Who’s your (grand) Daddy? – The history of rock climbing

words & Photo MATTHEW HOLT

Rock climbing started in June 1886, at least according to the English, who claim to have invented most sports they no longer win at. By then most major peaks in the Alps had been conquered, but – so the argument goes – any technical climbing was purely from necessity, with no sane climber tackling a fine line for fun. Then along came an upper-class idler named Walter Parry Haskett Smith. And to Lords, Wembley and Wimbledon, add soggy Borrowdale Valley in the Lake District.

Escaping between Covid lockdowns, Fiona and I made the pilgrimage to Borrowdale, described by Haskett Smith as ‘the heart of the finest scenery and the best climbing in England’ – though he did point out that the ‘natives were not famed for their intelligence’, being known as ‘Borrowdale gowks’. Despite the gowks boasting to live in the UK’s rainiest inhabited spot, we arrived on a warm, sunny day. And having pitched up before pubs opened, we felt obliged to stomp up Scafell Pike (978 metres), bagging a Wainwright, Birkett, Nuttall, Hewitt, HuMP and England’s highest peak in one go, without needing to jam or crimp.

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