Ed Drummond was probably the most visionary figure in British climbing history. He left a legacy of stunning routes and superb writing. And he had a reputation for having the most complicated, mercurial character imaginable.
The climbing world has been blessed with such 'characters' over the years, of which few could match Drummond for talent as well as controversy.
Thank you Mick for this fascinating retrospective; this site too is blessed by your immense contributions.
Fantastic article Mick. You caught his essence and put it into words far better than I ever could. If the text had not mentioned his name I would still have known who it was about. That's a seriously valuable talent you have.
Nice article, thanks.
I don't think it's correct to write that "In the 1990s, Drummond attempted a 'Climb for the World' ... it failed to find the requisite funding."
That initiative did indeed go ahead, and culminated in an ascent of the Eiger in September 1991 by various routes (Sylvia Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridwell did the 1938 route), along with simultaneous ascents of other peaks in the UK. And it got a reasonable amount of publicity at the time.
Great article. Minor quibble I thought the reason that he was found not guilty in damaging the lightning conductor on Nelson's Column was that somebody produced a photograph showing the alleged "damage" was already there prior to the ascent.
Whether everyone involved in UK climbing realizes it or not, with the passing of Ed Drummond we have lost an Icon...He was his own man, an individual, a real adventurer who was prepared to put himself on the line for his vision, a climber who seemed as happy to court controversy as danger, both audacious & tenacious. Although I never knew him he was a character who has had a big influence on my climbing (he was even from my home town !) I raise a glass to you Ed, may your adventurous spirit fuel the hearts of British climbers for generations to come.
Well written Mick.
Ah Mick, you have done it again, and pulled a majestic piece of writing out of your bag. It sums up Drummond and his life and achievements in a climbing sense perfectly for me. It's respectful, questioning, reverent, refreshing and elegiac.
Fine, fine work.
Fantastic description of one of the more controversial figures of the 60s/70s - the things left unsaid (and things unknown) make the article as thought provoking as the subject.
A perfect tribute
As an aging American climber who was weaned on Mountain Magazine and yearned for the uncouth, untroubled appearance of young British anarchists exploiting their way through the Alps, or threatening petrels on seastacks as waves crashed beneath, reading about the passing of yet another legend brings great sadness.
At least in the States, modern climbing has gained wide acceptance, and mainstream popularity, with the loss of its eccentric, dark, and lonely shadows. Brits seemed far more introspective and literate, contrasted with the "World's Greatest Climb, by the World's Greatest Climber - Me" rubberstamped articles that made one magazine indistinguishable from the next, or last, or previous decade's.
So many of the great visionary climbers are vanishing, while there are very few other mere sports activities I can think of, that can even use the word "visionary" in a sincere context.
A lovely tribute to a complex and brilliant climber. Only met him once in the late sixties at Stoney. He mysteriously appeared above us while we were doing the last pitch of Alcasan.
Correction to article. The three day court case regarding criminal damage to the lightening conductor took place at Knightsbridge Crown Court. John Mortimer declined to defend Ed. Instead Margarita Russell was the barrister.
The case was dismissed because I organised detailed photographs to be taken prior to the erection of ladders lashed to the lightening conductor. Photographs were then taken following the alleged repair of the lightening conductor. These photographs demonstrated the lightening conductor was left in a worse condition as a result of repair than it was prior to the ascent.
I rest my case my lord.
Thanks Mick, a superb tribute.
Maybe we shouldn’t judge anybody after their performance on only one route. Or after only one meeting. I met him only the once, after his appearance at Kendal the year ‘The Long Hope’ was released. I’d driven up to see his talk alone, as I had to return immediately due to a prior engagement. I would have driven up several times over to see him, he was – is – my favourite climbing writer. I have only ever experienced ‘flow’ once outside of actually climbing, and this was during his ‘performance’. Good writing is one thing: few can also perform it, never mind as well as he did. I couldn’t not meet him afterwards: I just wanted to say thanks. My father would have been with me that day if he hadn’t been ill and died only weeks earlier. I told Ed this and he was immediately very compassionate, wanting me to tell him all about my Dad. His status as my climbing hero was sealed, this single meeting notwithstanding. ‘Never meet your heroes’ is the maxim: who better to break the rule.
Thoughtfully and sympathetically written. I've read some of his thoughts in magazines like High and others, and they've always stuck in my mind, him talking about the hills near where he lived being 'like the ramparts of heaven' compared to his urban life made an impression on me.
