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Derek's Vintage Gear - The Man - Part 1

Image for article Derek's Vintage Gear - The Man - Part 1

Derek's got to an age where he doesn't climb so much anymore. All of the lovely gear he collected, cherished, used and had stored away has finally become 'a bit of clutter' in the garage. He couldn't bear to just throw it away so asked us here at George Fishers if we would like to have it. There's a lovely 'Circle of Life' happening here. A lot of the gear Derek bought, he bought from us 'back in the day'.

We asked Derek's about why he climbs, how he started and his fav' place to climb, he's shared his stories with us below, enjoy!

George Fisher UK - Derek's Vintage Gear

Currently in our office window at 2 Borrowdale Road we have a display of Derek's Vintage Gear. Derek's Vintage Gear - Part 2 will feature a list of Derek's gear and the memories that Derek has of them, it's a piece of our history (and his) and we love it.


How old were you when you started climbing?

I was about 19 years of age when I was introduced to climbing. My very first rock climb was on the Wannies, a Northumbrian sandstone outcrop. The name of the climb was Foxes Hole and it must have been very easy otherwise I would not have been able to manage it. Prior to becoming interested in climbing and hill walking, I was a very keen cyclist - touring and competition. After cycling to my work the previous evening, completing a night-shift working on a lathe then cycling back home in the morning, I had breakfast and prepared for the climb. I stuffed my Timpsons bendy boots in my saddlebag, hopped on my bike and cycled the 25 miles or so to a spot near to the outcrop. Here I left my bike, changed into my boots then trudged the mile across the moor to the base of the crag. I consulted Northumbrian Rock Climbs, found the route, scrambled up it then made my way back home. Food, bed and then up again for another night-shift. I was just a wee bit fitter then than I am now!

Are you still climbing? If not, how old were you when you stopped?

I no longer climb and indeed, have difficulty in walking up steep uneven ground. Over the years I have accumulated a number of health issues so now rely on my electric mountain bike if I want to get into, but not up, the hills. Lots of possibilities for this sort of activity where I live - moors with estate roads cut into them, remote glens and lots of forest track to keep me amused.
However the reason that I stopped rock climbing was not due to age or health reasons. I was in my sixties and had fairly recently started a relationship with Helen. I was keen to show her every significant aspect of my life so we canoed, caved, skied, cycled and hill-climbed. She was quite amenable to trying all of these activities but was not too enthusiastic about rock-climbing or floating upside down in a canoe over a rapid. Sea kayaking replaced river canoeing but rock-climbing was totally dismissed after a challenging epic in a torrential rain with thunder and lightning when we needed to rope off a climb in Borrowdale. Despite her totally rejecting rock-climbing, we continued with our relationship and we have now been happily married for twenty years.

Where is your favourite climbing spot?

My favourite climbing area has always been Borrowdale. Wherever I climbed, I always rated it as either as good as, or not as good as Borrowdale. I have so many happy memories of climbing here, ticking off climbs in my old and (later) tattered Borrowdale guide. So many of these climbs took place in the evening and I clearly remember watching the sun setting behind Catbells before we headed off for a drink in the Scafell.

Do you have a favourite climb?

In Borrowdale, my favourite climb was the classic Chamonix. I have climbed it at all times of the year, in all conditions and with a variety of climbing partners. These ranged wife number one and wife number two with another couple of lasses in between, to friends that I regularly climbed with, to those who I was introducing the delights of rock climbing to, to some lads that I brought down from a List D school in Biggar where I was working as a Housemaster. We stayed in the Carlisle Climbing Club hut in Newlands. These delinquents from Glasgow and Edinburgh really enjoyed the range of outdoor activities that we got up to. Two apparently liked the Lake District and what it offered as much as I did because after a few days back at the residential school, they absconded and made their way back to enjoy a few more days there. They could probably have extended their stay if they had not decided to trash a diesel road roller owned by Cumbria Council!

Who did you climb with, mainly?

This is partly answered above. Wherever I lived I was always lucky enough to find a few folk with an interest in rock climbing. Of course I had close friends who I regularly climbed with and much of my climbing was done with wife number one. We started as teenagers and continued together until our mid-fifties. Perhaps the most unlikely climbing partnership occurred when I was twenty-one and serving as an engineer on the M.V.Rowalan Castle. This passenger cargo vessel sailed between the U.K. and South Africa. I only did three trips on her but on its second visit to Capetown, I took the 'bus to the base of Table Mountain and had a walk and a scramble about there. For the next visit to Capetown I had prepared myself for a scramble up to the top of the mountain by equipping myself with a pair of black plimsols bought at Woolworths. These had very thin soles and were considered to be the ideal footwear for rock climbing - of course this was before the discovery of P.A.s and sticky soles. I had noted that there was plenty of rock on Table Mountain, hence my choice of footwear. My intentions to climb the mountain had become known on board and I was approached by a dining room steward to ask if he could come along too. Officers and other crew did not usually mix socially but this was absolutely no problem for either of us so off we went, probably the most ill-equipped pair ever to set foot on this hill. Fortunately, the way we went was not too difficult which was just as well because we did not have a rope or even any indication as to a route. This happened a long time ago so my memory of how we managed is very hazy. What I do remember is that on some of the steeper and exposed sections chains were hanging down for us to pull up on. So we made it to the top and took the gondola back to the bus stop.

My obsession with rock climbing and my recent introduction to skiing were not compatible with a life at sea so I did not stay very long as a ship's engineer, even though I transferred to a coastal vessel which allowed alternate weekends ashore with visits to local outcrops.

Why do/did you climb?

I think that what started my interest in climbing was that at that time, it was very much a minority sport and had something of the feeling of adventure about it. As Don Whillens is reputed to have said, "There is no adventure on a climbing wall". Whenever climbing, whether on sea cliffs, sea stacs, roadside crags, banging pegs in Yorkshire limestone, or after a trudge to a remote Scottish crag I have always had the feeling of setting off on adventure. I always loved every aspect of it - the smell of the rock, the feel of it, the precariousness of it, the feeling of exploration. As a child in school, we were asked by our teacher what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told her and the class that I wanted to be an explorer. She was so dismissive of my answer and said something to raise a laugh from the other children. I have managed a few first assents over the years and after completing a route up Clett Rock, a stac off the coast of Caithness and probably standing where no-one else had ever set foot, I remember thinking about this teacher and her off-hand response.

Although I am now cracking on a wee bit in years and paint hills instead of climbing them, I still consider my occasional wanderings to be tending on adventures. My idea of sailing was as a result of reading Ransom's books while at school and I was so envious of the Swallows and Amazons. Sailing in a small cruiser in the Moray Firth in difficult conditions and needing the assistance of our local R.N.L.I. is so different from pottering around on Coniston Lake but what an adventure! Of course I still miss the unique sense of satisfaction that I felt after completing a rock climb, whatever the grade, but other adventures are still there for me when the opportunity arises. In the Quaker handbook Advices and Queries is the advice 'Live Adventurously'. Although I am quoting this out of context, it is still not bad advice for anyone wishing for an interesting life.


10 September 2018 by Rex

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