Rusty Westmorland OBE, Lakeland’s last climbing pioneer – Founding Father of Keswck MRT [1886-1984]

Horace Westmorland, was born in Penrith, Cumberland in 1886, second and last child of Emma and Thomas Westmorland, Alice being his older sister for one year.

The Westmorland family ran a successful tanning business in town, giving them the money and time to spend all their free time exploring the farthest corners of the English Lake District at a time when it was wild, mostly without fences. , without fences. of tourists, and more importantly, with only a handful of rock climbs, usually the mountain ravines and then only in winter, this being the training ground for the middle-class mountaineers who made it to the Cumberland Hills. before heading out to the Alps. on annual climbing trips.

For their part, the Westmorland family was well known for their adventurous lifestyle, in fact their father, aunt and uncle were noted for their ropeless ascent of Pillar Rock in 1873, making it the second ascent of a lady.

What may not be known is that Rusty, as he was called, had a climbing career that spanned over 90 years, with many first ascents under his belt, both here in the English Lake District and in the Rocky Mountains. Canadians.

It all started on his first birthday, when he and his 2-year-old sister were taken by their parents to an outdoor overnight camp on Norfolk Island in Ullswater. Two weeks later, both were taken to the top of Helvellyn, to attend the bonfire to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. On his fourth birthday, his father took him to Brougham Castle, where they both went upstairs and back down, without using a rope.

On his 11th birthday, he was going to meet the ‘father of English rock climbing’, Walter Parry Haskett-Smith, along with 3 other notable Lakeland climbers: John W. Robinson, Ellis Carr and Geoffrey Hastings, when they were returning from a Failed attempt. in a ravine in Tarn Crag above Grisedale. What Rusty did not know at the time, was that it would be his name that would take the credit for the first ascent of this daring climb some 13 years later, and that 2 years after that, he would be hiking in the Canadian Rockies with Haskett. -Smith, when a rockfall so well could have ended Haskett-Smith’s climbing career, if not his life, but sources at the time, kept this incident a secret.

On his 15th birthday (1901), he climbed Pillar with his sister and father, all without ropes, a daring feat for the time, and made several attempts without ropes in some still-unscaled ravines in Dovedale and Deepdale. .

When his father died in 1909, Rusty became a private media man, so he was able to go climbing almost every day. During this new freedom, he met and became close friends with George and Ashley Abraham, with whom he had to climb on many occasions.

Despite regularly climbing with his older cousins ​​John Mounsey and Arthur North, doing exploratory climbs on many local crags, 1910 was for Rusty the busiest climbing time he had ever had to date. He started in January climbing Tremadoc and Carreg Wasted with George and Ashley Abraham, where they climbed long before returning to the lakes to continue their climb until the end of February. In March with others, he made the first ascent of Easter Crack at Elliptical Crag followed in April by a first ascent of Blizzard Chimney. With his cousins, he climbed more winter climbs on the St. Sunday Crag; Fairfield; The Dodds; Dollywaggon Pike; and Catchedicam. In June he set out for the Alps with the Abraham brothers on a photographic climbing expedition. During their visit, they made many first ascents which became the basis for George’s book ‘On Alpine Heights and British Crags’.

Returning to the lakes, Rusty continued climbing with his cousins, making the first Chock Gully and Dove Crag ascents, plus a second Dollywaggon Gully ascent, possibly the first true full ascent in a single climb.

In 1911, he went to Canada and got a job with a mountain surveying group led by Arthur Wheeler, the founder of the Alpine Club of Canada. During his three years working with Wheeler, Rusty climbed many peaks and peaks in the Canadian Rockies alongside Swiss guides such as Konrad Cain, the Fuez brothers, and others. Their list of promotions is impressive (some 1st and 2nd promotions) some only invite a few repeat promotions. His climbs total more than sixty peaks and peaks, including being the first person to climb the cliff of Mount Whyte.

He obtained a commission in the Territorial Army – Gordon Highlanders Regiment 50, and after the outbreak of World War I, he was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Transportation Company. During his time at the front, he was nominated several times for dispatch mentions for his bravery when he led his horse ammunition supply train under fire to the troops on the front lines in both Ypres and the Somme.

He returned to Canada after the war, continued to serve in the Canadian Army, and climbed and skied whenever possible. He discovered climbing cliffs in Nova Scotia, was instrumental in discovering places to ski in Quebec, and made major climbing ascents in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, some of which have rarely been repeated. In addition, he was a keen horseman and participated in many competitions in Halifax, Nova Scotia, winning several times in his class (heavy horse), and was also a good amateur golfer and all-round skier.

In 1936, he went to the Alps with his close friend Dr. PB Finn (Director of Atlantic Fisheries), for two weeks and in that time, they climbed the Unttergabellahon, Riffelhorn (by three different routes), Rimpfischhorn, and then they capped off their vacation. with an ascent to the Matterhorn. When they returned to Cumberland, Gerald Greenback and others had created the Lake District Ski Club, of which Rusty was invited to be president, to which he remained connected for the rest of his life.

Upon his return to Canada, he made the first winter ascent of the East and West Lion outside of Vancouver; did the first winter ski exploration of the entire Yoho Valley; he discovered a rock called Eagle’s Nest and made the first ascents of all the routes in both summer and winter; wrote countless articles on climbing and mountaineering for local newspapers; He gave frequent illustrated talks on the subject and participated fully in the mountain warfare training program established in the Rocky Mountains by the Alpine Club of Canada. This prompted Rusty to make a clandestine visit to the War Office in London, which resulted in the Lovat Scouts being sent to the training program, commanded by Frank Smythe.

With the onset of World War II, Rusty received the go-ahead from the Canadian government to establish and manage the country’s first military mountain warfare official training ground at Terrace, east of Prince Rupert. While traveling there on the train, he became seriously ill with biliary colic which led to the removal of his gallbladder. As a result, in 1945 he was medically discharged from the army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, returned to his beloved Cumberland, and settled in retirement at Keswick.

He was never someone who allowed grass to grow underfoot, he was on the moors and cliffs within days of getting home.

A year later, in 1946, he came to the aid of Wilfrid Noyce (Everest veteran) who had fractured his femur while climbing Great Gable. This event led to Rusty forming the Borrowdale Mountain Rescue Team, which later changed its name to the Keswick MRT. He was finally awarded the OBE for his services to mountain rescue, in addition to receiving the Silver Rope Award from the Alpine Club of Canada in 1947, being the only climber to do so that year.

Throughout his life, he climbed and toured the hills and hills of the UK and Canada with many notable climbers; Haskett Smith, George Seatree, Norman Collie, Noel Odell, Bentley Beetham, Harry Griffin, Godfrey Solly, Tony Mason-Hornby (Ogwen Cottage), John Disley, and many others. In the 1960s he suffered from stomach cancer, underwent 15 major operations, was given a few weeks to live in 1964, but was still climbing and walking in 1976 at age 90, without a helmet, harness, or other modern climbing aids. , and with a full suit. time catheter!

He published ‘Adventures in Climbing’ (1964), wrote articles for a variety of climbing magazines, and did the world’s first live overseas radio broadcast while rock climbing with Stanley Williamson in Borrowdale, the announcer responsible for freeing Captain Thain to blame for the Manchester United air disaster in Munich.

Rusty was a quiet and unassuming person, who preferred to be in the shadows of publicity. He took great interest in introducing many newbies to climbing and skiing, and he firmly believed in the adage that climbers must not fall and as such must learn to ascend and descend to improve their climbing technique and skills.

On November 24, 1984, Rusty finally succumbed to his illness and sadly dementia, and passed away in a nursing home near Kirkby Stephen.

His father and uncle marked a particular view of the Great Gable, considered the best in all of Lakeland, by building a cairn in the 1830s, now known as the Westmorland Cairn where Rusty’s ashes were scattered. He left behind an only child, Horace Lyndhurst, and an only grandson, Dickon who now lives in Australia.