Entity Type:
Livesey, Peter Michael (1943-1998)
Livesey, Peter Michael (1943-1998)
Peter Livesey's interest in climbing started at a young age with solo trips to Lindley Moor Quarry in Huddersfield. Livesey’s guide to the quarry, possibly his first publication on the sport, is now as lost as the routes it described. It was not as a climber, however, but as a runner that Livesey first attracted attention in his home town of Huddersfield. At the age of twelve he was spotted by Granville Beckett, boxing and athletics correspondent at the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, and persuaded to join Longwood Harriers where Beckett was Secretary. Longwood was throughout the 1950s and 1960s one of the strongest running clubs in England and boasted on its roster luminaries such as Derek Ibbotson, the 1500 metres bronze medallist at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics; Livesey was one of “Ibbotson’s lads". In later life, Livesey remarked that his failure to win the AAA Steeplechase at White City led him to leave serious running for other pursuits.

By the early 1960s, Livesey had developed an interest in caving, joining Bradford Pothole Club and the Cave Diving Group in quick succession. In 1964, Livesey and caving partner Mike Boon achieved national notice when they got to the end of Mossdale Caverns, the first known repeat since Bob Leakey’s incredible solo explorations in 1941. Bradford Pothole Club was not a narrow club, and a number of its members and associates were also active rock climbers. Livesey soon made the connection, and with partners such as Dave Cobley and John Stanger of the Phoenix Club, was progressing through the grades with an early repeat of White Slab on Clogwyn D’ur Arddu and an unsuccessful attempt on Vector on Craig Bwlch y Moch in 1965. Toward the end of that year, Livesey gave up steady work at Thomas Broadbent’s, the Huddersfield engineering company that he had been apprenticed to as an electrical engineer since leaving school. Livesey had decided on a career in outdoor education, in which he remained throughout the rest of his life. His first post was at Bewerley Park Centre, where he instructed whitewater kayaking, and worked his way up through the rankings into Division II in K1, paddling variously for Leeds University and Bingley College. He could have reached Division I ranking and conceivably bid for a place in the GB team for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but this would have required a singleness of purpose that would have excluded other activities.

Besides the blue and white Longwood vest, Livesey’s canoeing crash hat was a frequent ornament on climbing trips and reminder of sporting prowess in other fields. Livesey was often out climbing with Stanger and other Phoenix members John Sheard, Jim Shackleton and John Barraclough. Livesey notched up with Stanger the second ascent of the Rimmon Route on the Troll Wall in Norway in June 1967 and some notable first ascents in Norway. But while in Norway, six leading young cavers, including John Ogden and Bill Frakes who were among his closest friends in the Bradford Pothole Club, were drowned in Mossdale in what remains the UK’s worst ever caving accident. Livesey was to commemorate this event ten years’ later with The Mossdale Trip in Gordale. After Mossdale, caving trips became less of a priority, and climbing began to take precedence. Livesey made a number of seriously dangerous new routes at Langcliffe Quarry, such as Sickler.

In 1970 Livesey was teaching in Scunthorpe, where only the local climbing wall provided any opportunity for training during the week. From this enforced absence, Livesey emerged in October 1971 and, with Sheard, attained the first free ascent of Face Route on Gordale, followed a month later by Jenny Wren next door. These routes were high profile and hard; the climbing establishment could not immediately accept that an unknown such as Livesey could establish routes of this difficulty, and controversially they were omitted from the next guidebook. Undeterred, Livesey, accompanied by his younger brother Alec and by Sheard, continued to put up new routes at the highest standard and waged an aid-elimination campaign on a number of existing routes in the Lakes and Yorkshire. Clink and Alick on Trow Gill, Central Wall on Kilnsey, Doubting Thomas on Malham Cove and Fine Time on Raven Crag, Langdale, all went up in quick succession during 1972 and established beyond doubt that Livesey and team were regularly climbing at E4 and E5 standard. Livesey brought out his own short guide, Lime Climbs, which listed many of these routes. By 1973 he was established on the teaching staff at Bingley College where a group of like minded climbers including Jill Lawrence, Gill Price, Pete Gomersall and Steve Foster coalesced around him. Routes continued to come thick and fast in 1973, including the freeing of Wellington Crack on Ilkley and the ascent of Limehill on Malham Cove, but it was probably the crop of routes in 1974 that cemented Livesey’s position: Footless Crow and Bitter Oasis on Goat Crag, Borrowdale; Eastern Hammer on Gimmer Crag, Langdale; Right Wall on Dinas Cromlech; and Dry Gasp on Upper Falcon Crag, Borrowdale form an impressive array of hard, sustained and technical routes, often with only very sketchy protection. In addition to the 1974 campaign Livesey left a trail of hard, high standard climbs over the next five years: Cream on Craig Bwlch y Moch; Quickstep and Great Wall on Craig y Forwen; Rough and Tumble on Dow Crag, Coniston; Dream and Liberator, on Bosigran; Memory Lane and Foil on Dinas Cromlech; Stroll On on Clogwyn y Grochan; Zukator on Craig Bwlch y Moch; Blitzkrieg and Das Kapital on Raven Crag, Thirlmere; Purr-Spire on Clogwyn D’ur Arddu; and Golden Mile on Chee Tor. As well as putting up his own routes, Livesey also made early repeats of many of the hardest routes put up by his peers in the UK and elsewhere, such as Profit of Doom and Linden on Curbar, and with Fawcett, Astroman in Yosemite. He was also an accomplished solo climber with great self control, making a number of on sight solos, many of which were the first known solo ascents, including: Lord of the Rings on Scafell East Buttress; Silly Arete on Craig Pant Ifan; Sidewalk and Holocaust on Dow Crag, Coniston; Hairless Heart on Froggatt; Winking Crack on Gogarth; Grand Alliance on Black Crag, Borrowdale; Great Wall on Pentire; Old Friends on Stanage; Ghost on Bosigan; Green Death on Millstone; Darius on High Tor; Five Finger Exercise and Fernhill on Cratcliffe Tor; and Capital Punishment on Suicide Wall, Idwal.

