The Early Years

The Early Years

On 21st October 1960 the following paragraph by Meridian was published in the Jersey Evening Post.

So the gregarious Jerseyman has formed yet another club to add to the list…

The latest is a rock-climbing club, which will provide an outlet for the more adventurous spirits. One can but hope that the standards of safety and supervision will be maintained at a high level, so that tragedies which are all too frequently reported from other places… do not happen here. On the maintenance of such standards depends the success of the club I would say.

The club was actually launched on 20th October 1960 following the initiative of the Education Committee (Mr E.R. Holmes – activities and adult education organiser) who were responsible for bringing over Mr B Grey from the Snowdonia Mountaineering Centre to assess the suitability of the local rock and to provide initial tuition. I was attracted to the project as I had enjoyed some basic climbing whilst on an Outward Bound course in the Lake District some years earlier.

The first committee comprised Mr R.W. Le Sueur (Chairman), myself (Hon. Secretary/Treasurer), Mr Woodward, Mr Keating and Miss Summer. In later years the officers of the club changed with myself becoming Chairman and Alan Perchard elected as Secretary/Treasurer. There were numerous changes of committee members. Mr R.P. Amy was elected Honorary President in the mid 60s in recognition of his generosity in allowing the club to use part of his business premises in Commercial Street as a club room. Later, following the destruction of these premises by fire (nothing to do with us – honest) the club obtained a clubroom at Fort Regent. Access was by the use of pitons and etriers from the moat.

Climbing began at La Moye with the support of the Education Committee who were generous with grants for equipment and, later, funding a visit by me to the Snowdonia Centre in order to learn the latest technique, the Tarbuck system. However the club was expected to provide tuition for students from the secondary schools and we provided this to a great number of pupils from Hautlieu, Victoria and De La Salle Colleges. Several teachers joined but no interest was shown by the PE staff. Several routes were put up mostly on single pitch slabs, Tomato Slab, Goldsmith’s Slab (VS), Dead Mole, The Cauldron, Grey’s Pinnacle (VS) and Chockstone Traverse. The latter being a two pitch climb.

We eventually began to diversify to other parts of the Island discovering a wealth of possibilities around the North West of the Island. On Castle Buttress (West of Grosnez Castle) we put up The Anvil, Anvil Direct, Green Gully, The Pulpit, and The Parabola. On the Rabbit’s Head there was Rabbit’s Head direct and Rabbit’s Tail. Further along were Birthday Corner and Haycraft’s Corner at the Pinnacle there was Spiral Staircase and an unconfirmed ascent of the seaward face by Rob Wright. South again to Beauport found a couple of routes on a sea stack there.

Techniques used started with the basic tying of the end of the climbing rope around one’s waist and belaying following climbers by passing the descending rope under one arm then across the back and down over the other shoulder. Later the Tarbuck system was adopted whereby one wrapped a twelve foot length of thin hemp around the waist, clipped on a karabiner to which was attached the rope with a tarbuck knot. The knot had the ability to act as a shock absorber.

Distinguished visitors included Sir John Hunt, in 1961, when he lead Chockstone at La Moye. He also inspected Grey’s Pinnacle, named after the first ascent by Brian Grey and since unclimbed. I eventually climbed this by the skin of my teeth and later mentioned this fact to Brian at a subsequent meeting. I was told that, no, he had not climbed it. Rumours! Another visitor was Eric Shipton who was taken on a coastal traverse.

Other activities taken advantage of included the use of the kayaks imported by Education and a little cave exploration. In February 1965 members discovered a hitherto unknown cave from a beach which was reached by abseiling down the face to the East of Belle Hougue cave. It was about 20ft above high water mark and went in for some 60ft ending in a small chamber. They noticed stalactites and traces of an early beach level and therefore reported their find to the Sociėtė Jersiaise. Mr E. F. Guiton, honorary curator was reported in the press as remarking that he was 85 then and only wished he could get down to this cave. Also found that day were 8 German 150mm shells which were probably just rolled down the cliff in order to dispose of them. The cave was later excavated by experts from the Sociėtė, following the discovery of prehistoric animal bones and the shells were detonated by Mr Walker, the bomb disposal officer. Some 2 years later, and after the excavations had apparently been concluded, the cave was revisited and a couple of bones were noticed. Thinking that these had been overlooked they were carefully extracted and removed to the clubhouse for members to view. It was intended to then hand them over to the Sociėtė. Now, we had always had a policy of reporting our activities to the J.E.P. as a way of keeping folk aware of the club’s existence and thus keeping a healthy membership. This seemed an ideal opportunity for a press release. Although done in good faith, this raised a storm of protest from some members of the Sociėtė. I do not believe any harm was done as after all, the cave was not easily accessible to all and sundry.

I believe it would have been in 1968 that Channel Television filmed a series of climbs around the various venues. Their reporter, Garrick Law, followed me up quite a few routes and we even staged a climb using etriers on a free hanging rope. I say staged as the camera ran out of film and, no, I was not in a position to hang about and the camera man had better get up to the top and film me supposedly reaching the summit! The overall result was quite spectacular but had the effect of discouraging would be climbers. I could almost hear the forbidding tones of worried parents.

At about that time, after nearly ten successful years members started to drift away to other activities or to move to the mainland. In my case I moved on to dinghy sailing and the club was rather cast adrift. It is satisfying to learn that a new breed of climbers have rescued the Jersey Rock Climbing Club and from their website it appears to be in safe and enthusiastic hands. They have probably climbed some of the earlier routes and given them different names but does it matter?