The ‘ard little man in the flat ‘at!

“Is that to protect yer head or to keep yer fag dry?” Quips the great Joe Brown to a rope-wound motorcyclist as he dismounts from a damp ride along the craggy mountain bound Llanberis Pass in North Wales.

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The dour response in straight Mancunian: “me fag!”. This is none other than climbing Legend Don Whillans. These are captured scenes from a recently unearthed documentary from 1985 capturing Don’s last climb.

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There are some well filmed shots of the road up the ‘Pass’ . Don ever the motorcyclist winds his way along smoothly on a Kawasaki 440 twin.

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Coming to a halt in the layby below the imposing open-booked corner of Dinas Gromlech he meets up with his climbing partner of decades before and that day, Brown. His blue Belstaff jacket will have seen many damp miles across Northern England.

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Whereas Joe cuts a lithe figure for his, at the time, mid-fifties; Don is a heftier, pot-bellied, mountain of his younger and doughty youth. Back in the day they were a force to be reckoned with putting up the hardest routes, still test pieces to aspiring hard climbers, considering they climbed with rudimentary gear: hemp rope, M&S plimsols and sack loads of working mans bottle.

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The climb they were retracing that day was the steep crack system called Cemetery Gates, graded E1 5b (E for extremely severe).

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Joe strolled up it in fine style as leader, however Don needed a few tugs of the rope as second to help his 14 stone figure up the crag. He died two months after this was filmed at the age of 52. The Nepali Sherpas called him Tiger; he’s also been known as The Villain. Nevertheless he was the climbers climber.

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Whillans Last Climb

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