Kepier dans les Arbres
More of its climbing history : an 80's tale, submitted by a local historian

Editor's note : There were tales in climbers' pubs of a mid-80s attempt - with no permit, of course - by a small team of impecunious, talented, young-but-aggressive-with-a-bad-attitude Brits, probably including the legendary "Nobby" Pardoe (who lived for 4 years in a dustbin at the Aiguille du Midi telepherique station, while holding down a day job as a pushbike courier in Lyon, and pushing the envelope in extreme post-punk Alpinism with "borrowed" gear), and probably fuelled by Mrs P's notorious ganja cake ........


An unedited video tape of Nobby Pardoe being interviewed in 2001 by Cameron McBeardy for BBC Winsford's short-lived "On the hills with Cameron McBeardy" series has come into this author's possession. Strangely, the interview was never transmitted. A transcript of the tape follows:

[Screen flickers; vertical and horizontal holds sort themselves out; image stabilises]

Nobby Pardoe is in shot. He is sitting in an elegant wicker chair on a terrace, with a wall of mellow Cotswold stone behind. He is sipping a glass of Perrier, and dressed simply but stylishly in a crisp white shirt, with a Nicole Farhi sweatshirt tied round his shoulders, and Beckham sun glasses pushed up on to his hair.

The back of Cameron McBeardy's head is in the left foreground.

[Soundtrack becomes audible]

Nobby Pardoe: " ...well, yes of course, I've owned this rather decent old rectory, 18th century mostly, for a few years now... ...and I've still got the little place in Languedoc, where the vineyard is coming along nicely. Sadly, I had to let the ski lodge in Utah go, divorce settlement for Jemima, y'know. Shame, I'd just had half a hectare of Uruguayan mahogany decking put in round the hot tub."

Cameron McBeardy: "A few problems with the neighbours, it was said. Was it those mad parties, like the old days?"

NP: "No, not at all. Sting kept complaining the decking wasn't from sustainable forests. I'd have decked him in the old days, but my Zen teacher said it was not advisable."

CMcB: "But you're keeping busy?"

NP: "Yes, as a matter of fact. You know the sort of thing. Bits and pieces here and there. I've been doing some work with equipment, lampshades for Fired Earth mostly, but some new tones for the Homebase pebble-dashing range as well. A bit of consultancy in the City, and on the West Coast, team-building... catalogue shoots for South Slope ...and OUP is publishing my first collection of free verse soon ...pseudonym, of course... "

CMcB: "Mmmm, I know. I'm working on a cello concerto myself."

NP: "Oh really? And who is going to play it? I could give Yo-Yo Ma a call if you like. Are you enjoying the cake? The old gardener's wife insists on making it for me, she's a dear old thing and he's very nice, but he does witter on about his square roots when I'm trying to get to the station for the 8:56 up to town."

Voice off  : "Get ready, guys. Recording in 10."

CMcB: "****. Better get sorted, mate."

NP: "**** ******** yes. Oh **** ***** *****. Look at us, for *********'s sake".

[The tape jumps at this point for a few seconds]

NP is now wearing a battered South Slope fleece jacket, and a battered South Slope baseball cap. The logos are clear and bright. His stubble seems to have grown, and his karabiner earring is prominent. He is drinking from a bottle of beer, and on the table in front of him is an ashtray full of stubbed-out roll-ups. The Cotswold stone wall behind appears somehow darker, dirtier, rugged, in a word, northern.

CMcB: "Welcome to the Cameron McBeardy interview. Today I'm talking to one of the legendary hardmen of contemporary British alpinism, Nobby Pardoe. So, Nobby, how's it going?"

NP: "Orright mate".

CMcB: "Where are you based these days?"

NP: "Right mate. Still in the squat in Sheffield with me mates in the band. 'Course, I get in the Transit and head off to the Alps regular, do some stuff".

CMcB: "And what's it like, making a living as a self-employed mountaineer?"

NP: "Not bad. Sign on every fortnight. Do a bit of guiding in the greater ranges for me mate Masher. Take some punters to base camp too quickly, give 'em poor food, they're ill, me and Masher go and nab another British first ascent. Which is good, gets me a few trips out there, pick up some gear, bit of import/export, know what I mean?"

[Voice off: "We'll edit that bit in the studio".]

CMcB: "What we're here to talk about is your first book. Tell us about it, Nobby."

