Barry Fletcher – Reflections of a Climbing Legend

Photo by Barry Fletcher

Every country has its share of climbing legends, and in South Africa, the name Barry Fletcher certainly takes a very proud place amongst our country’s greatest climbers and pioneers.

As a young lad growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I used to pore over the MCSA Journals, reading climbing tales and looking for routes to go climb. In those days, this was the only place where one could find any information on routes.

The journals of the 1950s and ’60s were packed with excitement. Stories of climbers going out and putting up routes on Table Mountain and also the country mountains. One of the climbers whose name came up a lot was Barry Fletcher. He was one of the hard men, his name always synonymous with the hardest climbs of the day. To me, he and his brother Keith, and a few others were ‘untouchable’ – they were like gods in the climbing world. I mean, Barry was instrumental in the opening ascent of one of the most revered classics on Table Mountain – Touch and Go, a route put up in 1961, before fancy gear, shoes and harnesses, a route that still stands as a deserving test piece today, and demands respect from even the most capable of leaders.

Throughout my climbing career, I had never actually met Barry, but one night, about five years ago, at the MCSA Friday social in Cape Town, an elderly gentleman seated in front of me stood up to address the speaker, and he spoke of his brother and himself on some G climb on Table Mountain in the ’60s. My ears pricked up. How many brothers were climbing G climbs in the ’60s? I thought. As I had briefly met Keith once, many years ago, I knew it wasn’t Keith. It had to be Barry Fletcher. After the presentation, I immediately approached the gentleman in question and asked: “Are you Barry Fletcher by any chance?” It was Barry! I introduced myself and we had a long and lovely chat about the old days.

A few weeks later, I was honoured to be invited to have lunch with this legend. We sat in a Kenilworth restaurant eating, and drinking wine. But more importantly, I was getting to hear tales about some of Barry’s exploits, which I had only read about 45 years ago. He waxed lyrical about routes he had climbed 60 to 70 years back. He remembered the moves pulling through the crux on Fingertip Face. In fact, he even demonstrated the layback, sitting at the table, as we all do when explaining a sequence on a route. The other patrons in the restaurant were looking over and seeing this 85-year-old gentleman, doing laybacks and rail moves in the air. It was priceless! And the excitement and brightness in Barry’s eyes was evidence that climbing still ran very strongly through his blood. I left that lunch filled with admiration and inspiration. I also thought how great it would be to be able to publish some of Barry’s stories.

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