Thanks for a great article, nice to find out more about him. I remember reading his piece on great wall years ago and feeling intimidated and enchanted in equal measure. Was elated when I finally did it. I can't imagine getting on it with the gear of fifty years ago, and after only a year or two of climbing!
Nice article Mick and a great tribute. I am not sure know how I managed not to meet Ed ! We were climbing in Wales at the same time and he even applied for a lecturing post at the same college as me in Sheffield. He was not offered the post and I remember the Head of Department saying to me that he was quite suitable but seemed more interested in climbing ! Maybe Ed overplayed the climbing bit.
But I did nearly meet him as I was on Cloggy climbing with Davey Jones on the Far East on the day he did Great Wall. After our climb Davey and I arrived back at the foot of the East Buttress to find Ed about 50 feet up on the route with Pete Crew holding the ropes - Ken was buzzing about taking photos but I do not remembering Martin being there. Ed was climbing slowly and carefully (my style) and was in complete control. I was sat on the grass talking to Pete who was maybe six feet away when someone high up (not Ed) knocked a fist sized rock down which landed between Pete and myself - it was one of my "near misses". As an aside, climbing in shorts on Cloggy in those days was an absolute rarity, but he did admit to being cold.
I am not familiar with his literary work but his climbing achievements speak for themselves. For me his ascent of Great Arete on Lech Ddu was particularly impressive. Mo and I climbed The Groove in 1961 which shares a belay with his route, but of course we went left into the groove - the thought of going straight up never entered our minds.
So, although we never actually met I think he would have been an interesting guy to know - such a pity he never got that job in Sheffield.
A great piece of writing Mick. Thanks for the wee mention. I remember sending a photo of him on Censor into Tim Lewis. It was published and credited to Ian Smith. I never did get my £10.
Anyway, a remarkable man with so many quotable statements. `I erred and was willing to err'.
I particularly value his contributions on Gogarth. That must have been a terrifying place back then.
A life well lived.
Many thanks to people for their kind comments. I suppose I've been fascinated by Ed Drummond for so long that I've failed to realise so many others are equally fascinated. In an age of characters, a remarkable one.
Jim Perrin, who has a memory like an elephant (far better than mine) pointed out that Joe Brown's actual comment re guiding someone up The Boldest was, "Not bad value, two quid a day!" If Drummond ever found out what Jim got for guiding David Nott up Great Wall, some five years later, he'd have gritted his teeth in despair.
More importantly (and I completely forgot this) Jim was taking a mate up Peapod when Drummond was, ahem 'working' on Linden and it was a lot more than dots for skyhooks. Having said that, he did later agree he was wrong. He seems to have been an almost tactlessly honest person most of the time (e.g. Boje's interview tale) but maybe got into denial sometimes where climbing was concerned (e.g. the slip/fall on High Tor). My feeling is that when climbing crosses the line between determination and obsession, normal perspective just goes right out the window.
I'm grateful to Rob Parsons for pointing out that 'Climb for the World' went ahead, at least in some form. Bridwell and Silvia Fitzpatrick on the Eiger - a pretty determined pair.
Am also grateful to Colin Rowe for explaining about the trial/lightening conductor. I could never understand the trial supposedly being at the Old Bailey (thought it was for proper bad 'uns). Interesting to compare the French reaction with Mike Robertson soloing the Eiffel Tower. "What'd you do that for?" "Protest about human rights abuses in Burma. Just felt I had to do something." (Some hours later.) "Fair enough then, off you go." Surely a much more mature response?
Re Drumond not getting a place on the 1968 team on the second ascent of the North America Wall, Ian Parsons pointed out that Royal Robbins had already done it (FA!!) He was trying to get Drummond onto a team with Don Lauria and Dennis Hennek but they weren't having it. Ian also pointed out that Drummond's version of Flaky Wall, with five skyhooks for aid (he liked his skyhooks) was called Hook Crook Wall (geddit?) When Pete Livesey completely freed it, he renamed it Bulldog Wall (geddit?) People power seems to have restored it to Flaky Wall (phew!)
Am grateful to Ian Jones for taking the photograph of Drummond on Censor, that day. It somehow got credited to Ian P Smith in Mountain. I always thought it was Ian Smith, who did take the great photo of Drummond up his tripod. But he says not. So who's got your £10, mate? That's a couple of pints I owe you.
