Climbing high with David Linnett

I first heard about David Linnett (52) from my sister Sorcha who does three things stupendously in life; painting large animals in the wilderness on canvasses the size of a wall, being super-chilled and climbing. When we were last in Wales mountain biking in the Brechfa forest, she told me about this guy she’d been climbing with who had some incredible climbing stories, being an experienced climber himself and having climbed all over the world, in all weather conditions, I asked if she could put us in touch so I could gather some of his stories to share on iLivExtreme.

Climbing in th Alps

Dave’s pal ‘The Pom’ as they are about to start the well-known Rochefort Ârete near Chamonix in the French Alps

You’re a Welshman, born on the island of Anglesey, North Wales. Where do you live now?

Yes, I was born in Holyhead, Anglesey where my Father worked at a local marine radio communications station as a shipping radio operator.  As a family we then moved to the South West of England when I was about 4 and I now live in Bristol.

How did you first become interested in climbing and what drew you to it?

When I was a child, suffering from asthma (which I still have to manage today), I was totally captivated by heroic tales in various mountaineering tomes about Everest and climbing books written by authors such as Chris Bonington. But I always presumed that activities like climbing and mountaineering were completely off-limits for a wheezing, asthmatic ragamuffin like me. I signed up for a work’s Three Peaks Challenge (walking up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon) which I duly completed and galvanised my interest again. Consequently I completely threw myself into getting fit and going outdoors as much as possible so I was hill-walking, scrambling and rock climbing at every opportunity in a matter of months.

Talk us through your first climbing experience?

My first taste of outdoors traditional or ‘trad’ rock climbing was with a mate called Clyde who could climb and he kindly took me to a local crag called Goblin Coombe. So for my first ever rock climb in a borrowed harness and wearing trainers, I was semi-dragged, flailed, udged and thrutched my way up a hard severe route called Esgoroth. Not a lot has changed in my technique since then but I absolutely loved the physical gymnastics, the mental games of chess, the camaraderie and just being outdoors.

“Climbers with all their metal equipment make exceptionally good lightening conductors and it is absolutely terrifying to feel your hairs standing up on end and your equipment starting to hum because there is so much electricity in the air.”

You’ve had some incredible experiences whilst climbing by the sound of it, but if you had to choose just one from memory, which would it be?

Well finally completing the whole traverse of the spectacular Cuillin Ridge in Skye after 3 abortive attempts due to the weather, or the classic 16 pitch Sudgrat on the Salbitschijen in Switzerland or the amazing 25 pitch North Ridge on the Piz Badille on he border between Switzerland and Italy would have to be right up there. However if you put a gun to my head and I could choose only one it would have to be the classic traverse of the infamous and iconic Eiger 3970M, via the super-exposed Mittellegi Ridge and down the long South Ridge. It certainly was not the most enjoyable experience as I started off the route with a stonking headache from the Mittellegihütte at 3355M which was far from ideal! This was despite having acclimatised on the mighty Monch 4107M a few days previously, plus quaffing loads of paracetamol’s and drink at the hut the night before.

Grade 3 Torpantau Falls

David’s buddy Dicky on the crux of the Grade 3 Torpantau Falls near Merthyr Tydfil in the Brecon Beacons

It had been a long held ambition of mine to climb the Ogre ever since reading Heinrich Harrer’s inspiring book called “The White Spider”, which superbly recounts the often tragic history of attempts to climb the North Face before Harrer and his team finally succeeded in 1938. Unable to do this at that point, my buddies and I set off at around 6 am on a perfect, bluebird day of weather but soon discovered that the Mittellegi Ridge we’d decided to attempt, was covered in snow and verglas (a thin film of ice on rock), just to add to the excitement and meaning crampons had to go on very early. The Mittellegi Ridge is graded Difficile for dry, crampon-free conditions. But at around 12 noon, having made our way across the super-exposed summit ridge with brain melting views down the North Face, we finally topped out with the most amazing views to the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc over 50 miles away. Thankfully I got a second wind on the descent down the very long South Ridge (graded Assez Difficile) which is quite a serious proposition in itself, with some tricksome climbing over the North and South Eigerjoch’s. Finally at around 7 pm my buddies and I hauled our weary, dehydrated bodies into the sanctuary of the Mönchsjochhütte  for some well earned drink, food and sleep and knowing that a long held dream was finally fulfilled.

