Horace Westmorland, was born in Penrith, Cumberland in 1886, the second and last child of Emma and Thomas Westmorland, Alice being his older sister by a year.
The Westmorland family ran a successful tannery business in the town, which afforded them the money and the time to devote all their spare time to exploring the far corners of the English Lake District at a time when it was wild, mainly un-fenced, devoid of tourists, and more importantly, with only a handful of rock climbs having been done, generally the mountain gullies and then only in winter, this being the training ground for the middle class Alpinist who came to the Cumberland hills before going out to the Alps on annual climbing trips.
For their part, the Westmorland family were well known for their adventurous lifestyle, indeed, his father, aunt and uncle were noted for their un-roped ascent of Pillar Rock in 1873, making it the second ascent by a lady.
What may not be known, is that Rusty, as he came to be called, had a climbing career that spanned over 90 years, with many first ascents to his credit, both here in the English Lake District and the Canadian Rockies.
It all started on his 1st birthday, when he and his 2 year old sister, were taken for an open air overnight camp by his parents, to Norfolk Island on Ullswater. Two weeks later, they were both taken to the summit of Helvellyn, to attend the bonfire to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. On his 4th birthday, his father took him to Brougham Castle, where they both climbed up to the second story and back down again, without using a rope.
On his 11th birthday, he was 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, as they returned from a failed attempt on a gully on Tarn Crag above Grisedale. What Rusty was not to know back then, was that it would be his name that gets the credit for the first ascent of this daring climb some 13 years later, and that 2 years after that, he would be walking in the Canadian Rockies with Haskett-Smith, when a rock fall could so well have ended the climbing career of Haskett-Smith, if not his life, but sources at that time, kept this incident under wraps.
On his 15th birthday (1901), he climbed Pillar with his sister and father, all un-roped, a daring feat for that time, and made several un-roped attempts on some as yet, un-climbed gullies in Dovedale and Deepdale..
When his father died in 1909, Rusty became a man of private means, so he was able to go out climbing almost every day. During this new found freedom, he met and became close friends with George and Ashley Abraham, who he was to climb with on many occasions.
Despite climbing regularly with his older cousins – John Mounsey and Arthur North – making exploratory climbs on many local crags, 1910, was for Rusty, the busiest climbing time he had had to date. It started in January climbing at Tremadoc and Carreg Wasted with George and Ashley Abraham, where they climbed extensively before returning to the Lakes to continue their climbing until the end of February. In March with others, he made the 1st ascent of Easter Crack on Elliptical Crag followed in April by a 1st ascent of Blizzard Chimney. With his cousins, he climbed more winter climbs on St. Sunday Crag; Fairfield; The Dodds; Dollywaggon Pike; and Catchedicam. In June he set off for the Alps with the Abraham brothers on a climbing photographic expedition. During their visit, they made many 1st ascents which became the basis for George’s book: ‘On Alpine Heights and British Crags’.
On returning to the Lakes, Rusty continued to climb with his cousins, doing 1st ascents of Chock Gully and Dove Crag, in addition to a 2nd ascent of Dollywaggon Gully, possibly the first full true ascent in one climb.
In 1911, he went to Canada and secured work with a mountain survey party run by Arthur Wheeler, the founder of the Alpine Club of Canada. During his three years of working with Wheeler, Rusty climbed many peaks and summits in the Canadian Rockies along with Swiss guides such as Konrad Cain, the Fuez brothers and others. His list of ascents is impressive (some 1st and 2nd ascents) some only inviting a few repeat ascents. His climbs totals well over sixty summits and peaks, which includes being the first person to rock climb the cliff face of Mt Whyte.
He got a commission in the Territorial Army – 50th Regiment Gordon Highlanders, and following outbreak of WWI, he was commissioned in the Canadian Royal Transport Company. During his time at the front, he was nominated several times for mentions in dispatches for his bravery when he led his ammunition horse supply train under fire, to troops on the front line at both Ypres and the Somme.
He returned to Canada after the war, continued to serve with the Canadian Army and climbed and skied whenever possible. He was to discover climbing crags in Nova Scotia, was instrumental in discovering skiing venues in Quebec, and made significant climbing ascents in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, some of which have been rarely 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, he was also a good amateur golfer and all round skier.
In 1936, he went to the Alps with his close friend Dr. P. B. Finn (Director of Atlantic Fisheries), for two weeks and in that time, they climbed the Unttergabellahon, Riffelhorn (by three different routes), Rimpfischhorn, and then capped their holiday off with an ascent of the Matterhorn. When back in Cumberland, Gerald Greenback and others, had set up the Lake District Ski Club which Rusty was invited to be President of, which he remained connected to for the rest of his life.
On his return to Canada, he made the first winter ascent of both East and West Lion outside Vancouver; made the first winter ski exploration of the entire Yoho Valley; discovered a crag called Eagle’s Nest and made 1st ascents of all routes in both summer and winter; wrote endless climbing and mountaineering articles for local newspapers; gave frequent illustrated talks on the subject, and, was fully involved in the mountain warfare training programme set up in the Rockies by the Alpine Club of Canada. This led to Rusty going on a clandestine visit to the War Office in London, which resulted in the Lovat Scouts being sent on the training programme, commanded by Frank Smythe.
With the onset of WWII, Rusty was given the go ahead from the Canadian Government, to set up and run the country’s first official military mountain warfare training camp at Terrace, east of Prince Rupert. Whilst travelling there on the train, he took seriously ill with biliary colic resulting in his gall bladder being removed. 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 down to his retirement in Keswick.
Never a one to allow any grass to grow beneath his feet, he was out on the fells and crags within days of arriving home.
A year later in 1946, he went to the aid of Wilfrid Noyce (Everest veteran) who had fractured his femur whilst out climbing on Great Gable. This event led to Rusty forming the Borrowdale Mountain Rescue Team which later changed its name to Keswick MRT. He was eventually awarded the O.B.E. 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 lifetime, he climbed and hiked the fells and hills of both 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 many others. In the 1960’s he suffered from stomach cancer – underwent 15 major operations – given a few weeks to live in 1964 – but was still climbing and walking in 1976 aged 90, without helmet, harness or other modern day climbing aides, and, wearing a full time catheter!
He published ‘Adventures in Climbing’ (1964), wrote articles for a variety of climbing journals, and, did the world’s first ever live radio outside broadcast whilst rock climbing with Stanley Williamson in Borrowdale, the broadcaster who was responsible for clearing Captain Thain of blame for the Manchester United Munich air disaster.
Rusty was a quiet unassuming person, preferring to be in the shadows of publicity. He took great interest in introducing many novices to rock climbing and skiing, and firmly believed in the adage, that climbers should not fall and as such, should learn to ascend and descend climbs in order to improve their climbing technique and abilities.
On 24th November 1984, Rusty finally succumbed to his illness and sadly, dementia, and passed away in a nursing home near Kirkby Stephen.
A particular view from Great Gable, thought to be the finest in all Lakeland, was marked by his father and uncle by building a cairn in the 1830’s, now known as the Westmorland Cairn where Rusty’s ashes were spread. He left an only son Horace Lyndhurst and an only grandson, Dickon now living in Australia.
Source by Frank Grant