/ ARTICLE: Guidebooks: What They Say vs. What They Mean

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UKC Articles 10 Oct 2019
Common guidebook descriptions, and how to interpret them. Paul Sagar shares some common guidebook descriptions and attempts to parse their words...

'An exciting finish' – You better be wearing your brown trousers. See also 'a thrilling finale'.



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Andy Hardy 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Genuine laugh out loud moments there Paul, particularly "traditional"

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daWalt 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Surprised "Scottish VS" isn't on the list.

I usually read it as: "some fool aparently once climbed up there, tchuh" shake head, walk on.

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Steve Clegg 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

"easy for a man of your calibre" (with emphasis on the 'I') - often said by an ex-Embsay resident in the 70s

Meaning "you've got no f*cking chance!"

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Plungeman 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Aside from learning what is meant by interesting, my favourite line in a guide book is for South Ridge Direct on Cir Mhor - "the most obvious way is not the best way". Read that and magically nothing is the obvious way. 

Another guide we saw afterwards said "use the right-hand crack".

Need to go back for a clean ascent... 

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sandrow 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

'One for the well-rounded VS leader' - whatever scares you, it's lurking up there...

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Very odd, Paul, that you didn't have the decency to mention fellow writer Tom Patey, who first did this so well and so wittily many decades ago. His 'translations' were so pithy and concise.

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pasbury 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:


'High in the grade' – This is severely under-graded. We know it is. But if we tell the truth about this classic, old men will hunt us down and kill us.

lol

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Paul Sagar 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Can’t say I know of Patey’s version, hence why I didn’t refer to it. I’ve not been around for more than half a decade in climbing terms, and that one wasn’t on my radar. Not really a lack of decency, just a lack of knowledge. Is there an on-line viewable version you can link me to?

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Alkis 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

“'Pull into the obvious groove' – lol, grooves are never obvious, not least as they usually come in threes. Good luck, because if you get this wrong you'll be stuck up a trouser-browning E4.”

Sounds spookily like my experience on Avalanche/Red Wall/Longlands (S 4b)... when you are in the wrong groove, you know you are in the wrong groove, the last gear placement is a distant memory literally tens of metres underneath, there is mud, there is crumbly rock... and there is no way out other than up.

Situations best described as “character building”.

Post edited at 20:43
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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

> Can’t say I know of Patey’s version, hence why I didn’t refer to it. I’ve not been around for more than half a decade in climbing terms, and that one wasn’t on my radar. Not really a lack of decency, just a lack of knowledge. Is there an on-line viewable version you can link me to?

The book was 'One Man's Mountains'. I copied his glossary to a thread here 10 years ago:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/starting_out/new_starter_totally_baffled_by_terminology-375289?v=1#x5437724

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planetmarshall 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

The similarity is pretty superficial, surely.

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pasbury 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

What about that innocuous word 'interesting'; can mean absorbing technically, can mean screaming for your mum death potential.

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Very odd, Paul, that you didn't have the decency to mention fellow writer Tom Patey, who first did this so well and so wittily many decades ago. His 'translations' were so pithy and concise.

Gordon you really need to re-read that and have a think about what you're saying, the assumptions within it, how it sounds, and how that makes you sound.  At best, it is uncharitable and thoughtless; at worst it is deliberate implied criticism, wrapped in a sneer, inside a desperate pretence of oneupmanship based on the illusory remains of laurels past.

If you don't like the piece, then say so directly.  Your comment is snide and demeans you.

Post edited at 21:16
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Chris Craggs Global Crag Moderator10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Very odd, Paul, that you didn't have the decency to mention fellow writer Tom Patey, who first did this so well and so wittily many decades ago.

"Many decades ago" - maybe he never came across it?

Chris

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Well, I'm sorry, I hadn't realised he hadn't read it. It certainly wasn't meant to sneer. I genuinely assumed he'd read that rather well-known piece and was having a go at updating it ... without so much as mentioning it. 

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> Well, I'm sorry, I hadn't realised he hadn't read it. It certainly wasn't meant to sneer. I genuinely assumed he'd read that rather well-known piece and was having a go at updating it ... without so much as mentioning it. 


Fair enough.  Thanks for the reply.  I hadn't heard of your reference either - although that may be because I'm not particularly widely read in mountain literature, and less so than many here.

Perhaps there was a softer way of raising the previous work?  Anyway, all good now.

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eroica64 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Well, don't sugar the effing pill Deadeye

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Deadeye 10 Oct 2019
In reply to eroica64:

> Well, don't sugar the effing pill Deadeye


Yeah, fair cop.  Got a bit hoity toity.  I apologise.

Hey, Gordon.  I'm sorry I kicked off.

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

> ... based on the illusory remains of laurels past.

I thought it was generally accepted that Tom Patey's book was a classic of its kind. You are now sneering by saying it's 'laurels past'. A classic like Whympers Scrambles, or Mummery's My Climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, or Terray's Conquistadors of the Useless, or Harrer's The White Spider remains a classic for ever.

> If you don't like the piece, then say so directly.  Your comment is snide and demeans you.

I didn't say I didn't like the piece, I simply expressed surprise that that earlier famous article was not alluded to.

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Gordon Stainforth 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Deadeye:

Well, thanks, for that. Let's move on. ... And, I hope people keep reading ...

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pasbury 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

And providing their own favourite guidebook euphemisms!

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Misha 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Excellent!

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Misha 10 Oct 2019
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Thanks, some good ones there and plenty of not so good / random ones, as well as a blatantly sexist one. On the whole I actually think Paul’s list is more amusing. Perhaps Patey’s is just a bit dated. 

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DerwentDiluted 10 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

"This crag is banned and is only recorded here for completeness"

-Arse covered, now fill yer boots.

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James Oswald 10 Oct 2019

Really good article.

One from the description to the approach of Dun Mingulay:

"Make a 90m abseil from the edge of the cliff just North of the raised clump of thrift"

Meaning, walk blindly around the top of the crag for half an hour until you find a patch of grass which is sightly longer than the rest..

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Andy Hardy 11 Oct 2019
In reply to James Oswald:

I always groan when I read a series of descriptions which all read: "starts 2m to the left of <route n-1>", especially when the first route in the chain starts at an "obvious" feature

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Lemony 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

> easier ground

terrifying soloing

> easy scrambling

terrifying grassy soloing

> broken ground

terrifying grassy, chossy soloing

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mike barnard 11 Oct 2019
In reply to James Oswald:

> One from the description to the approach of Dun Mingulay:

> "Make a 90m abseil from the edge of the cliff just North of the raised clump of thrift"> 

Yes, that's a bad one even if you know what thrift is (I did, but it certainly didn't help find the ab). Hopefully to be updated for future guidebooks!

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tlouth7 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

>Approach notes

>E face, a pleasant hour's walk.

>SE face, a 40 minute uphill flog

Scramble precariously up a desperately steep hillside, sliding on wet leaves and wishing you had come later in the season when the path might be remotely visible, becoming increasingly concerned at the length of time since you last saw a "cairn" (3 stones in a pile).

Prizes for working out which crag/mountain this is from.

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Paul Sagar 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Oh, if we're doing actual quotations from guidebooks, then...

"A great alternative if you are up to it though, as the grade suggests, it is delicate and bold with virtually no gear. Climb the scoop until it steepens then balance out right to gain and climb the slab."

In fact means

"There is NO gear for 25 meters, until after you've done the crux. If you fall you will probably die (though the grass is soft in places, so maybe not)"

Any takers?

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Lankyman 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

About 30 years ago there was a set of very good Northumbrian phrases (with English translations) that always used to make us laugh whenever we rocked on over to The County. 'Gan canny', Yer sh*te ye, Sloppy Ploppin' all good stuff especially in a Geordie accent.

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Nic 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Not quite on topic, but the route finding descriptions reminded me of a University climbing trip to North Wales where we had booked a hut. Usual 2am arrival in the pouring rain, our leader reassured us "Don't worry, I know the exact location [of the hut] - it's right by the church". Do you know how many churches there are in the average Welsh village...

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Darron 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

“A welcome opportunity to take to steeper ground”

....bring your arms, your gonna need ‘em

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C Witter 11 Oct 2019
In reply to Misha:

One is sexist, true. But, in general, Patey's list is far more inventive, hilarious and surreal - even though I also enjoyed Paul Sagar's version.

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Dave Hewitt 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

My friend the late Rowland Bowker once told of having seen a guidebook where part of the approach notes for the hill said: "Turn right at the pile of sand."

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Toerag 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

They missed out 'gain the <insert feature here>' = get stuck here and lower off.

incipient crack = line on rock that won't take any gear whatsoever.

Post edited at 12:46
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treesrockice 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

theres no:

"...left of route X, route X is left of route Y, route y is left of route Z.
Route Z is not decribed."

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treesrockice 11 Oct 2019
In reply to James Oswald:

wald I'm sure I taught you what thrift looks like on pabbay!

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danm 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

Approach via a roped scramble = unprotected, terrifying and loose, with death likely for both members of the party should one of you muff it.

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Hat Dude 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

"A Route of Character" - Some or all of the way up it you'll be thinking about giving up climbing and selling your gear.

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wastedyouth 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

"F.A. Mick Fowler"

Your belayer is going to need a helmet.

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Misha 11 Oct 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

Tennis Shoe Direct. 

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TobyA 11 Oct 2019
In reply to treesrockice:

> "...left of route X, route X is left of route Y, route y is left of route Z.

> Route Z is not described."

Having used the Welsh winter guide quite a lot over the last couple of years, I know exactly where you are coming from!

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d_b 11 Oct 2019
In reply to tlouth7:

> Prizes for working out which crag/mountain this is from.

All of them.

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Pursued by a bear 11 Oct 2019
In reply to Misha:

> Perhaps Patey’s is just a bit dated. 

I don't think there's too much of a perhaps.

Tom Patey's writing is, to me, to climbing writing very much like The Goons are to modern comedy. We wouldn't have got where we are without them but they've become so far dated as to be period pieces. You shouldn't expect anyone to be intimately familiar with them.

T.

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Bobling 11 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

"Pull up on the obvious block"...had me wandering around for ages muttering under my breath "Obvious block is obvious" till I found it and then it was obvious.  For the South West anything FA Pat Littlejohn = long and sustained!

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Paul Sagar 12 Oct 2019
In reply to Misha:

Correct!

”a bracing experience” is I believe the technical term. 

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d_b 12 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

The word "pleasant" always makes me nervous for some reason.

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farmus21 12 Oct 2019
In reply to UKC Articles:

"The floor of which is often littered with dead rabbits"...

The weirdest thing is, its actually accurate. 

Any takers?

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Mick Ward 11:32 Sun
In reply to UKC Articles:

I always liked Patey's glossary but prefer this one (sorry, Gordon). Through no fault of its own, the former is circa 50 years old now and I'm sure most of us can relate more to Paul Sagar's excellent version. I certainly can. There must have been an awful lot of wry smiles as people read it!

In the spirit of 'interesting crag descriptions', here's one from the best climbing writer you've never heard of, John Lumb. It refers to the most serious crag I've ever climbed on. Mick Fowler is reputed to have turned around and walked away.

'The approach. Be warned, this is the good bit. First, stroll through the graveyard, then head across the council waste tip, brow the hill and cast your eyes on the horror facing you, 300 feet of seemingly blank limestone. No features, no obvious protection, in fact no redeeming grace at all.'

[Later on.] 'I've no idea how hard it was; I was numb with fear.'

[At the top.] 'I don't think we spoke; I think even the desire to punch him had gone. Odd what finding yourself alive can do. The others joined us, they weren't speaking either, so we all went off for tea and cakes.'

On reaching exactly the same spot, all I could think was, "F*ck! I'm still alive."

The guidebook grading, then and now, decades later? Let's not even go there...

Mick

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In reply to Mick Ward:

I still think Patey's interpretation of 'Amusing' as 'Die laughing' takes some beating. Of Paul's, two I liked particularly were 'A hidden jug' and 'Some loose rock at the top'.

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DerwentDiluted 13:11 Sun
In reply to UKC Articles:

"Polished by the passage of nailed boots"

Means- The old timers would pause before the crux to tap out, refill, tamp and light their pipe. You will pause at the crux to bleat like a child because you can't get a cam in.

Post edited at 13:14
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jon 13:15 Sun
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

I seem to remember an article in one of those old climbing mags, (maybe) by Steve Ashton (apologies Steve if it wasn't you), very much along the same lines as Paul Sagar's article. As I remember it was accompanied by photos and captions, one of which was of some unsavoury looking chap crouched over a camping stove, stirring something unidentifiable in a frying pan. The caption was 'scrambling remains'.

Post edited at 13:43
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Darron 20:27 Sun
In reply to jon:

Yes, I seem to remember(I think) a series of this type of thing. Late 70’s/early 80’s. I’ll try and dig it out.

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C Witter 00:01 Mon
In reply to Pursued by a bear:

> I don't think there's too much of a perhaps.

> Tom Patey's writing is, to me, to climbing writing very much like The Goons are to modern comedy. We wouldn't have got where we are without them but they've become so far dated as to be period pieces. You shouldn't expect anyone to be intimately familiar with them.

> T.


Yes, you're right: you're going about it all the wrong way if you find yourself expecting intimate familiarity from anyone.

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teh_mark 13:41 Mon
In reply to UKC Articles:

I can't help but feel that the charm of all of these quaint and understated guidebook phrases is that we all know what they mean, really, without them being spelled out explicitly.

On an aside, however it came about, I hope this style of guidebook writing remains with us for a long time to come. There are some sublime bits of writing contained therein - the CC Cloggy guidebooks description of Indian Face, for example.

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adruss85 15:21 Mon
In reply to UKC Articles:

"never desperate" - if you're going for the O/S then good luck finding the right place to put any of your limbs 

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nniff 14:34 Thu
In reply to UKC Articles:

'A classic of its genre'.  Welcome to one of the seven circles of hell.  These are slabs, cracks, corners, aretes, laybacks, overhangs and mantleshelves.  Any variation on these is in the custody of a demon appointed to the relevant circle - the off-width demon is renowned as a complete bastard, even by his peers.

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