The Club was founded in 1957 under the guise of the BAI Mountaineering Club, the initials standing for Birmingham Athletic Institute. In those days, the BAI, run by the City of Birmingham Education Department in John Bright Street, used to run courses in many sports including skiing and mountaineering. Many of those attending had so enjoyed their activities including abseiling down the three storey stairwell and prussiking back up again and their weekends in north Wales putting theory into practice, that they decided to form a club to continue and further their interests in the sport.
In those days, few members had cars so a coach or minibus was hired for weekend meets and since this was before the advent of the M6, most of the meets were held in Wales . The first club hut was acquired around 1960 in Cwm Silyn about 8 miles South East of Caernarvon. The rent was the princely sum of £13 per annum! This was gradually improved with the addition of piped water and the greatest of luxuries, a flush toilet with septic tank in the late Sixties.
Over the years, our links with the BAI had become more tenuous with the majority of members coming to us through adverts and connections, so it was decided to change the name of the Club, and in 1972 we became the Mercian Mountaineering Club to represent the greater geographical spread of the membership.
In 1966, we held our first Easter Scottish meet at Glencoe as the M6 now ran from the A5 at Cannock to north of Lancaster so it was just possible to get there and back in time though 9-11 hours was the norm rather than the current 7 hours! The meet was a great success and we have been back to Scotland every Easter since. The road improvements also meant that the Lake district became feasible for a weekend whereas previously we had always been restricted to the long weekend of a Bank Holiday.
Climbing wise, the early years of the Club was a period of great innovation. We used braided white nylon ropes with hemp waistlines. Nuts were just coming in, not the sophisticated expensive alloy things of today but inexpensive industrial nuts sometimes with the threads filed out for the safety conscious. A good source of the larger nuts, according to a founder member, were the connecting plates on the track of the Snowdon Mountain Railway!
In 1968, one of our founder members met with a tragic accident whilst attempting the high level Saas Fee – Chamonix traverse on ski. Club members rallied around and John Gregory’s name lives on even to those who never knew him in the refuge on the Pennine Way known as Greg’s Hut on the northern slopes of Cross Fell.
Unfortunately, our lease of the Cwm Silyn hut was not renewed in 1974 and it was not until five years later we had another hut near Capel Curig. Again a great deal of work was necessary, construction of a septic tank, fitting out the kitchen, installation of gas lights, construction of bunk beds and more recently provision of a shower and generator. However in 2005 the owners decided to convert it into a holiday home and so we had to leave and make alternative arrangements.
From the mid sixties, members made regular trips to the Alps, the Matterhorn being an objective for many. Stories of benightment, crevasse rescue and lightening strikes are just some of the epics which will be related after an evenings refreshment. The early Seventies was a boom time for the Club, the widening spread of car ownership within the Club and the relatively cheap cost of petrol meant that with car-sharing, many members could afford to go away every weekend. The Eighties saw members using air travel to climb in far off ranges such as the Andes or Himalaya. In 1997 over eighty members past and present gathered in Birmingham to celebrate the Club’s 40th Anniversary.
Recent years have seen members walking and climbing in all corners of the UK as well as trekking in Nepal, sport climbing on Kalymnos, via ferrata in the Dolomites, mountaineering on the 4000m peaks in the Alps, and ski touring and trekking in Norway. We celebrated our 60th anniversary in August 2017, and have enjoyed plenty of adventures since.