As the first of August passes, most bird restrictions are now lifted at Gogarth. To celebrate, have a read of our great interview with Martin Boysen, one of the climbers who first discovered Gogarth fifty years ago. By Claire-Jane Carter.
On April 4th, 1964 Martin Boysen and Baz Ingle discovered a sea cliff crag on Anglesey and climbed its first route: an E1 they called Gogarth. Today, it’s become the dream venue for adventurous trad climbers at HVS and above. I decided to talk to Martin about finding this trad ‘holy grail’, swinging leads in the 60s and his perspective on climbing and climbing relationships 50 years on.
Was Baz your regular climbing partner?
Oh no, finding a partner at that time was constant worry and a lot of my climbing ambitions were quite frustrated by it. But not many people had strong climbing relationships, people talk about Brown and Whillans when in fact they disliked each other rather, and the same with Pete Crew and Baz Ingle. They did a lot of new routes together but didn’t get on very well; it was just a relationship of convenience. Now I climb with Rab (Carrington) and it’s a climbing relationship of love really!
So how did you and Baz end up at Anglesey that weekend?
Well that was one of Baz’s periods when he’d fallen out with Pete Crew, so we were climbing together casually. It was an absolutely miserable weekend, pouring down in North Wales and someone mentioned that the weather was better on Anglesey and there were a few little crags (Holyhead Mountain) that they thought the Army had done something on.
Despite the torturous journey we were pleasantly surprised, the rock was quite solid and there were some good little lines. Then towards evening the weather cleared completely and we thought ‘Oh, you know, there must be big cliffs down there, and if they are made of the same rocks as this then…’ It was a geological conclusion really!
The descent must have been a bit hairy, had you looked at the more easily-accessible cliffs?
Well yes, it was a vertical grass bank, and we went down very, very carefully, shuffling down through the bluebells and campions and God knows what! But we had already walked down the light house steps when we arrived and had a look at South Stack, which looked pretty hideous at the time – still does actually!
Obviously there were marvellous routes tucked away but we just saw the rather ugly contorted rock which looked loose and full of seabirds. By contrast when we went down and looked at what is called now called Craig Gogarth it looked fantastic! A big cliff with obvious lines, and well, you know it was highly exciting!
And you had to keep it a secret until you got back the following weekend?
Yes, yes! Well I told Maggie, my wife, I told Maggie everything, but that was that.
You describe the route Gogarth in your new book as having ‘rotting teeth ready to be plucked’. It sounds an insane venture as a first ascent.
Well, we were unlucky in that. We chose a line that we could get to at any time and we hadn’t quite got our heads round the new rock. It was quite flaky and unnerving. The top pitch, which is still the crux, had these huge, huge slivers of rock just resting across the groove.
It was quite frightening really because Baz, well the one thing Baz hates, absolutely hates, is loose rock and he was having to creep round all these vast flakes and obviously he couldn’t kick them off because they would have landed on me. And he had to continue, you know, we were up there and committed.
How did Baz get landed with the top pitch?
Well we just swapped leads, there was no top dog, we would both just have a go at whatever was in front of us so it wasn’t planned. Baz was technically a very, very good, cautious climber. Pete Crew was not nearly as good but always prepared to give it a go, quite daring really. I was somewhere in between.
Why didn't you go back and explore the rest of the crag with Baz and Pete?
The fact that we had a bit of a tough time with the top pitch and the bad rock slightly put me off, but the main reason was that to my mortification I had to do some studying because my finals where coming up. I wasn’t available for climbing at weekends with Baz and low and behold he fixes up with Crew again and sweeps in!
The same day you were questing about on Anglesey, the Beatles swooped the top 5 spots in the American charts. Were you aware the Sixties were swinging around you?
Oh yes, we were aware of it! Various different music has very much permeated my climbing life, a bit like Desert Islands Discs, so I suppose my Gogarth soundtrack would certainly be the Beatles or maybe the Stones. The so-called ‘Swinging Sixties’ was the first real youth culture.
It coincided with Maggie and I going to university and the pill, I mean, at that time being pregnant without getting married was the worst, the worst thing you could imagine, so it was a period of exhilaration, but there were also horrors. I remember the awful business when Kennedy was threatening the Russians over Cuba, and it seemed like there might a nuclear war at any time. We felt we might all be blown to bits anyway and so I suppose it made us careless.
What else do you think enabled you to make such first ascents?
I had a natural talent for climbing which I discovered early on, it was quite a relief to discover something I could actually do! I’m not particularly strong, nor blessed with the right physique which some people have, but I’m pretty tough and quite determined. And I’m quite creative when it comes to the way of doing things. These days I can tell people how to do things without being able to do it myself. I suppose it’s a body awareness which you either have to a lesser or greater degree.
Do you have future ambitions for you climbing?
I do, but I have to temper them with my frailty!
Do you go back to Gogarth?
Oh yes, I go with Rab occasionally. We were climbing a route I didn't recollect on the Pillar and I sort of asked, ‘Well, who did this then?’ and Rab remarked ‘I think you did!’
Martin’s autobiography, Hanging On, is now available from Vertebrate Publishing
CLIMB: The glorious first of August at Gogarth has passed: all bird restrictions have now been lifted
That's right, it's time to climb. The last restrictions on South Stack have now been lifted, according to the RSPB.