“I have assisted in quite a few incidents over the years including the odd head injury, a dislocated shoulder, a swallowed tongue and most bizarrely of all, a broken vagina”

So you must have had some dodgy near misses whilst climbing?

Thankfully <touches wood> I have never had an accident in well over 20 years of climbing but regarding near misses I have been caught in a storm outside the Midi Station in Chamonix and also on top of the second Sella Tower after completing the Kasnapoff/Zelger route in the Dolomites, complete with thunder and lightening which was very, very frightening. Climbers with all their metal equipment make exceptionally good lightening conductors and it is absolutely terrifying to feel your hairs standing up on end and your equipment starting to hum because there is so much electricity in the air. Thankfully my buddy and I were near the descent route, which was just a scramble down, so we headed down as quickly as possible.

Even though I have not had a climbing related accident, as a trained First Aider I have assisted in quite a few incidents over the years including the odd head injury, a dislocated shoulder, a swallowed tongue and most bizarrely of all, a broken vagina but I think that is probably a story for another day in the pub.

Which climb remains elusive for you, the one which is top of your list to accomplish?

The classic traverse of the mighty Matterhorn via the Leone or Italian Ridge and down the Hornli or Swiss Ridge, because it has still eluded me due to crap weather or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, despite at least four visits to the Alps with this route specifically in mind. If you go to visit big mountains you have to expect some big mountain weather at times! The Matterhorn 4478M straddles the border of Switzerland and Italy and I have been completely obsessed with this mountain since first seeing a picture and it’s perfect, pointy shape (if you asked a young child to draw a picture of a mountain it would probably look like the Matterhorn) and then reading the story of Edward Whymper and Michel Croz in their race to be the first to summit in 1865 and the tragic accident on the descent.

Technically the Leone and Hornli Ridges are not that difficult to climb but when summer conditions are good and dry then you can expect the ridges, especially the Hornli, to be very busy with all the associated problems of too many people such as slow parties, bottlenecks in the trickier sections and rock fall for example. The current plan is to head out with the usual suspects to Courmayeur in the Italian Alps this Summer so fingers crossed the weather Gods will smile on us this time.

Bantham Hand sea stack

David on top of the Bantham Hand sea stack at Bigbury Bay in South Devon

When you’re hauled up in a mountain hut waiting for the weather to improve, what favourite book might we find you reading?

Wow. Too many to choose from. There are the Kurt Deimberger and Boardman/Tasker Omnibus books which are just ace and also Nanga Parbat Pilgramage by Hermann Buhl. The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti and Starlight and Storm by Gaston Rebuffat are very inspiring. Also Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is a compelling read about the 1996 disaster on Everest and there is Rick Ridgeway’s The Last Step about the rather…erm… fractious American ascent of K2 in 1978.  However my current favourite book which I have just finished recently (and re-read) is Sandy Allen’s amazing book called In Some Lost Place about his recent traverse of the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat in 2012.

Which piece of climbing equipment should you never ever buy cheaply in your opinion?

A rope! The lifeline and unbreakable bond between you and your trusted climbing partner.

How has your life changed since you began climbing?

I am fitter, visited some amazing places, met some great people, made some lifelong friends, seen some amazing views and climbed some pretty cool things.

Church Rock sea stack

David abseiling off the Church Rock sea stack near Broadhaven in South Pembroke

Who do you most admire in the climbing world?

The early pioneers such as Hermann Buhl, Walter Bonnatti and Gaston Rebuffat  for example, as I just marvel at what lengths they would go to just climb for a weekend. Whereas I will hop into my car and drive to any crag within twenty minutes or even an hour or two, those guys would set off on a bicycle with their minimal gear, plus a few apples and loaf of bread to sustain them, cycle up to a hundred miles, climb a really gnarly route and then cycle back again just in time for work on a Monday morning.

And from a more modern era guys such as “The Climbing Taxman” and Alpine Club President, Mick Fowler for his commitment to the cause. Yet again he was legendary for setting straight off from work in London on a Friday evening and would drive through the night to far flung places in Scotland to snatch numerous winter new routes from under the noses of locals before driving back to work for a Monday.

You film almost all of your climbing adventures now, what drew you to throw another level of complexity into the climbing process?!

