Unsponsored Heroes - Craig Parnaby

You never know who your heroes are going to be in the climbing world. They end up being people entirely different from the abstracted heroes you started with in the climbing mags - the ones photographed doing crazy solos and hand-stands against the cliff faces. If you are lucky enough, they are people you climb with for a few years. They often disappear from the climbing world into real life and don't come back, which only makes their legend stronger. For me, Craig Parnaby was one of these vanishing legends.

Craig was inimitable and his ability on rock was terrifying. I first met him at the Bowderstone in the early 90's, a 'beginner' doing laps on the classic 6a crack. He was a youth from Coniston in the Lakes, with Gecko hands and lithe forearms, reminding me instantly of Ron Fawcett's build - you could just tell he had the genetics. Even as a beginner he moved on the rock like a bent bow, always tensioned, never loose and arse-out-the-window like the rest of us. He came to Glasgow, ostensibly to study medicine, but he set about dismantling reputations in his own casual and unassuming manner. Over his few years of climbing he onsighted some of Britain's hardest rock climbs, never once pre-inspecting or seeking beta, he just got on with it. One weekend he went down to Wales and onsighted The Bells, The Bells, saying it was 'rather easy', in the manner of a gifted schoolboy rolling his eyes at simplistic homework.

In 1996 I had my first experience of the 'Parnaby Day'. A Parnaby 'evening' would go something like this: drive to Cambusbarron in his beat-up Panda, do Grace Under Pressure, Big Country Dreams, Purr Blind Doomster, Quantum Grunt & The Crowd, go home, eat a spoonful of pasta, sleep, get up, phone someone and ask if they fancied the Coe. I said I did, but I would drive. On reaching the Coe I asked if he had enough lunch for two, I'd forgotten mine. 'Yes, I have plenty of food, John...' He saw the Tunnel Wall and said 'that looks rather good, we could climb there this morning'. He 'warmed up' by onsighting Uncertain Emotions, Fated Path and Admission, at one point down-climbing a crux because he 'hadn't done it right'. Then it was off to the Freak-Out wall to despatch Crocodile, Jimmy Blacksmith and Supernova before I wilted as a second and dragged him away to the pub. Craig hated the pub, it was missing good climbing time and he sat there flicking through guide-books 'oohing' at E7 6a's. Oh, and the food he brought that day? Two packs of Sunmaid raisins (the wee kids' boxes) and four Ryvita...

Despite his meagre appetite, Craig ate up the climbing grades like a mumbly-mouthed Pacman eating dots. He began to travel and climb widely, doing big repeats, taking the odd legendary fall, getting back on, doing the E6 or whatever, always persistent, always onsight, taking his time. His favourite trick was to arrive at climbing wall bouldering comps, climb to the crux, mutter a little, downclimb to the starting jug, shake-out and repeat this until he had solved the problem or the bored queue behind him moved on. He was barred from future boulder comps.

None of us could keep up with Craig's stamina and hunger. He was not afraid to take a fall or two either. One time at Auchinstarry, after a warm-up on Nijinski, he fell off the direct start to Blade Runner, landing on his head on the plinth below. He rubbed his head a little, inexplicably said sorry to the belayer and despatched the route with one piece of gear in disdain. He continued to motor through the bigger British extremes until his parents took away his ropes and gear and insisted he concentrate on his studies. He dutifully packed away climbing like a worn pair of boots and moved on with his career. But hell, he was a good climber...

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