RIP Edwin Drummond 1945 - 2019

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 09/05/2019
Edwin Drummond on Pontesbury Hill. Photo: Edwin Drummond Collection
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Edwin Drummond, one of the greatest characters ever to grace the British climbing scene, died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease and bowel cancer on the 23rd of April. He combined philosophy, talent and a greatly individual approach to leave an immense physical and literary legacy that includes the classic climb A Dream of White Horses.

The following interview with Ed was written by Niall Grimes and published in Summit magazine in 2014. Scroll down further for tributes to Ed and a link to a taste of his writing. 

Born in Wolverhampton in 1945, Drummond found a typically unique and self-directed route into mainstream climbing, and while never becoming one of the established elite, he moved easily through their ranks, maintaining always a slight separation, due to a differing underlying ethos.

Still, his canon of first ascents rival many a hard man’s. Beginning with groundbreaking routes on Avon Gorge such as The Equator and Krapp’s Last Tape, then in the Peak District where his routes such as Banana Finger and The Asp are rightly heralded as classics.

In North Wales, his The Moon and A Dream of White Horses are among the greatest climbs in the country. His masterpieces, however, The Long Hope Route on Hoy in 1970, and The Arch Wall on the Troll Wall in 1972, remain dark challenges - hard, committing and untameable.

Drummond left the UK in 1992, moving to San Francisco. 

ED: I started climbing because of hunger. My parents would lock me out after school, so to get to the pantry I had to climb up a ladder, traverse along a little ledge, mantelshelf onto the window ledge, then squeeze through the window. I could be in and out in five minutes.

The Wrekin in Wellingborough was the first hill to inspire me. There was an automated beacon on top, and it moved me to write my first poetry. A line from that poem still thrills me, “One lone aircraft tracks.” The thought that through language you can register something, can track real presence.

I had a primitive attraction to climb the first mountain I saw. I’d been youth hostelling in North Wales with my friend John Varty when we saw Cadair Idris. We set off directly up it, but the cloud came down. My companion began to cry. But I found within me a way, not only of getting to the top, but of speaking to John so that he too was able to carry on. That was very empowering.

I got turned back from Tower Ridge. I’d found a book in school that said Tower Ridge was the longest climb in Britain, to me that also meant the hardest. I had to climb it, so at Easter myself and a Pentecostal preacher made our way there. We had sixty feet of Sisal rope, and all we knew was that it was above a hut. We got up to the top of the Douglas Boulder and met two climbers wearing crampons who told us to go back down. The preacher was wearing a black mac, his street trousers and a pair of Wellingtons. I was in my little shorts.

When I realised that I was going to live, the feeling was incredible. I fell off the front of Pontesbury Hill. It had only just been top-roped for the first time and I naively decided to do it. At the top, I couldn’t pull over, and eventually fell, smacked into the ground and kept bouncing. I was sure that I was dying, that I had crossed some line. But no - it showed me that no life was worthless, that my spirit could never be killed off. It was like having a million volts passed through my body.

I didn’t want to bother with all the climbs that qualify you to do the hardest routes. I wanted to tap in to a developing sense that you can trust the universe, that you can trust yourself. I went to Cloggy with Ken Wilson, and when I saw Great Wall, I told him that I was going to climb it the following day. I’d only been climbing for a year, I had no right to climb this route. I should have been out of my depth.

I learned to ask for help on North America Wall on El Capitan. I was attempting to make the first solo of this route and after fourteen days, and three pitches from the summit, I got trapped in a terrible storm. My portaledge slowly filled with meltwater. Then eventually, I farted, and it was cold air that came out of me. Deep inside the furnace had been turned off, and I was going to die. Then a rescuer appeared and they brought me back to the top. It felt like I’d been brought back from the brink.

Writing is an attempt to map the unknown. To go a little further into the labyrinth. Even whilst climbing I’d wander off between climbs and write. Climbing often inspired me, and I tried to write in such a way that the reader could see themselves in the act. To find situations where the act reflected something of me, but also, hopefully, something of them.

I see Parkinson’s Disease as a beginning, not the end. I have always valued my health, but having done so much, I didn’t feel aggrieved when it was diagnosed. I was a tree. I grew, and I cast my shadow. And now it’s time to wind down, and that in itself brings a whole new set of challenges and interests. It has made me focus on getting things right. You don’t get to repeat any day. It’s like making a will. I want to be as open and as authentic as I can about it with anyone who will listen. I want to engage with it, to touch it and feel it with accuracy.