I have always been keen on photography and I guess filming is just an extension of that. In 2013 I bought a Go-Pro camera and a Sony Vegas video editing software package to experiment with and the first few videos were a bit wobbly and rubbish. I quickly discovered  that a Go Pro camera mounted on your helmet by itself is of little use for climbing, except when used very sparingly to give a quick Point of View shot. I think Go Pro’s are amazing pieces of kit but much better suited to activities such as ski-ing or mountain biking as your head is always moving which can be quite nauseating for the viewer and of little interest to anyone but me and my mates.  So pretty quickly I bought 2 HD camcorders and  2 good tripods and managed to bribe my long suffering better half, Emma Cava, with the promise of  a free meal plus drink at a local hostelry to sit with her blanket and a good book to film the long shots of a climb. I film the close ups and with my Go Pro helmet cam, plus my latest addition of ‘Arnie the Drone’ that makes 4 cameras in total adding up to about 4 to 5 hours worth of film to try and edit down to a few minutes. I am not the most computer literate and have found the video editing by far the greatest challenge. If I had a penny for every hour I have spent watching a “Sony Vegas” You Tube tutorial…

“we have a research group who use drones for going into Nuclear Power Plants when they have gone “bang”

 ‘Arnie the drone’ often accompanies you on your trips, how has using that piece of equipment changed your film-making style?

“Arnie the Drone” is A DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter with H4 3D Gimbal, Go Pro 4 camera, Black Pearl First Person View monitor (so you can frame shots), transmitter and antennae with the whole caboodle costing about £1,200 and a fair bit of blood, sweat, tears to set up, not to mention the odd prang when learning to fly.

Drones or Quadcopters are ever more affordable and amazing pieces of kit, especially when used responsibly and can be seen on just about every documentary or news report on TV nowadays. If you compare the cost of hiring a drone plus operator for the day (a few hundred pounds) against the cost of hiring a helicopter plus pilot (thousands of pounds) then it is a bit of a no-brainer. Where I work at the School of Physics for the University of Bristol, we have a research group who use drones for going into Nuclear Power Plants when they have gone “bang” (Fukushima in Japan for example) and I got talking to a couple of the guys and I mentioned it would be really cool to incorporate some drone footage in my climbing videos. Anyway having piqued my interest as I like a challenge and also to be self-reliant, I went ahead and bought a drone and like the video editing, am completely self taught with some help from those You Tube Tutorials…

“As for the name Arnie? I know it is a bit cheesy but as he cost a fair bit of money to buy and modify, whenever I take Arnie out for a fly, I always hope that he’ll be back… “

I mentioned about being responsible when flying a drone as they have had a bit of bad press recently, normally resulting from a very small minority of pilots flying their drone too near people or in a no-fly zone such as an airport for example. However I always try to fly Arnie either early in the morning or in the evening for two reasons. Firstly because you get the best light for filming at these times. And secondly you very rarely see anyone at the crags or cliffs I fly at these times and hopefully I do not disturb anyone and no-one disturbs me. On the very rare occasion I have encountered anyone, I always mention what I hope to do and if they are ok with it. Everyone I have spoken to has always been positive and very interested. As for the name Arnie? I know it is a bit cheesy but as he cost a fair bit of money to buy and modify, whenever I take Arnie out for a fly, I always hope that he’ll be back…

Cioch in Corrie Lagan in Skye

David on top of the amazing Cioch in Corrie Lagan in Skye

One of your latest short films is about a climb you completed on the Green Bridge of Wales in Pembrokeshire, what is it about this climb that compelled you to film it?

I have always been perversely attracted to unique but climbable natural features such as needles, towers, pinnacles, sea stacks and sea arches as they all (sea arches eventually collapse and become sea stacks) stand alone and appear so inaccessible. Quite often you sacrifice a bit of the quality of climbing on these features due to vegetation, dodgy rock, birds and guano but the quality of the adventure normally more than makes up for this. The Green Bridge of Wales is the most spectacular natural sea arch in the UK and one of the most iconic features of the Welsh coastline, attracting numerous tourists to gaze in amazement from the well placed viewing platform. I have walked past the Green Bridge many times on the way to other crags and it has always been on my ever expanding list of  “things to climb and film”. So last August, I assembled a willing bunch of worthy recruits and after a weekend of mixed weather, the sun finally came out to play and the winds dropped on the Monday so Thunderbirds were go.

To access the base of the Green Bridge, you have walk along the top of the sea arch, which is thinner than an After Eight mint in the middle, before abbing in.