Fascinating account by Boje of actually seeing Drummond do Great Wall. How I'd love to have been there. His essay is a thing of timeless beauty.
One could argue about Drummond's character forever - but there's probably no point. Most of us get things wrong when we're young and spend the rest of our lives trying to do better. Mark Warwicker and others have pointed out that the later Drummond was a compassionate, sensitive and caring man. One way or another, his life was a very hard journey.
> Of his Avon routes, it seems to me the White Elephant was way ahead if its time. From what I remember, extremely tenuous and bold.
Yes, hard and advanced for its day, and it really launches straight up into scary territory for its time - although I'm certain I remember it had at least one aid point on the first ascent (can't remember, was it one or two pegs?): not that that much affects Drummond's achievement with the route. I wonder though if Last Slip was equally or more ahead of its time?? Debatable. (It's POSSIBLE that Last Slip also had an aid point on the first ascent - I'm trying to remember, but I can't recall. One thing though, I am absolutely not challenging/ denigrating Drummond's enormous achievements in any way, just having a discussion)
Edit, just noticed on UKC that White Elephant was originally done with 2 aid points, quote, "(E Ward Drummond, W O R Hill (2 pts aid) 21/May/1966)", and on Rockfax that Last Slip had one point
In the early 70's, I saw a climber ascending Question Mark on Flying Buttress with a rope trailing from his waist. Soloing Flying Buttress as a warm up, I thought. No, he went straight onto Flying Buttress Direct without placing any gear. When he came back down, I had the temerity to ask him who he was. Ed Drummond, he said. I knew it had to be someone special. It was a privilege to watch him climb. It's a sad day to hear of his demise.
I believe, at one point, he used to solo FBD on a regular basis. Obviously most of us get less bold, with age, but he seems to have been enviably bold for a long time.
Grant Farquhar, author of the brilliant The White Cliff, about Gogarth, has pointed out that 'Richard' (i.e. Alan) McHardy may well have beaten Al Harris to the second ascent of Strand. Drummond's challenge must have really thrown down the gauntlet! At least second ascentionists knew the route would be possible; first ascentionists didn't. Ed Drummond seems to have had the rare ability to take on the biggest challenges going and just make it happen, time after time.
McHardy was a very strong climber indeed and, the last I heard, he's still out there, doing the business. His route The Vikings is supposed to have been the hardest route in the Lakes, when he did it. Apparently he just ran up it. And the first solo of Vector (gulp!)
What a superb summary.
My happiest time with Ed must be when he came to stay in Denver in 1983. We climbed Athletes Feet in 2 hours on day one, Captain Beyond Day 2, Wunsch’s Dihedral with Braeshear’s Crack , Super Slab with a harder variation and finally Naked Edge on Day 5, finishing an hour before his flight back to San Francisco. He had spotted a great natural line right of Naked Edge but unfortunately for him it had been climbed 10 years earlier.
Next year is the 50th anniversary of The Longhope Route, which so far has not been repeated in one continuous ascent from bottom to top, as used to be the aim in the ‘70s. John Arran and Dave Turnbull’s first free ascent missed out two of the iconic pitches, The Forever Traverse and the Unconquerable Flakes pitches, see topo in UKC logbook, which followed Ed’s version of the natural line, keeping close to the centre of the wall. Maybe someone next year can repeat the route this way. As far as I know the LHR has only been repeated 4 times, 2 of which were by the more direct version.
An extract from an account of the descent to LHR: how not to do it, all part of a learning curve:
Two down, one to go. The 750 feet of rope above is billowing in the gale like the spinnaker on a yacht. Ed slowly rappels. The rope gets carried away by the gale. It is caught round the left arete. Ed’s descent becomes diagonal. The further he goes down the more he gets pulled over. 120 feet down and 60 feet to the left, the rope suddenly detaches and Ed flies across the face to the right arete and back again. Then he starts to spin, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Tony and I pull in on the rope but to no avail. He is too far above. “Stop me spinning!” begs Ed. Tony and I look at each other, helpless, hopeless and useless. There is nothing we can do. We try pulling on the rope again, but it has no effect. Ed must be getting dizzy by now. He must rappel as fast as he can. But the twisted rope and knotted ends don’t allow this. He lies horizontal, spinning. Then he slumps down. Most would give up at this point. But not Ed. Doggedly, he inches down pulling himself through the twists in the rope. Eventually, he makes it down, just in time for supper, which we share before bivouacing on the grass ledge.
