I first read this book in the depth of winter intending to review it immediately. But as so often in life I found myself distracted by work and family and the countless other diversions that fill up our days, and the review didn't get written. Jerry Moffatt would not have been so easily diverted. If there is a theme that runs through this book like a rope between the leader and his second, it is that Moffatt was the kind of athlete who rarely, if ever, allowed himself to be distracted from his singular goal – to be best climber in the world.
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The forums will echo till the end of time about whether he ever achieved that goal, but no reader of this book can be in any doubt as to his relentless determination to succeed.
Picking the book up a few months later, I find that it has lost none of its pace and energy; none of its honesty and humour; none of its power to inspire and motivate. What makes this book special, and deserving of its place alongside The Hard Years, Portrait of a Mountaineer, and I Chose to Climb, is the author's limitless passion for climbing. From his first, reticent steps on the North Wales limestone, to his victory at the first indoor World Championship in Leeds, Moffatt tells his story with breathless gusto and arresting candour.
The title of the book – a play on the name of one his most famous climbs – suggests that this might be an introspective work, revealing a side to the man that has never been exposed to the climbing press. But Moffatt is not a man given to navel gazing. His is too busy doing the business to have time to think about it. But when he does think about it, his thoughts are always practical - how to improve his performance, how to shed that extra pound of weight, how to pull down on a smaller crimp, how to push back the boundaries of the possible, and how to beat his rivals.
If you are off on holiday and you pack only one book to read – make it this one. It is a revelation.
But, for all his lack of introspection, Moffatt's autobiography is a revelation. Peppered throughout the book are throwaway lines about fellow climbers; attitudes to the sport; friendship and the strains of competition; and winning and losing that reveal much more about Moffatt the man than perhaps he, or his ghost writer, Niall Grimes ever intended.
For all his exuberance and outward confidence, this book reveals a vulnerable and fragile side to Moffatt that goes a long way to explaining his conspicuous urge to impress his peers and overcome his rivals.
From the very beginning of his climbing career, he has needed to make – and leave – his mark. He has done that, both in terms of the routes he has climbed and in the pages of this compellingly readable book. And that is a remarkable double.
Jerry climbing his route Liquid Ambar (F8c/+)at Lower Pen Trwyn in 1990. The route (correctly spelt 'Liquid Ambar') is named in memory of Jerry's younger brother Toby who died in 1987. © Kurt Albert.
After all, his collaboration with Grimes could so easily have gone wrong. Grimes is a gifted and talented writer in his own right - with his own distinctive style - and the risk was always that it would be Grimes's voice that emerged from the pages of this book – not Moffatt's. That hasn't happened. Grimes as a ghost writer is a silent partner, not a noisy poltergeist. Between them, Moffatt and Grimes have produced a work that is authentic and true.
I will not spoil the many treats that are contained within its covers, but only the most blinkered and prejudiced could fail to be moved and inspired by this climbing life.
Though supported by a strong and loving family, Moffatt has known tragedy intimately and at first hand. These incidents are not milked for maudlin sentiment, but mentioned almost in passing – and are all the more powerful for it.
His relentless drive has pushed his body to the limit – and then beyond – with the inevitable injuries. His recovery from, and triumph over these adversities, is testimony not only to his resilience, but, I believe, to his simple joy in life. Climbing was what got him up in the morning and what drove him out to Stoney Middleton in the depth of winter to squeeze yet more power out of his arms – while others supped pints in the pub in front of a blazing fire.
If there was a disappointment in this book, it is that after such a remarkable career, Moffatt appears to have forsaken climbing for surfing. Not a bad swap, perhaps. But surely there is still a desire to get out and touch rock with a few friends?
And this is what inspired me to put pen – rather belatedly - to paper. A couple of days ago I went down to Stoney Middleton to do Carls Wark Crack. The place is always deserted these days. But as I walked through the thickly wooded valley, with the jackdaws noisily objecting to my presence, I thought of the teenage Moffatt spending two years of his life in the tin shed down by the Lover's Leap café and how he used that experience at Stoney as the rocket fuel that propelled his meteoric rise through the grades.
And then, as I approached Bubbles Wall I heard the distinctive chime of climbing gear being packed away. In front of me stood Jerry Moffatt; he may not have been wearing a bandanna or a 'kerchief round his neck, but he was sporting his trademark ear-to-ear grin.
Like the man in the book, he was enjoying life, and taking time with friends to do a few routes. A comeback maybe? Who can say? For my part, I suspect he never went away – his legacy is with us today - and if you are off on holiday and you pack only one book to read – make it this one. It is a revelation.
Jerry Moffatt Autobiography – Correction
It has been brought to our attention that the caption accompanying the colour photograph of Jerry winning a round of the World Cup at Leeds in 1989 is misleading. Jerry did indeed win this World Cup event at Leeds – the first to be held in the UK – however he did not win the overall World Cup in 1989, as could be interpreted by this caption. Simon Nadin was the overall World Cup Champion in 1989, a fact many Brits are proud of.
Vertebrate Publishing and Jerry would like to apologise to Simon for this error – an honest mistake. We have the utmost respect for Simon and his achievements as one of Britain's greatest rock climbers.John Coefield
John Yates following the main pitch of Superdirect (E1) on Dinas Mot, Llanberis
Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor
© Jack Geldard / Dave Pickford
John Yates is an experienced climber and writer.
His climbing has taken him right through the spectrum, from a traditional apprenticeship back in the good old days, through to hard redpointing in the early nineties and now back to enjoying classic routes and sun kissed sport in Europe.
He lived in Texas, USA in the nineties and upon his return to the UK spent many years at the Yorkshire Post as Literary Editor.
He currently ghost writes speeches and and other important documents for various political parties and large organisations as well as being involved in managing PR for several high profile companies and entrepreneurs.
He lives near Bingley, West Yorkshire with his family.
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