Marhofn 49.02 - April 2000

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First Fifteen

Alan Dawson

Aug 1967: Moel-y-gest (30A)

Family holiday, climbed with Uncle Eric, who had a car. His idea I think. No idea why.

May 1972: Snowdon (30B)

Solo. I was about to leave home to go and draw maps for the Ordnance Survey, and for some reason felt I ought to climb Snowdon before leaving the north. Slept in my Triumph Herald in Llanberis and got an early start. Just went up in exactly the same clothes as I'd wear to walk to the shops, i.e jeans, pumps and a skimpy jacket. No hat, gloves, map, food, waterproofs or rucksack (nothing to carry). It was snowing on top and the cafe was closed. Enjoyed it though. Followed the railway up and down.

1974: Worcestershire Beacon (38B)

Solo. I used to admire the Malverns as I passed on occasional trips between Wirral and Southampton. My car had fallen apart by then so I must have hired or borrowed one and taken a more scenic route than usual. Didn't walk along the ridge though - just nipped up to the top and back.

1975: Ward's Stone (36)

Started at Lancaster University in October 1974 and occasionally cajoled a few other students into the Forest of Bowland (reached by running across the M6). Only once did we get to the highest point.

Jan 1976: Ingleborough (35B)

The university owned Clapham Cottage at the foot of Ingleborough and we had a cold weekend there. Not much to do except climb the local hill. Wild and windy. Rod's glasses blew off near the top, and he was nearly blind without them. Ages later we found them on the way down - they'd landed on the path.

Apr 1976: Ben Shieldaig (13B)

My first traverse. I'd never even considered joining the university hiking club, but they needed 'mature' students to drive the van for an Easter trip to the Highlands, so I volunteered to spend a week with a bunch of strangers. Weather was awful. Stayed in Ratagan hostel, got drenched on a visit to the Falls of Glomach, burnt my nylon socks to a crisp trying to dry them in the hostel oven. The group then moved up to Torridon, on the way the mist cleared and suddenly I could see a hill. It looked steep and impressive and exciting, so I leapt out of the van with another student whose name I've long forgotten. We scrambled straight up the side, across the top and walked on to the hostel in Torridon.

Apr 1976: Mullach an Rathain (13A)

It snowed heavily during the night, the next day was brilliant, and a party headed up Liathach via the stone shoot. Trouble. My cardboard boots from Millets had no grip and I couldn't get up. Falling further and further behind the party, I decided to look for a better way and so headed off up to the right. Not long later I stopped for a rest and wondered if I was going to die. No way up, and going down was out of the question. So I just tried going along, zigzagging up where possible, and shaping my fingers into a point to jab into the snow to keep some sort of balance. Years later I discovered that they made things called ice axes so you wouldn't have to do this. When I finally got to the top my fellow students were surprised as by then they'd assumed I was dead. Although I was uncomfortably aware we hadn't got to the highest point on the mountain, we gave the pinnacles a miss and went back down the shoot. This was great fun as I learned how to slide down on my back and dig my heels in the snow if I was going too fast. Not sure if I started doing this deliberately or not.

Jun 1977: Scafell Pike (34B)

Spent two years living in a house called Lingmell on the front at Arnside, with a fabulous view over the Kent estuary to the Lake District hills (probably the Old Man of Coniston group). Never really got round to visiting them though. As the two years were up in July, guilt set in and it seemed important to make the effort to climb England's highest. So we drove round to Wasdale and followed the crowds up Brown Tongue. Turned right near the top and scrambled up a rocky gully, emerging near the summit. After a few minutes enjoying the view, we noticed a lot of people on another summit nearby that looked higher. It had never occurred to us to buy a map. So we went back down the gully (Lord's Rake) and turned right up a steep slope. Things got strange then, as the path (to Mickledore) got steeper and muddier, and eventually we just couldn't get up it, even though other walkers passed us with ease. They just walked on up where we slid back down. Being members of the country's intellectual elite, we eventually worked out that this must have something to do with our footwear. I was the well-equipped one with my Millets boots, whereas Rod was still stuck in my Snowdon-era pumps. So we adopted the Liathach strategy and left the path for steeper ground, but to the left this time. Crucially, it was rocky rather than snowy, so I never really thought I would die (not sure about Rod).

