In response to a thread on the forums we sent out some books to various reviewers. The first that came back were two reviews of the Lakes Bouldering Rockfax; one by Russell Lovett, another by Andy McVittie (below). So did the guide survive their scrutiny, and were they in agreement?
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Today most climbers go bouldering to some extent, whether it be as training for harder climbs, or bouldering purely for its own sake. To keep up with this increased interest, Rockfax have now decided to apply their tried and tested winning formula to the boulders of the Lake District - so have they managed to deliver the goods yet again?
The guide covers all the usual areas you would expect and a few less familiar ones. The venues exhibit a choice of rock to suit all tastes; from the limestone of the Furness Area, to the volcanic rock of the central fells, or the grit-like Gabbro of the Carrock Fell. Also included is the very popular sandstone coastal venue of St.Bees. The guide is split into five areas; the first and probably best known being the South East which covers such well known areas as Langdale and Kentmere. Next comes the North East, the star venue in this area being the very fine Carrock Fell. Both these areas offer easy and quick access from the M6. The third and probably the area with the greatest variety of venues is the North West which includes the fine sandstone of St.Bees and the superb, although it has to be said hard and now sadly polished, Bowderstone. The last two areas covered are the South West and Furness areas. The South West, particularly, has some great bouldering but, because of its location, it is often overlooked in favour of their more easterly and more northerly neighbours.
So what of the guide book itself? See it in a climbing shop and the cover photo does not grab you by the chalk balls screaming BUY ME BUY ME! but never judge a book by its cover.Start to flick through it and you are immediately transfixed by the hundreds of photos of boulders of all shapes and sizes. Besides the boulders themselves are pictures of the boulder fields, and the hillsides they lie on, each one of the boulders being clearly labelled, making identification very easy.
At the beginning of the book you get the usual introduction of general information on the areas, grade conversion chart, (the guide uses V-grades by the way) followed by some ethical guidelines. Also, there are some useful web addresses for local transport for those without cars, and camp site addresses and locations making it easy for you to plan your trip. As with previous Rockfax books, all the problems come complete with a set of appropriate symbols which are explained, along with the crag symbols, in the intro section. Unlike in previous Rockfax books, there are no French or German introductions but this will not be of any worry to most of us.
So how clear and easy is the guide to use? Well at the start of each geographical area is a map clearly showing the bouldering to be found in that area. Each area is then sub-divided into specific bouldering venues, each specific venue has its own little intro with information on the type of bouldering to be found there and a short, but adequate, description of the approach and access info. Having arrived at your chosen boulders, the guide makes it very easy to find your problems as each boulder has been individually photographed and has the problems clearly marked on them, each problem has its own little description along with the usual symbols to let you know what kind of problem it is. Even people who have never used a Rockfax before should find it easy to identify and suss out what problem they are looking at.
So does the guide tick all the boxes? It is clear, user-friendly, has loads of good quality photographs of the boulders and is professionally presented and laid out. On the down side I think there could have been more photographs of people actually climbing the problems; these would not have had to be full page pictures, but maybe this could be rectified in future guides.
To judge other peoples' reactions I decided to take the guide with me to the climbing wall. In between climbing I sat looking at the guide, several people asked for a look and seemed quite impressed, most commented on the number of venues they had never heard of before and most agreed this was a guide that was badly needed. This may well help renew people's interest in bouldering in the Lake District. It was also pointed out that, if you were rained off from the mountain routes, you may well be able to salvage something of your trip as you would probably be able to find a bouldering venue that would be dry.
To sum the guide up: it is easy to use; has clear and easy-to-read maps and approach details ; the photographs of the boulders and the hillsides are of very good quality. All things considered, I think this latest edition to the Rockfax line is a good addition and will be warmly received by most people.
Here is another review of the guide by Andy McVittie (UKC User Biscuit).
Tim Lofthouse on the Stirrup Boulders in Wasdale, the Lakes.
© Jonathan Lagoe, Feb 2006
I have a secret. Hidden in a storage drawer under my bed is the evidence of my secret hobby. Contained in a large, grey, box-file is the result of 3 years of deep internet searching, over-heard rumours and selections from specialist magazines.
Yes - I like to boulder in the Lakes.
