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Names reveal 20th century climbing culture in North Wales

The name of a climb can reveal a great deal about the time in which it was first ascended, according to new research presented to the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) international conference in London.

The names of climbing routes first ascended in the early 20th century are more likely to be descriptive, but later on climbers became much more playful with the naming process, Kate Lawrence of Bangor University’s School of Creative Studies and Media told the conference.

“The names of climbs first ascended in the 1920s and 1930s often give you an idea of how to get to them and where to go. But by the 1980s, a hedonistic culture was prevalent amongst some climbers in north Wales and the names of many climbs are clearly influenced by this,” Kate said.

Yet, no matter how inappropriate the name of a climb, it is seldom changed or revised. “In the UK there is a strong ethical feeling that the first ascender has the right to name that climb and great effort is taken to do so. In my experience, not so much effort is taken over naming in continental Europe,” Kate explained.

The research also found that:

v  The larger the crag the more likely it is that the name tells you where to go

v  The majority of climbs analysed are named after either:

  • The local rock shape or environmental features
  • A feeling or physical experience of the climb, which is often poetic
  • Cultural references (e.g. film, song, literature)

v  Crags often have a naming theme, suggesting that climbers are very conscious of the history of the places in which they climb

v  None of the climbs analysed had been named by women

v  There have been about six female first climbers in the UK, who have named approximately 84 climbs between them

The research involved analysing the names of 145 climbs from four crags in North Wales: Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, Dinorwig Slate Quarries, Dinas Cromlech and Bwlch y Moch at Tremadog.

Names of climbs were originally recorded in a book kept in a local pub, before being incorporated into local guidebooks. Today, websites such as keep a record of climbs and their names.

Publication date: 28 August 2014