climbed with Tony for a couple of years and hung around with the Brisol boys a lot, cannabis was not the recreational substance of choice.

Doesn't sound like the op needs a reality check on that, sounds like he's saying much the same as you.

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OP profitofdoom 01 Jul 2024
In reply to jimtitt:

> ......and hung around with the Brisol boys a lot, cannabis was not the recreational substance of choice.

Certain you didn't live in Bristol through the whole 1970s, you might be very surprised. Of course it wasn't the substance of choice. That doesn't mean it wasn't consumed

In any case this thread is just about one awful day in 1972. Also in any case you might direct your comment to Gordon, who raised the issue 

Post edited at 17:35
 Philb1950 01 Jul 2024
In reply to jimtitt:as 

Obviously clean living in the South West. I well remember lots of climbers smoking dope and getting shit faced in the 70,s, some world famous rock climbers and mountaineers. Once  (I,ll not name him) I went climbing at the Roaches along with Tim Lewis, then the editor of Mountain after some mushrooms and we took a bean tin climbing, which seemed a good idea for some reason, dutifully tying it on in the middle and belaying below Sloth, much to the abject horror of a schoolmaster who obviously recognised said climber. At one of the early Kendals one group of worthies were wandering up the middle of the river completely out of it. So it was prevalent. Another UK team on The Nose were noted by a local to be going slow, whereupon Jim Bridwell commented “ If you were packing as many drugs as those guys you wouldn’t get off the goddam ground” Jim liked a spliff as well. Can’t comment on Tony as I didn’t know him, but there were rumours.

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 Rob Exile Ward 01 Jul 2024
In reply to profitofdoom:

Um ... I smoked my first joint on Lunchtime Ledge with a climber who was about my age (16 ish) but even then quite famous, I'm pretty sure we soloed to the top afterwards.

Bonkers.

In reply to profitofdoom:

I am simply repeating what I heard at the time, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, yet I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that would be made up.

Also, completely coincidentally, my friend Steve Dean, whom I met much later in my climbing career (once I’d moved to Derby), told me that he happened to turn up at the Gorge on the day of the Willmott tragedy, only about an hour afterwards, IIRC. 

 Rob Exile Ward 04 Jul 2024
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

I wonder if he was the same lad I met at the Gorge, a few weeks later? Experimenting with Tony's bolt kit?

In any case if that's the Steve Dean who wrote Hands of a Climber, tell him from me that it's a damn good book!


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