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38 Years Ago Today: First Ascent of London’s Nelson’s Column

On Oct. 21, 1978, British climber Ed Drummond, 34, and Colin Rowe, 22, made the first ascent of Nelson’s Column, without a ladder, in Trafalgar Square, London. It has been noted as likely the first politically-inspired climb in history by top mountaineers. The ascent took took four hours and caused caused traffic and pedestrians to stop and watch. The tower was built in the mid-1800s.

Edwin Drummond and Colin Rowe on the top of Nelson's Column, October 1978.
Edwin Drummond and Colin Rowe on the top of Nelson’s Column, October 1978.

Drummond and Rowe brought their mountain kit, which included ropes, hammers and pitons. They climbed the column by hammering pitons into the granite cracks. During the climb, a dropped not read they were climbing to protest foreign investment in South Africa. Their ascent was on the same day as anti-apartheid demonstrations. The two climbers lit a cigarette after they reached the top of the column and then lowered a banner. They rappelled down and were arrested at 10:30 a.m. and spent a day in custody. There was little damage to the column.

Nelson's Column
Nelson’s Column