West Bromwich Mountaineering Club (WBMC) is one of the oldest and most active climbing and hill-walking clubs in the West Midlands. It meets at "The Wheatsheaf" on West Bromwich High Street every Thursday night, holding a series of talks on the second Thursday of the month in winter. It has a membership of almost 300 and every month runs a coach to a mountainous region in England or Wales, on which seats are available to its members and the general public on a 'first come - first served' basis and also maintains a members-only hut in the Nant Gwynant valley. It affiliated to the British Mountaineering Council in 2003 and became a Community Association Sports Club (CASC) in 2005.
Early in 1951 Bert Wright, a member of the Climbers' Club, was asked by his Local Education Authority to develop camping trips & outdoor activities for local schoolchildren. At that time there were only 3 outdoor centres in the whole country and no certificates of mountain leadership of any kind, so he set about organising mountaineering courses for schoolteachers based at Helyg and Ynys Ettws huts in Snowdonia. The idea of forming a mountaineering club in West Bromwich materialised while participants socialised at The Royal Hotel (now Plas y Brenin) and the Pen-y-Gwryd. The first meet was to the Long Mynd on 13 January 1952, the first committee meeting on 23 May and the inaugural Annual General Meeting held at the Arden Hotel on 16 October 1952, at which Wright became the first chairman. The "Star and Garter" was the club's first home until it moved to "The Globe" in 1959 where it has remained until September 2012 apart from brief spells at "The Flowerpot" and "Merry Go Round". Sir Chris Bonington contributed the forward to a book published in 2002 celebrating the club's golden jubilee. The group produces a monthly newsletter and copies of these going back to 1989 have been deposited with Sandwell Community History and Archives Service at Smethwick Library and can be consulted there.
In the early days the mainstay of the club's activities was rock climbing in Snowdonia, and as few members owned cars, it was important for the club to be able to offer convenient travel to hills in other parts of the UK. So the monthly coach meet was born, typically setting off from West Bromwich at 6:30 am and picking up at 8 to 12 places en route to north or mid Wales, the Peak District or the Malvern Hills. With no M6 the Lake District was out of the question for a day trip then as it was usually after midnight before the coach returned to the West Midlands. Reports on some of these coach meets can be found on the internet. To maximise the amount of time on the hills the pick-up arrangements were altered in the 1990s, and the coach now leaves West Bromwich at 7:00 am with just one extra pick-up on the M6 or M54, enabling it to return passengers to the West Brom at around 10 pm. Coach meets now usually alternate between Snowdonia and the Lake District but South Wales and the Pennines are also visited..
In December 1957 West Bromwich (now Sandwell) Education Authority bought Plas Gwynant, one-time home of prime minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, together with its outbuildings for less than £5,000. The Club used this site for camping, but after a few years was offered a disused Dutch barn in the grounds for conversion into a hut. Work began in January 1961 to dig out and level the floors, and it was officially opened for use in 1963. Electricity was connected in 1967 and a toilet and shower block added in 1975.
To date none of the fourteen 8,000-metre peaks have seen ascents by WBMC members, and the highest points reached so far are around 22,000 ft (6,706 m) by Dot and John Wagstaff during an unsuccessful attempt on Lenin Peak in 1998 and the 23,100 ft (7,041 m) summit of Lhakpa Ri in Tibet by John Edwards in September 2006. On 16 March 2012 a party of 25 club members completed a winter ascent of Jbel Toubkal (4167m) the highest peak in North Africa.
However, there have been many other achievements by individuals in the club. Mike Nicholls, John Hipwood, John Wagstaff, Nev Tandy, Mike Lay, Paul Cleary, Brian Green, Andy Brown & Chris Dean have completed all the Munros and John Hipwood and Mike Nicholls, having climbed over 1200 Marilyns, were 24th & 34th in the 'RHB Hall of Fame' in 2010. Members' names are also on completers' lists of lesser hills such as the Nuttalls & County Tops in England & Wales. Members have recorded ascents of many alpine peaks including Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn & Grossglockner and further afield have planted the club flag on the summits of Aconcagua, Aneto, Mt Ararat, Mount Elbrus, Jebel Toubkal, Kilimanjaro, Mera Peak and virgin summits in Kyrgyzstan and Antarctica. Ken Priest, Pete Poultney and Ian Merther are currently three of the club's leading climbers. Van Greaves has published several books of mountaineering photographs and walking as well as many articles in UK walking magazines and Bob Charteris has created the 100 mile Teme Valley Way walk.
Neville and Anne Tandy organised two major UK challenge walks for over 40 years.The 25-mile 'Mid Wales Mountain Marathon' over 7 summits between Dinas Mawddwy and Dolgellau, which was first promoted in 1964, includes over 7000 feet of ascent.
The 'Reservoir Roundabout', a winter walk of 20 miles in the remote Elenith area around the Claerwen and Elan Valley Reservoirs, was inaugurated in 1967. Neville Tandy (died 2013) was by far the most prolific entrant in the 45 miles Across Wales Walk, with over 30 completions, including the first ever double crossing in 1984.
In the 1970s and 1980s WBMC members regularly participated in the Welsh 1000 m Peaks Race and the Long Mynd Hike. John Wagstaff set a race record of 8 hours 47 minutes for the latter in 1981, which stood until 2002 when the route changed. On 17/18 June 1978 Wagstaff completed a triple crossing of the 14 Welsh 3000s (around 66 miles and 22,800 feet of ascent) in 22 hours 49 minutes, a feat which has so far not been repeated, and he is still the only club member to complete the Bob Graham Round of 42 peaks in the Lake District, a feat he achieved in June 1979 supported by a number of club members. John's wife Dorothy Wagstaff is also famous in her own right as a double World Champion, having won her age class (ladies) at the World Triathlon Championships in London’s Hyde Park in September 2013 after previously winning the title in New Zealand a decade earlier.
Every mountaineering club has its share of mishaps as slips and falls can sometimes lead to sprains, broken bones or worse, but WBMC has been fortunate in that it has only had a couple of serious accidents. On 23 July 1972 Len York reached the summit of the Matterhorn for the second time in 12 months but a fall on the descent led to a spinal injury which left him paraplegic. In spite of this York still manages to reach mountain summits and revisits Zermatt most years. In August 1989 Malcolm Collins fell to his death while climbing solo on Sub Cneifon Arete in the Ogwen Valley when a rock spike gave way. A trophy in his name is awarded at every annual general meeting to a club member in recognition of mountaineering achievement or services to the club. Recipients of the silver rosebowl, which is presented at the AGM the following year, have been 1989 Graham Sockett, 1990 Bob Lister, 1991 Ken Priest, 1992 Geoff Robinson, 1993 Mike Nicholls & John Wagstaff, 1994 Mike Smith, 1995 Peter Woodward, 1996 Iris Cooksey, 1997 Nev Tandy, 1998 Dot & John Wagstaff, 1999 Paul Cleary & Pete Goddard, 2000 John Mitchell, 2001 Hilary Jones, 2002 Nigel Kettle, 2003 Ann Tandy, 2004 John Mitchell, 2005 The "Elbrus Eight", 2006 John Edwards, 2007 John Eadon, 2008 Mike Thompson & Malcolm Vaughan, 2009 Bob Duncan, 2010 Not awarded, 2011 Jonathan Howells, 2012 Mel Evans, 2013 Ursula Woodhouse, 2014 Andy Brown & Chris Dean.