I don’t want to go to bed with any secrets. I want to have shared what I have felt and what I have seen, accurately, honestly, with my friends and my peers, anyone who will listen. Climbing and writing aren’t necessarily isolated self-indulgences. They must be communicated.

Tributes to Ed

Ed's son, Haworth told us: 

'Sometimes he seemed like Tarzan. So strong, seemingly fearless with a strong sense of (in)justice, and full of big, bold ideas about the world and society... but keeping his feet on the ground was not a strong trait. We laughed, and cried, a lot. It was complicated, I wrote songs about it.

People would ask what does your Dad do? "Well, really he’s a writer - a poet... a great rock climber too... who disguised himself as a fireman, painter and decorator, lumberjack, steeplejack and teacher from time to time, to almost make a living."

We shared unique, unforgettable experiences. We once arrived in Peru and successfully went through immigration dressed as a pantomime horse. And we climbed A Dream of White Horses together when I was sixteen.

Two poems he wrote for me have helped me hugely more than once in my life, and I carry them with me.   And although I didn’t always relish climbing with him, he was and still is, my original rock star.'

Check out this article Ed wrote for the BMC in 2006 for a taste of his writing: I had a dream

Ed’s children, Haworth, Fiume and Areanna, posted on Supertopo:

'We each climbed with him at some point in our lives, but unfortunately never all together, that will have to happen in another realm. Like the late sun on an easy slab, it warms us to know that some of his life’s greatest happinesses and achievements came while he was climbing. We welcome any recollections, stories or photos you may have of him. Share them here or send privately to hello@haworthmusic.info'

Visit Supertopo to read more recollections of Edwin



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4
06/06/2019
I met Ed around 1971 in the Peak district and at that time he was doing routes I couldn't even comprehend let alone attempt. Even though I was a callow youth of 15 he always greeted me as a social equal with friendship and interest in what I was doing before I could ask him what was on his agenda. He was a gentleman and an awesome climber. Long may he be remembered for his climbing ability and environmental attitude before it became fashionable
Anonymous User
08/07/2019
Growing up alongside Edwin brought about many happy life long memories, and some amazing experiences. R.I.P. Eddy maybe we will meet again one day. R Vaughan.
Anonymous User
16/08/2019
So sorry to hear of Ed’s passing. I taught with him in Sheffield, then lived with him for nearly 2 years!
Haworth, I knew you when you were little - you used to swing on the washing line pole in our garden!
Climbed with Ed in the Avon Gorge and then followed on Dream of White Horses in Wales. Totally petrified but encouraged by dear Ed. Then out to Yosemite in 1974 - met him off the top of El Cap in a blizzard!
Our ways parted in 1975 and I came back to the UK. So many memories after that of seeing Ed and some of his passions through TV and newspapers. I think I even get a mention in his book!
My sincerest condolences to you all. My own husband died of Motor Neurone Disease 11 years ago, so I know all about bereavement and grief. But what a life Ed had - and surely we are all better for having known him and having played a small part in his life. God bless you all. Lindy (nee Petty) now Wood
Anonymous User
16/09/2019
I owe a great debt of gratitude to Ed. In 1988 I very tentatively submitted a small book of prose and poetry that I had written to 'Mountain' for a possible review. I was unpublished in these areas and a middle-grade climber at best so feared that I might get slammed down for presumptuousness. Instead, some months later, the magazine published an absolutely glowing review by Ed. It was just the boost I needed (there's an extract on my Facebook page if anybody is interested) and I've been writing ever since.

A couple of years later, I was running along the Peak District's Eastern edges on an early autumn evening and stopped under Frogatt to watch a lone climber pick his way gracefully down the cliff's main section. I recognised him and took the opportunity to introduce myself and thank him for the magnificent encouragement that his generous review had given me. I still remember sitting there on the boulders chatting as the sunlight drained away and the chill and the night came creeping in.

Andy Christopher Miller

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Climbing for me has always meant exploration and discovery. Only very few known lines have really struck me –Vector, Great Wall, the North America Wall, The Moon – drawn me out of myself, transfiguring my consciousness like lightning the night. Only the possible frightened me enough to attract.
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