As the saying goes ‘For want of a horse the battle was lost’ and in a similar vain for want of a Colin Kirkus the trad climbing scene may have become a poor imitation of continental rock. It’s commonly believed that rock climbing in the UK started with Haskett Smith’s ascent of Napes Needle in the Lake District. From there onwards a number of luminaries pushed UK climbing to new grounds. Colin Kirkus was one of those who forged a path in the 1930’s. It became his decade. He left a legacy of bold and exploratory routes in North Wales some of which were not repeated for 20 years and it wasn’t until Joe Brown and Don Whillans appeared on the scene in the 1950’s that the mighty Clogwyn du’r Addu started to gain more new routes. What is less well known is that he published one of the first instructional books of its kind – ‘Lets Go Climbing’ which went into print in 1941. He never saw how influential it would become as he disappeared over Germany in September 1942. Both Joe Brown and Don Whillians were inspired by this book. This duo left a legacy of routes which most recreational climbers aspire too. Then as always is the case others took up the mantel and continued the creation across new ground, which we all enjoy today.
I have climbed a number of Colin Kirkus routes, all memorable for different reasons. Curving Crack on Cloggy was the one that set Joe Brown on his way. Great-Bow and Great Slab broke across Cloggys Eastern ramparts for the first time. Kirkus’s Route in Cwm Lloer has it’s awkward off-width. The gearless traverse of Pinnacle Wall; which Kirkus soloed. The bold West Rib of Dinas Mot; with modern gear this is relatively straight-forward. Though even now-a-days it’s best not to fluff the rounded upper groove of his route on Stanage. It will lead to a ground fall.
This year as a birthday treat to me it was time to venture into the tranquil Cwm Silyn, for another of his routes. Here he climbed a four pitch classic up a wonderful slab of rock with sea views. The rock is rough and route finding difficult. Thanks to Jobie, my climbing partner, for a great day out in the hills. Thanks to Colin for the route. Thanks to modern equipment for making it into a simple recreational pleasure. And perhaps in today’s frenetic modern world, Colin Kirkus’ simple guidance and relaxing attitude is more valid than ever. As he famously said to his friend Alf Bridge on top of Sgurr Alasdair on Skye, “You know, Alf, going to the right place, at the right time, with the right people is all that really matters. What one does is purely incidental.”