Editor's note : this account has been recovered from the faded archives of the Lefroy-Pardoe estate, largely at the behest of a reader in the United Kingdom Recreational Climbing Group of Network Users. It has been based upon parchment notes found among the papers of the late Colonel, and it is possible, indeed likely, that some elements of its veracity are, in consequence, questionable.
It was the autumn of '96, or was it '69? One forgets.
Whatever the year, the October weather was grimbo grim, and old Pedro, our guide from a dozen previous expeditions, suffered dreadfully in his ragged poncho and espadrilles. I'd have lent him a jacket and a decent pair of shoes of my own, but frankly he looked none too clean. One would naturally have preferred to have made the journey earlier in the season, but what with a Board meeting at Coutts, the Polo at Hurlingham, and Mrs P's cake exhibition at the V&A, we'd left things rather late.
Now, where was I? Ah yes. As you outdoor chaps surely know, the approach to Kepier dans les Arbres is a pretty rugged sort of jaunt, even in the best of weather. On the third evening we had a stroke of luck in finding an excellent campsite at Fuller's Bend, which we named Camp Wrist in honour of our fine old regiment, the Hussars. My great-nephew reports that the site is still in occasional use, and now they even have latrines. No need for any of that nonsense in my day!
We were troubled by inquisitive bears during that night, but when young Taffy Edwards leapt from his tent, stark naked, waving his pig-sticking lance about, our ursine visitors retreated into the forest, as well they might. Say what you like about the Welsh, you can't deny their inventiveness when it comes to livestock. We had no other difficulties with wild beasts, unless reference is made to the unseemly encounter, while we were passing through St Petersburg, between one of our more excitable cart horses and the young Princess Katherine, upon which incident let us not dwell. What a mess. The matter should now be laid to rest, unlike the poor young stallion, I fear.
Well, back to Kepier. We were making our second attempt, code-named K2 for short, on the legendary cliffs of this now-famous geographical monstrosity. It's a household word now, but in those days no-one outside a close circle of explorers would have recognized the name. The first expedition had ended in farce, after a typographical error led to a substitution of our indispensable, but somewhat specialised, sled-hauling dogs by some useless pieces of obsolete electrical equipment. The requisition to the Quartermaster, which seemed clear enough to me, had been poorly relayed over the wireless telegraph, and instead of finding ourselves equipped with our expected spotted pointers, we unpacked a crate to reveal dot-matrix printers, quite another thing. They had certainly made enough noise, although as Mascot-Major "Rodger" Ferrett-Legging later admitted over a few stiff ones at his Club, he'd been a little perplexed by their lack of appetite for anything other than typewriter ribbons, but had put this down to the altitude.
No such problems arose on our second outing to Kepier. Indeed, our stores and equipment were of the highest order, and we had the benefit of the very latest in puttees and nailed boots, not to mention the new-fangled sou'westers. Even young Edwards said he'd never seen such tackle. As an experiment, we took along some novel comestibles known as "Kendal Mint Cake", though it tasted so disgusting that, while individually pretending to like it, we each threw our packets away at the first opportunity. Our more conventional dietary needs were amply catered for by the usual hampers from Fortnum's, augmented by a consignment of Mrs P's cakes, although it has to be said that the very considerable weight of the latter was a mixed blessing when our canoes had to be portaged over rapids. It came down to the cake or the claret, and I'm ashamed to say that the cake lost the toss of my trusty double-headed sovereign in favour of the claret, which was a dashed fine '37. However, I digress.
After our departure from Camp Wrist, we enjoyed three days of uneventful trekking (say what you like about the Boer, he's taught us a thing or two about double consonants). I say uneventful, but there was an unfortunate incident in which one of the Regiment's bandsmen, clearly a little the worse for drink, waded into the river and paddled about on his buoyant musical instrument, waving the bow as a makeshift oar, perhaps in some confused nautical metaphor. The current caught him, and he disappeared from view. To our great joy, we came across him and the said stringed instrument next day, washed up on a riverbank site ideal for our semi-permanent tentage, which we naturally decided to call Bass Camp. I note with some disapproval that the term has recently been plagiarised by some homespun colonials, and others, though laughably enough the blighters have bungled the spelling.
Here in our comfortably tented village, we sorted out our kit for the ascent. It was clear that, as "Blondie" Merkin-Pratt exclaimed in his infantile manner, "there's rock and ice up there, we'll need specialized equipment!". The immense cliffs of Kepier reared over our tents like the backdrop to a production of the Lumière brothers. Their height was impossible to estimate (the cliffs, I mean; the Frères L. no doubt display the shortness typical of foreigners), since clouds covered the uppermost portion; but suffice it to say that they soared beyond the azimuth of even our seven-hundredweight theodolite. Quite how Pedro managed to carry that, as well as his dead mule (which was the only food we allowed him) is anyone's guess.
After a couple of carefree, innocently naked days packing our bags, during which the lower ranks played their usual boyish pranks upon one another, we were ready to depart. We bade farewell to our Bass Camp comrades, and as the band played an early arrangement of "Relax", and hats were thrown into the air, I must confess to a slight puckering of the upper lip. This un-British labial affliction was soon remedied by a goodly application of Mrs P's moustache wax, which she had had the foresight to pack discreetly in my personal kit, along with that other item, to which no English gentleman should make reference.
We ploughed into the dense forest from which Kepier dans les Arbres takes its name, though quite why a French appellation should be considered appropriate in such a territory is a mystery. In a matter of a few hours of sterling effort, which would have been quite beyond the capability of any foreigner, we reached the foot of the eponymous cliffs. To our dismay, it soon became clear that these features had a remarkable degree of verticality; that is to say, they were really quite steep, and in consequence it would be quite impracticable simply to walk up them. To put it another way, their topography was unlikely to be confused with that of Cambridgeshire. Perhaps the more travelled reader will be ahead of me at this point : the Fens, they were not, nor were they even any reasonable facsimile of Leicestershire. Uphill was the order of the day, an orientation for which we were not prepared. A second retreat was the only available course, and with heavy hearts and even heavier picnic baskets we turned tail, and headed back to Blighty.
It has now been many years since the ignominy of the "K2" retreat faded from the headlines of the London press, and I feel that it is perhaps at last timely to offer, with the reader's kind indulgence, the following inadequate but sincere justification of our reported difficulties.
Nothing in our researches at the Royal Geographical Society had prepared us for this problem of the steepness of Kepier. On the contrary, when I had had the temerity to suggest to the Hon. Secretary of the Society, Sir Bedford Flatland-Holland, that scaling the topographical feature to which I have made reference might require a certain facility in the novel art of climbing upon rocks, the idea was pooh-poohed with such vehemence that I felt quite unable to put to him the supplementary question with which I had come forearmed, namely, "where exactly is Kepier dans les Arbres?". The latter ignorance, of course, explains why our dozen previous expeditions had been in the company of Pedro, whose Mexican abode is, as we now know only too well, many thousands of miles removed from Kepier.
There's a more recent trip report from Kepier here; and a 1980s perspective here.
Steve & Judy Pardoe
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