It seems a long time ago and a different age. We climbed with hawser ropes tied around our waist and hammers dangling from our side. The cameras were shooting super 16mm film.
This is my haphazard memory of five days in the summer of 1978. Jim Curran unexpectedly suggested that I play the part of Dougal Haston in a proposed film of the classic Robin Smith short story ‘The Bat and the Wicked’
Smith and Haston climbed The Bat in 1959 and the tale has been part of British mountain folk law ever since. Reputedly the climb was named after the great swooping falls taken on the first ascent, much of which was climbed at night.
The late 70’s saw me living the nomadic life of a climbing bum in Sheffield between expeditions to the Himalayas. Moving my sleeping bag between Rab Carrington’s, Paul Nunn’s and Bob Toogood’s floors.
Jim had joined forces with Tony Riley to make the film and by the time we headed north to Scotland and Ben Nevis, they had press-ganged Rab to play Robin Smith and Paul Nunn to rig and keep us safe.
The big issue was Rab’s beard, which I suspect he was born with? He certainly did not want to cut it off, and his wife Sue suggested we would never get a pair of scissors anywhere near Rab’s hairy chin. The part of Smith required a clean shave.
It was a great surprise when we all converged on Fort William and a barely recognisable clean shaven Smith lookalike appeared from Paul’s car.
The rain was horizontal and prospects did not look good but we managed to film indoor scenes in the CIC hut nestled below the cliff of Carn Dearg where the epic ascent took place. Next day we set off up the climb in period dress and kit. Basically two number 4 hawser laid ropes that had a mind of their own, a bunch of rope slings, some pegs and wooden wedges and a peg hammer. We managed to climb and film the first couple of pitches without too much bother. Jim was hanging on ropes and Tony filming from the base of the climb. But the following day the fun began.
On the original ascent the excitement began in the middle of the climb, 3 pitches up. Rab had to re-enact a couple of short falls on the Hoodie Grove pitch then I emulated Haston on the crux. Haston was committed to a long runout on this crux pitch and took a huge fall. I had to repeat this and with Rab belaying in traditional, round the waist style, I climbed 30 feet above my last runner, flayed around and fell off. What I didn’t realise was that Rab had let out some slack to make the fall more spectacular. I hurtled head first towards the belay ledge and came to an abrupt stop on the old wire-like rope and only a few feet above the camera lens of a startled Jim Curran.
The filming was finished in the dark just as on the original climb.