An Excursion in Scotland

Haunt of the Egoists
By Royal Robbins
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Davy and I worked together as fellow ski instructors in the Leysin American School, in Switzerland. And as I write this, we are again co-performers in the production of a ski movie. Davy is a burly, strong, smiling man with a generous spirit. He skies like the wind, does back-flips off the balconies of Swiss chalets, drinks with his friends, and is capable of slowly breaking the fingers, one by one, of a man who, in a fight, has grabbed him where he shouldn't. So, when Davy tells me of his mates in the Creagh Dhu who are really tough, I listen with awe.

As we drove pell-mell and lickety-split back toward Glasgow, Tom told us of Joe Brown's first trip to climb Ben Nevis in the winter, and of how happy the Scottish climbers were when the Human Fly fell several hundred feet down an icy color, and all this related in the spirit of good-natured, healthy competition.

That night I showed the Yosemite climbing film which I had brought for my lectures to a small group in Mary's home. To give the right impression, I presented it professionally; that is, I lectured and played music on a tape while the film wound out its 40 minutes. By the time it was halfway through, I felt a pompous ass treating that small group as an audience, and my embarrassed voice dribbled off into occasional self-conscious interjections.

Later, the party improved as the drink flowed and Patey sang his wonderful songs. Brian Robertson was there. I had first met Brian after the Dru Direct caper that John Harlin and I had cut. Brian had been on the regular Dru West Face route at the time and had taken some pictures of us, which he later tried to sell to John.

I confess I remember feeling slightly superior to this commercialism, not realizing that a poor American climber was affluent compared to a poor Scottish one. I'm less uptight now. (Anyone want to buy some pictures?) Despite Tom's repeated refusals, Brian kept urging him to sing "John's Song," a Harlin-deflating ditty in the Patey manner. Considering that John had just died on the Eiger in circumstances prophetically described by Tom's song, and that I, a former friend of John's, was sitting in the room, I thought Brian's repeated insistence a piece of marvelous Scottish sang froid in the face of that grinning, expectant gloater waiting out there in the darkness for all of us.

Finally Brian sang it himself, but rather diffidently, as if he must. I met Brian again in that haunt of the egoists, Yosemite Valley. He came to the Valley camera in hand, with modest ambitions and without fanfare; that is to say, with a sensible attitude, and proceeded to enjoy himself, to do good climbs, and to win the respect of the hypercritical, snobbish Yosemite climbers. I remember Brian on the Camp 4 boulders: he was at first stopped by their peculiarly rounded and smooth character, but he kept at them with the dogged persistence of the famous Scottish spider, and was soon doing the hard ones.

Next morning, although a bit haggard, we drove south feeling proud and happy to have fitted so much living into so tattle time. We did not realize then that we had forgotten the lecture film, nor that when I had recorded the singing I had erased the music I used to accompany the film. . . Mary Stewart saved us in the nick of time-but that is another story. As far as we knew, we were living happily ever after.

From the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, 1969© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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The Scotsman Hotel
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The Knight Residence
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The Howard
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Radisson Blu Hotel, Edinburgh

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