Obituary: Sid Thompson

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Sid Thompson was at 81 possibly Britain's oldest active rock climber. He was still leading rock climbs as an octogenarian all the long dry summer of 1995. Only six weeks ago he was climbing with his lifetime friend and rock-climbing companion Cliff Sandham, aged 77, and in July made an immaculate lead of the incredibly exposed Little Chamonix on Shepherds' Crag in Borrowdale.

Thompson began climbing in 1932, becoming firmly committed after an ascent of Nape's Needle on Great Gable in Cumbria. "The thrill of standing on the tiny top of Nape's Needle with nothing but space all around me was so great that I was hooked on rock climbing for life." Although he climbed extensively around Britain, the Lake District was his favourite. He later moved to Maryport on the West Cumbrian Coast. The Isle of Skye was also one of his best-loved mountain haunts and there he made a successful traverse of the Main Ridge of the Black Cuillin.

Often known as "CB" Sid, he had a passion to lead the great classic climb, Central Buttress on Scafell. Alas, although he actually climbed the route on some 44 separate occasions, often soloing sections of the climb, he never made the crux, the "Great Flake", without a rope from above. He was aged 80 when a rockfall during June 1994 completely changed the nature of the climb and effectively eliminated any possibility of his leading the route.

A teetotal non-smoker, practically a vegetarian, Thompson was physically very fit. He loved to cycle and would think nothing of cycling the 25 miles to Borrowdale or 30 miles from his Maryport home before enjoying a full day's rock climbing and, of course, cycling back home. In his seventies he once called in on a friend at Little Langdale, having cycled over the famous mountain passes of Hardknott and Wrynose. A chat and away again, refusing offers of a lift, through Grasmere and over Dunmail Raise Pass and Keswick before completing the 90-mile round-trip back to Maryport.

A Public Health Inspector for Maryport Town Council until 1974, he cared deeply about the community and the environment long before "green" became the fashionable buzz word. Thompson pioneered a scheme in the area for recycling waste paper and in the Sixties converted a rubbish dump into a playing field for local children. He also had a passion for clean air and did much to promote the use of smokeless fuels.

It was as an ambitious young tiger in my early teens that I first came upon Thompson. He cut a disparate figure, in his black shoes and bicycle clips, flat cap, long-sleeved shirt and flannel trousers, an ex-army kit bag slung over his shoulder. He seemed so ancient and ill-clad I wondered how he had managed to reach the foot of the crag. Perhaps some OAP on a coach outing who had lost his way? I watched with amusement as bicycle clips and black shoes were removed and with growing incredulity as "PA" rocks boots and rope appeared from his bag. With a cordial "Do you mind if I just nip up this?", he was off, soloing up the steep corner of Ardus, trailing the rope behind as a symbolic gesture towards self-preservation.

After I had made the ascent, with companion and all contemporary safeguards, and finding it to be something of a tough proposition, I looked upon Sid Thompson with fresh eyes.

Bill Birkett

Sydney Thompson, rock climber: born Bolton 7 April 1914; married Dorothy Harvey (three daughters); died West Cumbria 2 January 1996.