The scenery at the base is just amazing and there were numerous seals lazing around and honking away to greet our arrival. We climbed the first ever route put up on the arch in 1982 called Isambard’s Kingdom and the quality of climbing is surprisingly good on probably the most photogenic HVS in Pembroke. Probably the most memorable part of the day was topping out on the climb in beautiful, warm sunshine and perfect light for filming then getting Arnie out to have a buzz around the bay to film the rest of our group who were finishing the climb.

What do you hope for your blossoming climb-film-making career?

My videos have started to appear on a regular basis on some of the leading climbing websites in the UK and Europe including UKC, BMC TV, Hoohbe and I Love Climbing which is great, but ultimately I aspire to make at least a sideline career out of my climbing films and/or drone work. I have just had an offer to do some land survey work using my drone which is pretty cool and a fun way to spend a day, so hopefully this may lead on to other filming opportunities. I fully intend to retire early and a day or two a week flying a drone around for surveys, TV work or anything similar would be a nice, fun way to keep me out of mischief and supplement the dwindling coffers in the pension fund I contribute to.

Tell me about the Moonraker climb including how you got to the bottom of the rockface?

I first climbed the super-classic HVS called Moonraker (first ascent by Peter Biven and Pat Littlejohn in 1967) at the Old Redoubt, Berry Head in Brixham well over 10 years ago and have had it in mind to re-climb and film the route for the last year or so. I then had a chance meeting with a fellow Climber’s club member called Captain Bob Watson in March 2015. We got talking where I discovered he owns a boat called Erin and had this dream, which had been in gestation for 25 years, to sail to the base of the climb, moor up the boat, climb all 3 pitches of the route then abseil back into the boat before sailing off into the sunset! So we exchanged contact details, put a couple of possible dates in the calendar and enlisted a few pals. Finally on a Saturday in September 2015, the stars aligned themselves, the weather forecast looked great, the bird ban had ceased, the winds were blowing in the right direction, England lost at egg-chasing in the Rugby World Cup and we all met on St Mary’s Beach at 7.30 am to be whisked away on HMS Erin for our mission. Much to my surprise no-one drowned or required rescuing and apart from a bit of sea-sickness from landlubbers Nick and I, the whole shebang went pretty much like clockwork. By the time you publish this, hopefully ” Moonraker -The Movie” will have gone live so everyone can see the results of this “sailing meets climbing magnum opus” for themselves.

“There is no expletive which is more satisfying, cathartic, expressive, trips of the tongue or emphasises a point better than a good old “Fuck!!”

What do you believe are the main qualities that a climber needs to have?
Sound judgement, good climbing and rope management skills, trust and companionship with your partner/s and the ability to be able to laugh at yourself. It is not always about the grades, more often about the company.

What’s your favourite meal?

A proper Sunday roast beef meal with roasties and all the trimmings, including lashings of thick gravy and an extra-strong horse radish sauce which can incinerate your nostril hair from 10 metres away!

Cheddar Gorge

David assembling “Arnie the Drone” on top of Cheddar Gorge in the Mendips, Somerset

When you’re not climbing, what might we find you doing?

Hill walking, reading,  feeding my tropical fish, watching films, listening to music, playing my guitar and flying Arnie the Drone.  And spending hours in front of the computer editing the latest climbing video.

What’s your favourite swear word?

I have been known to say “Fuck”, Fucking hell” or even “Fuck me backwards” occasionally, probably when under stress and definitely when I am not as happy as a pig in shit. There is no expletive which is more satisfying, cathartic, expressive, trips of the tongue or emphasises a point better than a good old “Fuck!!”…

What’s your favourite smell?

Either the smell of bacon sizzling away in the grill to make a pre-climb bacon roll with mushrooms and a drizzle of brown sauce or the fragrant smell of summer alpine flora when strolling through an alpine meadow on the way to a refuge in the Alps. I guess making a bacon roll in an alpine meadow would be nasal nirvana.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Running away from a gang of local kids, though I cannot remember why, when I lived at Amlwch in Anglesey, North Wales. I was about 3 or 4 and they were much older plus bigger and one of them chucked what seemed like a rock the size of Snowdon at me. What I do remember is looking back whilst running away and this rock just came towards me in slow motion, then time stopped completely before this gargantuan rock brained me on the head. Anyway cue much blood, screaming, tears plus a few stitches on my noggin’, I still have the scar on my forehead to show for it. Nice place Amlwch and I can highly recommend it as somewhere to live.

Learning to climb? Get some great quality climbing gear.

Watch David’s The Green Bridge of Wales film below:



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