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YRC Committee. (1903) The Disaster On Scafell Crags. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 2 Number 5: pp75-78. Leeds: YRC

The Disaster On Scafell Crags.

ON the morning of Monday, the 21st of September, 1903, two parties of climbers left Wasdale Head to spend the day on the crags of Scafell, one party, consisting of R. W. Broadrick, A. E. W. Garrett, H. L. Jupp, and S. Ridsdale, went up Deep Ghyll, and from its second pitch climbed direct to the summit of Scafell Pinnacle. The other party, whose members were W. E. Webb, A. J. Slade, and H. Williamson, passed the morning on the north face of the mountain. The two parties met and had lunch together on the Rake's Progress between Botterill's Climb and Moss Ghyll, after which, at about 2.30 p.m. they' separated, the first-named four going off in the direction of Lord's Rake and taking with them 60 feet of rope which they had borrowed from the others to augment their own.

Webb and his two friends did the Keswick Brothers' Climb, went down by the Broad Stand and returned along the Rake's Progress to pick up a rucksack they had left where the two parties had lunched together. Continuing along the "Progress" with the intention of descending the scree which spreads out below Lord's Rake they found the four men from whom they had lately parted lying some way down the scree. All were roped, Ridsdale being much entangled in it. A brief examination showed that Broadrick, Garrett and Jupp were beyond human aid, but Ridsdale was still conscious, and, ignorant of the fate of his three friends, he implored his helpers to "look after the other chaps." The time was then about twenty minutes to six, or three hours after the two parties had separated. Almost immediately Williamson left and raced down to Wasdale Head for assistance, arriving at the Hotel thirty minutes later. Webb and Slade stayed with the injured man, doing what little lay in their power to alleviate his sufferings. During their trying vigil in the gathering dusk they learned from his fragmentary utterances that the ill-fated party had been attempting "something new" on the face of Scafell Pinnacle, and that when the climb was commenced Broadrick was leading, but that he changed places on the rope with Garrett who resumed the ascent as leader. Subsequently a slip occurred and all four fell, with the sad result recounted.

After hastily getting together lanterns and other necessaries, Williamson and a few others - including a doctor, who fortunately was staying at the Hotel - started back for the scene of the accident, where they arrived at about 8.30. Later they were followed by some dalesmen who took up a hurdle on which to carry the survivor down. This arrived about 10 o'clock and it was eleven when the long and painful journey down to Wasdale was begun. Progress was necessarily slow, as the darkness, only partially dispelled by the feeble light from the lanterns, added much to the difficulty of the descent. The Hotel was not reached until 3.30 on Tuesday morning. Poor Ridsdale had  passed away during the journey. The bodies of the others were brought down during the day and an inquest was held on Wednesday, the 23rd September.

Such are the main particulars of this terrible disaster, the first that has happened in Great Britain in which an entire party of roped climbers have met with their death, and the sympathy of all mountaineers who have read the sad tale will have gone out to the relatives of the unfortunate men.

Of Broadrick, who out of the four, was the only member of our Club, a short memoir will be found on another page of the Journal ; and of Jupp, Ridsdale and Garrett one of our members who has spent many days with them on the fells writes:- "They were all such uncommonly first rate fellows,"  and We believe that the anxiety manifested by Ridsdale - badly injured as he was - on behalf of his companions, was only what would have been the feeling of any one of the other three if he had been the survivor.

Although in the absence of personal testimony the precise spot where the fatal slip occurred may never be known with certainty sufficient proofs have been found to show that Broadrick and his friends had been attempting the ascent of the Pinnacle direct by the buttress. The line of route lies not many yards to the right of Jones's Pinnacle route from Lord's Rake. The rocks have been examined from above since the accident by more than one party, and nail marks seen by them evidence the height to which the unfortunate climbers had reached. The marks cease within a few feet of the bottom of the crack which divides the detached block at the top of the nose from the main crag. O. G. Jones wrote of the buttress as a "thrilling piece of work" and "possible," but between the nail marks and the crack above mentioned the crags are regarded by men of undoubted skill and experience as absolutely impossible, and in the hope that others may be induced to look upon the whole buttress as such we propose to briefly call attention to the nature of the rocks thereabouts and the undesirability of further attempts being made on them.

Within the angle formed by two lines drawn from the top of the Low Man, one to the bottom of the buttress and the other to the bottom of Hopkinson's Gully, the crags are very much alike in kind. Only one successful ascent of the Pinnacle is known to have been made up them. They were attempted from Lord's Rake in December, 1887, by Mr. C. Hopkinson and Mr. H. Woolley and two others, but at a height of "between 150 and 200 feet" the party was stopped by a steep slab of rock coated with ice, and it was not until nearly eleven years later that O. G. Jones and G. T. Walker "favoured by the best of conditions were just able to overcome" the difficulty. Readers of the account which Jones has given in his book may have noticed that it is not characterised by his usual fullness. There is amply sufficient, however, to satisfy most men of the exceptional difficulty of the climb, and though it was Jones's custom to verify his notes by making a subsequent visit he never repeated this climb, which fact, taken with the serious manner of his record, may be regarded as significant. In his classification of Lake District courses beginning with "easy" and ending with "exceptionally severe" it is placed last of all. A slip is known to have occurred during an attack on this face later to a strong and experienced cragsman, when the safety of his party seems to have been due to something little short of a miracle, and when we consider Jones's description of the rocks - their steepness, smoothness and the probably insufficient halting places they afford, and remembering too that though he usually endeavoured to justify his brilliant climbs by detailing their precautionary possibilities, and that he nowhere in his description refers to the possibility of belaying the rope on these slabs we are irresistibly led to the conviction that the climbing there is of too desperate a character for any party. We are well aware that what would be criminal for some men to attempt may be well within the power of others, but it should be always borne in mind that the ablest of climbers is not exempt from the risk of a slip at some time or another, and there is one rule that should apply to all, viz:- If the nature of a climb is such that the members of a roped party, instead of being able to afford that mutual security which is the sole reason for the use of the rope, become a source of danger to each other, then there can be no justification for attempting it.

Much as every climber must feel the sadness of the fatality, and loth as one may be to seem to cast a shadow of doubt on the judgment of such excellent cragsmen as Broadrick and his companions (the brotherhood which exists among mountaineers negatives the suggestion of such intention), the interests of the living has compelled us to touch on the question. When the previous history of the Pinnacle from Lord's Rake is seriously weighed, together with this terrible disaster to four thoroughly able men, we feel sure that the record and object lesson will not be thrown away. If the effect of the accident is to induce the exercise of still more of that caution which we know to be the rule among good climbers, and thereby to ensure their greater safety, then, and then only, can it be said that any compensation is afforded for the loss of four valuable lives There is no accident from which a lesson is not to be learned, and if the obvious teaching of this, the saddest event in British climbing records, is disregarded it may safely be predicted that it will not be the last of its kind.

It should not be thought either that these strictures apply only to the ascent of Scafell Pinnacle from Lord's Rake. Other rock climbs have been done where the margin of safety is too small even for the most skilful cragsmen. Not only on the hills of Scotland, Cumberland and North Wales, but on the numerous and comparatively low crags scattered over Britain and used as practice grounds, the standard of difficulty is extremely high and is yearly becoming higher, and with the increase must come a larger element of risk. Anything in the nature of competitive climbing such as this increase may bring into existence cannot be too strongly condemned, and a man who becomes imbued with the mere desire to surpass the rock climbing feats of others will deserve the fate he is not unlikely to meet with.

Let all men climb who may, but let them ever bear in mind that accidents bring the sport into disrepute, and, above all, that he climbs best who climbs safest.