James William Fullalove, or Dan Boon, as he was now known in the climbing world, died in 2008. This appreciation was written by Doug Scott in March 2011.
JAMES WILLIAM FULLALOVE
Doctor Tom Patey took a break from playing his accordion and from hilariously lampooning Brown and Bonington in song and verse at the annual Rock and Ice Dinner of November 1964 at the Devonshire Arms, Grassington. The organiser Dennis Gray had just introduced me to a fit looking climber he called Dan Boon when suddenly there was Dan centre stage singing Bob Dylan’s latest offering “The Times They Are A Changin” with every word of all five verses as written, pitch perfect as if it was Dylan himself singing. I was staggered at this bravura performance and also at the embarrassed silence of most of the climbers present and not wanting to hear from a 19 year old “And don’t criticise, what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin.”
I recently reminded Dennis of Dan’s singing abilities and he recalled Dan singing in the old YMC hut at Ilkley “She loves you” and other Beatles’ songs “Not easy to sing! And he was word perfect and well in tune”. Alan Austin often climbed with Dan during the 1960s and told me that during a car journey Dan quoted verse after verse of Macbeth having remembered it from just one reading. Al confirmed what I had suspected that he had a photographic memory and that there was a touch of genius in Dan.
His genius stretched beyond singing. He was, in fact, one of the unsung heroes of British climbing about whom we should know more in the opinion of his many friends, now scattered all over the world, who recall time spent in his company as being very special.
James William Fullalove was born on thirty first of March 1946 and 217 Horton Lane, Bradford, to his mother, Sarah and to his father, David, a sapper in the army at the time. Possibly his father was doing National Service but judging by his army bearing it is thought he had made the army a career. The family home was at 48 Arthington Street, Bradford. Dan Boon, as he was now known in the climbing world, was not into self-pity but from the little he said of his early childhood it was hard and poor and “he always dressed rough and ragged but who didn’t in those days?” as Terry Burnell commented. Dan served an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering at Lidget Green, Bradford.
By the time he was 18 he had started rock climbing. This did as Roy Smith put it “allow him to escape the poverty of his past and meet an unimaginable cast of characters. In return he embellished all our lives.” By 1963 Terry, along with John (Midge) Midgeley and Tom Morrell had taken Dan under his wing, supplementing his hitch-hiking with car rides to YMC and Rock and Ice Meets. For the next five years Terry climbed with Dan over many weekends “as far as raw talent, in my opinion, the only person who surpassed Dan was Joe Brown.” Dennis Gray substantiates this to an extent with a photograph he took of Dan leading the Arthur Dolphin route, Cow Rib, a good Ilkley HVS in a pair of old hiking boots. Mike Bebbington was at Almscliff when Dan climbed the crag’s test piece Great Western in a pair of sawn off willies. On another occasion at Malham Cove he fell off East Wall climb and landing beside Mike, declaring he hadn’t fallen since he was still clutching the large flake of rock that had come adrift. Terry recalls one rainy day in Llanberis Pass “when none of us wanted to go to Cloggy, Dan took off and was rather late getting back. We presumed he had gone walking but he had found a climbing partner and done a very early, greasy ascent off a Black Cleft on Cloggy. That was Dan Boon!” There was another occasion that Terry recalls at a Rock and Ice Meet in Chamonix with Don Whillans bemoaning the fact that he had not done much climbing that year. Dan suggested they do the Frendo Spur. Whillans said “go and get your gear, youth.” Dan replied, “don’t have any”. A quick rummage round by Rock and Ice members and Dan was fitted out with ice axe and crampons, etc. That night Dan’s contribution, according to Don, was to provide barbequed chickens that had been on display outside the butcher’s shop whilst the butchers had nipped off to drink Pernod and play table football in the National bar.
Stories abound of Dan taking off with rounds of cheese under his arm from a grocer’s shop in Courmayeur, rucksack full of food from Chamonix supermarkets, f.o.c., and equipment from climbing stores in Cortina. He was as Aid Burgess said, a bit of a rascal and he was not alone in that. This all took place in the 1960s before climbing became the fashionable activity it is today with its stars sponsored and the rank and file far more affluent than ever Dan and most other climbers ever were during those somewhat anarchistic times with rebellion in the air and the French police making frequent raids on the Biolay campsite over by the cemetery, on the dark and dank side of the valley, hunting down ”les sauvages anglais” shoplifters.
Dan put up a new route in 1967 with Brian Robertson when they climbed the North Ridge of the Torre di Valgrande. Over the three days of climbing pitches of Vl+ they also used 15 bolts and some 90 pegs which Brian had brought over from America. His finest year of climbing was in 1969. It started in the early summer spending a week climbing with Rob Wood in the Lake District in perfect weather during which they repeated some of the hardest routes. “More important to me was we had an hilariously great time, we were both lost souls looking for alternative life styles and I had just discovered Tolkien and was sharing the magic of it with Dan. Our imaginations were exploding along with the late spring vibrations into the glorious landscape of the Lakeland Fells at their best – we became Hobbits bearing magical power, pitting ourselves against the incredible odds of super hard rock climbs such as Extol. Our adventures culminated in the first ascent of a significant new route on Pavey Ark which we appropriately named the Hobbit.” This in fact is still recognised as an impressive and serious E2 winding its way around overhangs (where Dan used a sling for aid) up the right hand arête of Stony Buttress. Alan Austin in the guidebook wrote it up as “a major route, and an event of importance, since it marked the discovery of a buttress previously overlooked by the local experts and, without doubt the most serious crag in the valley.”
