Bringing back the classics: Rope Boy by Dennis Gray
- Thursday 27th October 2016
Dennis Gray grew up climbing with the finest talent in the UK: members of the Rock and Ice club – Joe Brown, Don Whillans, Merrick ‘Slim’ Sorrell, Ron Moseley, Nat Allen, and many others. Countless Alpine visits then followed throughout the sixties, as well as a visit to the Himalaya, which led to the first ascent of the Manikaran Spires, among others in the Peruvian Andes and India. Gray became the first general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), a position he held for eighteen years until 1989, before later guiding in Morocco, the Atlas Mountains, and the Himalaya.
Rope Boy is Gray’s autobiographical work about his climbing career, from Yorkshire to Yosemite. Having just published Rope Boy for the first time as an ebook, we caught up with Dennis about some of the highlights in his book.
What inspired you to document your climbing career? Were you writing retrospectively or did you keep a journal throughout the years?
My writing Rope Boy was a long standing idea, for in 1970 few in the climbing world knew much about such as the members of The Rock and Ice Club, or how it was possible to visit the Himalaya, the Andes and the Yosemite Valley. I did not keep a record over the years of my climbing and travelling life, I relied on interviewing a wide range of friends and contacts to retread their memories of events and a view of other climbing friends. This came to fruition when Livia Gollancz, who had then inherited the role from her recently deceased famous father Victor to head up his publishing company, contacted me and invited me to write an autobiography about my climbing life and travels.
What would you say has been your most bold/exposed climb?
I think leading the final section of the eastern peak of the Manikaran Spires. At that date, 1961, little hard, technical rock climbing had been achieved in the Himalaya, and this was by the British grading system Hard Severe or Very Severe. I append a picture below of the Manikaran Spires, it is the left hand one that was difficult, the right much easier.
You talk in Rope Boy about being inspired by the pioneering Arthur Dolphin. What skills or attributes of his did you admire? What made him stand out from other climbers?
Arthur Dolphin was the leading rock climbing pioneer of the late 1940s/early 1950s in Yorkshire and the Lake District. His climbs like Kipling's Groove on Gimmer Crag are still well known, and he was really a super-fit person. Besides climbing, he was a fine athlete and represented Yorkshire several times in national cross-country events. He was a non-drinker or smoker, but interesting to be with for he had an extensive knowledge of literature and classical music. For a fifteen-year-old, he was a fine role model for myself, being modest and truthful about his climbing achievements and his life.
The period of time covered in Rope Boy sees a massive explosion in the climbing scene. Where do you see the scene in fifty years' time?
Having spent much time in China, I am influenced by Lao Tzu the Daoist sage. ‘The only thing that is certain in life is change’ from the Dao De Qing. This is happening at an ever-increasing pace. Olympic recognition is now a game changer, and climbing is becoming ever more mainstream. It is hard to predict what the sport will be like in ten years time, and not in fifty. I hope it will still hold for most of its participants, that like myself they will still find something magical and romantic on the hills and rocks.
If you could go back and repeat one of the routes documents in Rope Boy, which one would it be and why?
If I could go back there, I would like to repeat our 1961 climb of the Manikaran Spires.