Livesey was not just focused on the UK. His many caving and canoeing trips abroad had opened his eyes to the potential of other parts, and he made regular trips to the Alps, the Vercors, the Verdon Gorge and Buoux and to Yosemite in the USA where he made some notable first free ascents and eliminated significant aid from existing lines such as East Face of the Fleischbank; Rebuffat’s Route on the Aguille du Midi; and the Livanos Route on the Rocher d’Archaine, Vercors. Livesey was an early promoter of rock climbing tourism and brought out one of the first English-language guide books to rock climbing in France. Error-laden and subject to criticism at the time, the guide nonetheless opened the eyes of a generation of insular Brits to the possibilities of rock climbing in endless sunshine. In 1972 Livesey made the first ascent of the South Pillar of Koh-i-Parau in Iran and in 1977 he and Lawrence climbed the West Face of Tyrokwa on Baffin Island. Inevitably, Livesey’s intense activity brought detractors, reaching back to his early first ascents in Langdale in 1970, increasing over Face Route in 1971 and always simmering thereafter. Livesey’s competitive streak and ruthlessness led to serious errors in approach on occasion, which critics were quick to pounce on, be it his use of top rope preparation and yo-yoing which marked the first ascent of Fingerlicker on Craig Pant Ifan, or chipping holds on the top pitch of Claws on Kilnsey and on Downhill Racer on Froggatt.

Livesey stepped back from the competitive front line in climbing in 1980, taking a higher degree in physical education at Leeds Carnegie and settling down soon thereafter to a married life and fatherhood. Livesey remained actively involved in the climbing scene for many years. A writer of considerable ability, he had contributed regularly to caving and climbing periodicals for more than a decade, when he was approached by Walt Unsworth at Climber & Rambler to take over Rockscene from Bill O’Connor in 1977. From this vantage point, Livesey was able to comment on the new routes of the day and the climbing scene in general on a monthly basis. He was also a member of the technical and safety committees at Plas y Brenin for many years, and wrote two instructional books on rock climbing in association with the BMC. As a teacher at Bingley, and latterly Ilkley College, Livesey was fully aware of the moves toward certification-based learning in the 1980s and controversially introduced a proposal at the BMC for certification in rock climbing. This was shot down at the time, but in later years was largely re-instituted as the groundwork for the current SPA accreditation, a lasting testament to Livesey’s far-sightedness. From the café in Malham that he and his wife ran for many years, Livesey remained a recognised figure on the scene, and was often spotted out running and training for his chosen pursuits in later life, orienteering and fell-running. First place in HTV’s 1981 broadcast Survival of the Fittest programme was followed by several top-ten ranked finishes in the KIMM and, in the year of his death number one ranking in the UK M54 class. Changes at Ilkely in 1997 persuaded Livesey that it might be time to take early retirement, but scarcely had he done so than cancer of the pancreas was diagnosed, from which he died in early 1998 at the age of 54.

Further reading: A Century on the Crags, Alan Hankinson, 1986
2006-08-06 00:00:00
Maxine Willett
Access Points:
Livesey, Peter Michael (1943-1998)
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B008 : Lakeland Rock Classic climbs with Chris Bonington