Memories of Yellowwood – and the first ascent of ‘Newborn’


words & pics by JEREMY SAMSON

I have a mixed relationship with Yellowwood. It is both incredibly friendly yet deceptively cruel. After freeing Armageddon Time Direct with Andre [Verkuil] in 1989, we topped out in the last of the evening light. For some reason we ended up trying to descend the wrong gulley and found ourselves benighted. We were in shorts and T-shirts and hadn’t had anything to drink since lunch when we had foolishly opted for the fast and light approach. I could barely talk and was physically shaking throughout the night. I remember on one occasion examining my watch hoping that it would be nearly dawn only to discover it was barely past 9 pm. I don’t remember sleeping that night. Andre, who was completing his studies in medicine, had told me that sucking stones was a good method of breaking up the bile and I enthusiastically tested his theory only to accidentally swallow the stone. I felt like I had eaten my chalk bag. I stuck my foot through the bottom of our shiny emergency blanket and within an hour it was torn to ribbons. We must have looked more like entrants in team fancy dress then hard-core climbers as we lay spooning after a heroic day in the mountains. We made it back in the early hours of the morning looking like we’d been assaulted.

My relationship was further strained when my climbing partner, Dave Shewell and I tried climbing two routes in a day. Descending around lunchtime after the first route, I slipped scrambling and bounced over a short cliff. I broke my arm and sustained minor grazes. Hobbling down was hell, and driving back Dave got cramp in both legs and had to pull over to recover. He was writhing around with his leg in spasm while I moaned and groaned alongside him with my snapped arm. I reached a doctor well after midnight but was rewarded by getting a few of days off school.

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IMAGE: Dave Birkett stemming and styling on pitch 7 (26) on Newborn.

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