I did mention to Ed that I thought White Elephant one of his best bits of climbing, launching into the steep unknown without any near resting place or protection spots. He climbed through the scary and steep section very quickly, unusual for him. Incidently a year later Hugh Banner remarked to me that Ed had not enough mileage under his belt for the route to be that difficult and duely did the second ascent and freed the route of its two pegs for aid, but of course necessary for protection. At face climbing by then Ed had built up a lot of stamina. He had done little climbing outside of Avon and would not have built up other types of skill until he got to Sheffield. Possibly that is why he found Strand so hard, assuming it was not due to hypothermia in his shorts. There is a big difference between the unknown and aiming for a couple of pitons. Being only 21 years old we thought anyone over 30 was way past it, in fact he had only just started, and Hugh had many years of proper climbing. As an aside both Ed and Hugh started climbing at Avon and were both notoriously slow, a necessary style in those days of no top rope inspection. My Avon motto was: do not assume a handhold is there until you have it firmly clasped, but then I am a pessimist, Ed an optimist. (as opposed to North Wales where it was just leap for the next large jug.)
Last Slip was top-roped first so a different proposition to White Elephant. Again Hugh did the second ascent but without pre-inspection as far as I know.
> I did mention to Ed that I thought White Elephant one of his best bits of climbing, launching into the steep unknown without any near resting place or protection spots. He climbed through the scary and steep section very quickly, unusual for him. Incidently a year later Hugh Banner remarked to me that Ed had not enough mileage under his belt for the route to be that difficult and duely did the second ascent and freed the route of its two pegs for aid, but of course necessary for protection. At face climbing by then Ed had built up a lot of stamina. He had done little climbing outside of Avon and would not have built up other types of skill until he got to Sheffield. Possibly that is why he found Strand so hard, assuming it was not due to hypothermia in his shorts. There is a big difference between the unknown and aiming for a couple of pitons. Being only 21 years old we thought anyone over 30 was way past it, in fact he had only just started, and Hugh had many years of proper climbing. As an aside both Ed and Hugh started climbing at Avon and were both notoriously slow, a necessary style in those days of no top rope inspection. My Avon motto was: do not assume a handhold is there until you have it firmly clasped, but then I am a pessimist, Ed an optimist. (as opposed to North Wales where it was just leap for the next large jug.) > Last Slip was top-roped first so a different proposition to White Elephant. Again Hugh did the second ascent but without pre-inspection as far as I know.
Thanks so much for your post, filling in fascinating bits of history about White Elephant, Avon, Ed Drummond, and Last Slip
And I didn't know that Hugh started climbing at Avon. I think the second ascent of White Elephant without aid is impressive, especially for 1967. Dave Steele, then me, both led it in the late 60s (early ascents maybe?) but we didn't know it had been freed, anyway we both pulled on pegs. I remember groping for then finding the hidden jug above the pegs which cracked the route (for me at least)
Such a brilliant and warm capturing of everything I felt about him as I started out as a young climber in the late 60's and early/mid 70's. Watched him solo Ulysses Bow once, must have been around 1976 I think; I was transfixed. This article helps bring him back into the mainstream I hope as the controversy at the time clouded a proper acknowledgement of both his uniqueness and brilliance. I've got A Dream of White Horses back off the bookshelf for another read; the quotations under each of the B&W photos were worth the price of the book on their own!
> Such a brilliant and warm capturing of everything I felt about him as I started out as a young climber in the late 60's and early/mid 70's. Watched him solo Ulysses Bow once, must have been around 1976 I think; I was transfixed. This article helps bring him back into the mainstream I hope as the controversy at the time clouded a proper acknowledgement of both his uniqueness and brilliance. I've got A Dream of White Horses back off the bookshelf for another read; the quotations under each of the B&W photos were worth the price of the book on their own!
Do mean Ulysses at Stanage if so this wasn’t climbed till 1983.
White Mares and Dream-Time (A tribute to Ed Drummond and Dave Pearce)
Deep deep down
Base down low
Bucking rollers gone
Rock 'n' horses calm
No palomino's dressage day
This is a "Grand National"
On a cliff face bridleway
Then I'm dancin'!
