Entity Type:
Jones, Owen Glynne (1867-1899)
Jones, Owen Glynne (1867-1899)
An ethnically Welsh Londoner, Owen Glynne Jones was undoubtedly the first climbing superstar. Like many an iconic movie star, he died young, leaving in his wake controversy, a fan club, and some very fine exploits. Perhaps partly because of this, of all the original pioneers Jones’ name is probably the one which is still known to just about every British climber, whether they be a body-pierced sport climber, adolescent boulderer, etiolated wall-rat or gnarled alpinist. Jones was not universally acclaimd in his day however; many thought him abrasive and boastful. But there was more to Jones than just a loud mouth, a strong nerve and some very strong fingers. He was arguably the man who more than any other, really broke the mould of climbing, encouraging it to break free of its traditional shackles by his obsessive pursuit of hard, technical free-climbing as an end in itself, rather than simply ‘training’ for ‘real’ mountains. As if this concept wasn’t radical enough, his approach to first ascents was also strikingly modern, as exemplified by his use (in 1896) of a top-rope to practise the crux of the futuristic Lakeland climb of Kern Knotts Crack prior to the first ascent. He also introduced an adjectival grading system for categorising the difficulty of climbs which still forms the basis of the British system to this day. However, on top of all this Jones possessed an historically precocious ability to promote his exceptional skill by the use of media contacts. He was one of the earliest climbers to be featured regularly and prominently in photographs, thanks to his association with the pioneers of adventure photography, the Abraham brothers of Keswick. Perhaps appropriately, the man dubbed ‘the first rock athlete’ met an acrobatic end, when the human pyramid being used to surmount an awkward step on the west ridge of the Dent Blanche collapsed, catapulting him and his companions into oblivion. Jones thus met his death, much as he had led his life - in spectacular fashion. He was buried in the Swiss Alps, far from the crags and outcrops of the western British rock ‘gymnasia' he had almost single-handedly transformed into the forging ground of modern rock-climbing. Ironically, therefore, he lies surrounded by the mountains he had helped to steer the cutting edge of the sport away from. After Jones however, climbing was never the same again.

2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
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Jones, Owen Glynne (1867-1899)