08 Dec Eden
A little over three years ago I finished a film (or a trilogy of short films) about climbing in the Lake District. Although not my first climbing film, it seemed to be when I first found my flow and made something from my heart, not my head. Although it contained some great climbing I didn’t see it as a ‘climbing film’ as such, it was a documentary about people and their motivations. I think to many people climbing is inherently boring to watch, but human beings generally aren’t. The whole project started with one man and splintered outwards picking up other people’s stories as it went. Sadly the catalyst for that film, Mike Pryzgrodzki died a little while after the film was finished, but I feel it was a fitting tribute to his heartfelt passions and complexities.
Since I made ‘Islands’ (which you can see >> here <<) I have taken a wandering course through a multitude of projects, creating films about music, craft, adventure, running, swimming and one about an elephant. However, I always imagined I would come back to focus on climbing as a subject with the same instinct that underpinned ‘Islands’. And this is what I set out to do with Eden.
The film is set in a climbing spot beside a wandering river, esoteric in nature and shrouded in ancient woodland. The sandstone cliffs of Armathwaite are carved into incredible configurations by the River Eden and lie half hidden by Ash and Oak leaves. At first it seems there is little more than an hour or two of bouldering there, one or two good climbs perhaps, but if you take the time to learn about the nature of the architecture of the crag and how to explore it there are many gems to be found.
The Eden runs for 90 miles from Hell Gill in Mallerstang, through Carlisle to the Solway Coast in North West Cumbria. It passes ancient stone circles such as Long Meg, hermit caves in Langwathby and Wetheral, through deep sandstone gorges and numerous town and villages. It’s course takes in some of the most beautiful but little known places in Cumbria. Polar opposite to many of the mountain crags of the Lake District, Armathwaite is often over-looked but is a valuable resource to the local climbing community.
I have spent many many hours in this place; on my own, with good friends, drinking beers in the sunshine, getting scared on slabs or lonely solos or propelling myself from high ledges in to the cold river. All of this has secured a place in my heart for Armathwaite, but it’s not just my experiences here that have inspired the project. There is a lot wrapped up in the history of this place; ancient poems and graffiti carved in to the cliffs, engraved faces staring from the rocks and some very significant climbing heritage.
Interest in Armathwaite was sparked in the early 70’s when a group of active climbers from the Eden Valley and Penrith area explored the woods. Ron Kenyon, Stew Wilson and friends began slowly picking off some of the future classics of the crag and understandably, tried to keep their little discovery to themselves. It wasn’t long before word got out however, and a bunch of strong climbers began visiting from nearby Carlisle. At that point Carlisle and Eden was becoming an epicentre for climbers looking to train for the mountain crags of the Lake District. Many needed work in the city but were keen to discover new lines or free climb old aid routes. Amongst the main talents of that group were Pete Whillance, Jeff Lamb and Pete Botteril, all exceptional climbers with different styles and strengths. In the days before good climbing walls Armathwaite became the perfect place to train and many of them, Jeff Lamb in particular became exceptionally strong.
As the team continued to train and explore the woods further, more lines were ticked off. Many were hard, unprotected solos or very steep test pieces. At a time before super-connectivity, climbing websites and social media, groups of climbers often operated in isolated groups with little connection to the rest of the community. Without realising it Pete Whillance, Jeff Lamb, Pete Botteril and others were establishing some of the hardest lines in the country and pushing the ‘extremely severe’ grading system to the limit. At this point there was no real way to tell how hard an existing line was and routes from E1 to E6 could all end up in the ‘extremely severe’ bracket. A new system was needed, badly.
With this in mind Pete Botteril came up with an idea to number all routes within the ‘extremely severe’ category and began making lists of all of the hard routes in the Lake District and assigning a numerical E grade. Before long, rival teams from South Lakes and the Peak District adopted the system and it stuck. With acres of unclimbed rock and strong partnerships and rivalries it was an exciting time in British Climbing.
The Carlisle and Eden climbers went on to establish routes all over the country and further afield and change the face of british climbing. Pete Whillance in particular became one of the best climbers Britain has ever seen; a slab master, he climbed exceptionally hard and dangerous lines that still stop people dead in their tracks. Many of these he climbed ground-up, without pre-practice, a proper harness, modern shoes or protection, placing gear and pegs on lead.
Jeff Lamb also went on to influence the climbing scene in a notable but more subtle way, establishing many new trad climbs, which his friends often had to push him to even document. A quiet, kind, humble man who rarely shouted about his achievements, he was well loved by everyone whom he met and climbed with. Sadly, Jeff was killed in the 80’s when he was hit by a stone falling from a crag; this was a deep and profound loss to many.
Over the years Armathwaite has remained a training and proving ground for locals looking to move on to bigger, more challenging things. Many ‘not led’ lines remained, too dangerous or hard to consider by most, but in recent years almost all of these routes have been picked off by a new band of strong Carlisle climbers like Dan Varian and Pete Gunn.
Having moved away to Kendal and become a southerner it has been a real joy to re-visit my old haunt with new friends, swim in the river, climb old favourites and film some brilliant climbing. I am already very proud of this film.
Eden is a film that celebrates the beauty of the valley, the particular but pleasing nature of it’s climbing, those pioneers who committed their time to future development and close relationships forged at the base of the routes. And cutting through the modern cacophony of numbers and objectives and ‘look at me’s’, I hope it can serve as a fitting tribute to a much loved and humble man, Jeff Lamb.
Eden will be premiereing at ALPKIT’s Friday Night Fringe event at Kendal Mountain Festival (more details of this coming soon), and will also be avaliable on the web through the ALPKIT and DMM websites. I would like to say thank you to my sponsors for supporting the film and everyone who has been involved so far.