Wave your hands in the air
Dream to dare
Do the hippie hip-shake for goodness sake
Clear blue skies 'n' azure seas
Riding sunlight on a warm breeze
No wall flowers propping up the chimney wall
Clinging tightly lest they fall
Ledge spectators watch every move
Love above and over cove
Winged beats and dancing feet
Where air-sea-rock meet
Even birds fear falling
In the gaping depth
Seals gasp for breath
Love's hitched on the ends of lines
Dampened with brine
So check your knots
Over salty seasoned air
Time to dream
Where all's not quite how it may seem
No horse shoe luck from horses' hoofs
Clip clippin' over the roofs
"Roll up, roll up!
You can't lead a horse to this
Aquatic equine precipice
Take it to the bridge over Atlantis
Where gravitational gee-gee forces
Push falling fools from flailing horses
Neptune 'n' Pegasus Circus-Amphitheatre
No rock 'n' horse show jumping course is greater!"
A prize to be won without a cup
Groove on down and get on up
End of doubt
The saddle is bagged
Sharp and jagged
Edge of Wen-Time
Gain again time.
… listen for the second call
Love out of reach could rear and fall…
Lead your partner through this dance
Make this trip, take a chance
To grasp sea horses' dreaming truth
Straight from the creature's foaming mouth
Bite that bit between your teeth
As unicorns fight underneath
Let white beauty be your host
And ride this rock-'n'-roller-coast!
Paul Taylor 2007
"A Dream of White Horses" on Wen Zawn first ascended by poet and climber Ed Drummond and Dave Pearce 1968.
As a university student, I was climbing in Avon in Spring 1975 through to summer 1977, and although Drummond had already moved on from there, his routes were still a big presence. We secretly loved him and his routes, that someone could be so extreme, so totally out there (great route names too), and also write what was far and away the best article in Hard Rock, the one on Great Wall, which seemed to capture the desperate out there cold wet alone-ness of a hard lead. I did not know about a lot of his activism, nor that he moved to California, although I am not surprised that he was a poet and an artist. His obvious literateness was interesting to me and my friends at the time, because although climbing had moved from the Brown and Whillans days of working class heroes - what we called, in the University College Cardiff Mountaineering Club at the time, 'hard men' - it was still unusual to be so literate. I think that was what he really showed us: it was a lesson about climbing culture: that you could be a working class hero, a machine shop apprentice (Jim Moran), a carpenter (Tom Proctor), and you could also you could be a poet. Climbing could grab people from all over the British class system. (I wonder if this is still true today.)
All best, and thanks for a great great article on a great great someone who was always, secretly, one of my heroes. Lorens Holm
'Most of us get things wrong when we're young and spend the rest of our lives trying to do better.'
Love that, Mick.
Paul Diff's Long Hope movie is sensational... who could not be moved by seeing Ed back at Hoy in the twilight of his life. The readings from his diary in that movie are fantastic - not sure who read them but he nailed it. Without a doubt, Ed Drummond was one of the most unique and talented figures from our country's quirky and eccentric climbing culture. His literature contributions as well as his truly iconic climbing test pieces for me are unparalleled. Sad times
Awakened a lot of memories. In N Wales one weekend in 1972 ish with Myhill, Jones, Carrington. We stayed at the same hut as Ed was staying; l don’t remember which.
Even though he was outnumbered by the team l was with, and they could be well caustic, he held his own with ease. They were all well practised at such exchanges and it would have been unthinkable for them to indulge in polite debate, but there was an unmissable respect behind the taunts.
We went to North Stack on the Saturday, l don’t remember where Ed was going. His writings and doings have given me immense pleasure over the following years.
Great piece Mick Ward.
I've been reading and re-reading your magnificent article and this thread for a week now, and just didn't know what to write. You hit so many truths and struck so many chords, as did everybody else. "Mirror mirror" was the second piece of climbing literature that I ever read, directly after "Let's go climbing!" by Kirkus (!), and I've been fascinated by Ed Drummond ever since. You got all the enigmatic things down about the man which shimmered through his writing and the anecdotes, and made me deeply grateful that he had been among us and left such a huge mark on the climbing world. Beautiful writing; thanks Mick, and RIP Ed, now hopefully dreaming peacefully of white horses.
Ed Drummond taught at my school in the early '70s. He took me up Gingerbread at Lawrencefield on my second ever day's climbing. He then spent the evening teling us tales of things we could only dream of, while we sat on the ledge at the back of the pool.
A few months later he organised a weekend trip to Avon and introduced me to climbing in the Gorge. Since moving here in the '80s, I spent many hours climbing routes that he put up. Even with modern gear they're still bold.
He was a complex character, but one he'll of a climber.