In July Dan went off to Chamonix where he met Ray College and took off the day after his arrival with Ray to climb the Walker Spur on the 21 – 23 July with Dan somewhat unfit according to Ray. This turned out to be the perfect combination with Ray, the experienced mountain man, and Dan, the brilliant rock climber. They fared better three days later when they set off for Mont Blanc and reached the summit on 27 July via the Pear Buttress. They then left Chamonix to climb the Eiger North Face from the 1 - 4 August during a period of fairly severe stone fall and with Dan taking a 100 foot fall. As Ray said of the snowed up Exit Cracks, “this is where Dan’s rock climbing abilities really came into their own.” Ray concluded with “after a night in Chamonix, the long drive home and back to the office.” This was not only the third British ascent of the Eiger North Face but for British climbers doing these three big routes in Ray’s two week works’ holiday widened everyone’s horizons.
The following year Dan had more desperate times, again on Mont Blanc but in an epic retreat from the Candle on the Freney Face in a major storm down the Freney Glacier with Dave Morris. Dan had another epic that year, this time climbing the North Face of the Dru. All the pitches were heavily iced up and took five days to ascend. In 1971 Dan went over to the Dolomites with Al Burgess on Al’s 750 cc Norton motorbike. They climbed the Michelluzzi route and the Marmolata di Penia without any epics until back on the motorbike, Al thought he had a puncture but it was Dan, flopping about from one side to the other, with his head just about to go into the wheel, fast asleep. Dan was, more than anyone I know, completely spontaneous, right there in the moment of being, alive to whatever was happening. Roy Smith remembers climbing the Brimam rocks “and racing him back to the van neck and neck and then falling down, wrestling with him to stop him getting ahead. He was always so enjoyable to be with, mischievous with a great and inquisitive mind. Tom Morrell spent a week climbing with Dan in Yorkshire and mainly recalls the time in between climbs when Dan announced “I am reading The Trial by a chap called Kafka. Have you read it? – It’s complicated and I don’t understand it – well I’d read it and had to admit I didn’t understand it either.” This was the topic of conversation for most of the holiday. What I learned from this was that Dan was not only a talented young climber but also had a busy and adventurous mind. He once told me he was learning Russian. I asked him why and he said “for something to do.” He also had some very narrow escapes, not only in the mountains but elsewhere such as when he was hitch-hiking in Canada on a long journey. He had got into his sleeping bag and fell asleep only to be awakened flying through the windscreen, in his bag, since the car was involved in a smash. He had a very bad neck after that and wore a collar and came back to the UK for treatment, not having any money in Canada. Coming off the plane he asked the stewards for special attention since he couldn’t look down but this was denied so Dan walked down the steps, trips up and falls all the way down to the tarmac only to get up and find his neck had clicked back into place and all the pain gone.
Dan does not appear to have done much climbing during the next ten years. Just as Dan was driven to explore the mountains he started to use drugs to delve into his innermost being. This got completely out of hand until after several years he emerged one day from a heavy session in the basement of a house coming across Alan Austin. He told Alan that he had suddenly realised that the other 20 or so individuals in the cellar of the house, all out of their minds, wouldn’t have cared whether he was alive or dead. With that realisation he decided to quit drugs and in fact did so only to get deeply into Eastern religion that he said helped, along with going cold turkey at a Bristol rehabilitation centre, to keep him off drugs. Typical of Dan he really did go all the way into religion with time spent with the Hindu 100 white Rolls Royce Indian Guru to finding Jesus and pounding the streets of Bradford giving out Born Again literature.
I next met Dan up in Scotland in February 1982 where we climbed on Ben Nevis where conditions only got better, so much so that on our third day we un-roped to climb together up The Curtain, Green Gulley and then finished off romping up Orion Face direct whooping with delight to be moving over such perfect snow ice from dawn to a brilliant dusk.
Two years later Dan joined our expedition to Makalu where he climbed un-roped up the unclimbed Yaupa Peak (6,300 m) with Jean Afanassieff and myself. There were 12 of us altogether on this expedition, more like four expeditions in one, the way we paired off to climb various objectives. Sadly Dan was not stable enough to fit in with the majority of the party. He had decided that “I am James, Dan is dead” and got very upset if anyone forgot and called him Dan. Some of his behaviour became quite bizarre and he retreated into his tent to read or talk to my wife and children for most of the expedition.
Despite the after effects of his drug taking he was “if you could get past the gatehouse you would find he was the most kind and considerate person” according to an old friend, Tom Rayner. He eventually stabilised himself and became a counsellor for the Citizens Advice Bureau. Dennis Gray came across him in Bradford, to find him very proud to be doing this job and as Dennis said, “I imagine doing this, helping others, he would be really caring and kind.” All of us who spent time with Dan and got to know him well seem to remember most that he was, deep down, a very compassionate man.
In 2008 Dan passed away after a battle with bladder cancer.
If anyone reading this has any more information about Dan, particularly with regard to surviving relatives, please contact Tom Morrell, email: firstname.lastname@example.org