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It's been some twenty five years since sport climbing made an appearance in the UK and yet it is still viewed with suspicion in some quarters. This is, in part, due to the fact that in the UK there are very few worthwhile sport routes below 7a and so this disenfranchises a large number of climbers. What many climbers don't realise is that such grades are easily achievable by most climbers if they are prepared to redpoint routes. However, unless you already know people who regularly sport climb, you may have no idea how to go about it, cannot gauge how much you can improve your grade through redpointing or even whether it is 'allowed' at such grades! For the first time there is a book published in the UK that addresses these points and provides all the information needed to begin sport climbing. Of course sport climbing is not just about redpointing and on-sight sport climbing and even multi-pitch sport climbing are also covered in detail in this book.
Most climbers nowadays will have enjoyed clipping bolts while on holiday abroad but, as the book points out, sport climbing isn't just trad climbing with bolts and the book details a more aggressive approach to climbing in general. That said much of what is described in the early chapters, such as gear, belaying and safety, will be familiar to existing climbers and I suspect these chapters will be skimmed through by many, whilst complete newcomers to climbing will find these chapters comprehensive and detailed enough to cater for their needs. Perhaps the only thing missing is a sense of how friendly sport climbing in the UK is. When I first started going to Malham I was intimidated by the strong boys and girls cruising their projects but after a while I began to find out that sharing top-ropes, belayers and banter were all part of the fun and conveying this throughout the book may have done more to motivate someone to get out and try sport climbing than any number of tips and techniques.
The middle section of chapters are the most useful, these deal with techniques and tactics specific to sport climbing and it is here the experience and professionalism of the authors comes to the fore; everything is covered from cleaning boots to stripping the route. The most valuable aspects are the advice on planning your time, be it a single day or a week, and also the chapters entitled The Mind and Redpointing. These contain a lot of information which will be new to most people and invaluable to anyone looking to take sport climbing seriously.
The chapter on training is short, although it is supplemented by a good Self-care chapter. This is a shame as I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to know more of Steve McClure's training secrets and it wouldn't have taken much to make this chapter comprehensive enough for even the most dedicated trainers. It would also have broadened the appeal of the book for more experienced sport climbers or at least extended the book's useful life. The same is true of the Destinations chapter, this is an excellent idea but it is too brief to be of real use. For most of the areas listed it doesn't even give the best time of the year to visit. This could have been a real selling point of the book especially considering how well travelled the authors are and some opinions and local knowledge from them would have ensured the book a permanent place in the bathroom (or wherever it is you do your holiday planning!).
The layout of the book is in the familiar Rockfax format, an overly fussy soft cover with many action photos stuffed inside, a number of which are excellent and could have graced a big coffee table type book on the subject. Unfortunately for the photographers this is an A5 manual with all the attendant captions, titles and text boxes and none of the glossy paper so the impact of the photos is not what it could be. The text is backed up by other instructional photographs and clear diagrams.
Overall this is an excellent book. It is a text book and as such we shouldn't really expect more than accurate, comprehensive, clearly displayed and explained information on the subject matter and this is exactly what it delivers and the photos are a bonus. If you are the sort of person who spends every weekend at Malham projecting routes, training and obsessing about conditions then there may be little in the book you won't already know but for the vast majority of climbers this book offers a wealth of otherwise hard-to-find information and should lead to improved performance in all aspects of your sport climbing.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Ashley Lewis: