Peak Rock Review

© Bernard Newman/Vertebrate Publishing

Peak Rock Cover. Andy Pollitt on Scritto's Republic at Millstone. Photo by Bernard Newman.  © Bernard Newman/Vertebrate Publishing
Peak Rock Cover. Andy Pollitt on Scritto's Republic at Millstone. Photo by Bernard Newman.
© Bernard Newman/Vertebrate Publishing

Do you know who Surgeon’s Saunter was named after? Or who first climbed Curbar’s bastard hard VS, Little Innominate? Or made the first free ascent of Bastille (you may well think you do, but according to the authors neither the first to do all the moves free nor the first to do the whole route in one was who you think)? Or what Ravensdale’s Medusa should be called, or Right Eliminate? Or Ray’s Roof, indeed? Or which Stanage mega-classic involved ravaging The Virgin? Or which climber suggested to John Dunne by email they BOLT the Parthian Shot flake back, without telling the little people? Or whom Eric Byne’s wife worked for, or which thirties activist could do a one-armer, or what role Ginger Priestly played in Peak climbing history? Which 70’s grit classic could John Allen never do? On the other hand, which of his routes is still unrepeated? Who first climbed Ben’s Wall (it wasn’t Ben!)? It’s all here.

But there’s an awful lot more to the book than trivia. 

Peak Rock has been 25 years in the making; it was originally the idea of Giles Barker, a moderate climber, although good enough to join the 1976 gritstone new route boom with Pot Black and Black Magic on Stanage, to take the story on from Eric Byne’s magisterial High Peak, although without the now-less-fashionable bog-trotting. When Barker was killed caving in 1992 the project lay fallow for almost 20 years, until it was taken up by climbing historian (and climber!) Phil Kelly and lifetime Peak enthusiast Graham Hoey. It’s both an almost academic record and exploration of the history of Peak climbing (reflecting the historical training of its originator), and a fabulous coffee-table book, the best such UK effort since Hard Rock.

Steve Bancroft  © Geoff Birtles
Steve Bancroft
© Geoff Birtles
I don’t know the details of the extent to which the Peak climbing community rallied round, although clearly it was pretty considerable (hell, Jordan Buys seems to have repeated Ninth Life for them!). But, anyway, the amount of work that must have gone into the book is incredible. Look at the list of interviewees, for example. Think everybody. No, I mean everybody. My favourite line in the book is provided by Arthur Birtwistle. The interviewer is exploring the question of who exactly invented the hand jam and how (they settle on the traditional view that they were doing this kind of thing from an early stage but that Peter Harding refined it and perhaps was the first to lock the thumb into the palm, although clearly we’re never going to be certain that no-one had done that before). Birtwistle’s reply is tinder-dry. “I don’t remember what I did inside the cracks, but I’m sure I put my hands in them.” . (Although Alan Carne’s description of Jerry’s legendary grounder from the final moves of Ninth Life runs it a close second; “I thought he was dead. He… was completely unconscious, immobile, and I just looked at him and thought ‘Oh, my God, he’s dead.’ Then he started coming round and coughing blood up and I thought, ‘Oh my God, he wasn’t dead, now he’s going to die on me.’”)

The photographs in the book are astonishing. Don’t worry, you get Steve B on Strapadictomy, but also a great portrait shot. Other highlights for me are a shot of JWP (if you don’t know he is, get the book) on his eponymous Progress at Wharncliffe, a shocking post-brushing photo of poor old Downhill Racer, a photo no-one previously knew existed of Antoine Le Menestrel soloing Revelations, a shot of Dave Pegg on MaDMAn and Seb Grieve gurning on Meshuga (whether posed or on the FA they don’t say). But every great Peak photo you’ve ever seen is here, and a huge number of FA (and other!) historical photos which I certainly don’t remember seeing before.

Graham West on Big Plum  © Tom West
Graham West on Big Plum
© Tom West
James Puttrell on Puttrell's Progress  © c/o Christine Peacock collection
James Puttrell on Puttrell's Progress
© c/o Christine Peacock collection
Tom Randall on Eye of the Tiger  ©
Tom Randall on Eye of the Tiger

There are extensive investigations of various controversies – most notably probably Parthian Shot (conclusion; of course he did it), Demon Rib (yes but not quite in the modern style), and Nutcracker/Fern Hill/Boot Hill (conclusion; never going to know/probably a misunderstanding), and multiple never-before told accounts of historical events (the Revelations solo, Ryan Pasquill’s flash of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, numerous first ascents). There’s far too much to describe: loving descriptions of ancient guidebooks, exactly how they got those pebbles in on Quietus, the American visitors, the Brandenburg Gate saga, Steve McClure’s routes at Raven Tor; it takes in everything – everything – up to the sad destruction of Parthian Shot (Ben Bransby’s rehabilitation came too late).

And then there’s the price: £37.95 for 400 massive glossy pages. I know not everyone has that to spend on a book, but if you have to sell your sibling into slavery to get your hands on a copy, my advice is to do so. Your parents can always have more children. I don’t know how it’s so cheap – I think there was some sort of BMC loan (and good for them), and I believe Vertebrate helped with generous terms for the printing. And of course the whole thing is a non-profit labour of love, involving the unpaid help of over 150 people, with only the Mountain Heritage Trust set to benefit. 

This is a just a fantastic book. They made 2,000 copies; under 300 are left.  I will make a prediction; it will become this generation’s Extreme Rock. Except that it’s much better than that ultimately very slightly disappointing book. Peak Rock is not going to disappoint anyone in any way; the authors set themselves a huge challenge and they’ve responded magnificently.

Thanks to Mike Hutton ( for the photo of Tom Randall.

13 Feb, 2014
13 Feb, 2014
John, thank you for your help earlier and now for producing such a splendid review. With no disrespect to Eric Byne, my guess (and it's only a guess) is that Geoff Sutton also deserves considerable credit for High Peak. He seemed a highly talented man. Never having met either of you, I'd hazard another guess that you'd have got on famously. Thank you again. Mick
13 Feb, 2014
Brilliant review - I'm off to order my copy before the last one goes! ;)
13 Feb, 2014
Super review, thanks John. Would have helped if you'd answered the questions though; now I've got to read a load of words rather than just looking at the pictures.
13 Feb, 2014
I was hoping people would guess in the comments! jcm
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