S Joe Brown making the first ascent of Valkyrie at Froggatt in 1949.

P Don Whillans: the other half of the famous partnership.

R Brown's

Eliminate (E2 5b), which Joe climbed in 1948.

R Joe Brown: adventurer.

Q Pete Crewe: declared he would burn Joe off.

“When I started, the hardest climb was Suicide Wall at Ogwen; I did the second ascent in 1952. It was a really lousy day, it had been lashing rain all morning. There are little spikes on the route and I remember sheltering from the rain in the porch of Ogwen Cottage and tying some lengths of Number 1 line into slings to go on the spikes. I got up there and the rock was wet so I had to climb it in my socks. I got the slings on the spikes but the wind blew them off as I passed them. There was a peg, but this pulled out under the weight of the second. But I don’t remember feeling nervous doing it, so it can’t have felt too hard.”

“Pete Crewe came along in the 1950s and declared that he intended to burn me off. He actually said that to me in a TV programme, that that was his intention. But that didn’t bother me. The way I saw it that was natural: I would have my time then younger generations would take it further. For a time he said that he thought he had burned me off, but then we started climbing together and we got on really well and did a lot of routes together. But, interestingly, in Crewe’s time, the standard never went beyond what I had done. Things didn’t move on until Pete Livesey did Right Wall. I looked at that and thought, that’s something.”

“My life has been fantastic, right back as far as I remember. And the reason for that is that I’ve always been with people who were as enthusiastic as me. We were always into adventure. Conquest meant nothing to us.”

“I’ve been on lots of expeditions that were failures, but the adventures weren’t a failure, and that changes everything. I went to Latok II in the 1980s with a group of people who I didn’t know beforehand, and I don’t normally do that. But on Latok II the group was so positive in its outlook on each other it really stood out. The weather closed in just as we were in striking distance of the top and we had to descend seven or eight thousand feet of terrible snow. It was odds on it would avalanche. But it didn’t, and for me, despite not getting to the summit, that was one of my best expeditions.”

“I soon realised that if a climb was a crack then it would go. It was that obvious to me. Such as the Unconquerables on Stanage. They were known as problems: Peter Harding had tried them, and various people had been on them on top rope. But I did them both straight off on the same day. The hardest problem I ever climbed? That

was a boulder problem on the lower tier of the Roaches - an overhang into an offwidth just right of Teck Crack. I could never manage it again. I top roped Brown’s Eliminate before I led it. The footholds leading off the ledge were tiny flaky edges, so small you couldn’t stand on them in rubbers; your only chance was Tricouni nails. The edges were brittle, and the gritstone was soft, so you couldn’t be sure. It was a pretty necky lead.”

“I soon realised that Don was my only real peer in the Rock and Ice. If I was having trouble on a route then there was a fair chance he could lead through, and vice versa, and there was no one else I could have done that with. We got on fantastically as a climbing partnership; we’d do anything to make the climb go. The climb was the thing and on a big route there’s no one I’d rather be with. But we had a peculiar friendship; he didn't get on well with people I had strong associations with. I think he was jealous of my friendships. It was almost like he wanted me for himself. He especially didn’t like any of my girlfriends, so much that in the end I had to say to him that we were going to have to go our separate ways. It was going to be him or Val, who I was going to marry. And that was that.”

SUMMIT#98 | SUMMER 2020 | 43

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