NP: "Right mate. It's been hard you know. I grew up dyslexic in the mean streets of Sevenoaks. Writer's block. But I knew I had a story to tell."

CMcB: "Mmmmm. Lovely cake. You've called your book "We was 'ard in them days". Why?"

NP: "Dunno really. The girl at the publishers suggested it."

CMcB: "The crucial episode is, of course the legendary ascent of Kepier dans les Arbres. And the hard question, which, forgive me, I have to ask, is: did you guys really climb it in '85?".

[30 seconds silence. The gentle, rhythmic tap of a beer bottle on a marble table top. In the foreground, a bead of sweat rolls down CMcB's earlobe and drips off his earring.]

NP: [softly] "You looking for a ******* fight mate? Course we ******* climbed it. Me and my mate ***** Jozzer. Eight ****** days on ****** the ******* route, with two ******** days food and no ******** ice ******* screws. We was 'ard in them days."

CMcB: "Er, um, I take your point".

NP: "Yes. 12 points on each crampon up your "

CMcB: "OK, OK, it's commonly accepted in the climbing press and the back room of The Dangling Krab in Keswick that you guys did climb the route back in '85, that you had to be quiet because you had no permit "

NP: "Couldn't afford one on the dole mate. Blame Mrs T."

CMcB: "Indeed, like you couldn't afford a camera."

NP: "Right mate. It got nicked on the coach from Islamabad. Had to claim on the insurance, know what I mean?"

CMcB: "So, one of the great British ascents, nay, raids of that era. A minimum of gear, not hampered by doctrines of a bygone era, pushing the envelope, executed to the driving beat of The Clash and inner city roots reggae."

NP: "Yep. You forgot the bit about fuelled by amphetamines and cheap Turkish brandy."

CMcB: "Oops. Sorry. We'll edit it in afterwards."

NP: "No problem. Got the Sunday Times serialization to think of."

CMcB: "But what went wrong afterwards? You and Jozzer never climbed together again."

NP: "Yeah. Right. Mate. It was like a difficult situation, know what I mean. Climbing . You have to be able to rely on your partner 100%. And after what happened, I realised ... you know ... I just couldn't trust him."

CMcB: "But what actually happened? I have to press you on this point."

NP: "Right. Yeah. Know what I mean, mate? He was a 'ard climber from Sheffield. Worked down pit for 2 years after leaving school. Then jacked it in for climbing. But..."

CMcB: "But?"

NP: "I've never said this before (but we're leading the Sunday Times serialization with it). On the descent, fourteenth abseil, we were a bit short of gear, of everything really, no abseil tat to speak of. And then Jozzer said: "I suppose this'll do the trick, old boy". And I thought: "what's he ********** on about? Old boy?" And he pulled what I thought was a sling out of his pocket. Then I looked again. It wasn't a sling. It was a ... it was a ... a tie."

CMcB: [gently]: "So?"

NP: "It was a striped tie. And then he cracked up. He said he couldn't live a lie any more. It was a tie, his old school tie. An Eton College tie. He wasn't from Sheffield at all. He wasn't called Jozzer. He was called Joselyn Whitam-Stafford, and his father was the Earl of Sheffield. I'd been climbing with an upper class prat for three years - and never even realised".

CMcB: "Oh dear"

NP: "You see my problem. Bang goes all me credibility ... 'ard Sheffield climber belayed by an old Etonian."

CMcB: "I see what you mean. ****, if anyone ever finds out I'm not really Scottish only been north of Solihull a few times actually."

NP: "Yes indeed. Nasty up north isn't it. Get your feet wet. Very unpleasant. Luckily, for the catalogue shoots we have a big camper van with warm dry gear ready, and a nice cup of Earl Grey."

CMcB: "More of a Lapsang Souchong person myself. Fortnums do a good one."

NP: "Oh really? Anyway, would you care to stay to dinner? Mrs P is doing one of her casseroles, I believe, with herbs from the organic garden. I'll send Simpson down to the cellar for a couple of bottles of the '81."

CMcB: "Is there any more of that delicious cake? It seems to have a certain herby flavour. Oh *** is that tape still rolling?"

[Ends]


Text © Steve Carr 2002

Any reference to anyone is completely accidental and for weakly humorous purposes only.

Now mainly of historical interest, the original essay "K2, or the Second Retreat from Kepier" by the late Col "South" Lefroy-Pardoe, BF and Bore (Retarded) is now available on the interweb thingy here.

There's a more recent trip report from Kepier here.


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