To celebrate their 75th birthday, the British Mountaineering Council teamed up with Land and Sky Media to create a film that connected modern climbing with their heritage in 1944. In this short film, Gilly McArthur and Charlie Woodburn head to the wilds of Arran to climb Sou'wester Slabs (VD). Sou'wester Slabs, featured in the Classic Rock book is a 100-m VD climb on Cir Mhor, Arran. Featuring slab and crack climbing on superb mountain granite, it was first climbed by G H Townsend, G C Curtis, M J H Hawkins and H Hore on 03 September 1944.
My first multi pitch route, lead and solo. Good to see this anniversary celebrated. The anniversary of 100 years climbing on the Isle of Arran went by unnoticed in 1989. Not even a mention in the SMC journal!
A great little film of a classic climb but I especially liked the last piece of music. It was a slide guitar track credited to JP Charleaux but a Google search draws a blank. Does anyone out there have a link to more of this stuff?
I did it as my first multi pitch lead in 1983. It was also my first multi pitch route. I then did a solo up then down. Then used it quite often as a decent route for the neighbours. There is a fast a bb via three tiers chimney down to West flank chimney tat. Express elevator for the face.
Curtis and Townhead were stationed at Fairlie marine yard during the war. Across the road in Fairlie is road side crag that has no routes recorded. In 1982 I was having a look at the crag when a old guy approached me and said during the war the commandos were training there. Always made me think just what these boys were up to?
Wow, this video really tried to do a lot of different things all at once! Unfortunately, it didn't really manage to do any of them, which is a shame.
The huge granite-plated armadillo of Cir Mhor definitely deserved a video all for itself - and I was really excited for that. Unfortunately, it got squashed out by a lot of babbling about "heritage".
I think the history of climbing in the UK, and the way it shapes UK climbing today, is a really important thing to understand. But, Lynn Robinson, the BMC President and others simply keep restating how important it is, without actually explaining what they see of importance in that history and why. E.g. she mentions putting in gear and clipping in a hemp rope - I'm not even sure what "gear" was being used when hemp ropes were still in use. Weren't nylon ropes being used in the late 50s or early 60s? She also mentions people from other countries being jealous of our traditions... I really doubt that, to be honest. Does climbing ethics have to be constructed as a kind of badge of our moral superiority as a nation... or... as a somewhat dubious national export?
This is also interesting, because Lynn is shown in Manchester with a reggae/ska song in the background. But, much of the history of climbing the UK is actually one of a white, male leisured middle class using their holiday time to "explore" the world, linking up with colonialism and nationalist projects. At the same time, the working class of Manchester and other northern cities also have a very important part in that history (the climbs chosen could have explored this...). Which part of our "heritage" are we taking forward and why?
It's not enough just to mindlessly evoke "heritage". This kind of vague nostalgia doesn't serve anyone.
p.s. I think "trad" climbing is a complete misnomer: there's a good argument to be made that it is actually one of the most modern of all forms of climbing. Although there is a place for bolting, especially beyond the UK, the advancements in climbing protection since the 1970s mean that a less discriminating approach to bolting and crag conservation looks increasingly like a real historical misstep.
> Yep, got to agree, I did the route more years ago than I care to remember, and was looking forward to the film. Pretty poor effort in my opinion, was neither one thing nor an other.
That's a bit harsh. Nothing stopping anyone making a you tube video themselves. I actually couldn't believe it when I seen the topic as I've loved climbing in the place since a schoolboy in the early 80s. Glen Rosa is no longer a bog trot as referenced from classic rock. The path repairs in both Rosa and Sannox have been an amazing improvement. I actually ran through in trainers in mid March with dry feet something I would never previously thought possible. I also can't imagine climbing Souwester slabs today is no different to 1944. Probably Labyrinth is : )
I would love to see a drone footage of Gully A. Just to see why it has repelled some of the great climbers of the past century. To have an unclaimed gully surrounded by routes by Naismith, Raeburn, Bell, Skidmore, Little, Andy Nisbit, Haskett Smith, Bill Wallace (My first guide book author) not to mention Curtis and Townend. Must be a major route!