1978: Pen y Fan (32A)

Solo. I remember very little about this one. Stuck down south for another year or so, I must have taken a scenic detour through South Wales while heading up or down, and decided to visit its highest point. Something must have stirred during this teacher training year (Bath University), as I remember saying to another student that it was quite pretty and all that in Somerset, but I missed seeing a bit of cliff and crag.

Jun 1979: Ben Nevis (4A)

With Snowdon and Scafell Pike in the bag, I felt it was time to go for the big one. Took it seriously too, buying a one-inch tourist map. May even have bought new boots. The only problem was trying to get to the top before the view disappeared into the mist, so Rod made me go on ahead to take some pictures in case he was too late. We both made it in time, and got back down without incident. The extensive white stuff on the plateau was a pleasant surprise. With three country tops in the bag, it seemed almost time for retirement.

Jun 1979: Ben Loyal (16B)

A vague plan had been formed to continue north and climb a big mountain I'd seen on a birding trip in 1970 and thought might be still awaiting a first ascent. I had a feeling this was probably Ben Hope, but wasn't sure. When we got there Ben Hope didn't look at all as I'd remembered, and didn't look very impressive really, so we climbed Ben Loyal instead, while listening to the cricket world cup. We still hadn't really got the hang of what stuff you're supposed to take up a hill. A radio seemed more important than food, map, waterproofs etc, and I'd never even seen a compass.

1979: The Wrekin (38A)

Visited my sister who now lived in Shropshire and liked going for rambles, so we rambled up her local hill. It was okay but seemed pretty tame for a conqueror of the mighty Nevis.

Apr 1980: Snaefell (29)

Solo. A relaxed few days doing island tourist things, with a half hour's hillwalking to take in the top. Even this was too much for Mary, who stayed in the hire car.

Apr 1980: Moel Siabod (30B)

A revelation. Winter conditions, and the first time I'd been up a hill with people who seemed to be well-equipped and know what they were doing. Thought I might go out again with my Liverpool University colleagues, but it was another three years before this actually happened.

May 1980: Cadair Idris (30F)

The first of what became a pattern for a few years: book a cottage somewhere for a week and spend a day climbing the highest hill in the area. In retrospect, I can't really remember what we used to do for the rest of the week.

Parkbagging in Wirral

Parkbagging in Wirral

Near misses:

Tennyson Down, 1969 (family holiday), Glastonbury Tor, 1973 (searching for the meaning of life) and Scafell, 1977 (strategic error). The first hill I can remember climbing that wasn't a Marilyn, SubMarilyn or ex-Marilyn was Arnside Knott, some time during 1975-76. Also climbed Rydal Fell during this period, possibly in an abortive attempt on Fairfield. The next non-Marilyn after that was probably Carn Dearg Beag (deleted Top) in May 1983, en route to Carn Mor Dearg and a repeat of Ben Nevis.

Next fifteen:

Pen y Ghent, Dunkery Beacon (1980), Helvellyn, Kinder Scout (1981), Aran Fawddwy, Carn Mor Dearg, Merrick, Carnedd Llewellyn, Beinn a'Buiridh (1983), Craig Cwm Silyn, Trum y Ddysgl, Sgurr Alasdair, Meall na Suiramach, Blencathra, Mynydd Mawr (1984). Although I wasn't bagging in 1981, I knew enough to realise that the trig point on Kinder wasn't good enough - it was important to get to the top. In retrospect, it seems a bit odd to have lived in Wirral and climbed Kinder Scout before Tryfan or Moel Famau, especially as I spent hours looking across to the Clwyd hills through the school windows.

As far as I can tell, I didn't climb a single hill between August 1981 and April 1983, partly due to exile in Leicester. Bagging started sometime in 1985 (Bridges) followed by Munros in 1986. The first hill I climbed specifically because it was a Marilyn was Shining Tor in April 1987. This really got me going, as I went straight out and climbed another one the following year (Billinge Hill in January 1988).

Ben Aden (10B) from the north

Ben Aden (10B) from the north

The smooth sands of Knoydart

The smooth sands of Knoydart: crossing the east end of Lochan nam Breac on return from Ben Aden to Barrisdale (photo: Mary Cox)

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