Martin Kocsis tracks down Lakes legend Al Phizacklea. Climber of classic routes, sketcher of crag diagrams, drinker of real ale and Chair of the BMC Lakes Area
What are the greatest challenges facing climbers and walkers in the Lake District?
Bureaucrats, environmentalists and car-parking attendants. Those and increasing alcohol prices.
What makes climbing in the Lakes so special?
Sometimes, at the end of a hot day, you get a moment of light from the sun that seems to make the whole view glow, and you realise that it’s those moments that the artist Heaton-Cooper always painted, a beautiful ethereal moment in time. That, and the real ale.
Some think that the Lakes is a backwater of UK climbing?
Let them think that, it keeps the crowds away. And if you’re climbing at Dave Birkett’s standard, this area is certainly no backwater.
As the new chair of the Lakes Area, you cut through the waffle at the latest meeting in record time – what’s your secret?
A loud bell did the trick. Actually, the secretary (Marion Parsons) provided a simple agenda which was easy to follow, enabling me to ring that bell when the meeting started to get boring.
You’ve been elected as Vice President of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club. Any plans?
We have to ensure that the recruitment of members keeps pace with the natural rate of membership loss. If we can’t achieve this, it will affect the ability of the club to retain our structure, huts and our ability to produce guidebooks.
If you could have one superpower for a week, what would that be?
To stop the rain when I have a week’s holiday on the crags.
What’s in your CD player?
The best of Led Zep. I suppose it’s all about trying to hang onto the last vestiges of youth.
Your drawings in the Gable guide have drawn praise from all, but surely it’s easier to just take a picture?
I really do support the use of photo diagrams since it’s a right pain to produce all those crag drawings. I didn’t mind it for Dow Crag, Scafell and Esk, because they’re my favourites, but knocking out drawings for chossy little crags was an absolute chore. I still do the 3D aerial views for the guides though because I can exaggerate features on the ground, make crags look better than they are and generally set out a picture to show what I want. You can’t do that from an aeroplane.
What’s your claim to fame?
I suppose it was spending my 19th birthday with Tom Proctor, who took me on a tour of the classics of the Peak, we did Valkyrie on Froggatt, Sirplum, Suicide Wall, Five Finger Exercise and Darius. An unforgettable day.
Chocolate flapjack, cream horn or fruit slice?
I always get the horn
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