Totally agree, planning on going to Arran next year and was looking forward to seeing a film about the climb. Maybe title should have been BMC's Birthday climb as my memory of the photo of the crag from classic rock sticks out in my mind more than any of the climbing in the film.
Think as others have also said, trying to do too much in such as short space, that just sat wandering what it was actually about.
Also watching a guy fudging his ropes at start isnt greatest thing to see
The first ascent in question was in 1944. The protection used for ascents with hemp ropes were knotted rope slings placed over spikes and around chocks or trees.
The BMC bigwigs maybe assume too much at times about how much climbers, mountaineers and hillwalkers realise why our history is important (as it's a significant factor behind the access we have today and the healthy range of games we play and the influence on the world in that) but there have been regular events and initiatives over the years from anniversaries of the Kinder Trespass to an internal Mountain Heritage charity (that could currently do with some financial donations, as they have been successful in attracting some significant recent gifts to the archives (including Chris Craggs' slide collection) but are struggling to fund the cost of processing everything new in the timely fashion that they would prefer).
After writing my comment, I did think about the mention of Kinder Trespass. It's a really important part of our heritage to take forward: the demand for access, for common land open to all.
I think it would be good for this to have been explained more and for this to be not just a point of nostalgia but connected up to contemporary struggles, not only over access to land but also over land management.
In general, I would like to a see a more activist BMC, e.g. one that is openly against grouse moors, cuts to local authority budgets that impact on conservation and ranger services and for things like renewed investment in public transport or in schemes to help young people access the outdoors. When we evoke our heritage, I would like it to be with the idea that we are moving forward with a progressive vision in mind, rather that simply clinging on to convenient tropes and manoeuvering in a conservative manner to simply "defend what we have".
I assume West flank route? A few metres to the right is sickle and i would love to see that. I did the moves on a fixed rope stepping over the water trickles and that was when it was dry! Never seen anyone climb it and it used to have a bit of a reputation of being a non route. As it was it was just very undergraded. Did you put your video on you tube? I would like to watch it if you have a link?
Sickle is actually quite a good route Fraser, a wee bit of crumbly stuff near the bottom, but not as hard as Bill Wallace made out. I thought HVS 5A. West Flank is just superb, the best route on The Pinnacle in my opinion, it ought to be the real classic, but I suspect the initial chimneys put folk off.
My wife and I paid Cir Mhor a visit in 2018, and I was quite taken aback at the amount of revegetation on many of the routes, it seemed as if the only ones getting any traffic were Sou'wester Slabs and South Ridge Direct. Bit sad really...…...
If I remember right it was originally graded severe and a old guide book I had said many had failed on it. Likely due to this reason. I'm sure the very old wee burgundy Arran climbing book had it as hard severe. Got a look through a friends dad's copy many moons ago.
Talking guide books I'm still using your one. Albeit anything new in the past 20 years I probably couldn't get off the ground on. Only had to stick the cover back on once after my son as a toddler tore it off. Good value there!
Jeez just checked the 1988 guide and the above paragraph info came from that one. (Yours!).
I did climb it one day but on a fixed line. I abbed from a thread below the big overhang. The one at the top of the flake system of SWS. It did seem a nice climb and I wish I did climb it properly rather than grab a quick half hour before joining everyone at three tier chimney.
> I assume West flank route? A few metres to the right is sickle and i would love to see that... Did you put your video on you tube? I would like to watch it if you have a link?
Ok maybe more than a few metres! We actually went with the intention of trying West Flank but it was covered in a sheet of ice. Probably for the best as it would have been quite a big push for us.
We opted for South Ridge Direct and found the unnecessarily hard way to start. Didn't manage the final easy stretch up the top of the pinnacle as a snow flurry came in. Ran back down by head torch and missed the last ferry. Couldn't ask for a better day.
Have been back since to try but was tricked by the weather forecast again (a repeated occurrence, hence the name of the video). Nothing special, just some headcam footage: vimeo.com/297814568