What I liked about Climbers was its one-to-one relationship with stuff. My first climbing rope was braided polyprop. They told us: don’t, whatever you do, buy a polypropylene rope & top-rope on it. So we all went out & got polyprop & drove down to the sandstone & top-roped on it. 100 foot of polyprop cost about £3.00 at the time. Nobody was daft enough to do anything but top-rope on it.
So I top-roped my first route at Bowles on three turns of polypropylene rope round the waist. There was a really neat way to tie a bowline on 3 turns, which I probably don’t remember now. My polyprop was blue & in better nick than the string in the picture above. I did a classic abseil on it the same weekend while wearing shorts & a T-shirt & burned big grooves in myself. We weren’t supposed to abseil yet, but I had a book with a diagram in it.

About these ads


Filed under climbers, lost & found

11 responses to “polypropylene

  1. Edward

    My father posted me The Savoy book. He found it in some old shop and picked it up because it contained illustrations by an old friend of his. I picked it up and read the story “The Incalling”. Things this good find the right people at the right times. Life got stranger again, I remembered things I’d known. Fucking class.

  2. uzwi

    Thanx, Edward. That story stayed in a drawer for two years before Dave Britton adopted it for Savoy.

  3. Talking of waist abseils. http://bensblogredux.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/the-bat/

    And of “The Incalling”, I drove through Youlgreave yesterday.

  4. Edward

    Deadly to see you’re still here and engaged and not moaning or lost in cardigans. That story was so exciting and delicious. I can’t wait to get my hands on anything you’ve done.
    It seems like you like good music. I don’t mean it as self-promotion, that’s not in my heart at all. Just an exchange. My grandad told me this story. Maybe you’d like it. Apologies if you’re very busy and things like this are a chore or anything.

  5. uzwi

    Hi Ben. I never wanted to do it again off 30 feet of sandstone in Sussex, let alone Ben Nevis.

  6. DH

    >>So I top-roped my first route at Bowles on three turns of polypropylene rope round the waist.

    >>I did a classic abseil on it the same weekend while wearing shorts & a T-shirt & burned big grooves in myself. We weren’t supposed to abseil yet, but I had a book with a diagram in it.

    Forgive me, but I don’t know much UK climbing lingo. Do you mean that you were climbing and rappelling without a harness and just had the rope tied around your waist?

    I’m a climbing novice, so it’s possible that I’m misunderstanding you here.

    I should reread Climbers. Last time I read it was before I started to climb myself.

  7. uzwi

    Hi DH:

    A group of us learned to climb indoors, at a once-a-week evening course in London in the 1970s. We were impatient & hungry to get out there, so we also drove to the local sandstone outcrops at the weekend. None of us had money for proper rope or harnesses or rockshoes, so we top-roped on waist ties. In addition, I was stupid enough to do a classic abseil while wearing a T shirt & running shorts.

    (a) Classic abseil, as here: http://tinyurl.com/chn9smn No fun, requires practice to manage, feels insecure in use, & gives you rope burns in light clothing.

    (b) Bowline on a coil, as here & scroll down: http://tinyurl.com/d2v52sl No fun, painful even in a top-rope fall, & may kill you as a result of a leader fall.

    A warning to the curious. These techniques are at least a hundred years old. Both are totally unnecessary except as fallbacks in case (a) you lose your descender as in benspencert’s anecdote above or (b) you lose your sit-harness. Don’t even rehearse them except in controlled conditions (with a safety rope in the case of the abseil), & do not lead on the waist tie. If you take a leader fall on a waist tie you risk internal damage; if you spend more than 20 minutes hanging on a waist tie you are likely to suffocate. Even if neither of those things happen to you, the experience is extremely painful.

    The M John Harrison Blog does not recommend either of these techniques to anyone.

  8. Jamie

    Just hunted down The Savoy book myself, found a copy online. Looking forward to a new M.John.Harrison short story for the weekend….

  9. DH

    Hi Uncle Zip. Thanks for the reply. Cleared things right up.

    All I can think to say is that you were certainly dedicated. When I was first learning to climb I was certainly more than a little obsessed. But it only got as bad as me using a credit card to buy gear I couldn’t afford. It never occurred to me to live within my means and go to the Gunks and climb routes with the safety practices used during their first ascents. I guess hungry climbers aren’t what they used to be.

    That said, I’m a new kind of hungry these days. I’ve been sidelined from climbing for the past year or so. Bulging discs in my neck. Your warnings aside, if presented with some Faustian offer along the lines of “You can climb again, but only if you lead on a waist tie”, I’ll need to think seriously about it.

  10. uzwi

    Hi Jamie. Enjoy.

  11. uzwi

    Hi DH

    “I guess hungry climbers aren’t what they used to be.” I don’t know. If we’d been able to get credit, we’d have taken it. The future was there, it was just unevenly distributed. For a year after that I led on a waistbelt someone gave me–effectively a padded sleeve you ran the rope through–no better when it came to it than a couple of turns of rope & massively out of date when everyone had a Whillans harness. We back-belayed too. But I had rock shoes within two months of starting, & I wouldn’t have thought of any of this as doing the routes in the style of the first ascent: it was just making the best of what you could afford. I kind of miss that ethic, however old fashioned it seems. A major part of the attraction of climbing was that air of anarchy & bricolage. It was antisocial & anti-consumer.

    I’m sorry to hear about your neck. “Bulging discs” sounds grotesque. How did that happen ?