It's comforting to know I am not alone. I've met many people online who claim they partake in this activity, but you rarely meet one outdoors. In some ways that is the beauty of Lake District Bouldering. Many times I have whiled away the hours, falling off small pieces of rock, completely on my own, in some of the most beautiful mountain settings. It is a genuine puzzle why there are not more of us. Perhaps this is all set to change.
Finally I can be rid of my download prints and pages cut from magazines and proudly display the new Rockfax Lakes Bouldering guide on my shelf. It was slightly disappointing, though not surprising, that I had a lot of the info already from my various sources. However a nice photo topo guidebook beats the back of a fag packet every time.
It's quite amazing that, like the proverbial buses, you wait for one for ages and then two arrive. It's well known that the Lakesbloc boys are busy compiling their own guide covering the Lakes and the rest of the North West. Have Rockfax done it again and cut a local guide off at its knees with their branded guides? I'd like to think not. The guide is liberally sprinkled with references to Greg Chapman et al and his website address, amongst many others. There appears to be no corporate one-upmanship here but a respect for each other's work. The acknowledgements list a good number of local activists and there is much evidence of quality local knowledge, including details of local accommodation and hostelries.
This controversy over this guide has been discussed on UKC with Rockfax claiming that the two guides should complement each other and people are free to buy which ever they feel is best. This is true and Mr Chapman has his work cut out - though I am sure, like others, I will probably buy his as well.
The guide sets its stall out from the start. It explains it wishes to be useful to visitors and locals alike with the majority of problems in the V1 - V9 grade. It gives tech grades for those of us, i.e. me, who struggle to get over V3 regularly, and has a fantastic spread of all grades meaning this guide should be handy for all.
The lecturing section on ethics of bouldering is good to see and is kept short, as boulderers do have short attention spans, but it is very much to the heart of the matter and strongly gets its point across, which is very welcome.
In the spirit of the sport, many eliminates and alternative versions are left out so you are still free to explore. Despite the huge amount of information contained, this is not a join-the-dots guide. Areas such as Gillercombe give pointers as to where future developments may be made and minor areas are noted - if you find you've done everything in the book.
It's important to remember that this is a 'guide' and this is what it does. I love reading FRCC guidebooks and immersing myself in the historical context they bring and many have criticised Rockfax for being soul-less. As explained in the introduction, the history of many boulder problems are lost in the past and for me the pull of bouldering is not so much about who may have gone before but actually doing the problem. It does what it says on the tin and it does it very, very well.
As a guide it is pretty faultless. Any offering that can get me around the fantastic, but confusing, Eskdale bouldering must be worth its weight. There is no comparison to the current online guide; it blows it clean out of the water. Many of the more complicated access routes are shown as photos as well as described. This can make all the difference between a great day out or thrashing around in bracken for an afternoon. All the problems described have the usual, clear, Rockfax symbol system and full photo topos - in a word brilliant !
The photography itself varies from fantastically inspiring to average. My favourite being a shot of the Stirrup Boulders (right) that really shows what Lakes Bouldering is about. It would have been nice to see more full page shots of problems being done but I suppose cost is an understandable factor there.
It's also good to see the less popular areas having their trumpets blown for them. The guide is cut into 5 logical areas, effectively sorted by access roads and topography. All the rock types, roadside and mountain areas and sheer variety available is included. Showing just about everything that is on offer, and pointing out minor or developmental areas, means that the load should be well spread if there is an influx of beanie wearing skinny youths into the Lakes. Many of the areas that are really raved about are, coincidentally, the hardest to get to requiring long walk-ins which should stop any over-use.
In summary, the guide does an excellent job at covering a very large and very diverse area in one book. Whilst doing so it does not lose the personal touch. This is not a heart-less publication. There is quite a bit of info about local developers, little amusing snippets, stories and photos slipped in amongst the topos to give a feel of a local guide. It has a wealth of information that is easy to find and use and I can't really find much to fault - it's got to be better than my box file system.
PS. Don't believe what it says about St Bee's; it's not that good really! You go and explore all the other nice areas and leave esoteric, local areas like that to me. It's not very nice round there anyway, there's no hills and stuff and it's quite a drive to get to. You've got to go past the turning for Wasdale if you're coming from the South, wouldn't you much rather go there ? - thanks.