words by Candice Bagley
pic by Ben Heason
Much ado about greatness
Green Welsh countryside surrounded us and the soggy weather made for cosy morning coffee beside the fireplace, perusing TIME magazine. I was in the stone-walled Climbers Club Hut in the Llanberis Pass, reading an article about greatness. It got me wondering who in climbing is truly great? Can greatness be measured?
A prerequisite for greatness is vision. To have an inkling or plan beyond the scope of an individual or group’s current status is the first step towards growth. However, greatness itself cannot easily or objectively be measured. In modern climbing, there is a tendency to perceive achievement as a grade. In this media hungry world ‘great’ could be having thousands of followers on social media. But people who truly understand what a climbing endeavour is perceive things slightly differently. A climber is held in high esteem if their technical ability supersedes that of their contemporaries. Surely greatness is subjective, specific to each person and situation, dependent on the individual and their own fallibility?
Many of those who are perceived as ‘great’ in the world reek of narcissism and chauvinism, measured by their life tick lists. I felt strongly that greatness in the climbing world had somehow missed this skewed ego-driven slant. On this somewhat damp island, where I now was, there is a history of understatement. The unsung hero is heralded for their pursuits. Take Pete Robins, flipping through a magazine with his own face on the cover. ‘Look at that guy!’ he exclaimed with a boyish grin. We joked that his haircut was better in that photo than in one in the guidebooks Garvin Jacobs was looking through.
I glanced around the room: George North planned his routes for the day. His unsung gallantry and enthusiasm was masked only by quick-wittedness and a youthful giggle. Gosia Lipinska, nursing a cold, wrapped herself in layers, preparing for a day at Gogarth, a crag with a marvel of technical climbing in an adventurous setting. Steve McClure was spending time with his family during the bad weather spell. This to me felt as good an example of greatness as anyone could ask for. He joined in later and revealed excellence in every shape and form: amiable, the ability to mentor, and the small detail that his latest project was probably 9b.
Individuals aside, this trip was a vision of greatness hatched by some stellar minds and a group effort in coordination and execution. The individuals on it each brought to the interaction something uniquely phenomenal.
The trip, an exchange programme between the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) consisted of two legs, one on South African soil, and another in the UK.
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