Hard Rock is now in its fourth edition. It would have been easy to consign this classic tome to history, says Rob Greenwood, but instead by including all new photography and some new routes, Ian Parnell and Vertebrate have brought it back with a bang.
To compliment what Rob has posted, and as one who purchased the original book prior to publication, this blog post below gives some flavour of the book's original impact with climbers.
If anyone is struggling to get hold of a copy as your local shops are closed you can get it direct for Vertebrate Publishing, and they are doing 30% off at the moment. It could well save your sanity through lockdown, particularly if like me you've suddenly had to become a home-schooling teacher!
Thanks for sharing Sean, I really enjoyed reading that.
Would you mind if I added it to the further reading/watching section at the bottom of the review?
A great review Rob... like you, I think those involved have done a magnificent job with the new edition...
... further to Ian (Parnell's) comments about its availability... I would also like to add its available from many of the well-known outdoor retailers web-shops; all of whom could do with our support at this difficult time...
I was also thinking of writing a review of the book Rob, but you beat me to it. It's interesting to read a different take on the whole Hard Rock literature. There is also a post on the Footless Crow website, Mick Ward I think?
No problem with attaching the link to your article. I should perhaps add that the even larger format does full justice to the stunning images in the book. This unfortunately the sad fate of The Black Cliff which was too small to display the majesty of a cliff like Cloggy. Now that would be a good project for a future book!
I'm just delighted to learn that two routes I've led are not only now included but are also upgraded from when I did them - Rock Idol from HVS to E1 and Mars from E1 to E2. Suddenly I feel I was a better climber in my long-ago prime than I realised!
I can’t get over what a terrible choice Double Diamond was (ahead of Promised Land? Seriously??). I’d also have wanted something from Northumberland and Lancashire. I have my doubts about including routes done since 1974, but still, I’m looking forward to seeing it.
i used to read Hard Rock in the school library in the mid-1970’s before I’d even been climbing; I knew several essays by heart at one time. I’ll be very surprised if the new essays are the best, but let’s see.
Curiously it was a picture of Double Diamond that got me to Lundy in the first place, so I have it to thank for that.
For what it’s worth I’m a big Promised Land fan, but given that it’s already in Extreme Rock I can understand why it wasn’t included. In fact, it’s probably up there with one of the most memorable routes I’ve ever climbed in Extreme Rock, which is really saying something! The boulders were so slippy with seaweed we had to slither other them from the abseil to the base of the route. The first pitch was wet and that chimney section was one of the best and most surprising pieces of climbing I’ve done in a long time; however, the grass 6a pitch really sealed the deal. Never have I climbed so hard on something so vegetated....
When I comes to Northumberland and Lancashire I know how you feel, as it’s nice to have each individual area represented simply so it gives you an excuse to go there. For the former maybe something like Great Wall and Northumberland Wall at Great Wanney, or perhaps something at Ravensheugh? When it comes to Lancashire, whilst I’ve done a little I haven’t done a lot - hence wouldn’t feel qualified to comment. In a way this is proof of the pudding with regards to my comment above: I could do with an excuse to go there. As such, inspire me with some recommendations!
Imagine if The Black Cliff got the same treatment as Grant Farquhar gave The White Cliff, that would indeed be a worthy successor.
It would clearly be a very different style to the original, insofar as it’s more of a collection of individual stories from different peoples ascents and experiences, but I don’t think that would matter.
All-in-all I think we’re lucky that these things are still being published, so we owe a debt of gratitude to the likes of Ian Parnell, Grant Farquhar, Guy Robertson and Vertebrate Publishing for keeping them coming.
In a similar vein, there was a nice little reprint of “Rock climbers in action in Snowdonia” which I think also deserves a place on that list however seems to have largely flown under the radar. Not quite in the same league as the tome that is the White Cliff but great none the less.
> In a similar vein, there was a nice little reprint of “Rock climbers in action in Snowdonia” which I think also deserves a place on that list...
... whilst I'm not arguing against the merit of "Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia" I do take issue with the idea it was: "a nice little reprint"...
... I believe it was a print-on-demand publication and the quality was absolutely terrible... you just have to compare it to the likes of the new Hard Rock or the White Cliff to name but two recent offerings - admittedly it was cheap and maybe it was purposefully produced to a specific price point (the soft back was £20.00 and the hardback was £25.00) but if ever there was a clear example of that old adage... you get what you pay for, this was it...
Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia deserved to be so much better and could have been so much more with a bit of TLC from those involved... I was flabbergasted the author(s) allowed such a poor offering in celebration of its 50th birthday...
Oh, is PL in Extreme Rock? Fair enough then, I’d forgotten that. But Shamrock or Albion would have been better, or Spacewalk, or Destiny, or Golden Gate, or American Beauty. Or even Ulysses Factor - there should be one proper loose route in there to annoy a certain type of climber. On that theme Archtempter would have been a better choice, not that it’s on Lundy exactly. Or Journey to Ixtlan, for that matter.
Routes of character, in fact. DD epitomises routes that don’t have character - for one thing it’s a lineless eliminate on some VS.
I’m no Lancashire expert but I assume Mandarin would be the obvious choice.
> Imagine if The Black Cliff got the same treatment as Grant Farquhar gave The White Cliff, that would indeed be a worthy successor.
Absolutely. I heard, a while ago, that there was something in the works but am not sure what's become of it.
In my view, The White Cliff is far and away the best book ever written about British climbing.
The gauntlet's been thrown down!
I think that the combination of Quatermass and Double Diamond encompass the breadth of Lundy climbing quiet well. I think that the best thing about Hard Rock is to celebrate the diversity of British trad climbing rather than cherry pick someone’s idea of the best routes
Dennis Gray has also posted a review of Hard Rock on the Footless Crow website. He fills in some detail about some early repeat ascents, Browns ascent of Suicide Wall & Bow Wall. He also regrets the loss of North Crag Eliminate which he did as a 15 year old schoolboy!
Hard Rock was the book that inspired me more than any other when I started out. On checking my logbook I was surprised to find I'd only actually done around a third of the routes. That's primarily because I haven't done nearly enough climbing in Scotland. The most significant tick for me was always Great Wall, that photo of Pete Crew, "Seal cold in my shorts" and "Wall without end", the whole thing resonated with me and very much formed my idea of what climbing was going to be for me and my life. And it has been.
Here's an account of an early Hard Rock tick that was memorable for many different reasons:
It was the start of March 2005, a cold snap during my first year of university at Nottingham. On the Thursday night we'd had a joint social with some of the other outdoor clubs where I think we'd realised why there were different clubs. They just seemed to attract a different crowd and while we got on well with them we weren't really in the mood for a night out away from the friendship group that had formed so far that year. We left the pub and ended up at Rock City, the legendary dingy music venue.
I woke up at 5.30pm the following day. I'm not an early riser, but this was unusual even by my standards. I felt terrible. I hadn't actually had much to drink though, only a couple of pints, but I had a hazy memory (later confirmed) of staggering out of a taxi back to my halls in the early hours. Others said there'd been a sudden point where I went downhill, they'd assumed I'd had some shots, but this wasn't a regular hangover, I'd been spiked.
I threw my kit in my bag and wobbled out of the door. My phone was already ringing, the minibus was waiting for our trip to the Lakes this weekend. I staggered to the Portland Building on campus and climbed in, sitting next to the window in case I needed to hurl.
I'd arranged for a friend to join us in the Lakes, we were going to pick him up in Windermere. The previous summer we'd spent 4 weeks in the Alps, split between Arolla and Chamonix, and had bagged a decent number of easy alpine routes and a few harder rock routes. Both of us had led a few E1s and the odd E2, but were pretty inconsistent and really not very well rounded climbers at this point. We were always up for an adventure though and keen to test ourselves on more traditional routes. It was that phase of life where every day climbing felt like Christmas Day.
The minibus was delayed on the way north. In the meantime my friend had jumped on the train to Windermere and arrived well in advance of us. He settled in for a pint at the pub. Our short delay turned into a longer one. Luckily he'd met a guy called "Dave" who had taken pity on him and had bought him several drinks. By the time we'd arrived to pick him up he was well away and we didn't actually have a spare seat on the bus, so he sat in the rear footwell singing to himself while I tried to focus next to the window. We arrived in Langdale both the worse for wear, but at about 12.30am I suddenly felt fine.
The following day we decided we were going to climb The Crack on Gimmer. We woke to a hard frost and the slightest sprinkle of snow on the hills, but we weren't put off and the walk to Gimmer soon warmed us up. I loaned him a pair of tights for a bit more warmth and got some good use from the £5 pigskin gloves I'd bought (I still use these, they were real value for money).
On setting off on the route our hands quickly became numb combined with another problem we hadn't thought about - verglas. The seeping crack had left a thin and difficult to see sheen across many parts of the rock. We fought on up, finding the climbing awkward and our cold bodies becoming tired quickly. Our verglas problem lessened as we climbed, but turned into a different one. It was snowing. First a dusting of sugary powder, then bigger flakes, all falling in the strange calm and quiet as the crag grew dark. We got a move on, keeping moving was the only thing keeping us warm (well that and my tights), and topped out into a whiteout.
We raced back down the hill to the Old Dungeon Ghyll for a pint and the hope of a warm fire before having to retreat to our tent, elated at having had what we deemed a "proper adventure".
We spoke to the campsite manager the next day and he asked what we'd been up to. "That's naughty!" he said excitedly, "but someone was going to do it. How was it?" "A bit icy and cold," we said. It didn't dawn on me until much later that he thought we'd made a proper winter ascent of the route, rather than a youthful and foolish rock climbing adventure
> Oh, is PL in Extreme Rock? Fair enough then, I’d forgotten that. But Shamrock or Albion would have been better, or Spacewalk, or Destiny, or Golden Gate, or American Beauty.
These were all on the list John, after debate it was thought that our two chosen routes represented the two contrasting sides of Lundy - Double Diamond with it's easy access, prefect rock straight above the sea i.e. ultimate sea cliff cragging, and Quatermass it's wild adventures.
Love Archtempter - would be high on my personal list, unfortunately my personal list is a lot longer than 60odd routes ;-)
> In a similar vein, there was a nice little reprint of “Rock climbers in action in Snowdonia” which I think also deserves a place on that list however seems to have largely flown under the radar. Not quite in the same league as the tome that is the White Cliff but great none the less.
Funnily enough I ended up delving back through Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia throughout my lunchbreak as a result of your post, so thanks for the reminder.
I think the different between it and Hard Rock is that RCiAiS ultimately a documenting a single moment and place in history. Maybe Hard Rock is to some extent (albeit covering more places), but it's moved on with history as it's changed and evolved over the various editions. It is - at least for me - a book I keep coming back to, whereas RCiAiS isn't. It clearly has other merits, and I enjoyed revisiting it today, but I suspect it'll be a while before I next pick it up.
C'mon Ian, can we get you to spill the beans on all the routes that were considered or is that information hidden behind the official secrets act?
Happy to arrange an interview if you'll spill the beans...
Does anyone know why the third edition cover features Rob Matheson climbing The Rasp but is not one of the routes in the book.
Here is a quote from the main article that might answer your question.
'The 1st edition featured The Sloth (not included), the 2nd edition featured Shrike (again, not included) and the 3rd featured The Rasp (you guessed it - not included). I've always assumed this was Ken's way of subtly reminding us that whilst within the book's pages there are a great many good routes, there's plenty more out there. With that in mind, maybe a photograph of something like An Bealach Rúnda at Fair Head would have acted as a suitable alternative, but what does it matter - it's a great cover shot as it is.'
I wasn't born for another 16 years
You're not that young Rob!
Mental arithmetic was never my strong point
Can someone please tell me what the cover shot for the 4th edition? It's doin' my head in...…...
I did tell you, in the review (which is well worth a read btw) - it's Central Buttress...
Don't worry, in your defence it's a long review
Yeah, well, it's not as though I'm short of time just now....
I was 19 when the first edition came out in 1974, working at the YHA Services climbing shop in Birmingham. We brought in one copy which no customer saw as I used my staff discount to buy it. I stayed up most of the night totally transfixed by the essays and as the review says some aren't great but some are totally brilliant. I was a bit worried about edition four but this review totally reassures me. The new additions sound great, agree Rock Idol is a fab route, and protecting the original essays is the right thing to do. How ironic that Ken Wilson thought his publishing legacy might be "tomorrow's chip paper". Unlike him to be so self effacing. He might not have pioneered at the highest levels but he shaped the development of domestic and world climbing through his editing and publishing.
That was an expensive post to read.
That review was a really good read, your enthusiasm really shines through. Thanks. Reckon it's inspired me to buy a copy, too!
What a superb photo of CB's flake crack on the front cover -- it certainly captures the atmosphere of climbing on Scafell. Well done Ian !!
Oh, a great, a truly great review of a much loved book. Thanks for that. It's on my Christmas List.
> If anyone is struggling to get hold of a copy as your local shops are closed you can get it direct for Vertebrate Publishing, and they are doing 30% off at the moment.
My copy arrived today. It's a lovely book, but its dropping on the doorstep in the middle of a lockdown is cruel. PS. Mr Greenwood's modesty seems to have prevented his mentioning his (and Ms Orr's) appearances on Alcasan. PPS. I've not read it all yet, but on a flick through the authors will have to go some to best Ed Drummond's writing (on Great Wall).
Glad you like it, by the way I did an attempt at a reading of that piece on this podcast. Bear in mind it was an unpractised one take thing - really needed a Nick Bullock, Jim Perrin or Ed Drummond to read it - but hopefully bring a bit of it alive. Martin Boysen also reads a bit of his piece on Shibboleth
> My copy arrived today. It's a lovely book, but its dropping on the doorstep in the middle of a lockdown is cruel. PS. Mr Greenwood's modesty seems to have prevented his mentioning his (and Ms Orr's) appearances on Alcasan. PPS. I've not read it all yet, but on a flick through the authors will have to go some to best Ed Drummond's writing (on Great Wall).
I thought I'd leave that as a surprise for those that went on to buy the book
Funnily enough you'll hear a bit more about that evening within an interview we'll be publishing shortly. Ian has a load of great stories from along the way, plus a load of juicy goss about which routes were considered, but didn't make the cut, and the alternative cover that never quite made it.
When it comes to Ed Drummond's piece on Great Wall you could be right too, that does indeed take some beating. Quite a timely comment too as I picked up A Dream of White Horses again only the other day!
The cover shot is one of the best trad climbing photos I've ever seen, absolutely brilliant. Is there a story behind it? It must have been a lot of trouble to get with a high risk of nothing to show for the effort.
Its a great edition, well done you.
Thanks Mike, yes there is a bit of a story, although not quite as alarming as some (more of that to come when Rob's interview comes out).
I'd driven over from Sheffield to meet up with Mary and Matt on the promise of a good forecast. So we were a bit surprised to walk out of the sunshine up into a surprisingly chilly deep clag covering Scafell. Our plans were to try and get shots of both Ichabod and Central Buttress - I knew my models would be fine climbing the routes but I felt the crux would be for me would be efficiently getting into position. Whilst Mary and Matt are locals I've climbed there no more than 7-8 times.
After slip sliding my way up a damp broad stand with my sack threatening to pull me down to Wasdale the magnitude of the task dawned on me. Visibility was down to about 10 metres and I had no real idea how locate the finish of Ichabod. The next half an hour was a blur of scurrying up and down damp lichen covered rocks, constant dead-ends whilst trying to match micro features to the guidebook topos and unanswered shouts down to Mary and Matt below. Eventually I found a promising jumble of blocks at the top of a super steep thin corner and threw the rope down. I'd lucked out and was just in time to catch Matt on Ichabod's gnarly initial traverse. The images deep in fog weren't quite what I had in mind but at least it meant readers of the new edition wouldn't be under the illusion that the Lakes had perma sunshine.
I'd assumed the top of Central Buttress would be an easier find but even though the mist had begun to dissipate there were so many possibilities - I eventually took a blind punt. I had 100m of static which I soon began to be worried wouldn't be enough. The problem became evident when I was about 30m down and I realised I was way off line. I began tensioning and half abseiling half sideways climbing. Every 20m I put in some gear - occasionally re-belaying until I'd traced a huge diagonal and could finally see Mary and Matt at the base of the Great Flake. They say luck comes in threes, but for me that day it might have been in fours, as not only did visibility stretch to 30m, I also realised that Mary's superb wardrobe choice would make the shot - all hail the yellow trousers!
A hard won photo Ian. It might have been easier to either climb as a rope of three (very sociable) or as an independent rope of two climbi g a parallel route. A few years back on a beautiful summer's day we set off for Scafell Crag full of hope to arrive below Botterill's Slab in a thick clammy lingering fog. All the rock was very damp but nearby Napes basked in glorious sunshine. The climbing was especially nasty because previous ascentionists had liberally coated the holds with chalk. The same happened on Moonraker when a damp sea-king rolled in. I've always been unlucky on Scafell with the weather. My bogey crag!
As competitions restart - and given the fact that we're no longer 'in isolation' - it seemed like a good time to wrap up our video series and look ahead to Tokyo 2020. In this final episode of In Isolation, we look back at...