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Where Have all the Dobbers Gone?

25 November 2008

Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2021).

Firstly let me explain who or what a dobber is.

A dobber is a climber who loves to fight more than he loves to climb, an exponent of old school heavy drinking and alcohol-fuelled fisty cuffs, sans Queensbury rules.  Imagine a drunk Daniel Day-Lewis in a pair of blood-stained 80’s lycra tights and tussle torn Think Pink T-shirt, surrounded by broken Hells Angels in a demolished campground and you’re sort of got the idea.

A prime example of this climbing corrector of yesteryear is the infamous ex-pat Brit ‘Heavy duty’.  I’m sure you’ve stumbled across him.  He’d be the obnoxious, drunk and loud British climber.  I know there are so many, but if you’ve spent time in any US campground in the last 100 years you’ve probably come across him - or him across you - even if you didn’t know it at the time. 

Still don’t you know who I mean?  Well, he was probably the one shouting late at night, naked, covered in blood - not his own - jabbering like a child waiting to be exorcised, ranting about dancing in long burnt down Northern Casinos, about breaking into pharmacists for ‘gear’ to keep you on the dance floor, and about nights of undreamed of drugged up debauchery (women, animals and extra), stories so extreme even Marilyn Manson would puke up his old English.  Ring any bells? 

Why is he called ‘Heavy-duty?’.  Well, the story goes he got into a fight somewhere in the States, it was probably the 60’s (I’m using my imagination here).  A crowd of hippies gathered around, probably after Woodstock and watched as after 50 rounds of pummelling he picked up his opponent and threw him through a plate-glass shop window, slicing the guy up in the process (don’t worry, he didn’t die).  The crowd was speechless, the scene silent apart from the tinkle of glass and the dull moans of the fallen opponent. 

‘Heavy duty…Man’ said a bystander and the name stuck.

And that’s a dobber.

Speaking of Hells Angels.  Another good story involves a pair of Scottish climbers being surrounded by bikers in a lonely campsite in the back and beyond of America.  The outlook looked grim and only got worse when one of the pair tried to get out of the situation by ramming them in their hire car, only to stall it in the process.  A bad move. 

Out of options, with the gang approaching carrying knives and chains, the driver grabbed a hammer from under his seat, jumped out and started hitting the biggest lead biker over the head leaving the others to just watch in disbelief. 

With this cunning diversion, and leaving the biker crumpled on the floor, they jumped back into the car and made their escape.  When asked later why he’d attacked the biggest Angel he’d replied that he’d “just had to make an example of one of ‘em”.  The words of a true dobber.

Dobbers have been around since the early days of climbing, just look at old Whymper throwing those rocks down on those Italians on the first ascent of the Matterhorn, and anyone who’s ever got on the wrong side of a Chamonix guide knows it.  One of the most famous dobbers of all time was Don Whillains (the dobber’s dobber), who I’m told once rolled into Jackson hole, and guess what did he did first after his long journey.  Get some grub…a drink…no, he immediately went looking for a fight.  In Don’s case he, unfortunately, picked a fight with a cowboy shorter and gnarlier than he was and got utterly beaten to a pulp – which just shows that dobbing is not about winning, it’s about taking part, and it’s said that every story Don ever told ended with the line ‘‘so I ‘it ‘I’m’’.

What I want to know is where has all the violence gone out of climbing?  Where have all the old school dobbers, fighters and punchers went, the guys who were great to know when sober, and best avoided when drunk.  The UK used to make these people by the cable carload (that’s why we had an Empire you know), exporting them over to Europe (remember the battle of Snell’s field), and the US (haven’t you seen ‘The Patriot’), sent to do battle with Johnny foreigner on his own ground so that a small patch of blood in a far off field (or campground) would forever be England.  Sure we’ve got people like Stevie Haston, but his sponsors don’t like him breaking people’s legs with planks of wood anymore, and you yanks have hitters like Bridwell and ex green berets like Doninni, but where’s the young blood? 

Yet for some reason, the dobber is no longer part of the scene, and I think society is to blame, with its left-wing tendencies and over the top sentencing for grievous bodily harm.  One reason is that in the UK the old guard packed in climbing once the danger element became minimised by hardware (I don’t mean the introduction of handguns, but cams, wires etc ((bet Chuinards a dobber though)), forcing them to turn to football violence, holidays in Columbia, or stopovers in the LA greyhound station.

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