Obituary of Barbara Mary Roscoe (née Spark)

Barbara Mary Roscoe (nee Spark)

11th April 1936 - 27th March 2019

Barbara Roscoe, nee Spark, one of the leading women climbers of the 1960s, has died at the age of 82 after a 14-year battle with Parkinson's disease.

Barbara climbing at Gogarth in 1984.  © Mike Cambray
Barbara climbing at Gogarth in 1984.
© Mike Cambray

She grew up in North Wales and her sporting prowess became clear at Holywell Grammar School, where at a remarkably young age she made the first teams in both tennis and hockey and represented Flintshire Schools at hockey. After training as a PE teacher at I.M. Marsh College of Physical Education in Liverpool, she taught at a secondary girls' school there for four years. Quickly, her love of mountains took her to Plas-y-Brenin Outdoor Centre in Capel Curig, where she took school groups and fell in love with rock-climbing. On a specialised rock climbing course there in early 1960 she met Jo Scarr, Plas-y-Brenin's first woman instructor. They became close friends and both joined the Pinnacle Club, a women's climbing club based in North Wales. In the summer of 1960 they did snow and ice climbing with Pat Wood and Muriel Baldwin (later Gravina) in the Swiss Alps. Jo was planning a trip to the Himalayas and invited a restless Barbara to be her companion. The story of their year-long trip in 1961-2 is told in Josephine Scarr's book 'Four Miles High', soon to be re-issued for the Pinnacle Club centenary in 2020.

Barbara on Kinkyboots (VS 4c) at Baggy Point, in 1990  © UKC News
Barbara on Kinkyboots (VS 4c) at Baggy Point, in 1990

Their trip was a great success, driving a Land-Rover to India and back. They climbed two unclimbed peaks of 20,000 feet in the Kulu Himalaya, taught in a pre-school in Delhi over the winter and then joined the women's Jagdula expedition to the unexplored Kanjiroba Himal in N.W. Nepal. This was a Pinnacle Club expedition led by Countess Dorothea Gravina, and comprising Denise Evans, Dr Nancy Smith, Pat Wood, Jo and Barbara. The whole team made first ascents of six unclimbed peaks of 17,000 to 19500 ft and on May 13th 1962 Barbara and Jo with two Sherpas made the first ascent of Lhashamma, the peak of 21,037 ft (6412 m.) at the head of the Garpung Khola valley and the expedition's main goal. The following day Nancy and Pat made the second ascent.

When they returned to Wales in mid-1962 Barbara became an instructor at Plas-y-Brenin and Jo wrote the book 'Four Miles High' and then emigrated to Australia to climb in New Zealand and pursue a career in Australian archaeology after marrying and having three children there.

photo
Barbara aged 25 exploring the Kulu region of the Himalayas having driven overland from Britain in a Landrover with Jo Scarr.
© Jo Scarr

Sadly, in 1964 Barbara had a serious climbing accident on Pillar Rock in the Lake District when a belay gave way. The girl she was climbing with was killed and Barbara sustained serious injuries which plagued her for the rest of her life. However, she never complained and often said that she regarded every day of her life thereafter as a bonus.

In 1965 Barbara was invited by Sir Charles Evans to start a PGCE, teacher training course in Outdoor Activities at Bangor University, the first in the UK. She was the first and only woman to hold the Mountaineering Instructor Advanced Certificate (MIAC). Over 18 years she taught over 400 graduate students, who called themselves 'the Sparklets'. Over 200 of them attended her funeral in Bangor on 8th April 2019.

Barbara with Pemba Norbu on the knife-edge summit ridge of Lhashamma in NW Nepal during the first ascent on May 13th 1962.  © UKC News
Barbara with Pemba Norbu on the knife-edge summit ridge of Lhashamma in NW Nepal during the first ascent on May 13th 1962.

In 1975 Barbara married her long-time friend and fellow teacher at Bangor University, Don Roscoe, an outstanding rock climber who put up many new routes with Joe Brown. Barbara and Don retired in 1983 and in 1988-9 they cycled around the world, following the summer through Asia, Australia, New Zealand and America. Together they fished, walked, climbed, cycled and canoed regularly until a series of knee and ankle operations in the early 2000's restricted Barbara's adventurous activity. However, in 1991 Jo returned to Wales and married Nigel Peacock, an old climbing companion from Cambridge days. They did many joint walks with the Roscoes and more recently canal boat trips. Don has survived Barbara and keeps in touch with a wide circle of friends in North Wales.


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9 Aug

An inspirational lady! Thank you so much for this account of her life.

Mick

9 Aug

Despite spending the most part of my early climbing years in N Wales I never knowingly met Barbara - though it's not impossible that our paths crossed. I knew her name of course - everyone did - but never really knew that much about her. So it's good to read about her life here. And what a life!

Fantastic photos.

In reply to UKC

I met my wife to be on the 1977/78 PGCE course. Barbara was a remarkable person whose influence on both our lives was immense, that is true also for so many other people who knew her. Her 'celebration' event in April was one of the most uplifting events we have ever been part of.

Thanks for the obituary. My Dad was leader of the Cockermouth MR team in 1964 and rescued Barbara off Pillar Rock after the tragic accident.

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