Entity Type:
Balcombe, Graham (1907-2000)
Graham Balcombe was one the most technically gifted rock climbers of the early 1930s, but few seemed to recognise this at the time – Balcombe included. In just two June weeks in 1934 he pioneered three Lakes routes (Buttonhook HVS, Engineers Slabs, VS and Central Buttress Direct Finish HVS) that were technically far ahead of their time (Engineer’s Slabs was not repeated for 11 years). And yet it was not until 40 years later that Balcombe began to receive the recognition that he had been a precocious rock climbing talent. Balcombe’s comparative obscurity was probably not helped by the fact that he disappeared from the mainstream climbing scene – quite literally – not long after his mid-thirties’ triumphs, choosing to channel his remarkably nerveless energy into pioneering the frightening sport of cave diving instead. Before turning his back on climbing however, he returned to his home base in Bristol to pioneer climbing on the smooth limestone of the Avon Gorge. Unfortunately, his antics attracted the unwelcome attention of others. While climbing on the highly-visible roadside crag, a crowd of several hundred spectators gathered, blocking the highway below and arousing the involvement of the police. Perhaps as a reaction to all this unwelcome publicity, Balcombe abandoned serious rock-climbing for the anonymously dubious pleasures of cave diving. He made what was effectively the world’s first cave dive in Swindon’s Hole in February 1934 and went on to pioneer the technique in Wookey Hole. Despite all his exotically dangerous pursuits, Balcombe lived to the ripe old age of 93, before dying a natural and peacefully unexciting death.
Biographical information is kindly supplied by Colin Wells.
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
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Balcombe, Graham (1907-2000)