Troll Wall - Tony Howard
Last week my Dad found an old diary of his, written aged 14 (in 1954) detailing a solo cycle trip from Nottingham to North Wales. He typed it up and sent it to me to read. I was so impressed that I blogged about it here. Imagine how surprised Ed Douglas must have been when Tony Howard found and sent him a manuscript, written by Tony in the 1960's following his ascent of Troll Wall. Ed immediately passed it on to Vertebrate Graphics and hey presto, we have a modern classic, but one that was written almost 50 years ago!
A while back, whilst in Norway on a budget road-trip my wife and I abandoned our car (to save on fuel costs) and embarked on a detour from our route, hitch-hiking to see the famous Troll Wall. Disappointingly we pitched our tent at its foot for a couple of days and sat in the swirling mists and rain, never catching even a glimpse of it. Nevertheless it's reputation means that as a climber I am all too aware of it's size, seriousness and importance in climbing history. Tony Howard is a name I am familiar with. He has written numerous articles and guidebooks on far-flung climbing destinations, not least one of my favourite - Wadi Rum in Jordan. Indeed I once contacted him to quiz him about a trip to Jordan and was impressed that he returned my emails and helped us out how he could. Back in the 60's he was an active member of the Rimmon Mountaineering Club, and with a bunch of enthusiastic club members, made the audacious decision to attempt to make the first ascent of Troll Wall. Coincidentally a Norwegian team mad the same decision at the same time, and both teams ended up climbing the face on parallel routes simultaneoulsy. Despite the furore created by the press that it was a race, both teams had plenty of respect for each other and went about their business.
The majority of the book is given over to the ascent itself. This is understandable, but disappointing for one simple reason. The chapters either side of the ascent - i.e. what Tony did before and after (and we're talking a lifetime of exploration and adventure) is absollutely fascinating. I sincerely hope that he is, as I write, locked in a room somewhere typing up his full memoirs as they are destined to impress and inspire. Trawlers, motorbikes, desert towers, inventing new climbing gear, he's done the lot.
The story of the ascent is good. It was thoroughly enjoyable reading such a tale written in the style of the 1960's - yes the base camp had a female cook who, although a part of the gang, didn't do any of the actual climbing. The achievment was staggering. The volume of equipment they literally hauled hand over hand up the massive face (240 steel pegs for example!) was nothing short of Herculean. Yet it is told in such an under-stated manner that it almost takes away from the achievement. Andy Kirkpatrick has just reviewed the book in Climb Magazine. Being an expert of big wall climbing he is obviously well placed to comment on the level of difficulty of the climb, and where the ascent stands in the hall of fame, and likens it to the first ascent's of Mont Blanc's Freney Pillar, Annapurna's South Face and Karakoram's Trango Tower.
In summary it's a great book, destined for classic status, and will wet people's appetite for more of Mr Howard's memoirs.
It's surely a contender for the Boardman Tasker Award later this year.
Published by Vertebrate Publishing