I have recently received three calendars which are currently vieing for the toilet door position - The Climbing Calendar by Dave 'Cubby' Cuthbertson, Climbing 05 by Keith Sharples, and a curiosity from a friend in Germany - Klettern im Elbsandstein. Which one will make it? Well it has to be said that the three calendars appeal to a different sort of climbing.
Cubby's calendar features images exclusively of Scotland, many of which are cold-looking and mountainous but all are unquestionably well-produced and spectacular images. In year's gone by this is the sort of thing that would have got my loins girding; the majestic snow slope of March is probably top of my list for inspiring shots - two tiny figures negotiating the perfect snow fields of Observatory Ridge - but there are plenty of others to excite as well. The rock climbing shots tend to focus on small climbers on big crags in big positions - all very spectacular with the Orkney sea stack being the one most likely to have me looking at my Scottish guidebook collection. The only thing I can't really get my head around is dry-tooling but at least these shots have curiosity value.
On the technical side the calendar is well produced, well printed, with good colours and enough writing room if you actually wanted to use it as a planner. The text accompanying is also a plus point being quirky and anecdotal instead of predictable. One slight criticism I would make is that the smaller shot in each month rarely adds anything to the image often being just another shot from the same sequence. The May shot of Ardverikie Wall being a good example of a fine main image but a secondary shot that does little when what I really wanted was a long distance panoramic view of the crag or the valley. Despite this minor criticism this is a strong contender for the back of the door!
All that snow and ice and big mountain stuff is great but nowadays age, lack of time, being unfit, age, children, mortgages and age have taken their toll and I can only now consider myself a rock climber if I am honest, and possibly even that final resting place of many an older climber - the holiday sport climber - if I look at the last 12 months. So I found myself more naturally drawn to Keith Sharples mostly sport-climbing based calendar. The format is similar - a striking main image, a smaller image, a bit of text. The main images are strong and will inspire those whose ambitions lie in all things overhanging but may be found intimidating by those who get pumped easily. However in each case Keith has complimented the main shot with a good choice of smaller shot - the French cafe terrace in the Calanques shot, the gorgeous lake in the Canadian Rockies shot, or the portrait of Steve McClure in the Rainshadow at Malham shot - they all add to the main image and lessen the onslaught of muscles and steepness. It is the technical side where this calendar falls down with several of the shots being a bit soft-focus. I was lucky enough to use a couple of Keith's shots from the sequences in the calendar in the latest Northern Limestone Rockfax guide and, in comparison, the versions in the Rockfax have come out sharper and with slightly better colour. This points to a problem with the scanning which is a shame but is also only really noticeable on a few of the shots. Has this one usurped Cubby's on the back of the door? Probably not although if my big plans to get properly fit again next year come to fruition then I might just switch it.
Before going onto my final calendar I should mention the third UK calendar available this winter - the Stanage Calendar by Pete O'Donovan - I don't have a copy but I have seen the images as has anyone who has been in Outside in Hathersage in the last year since many of Pete' superb shots hang on the walls there. The calendar features some of these shots, plus a few new ones, and is well-produced and attractive but possibly a bit grit-centric for the more cosmopolitan climber.
What about the final odditiy from Germany, and why am I bothering to review it since it isn't even generally available in this country? Well the reason is that I have a copy and I am thinking of opening it at April and leaving it there all year. It isn't that the shot is so good, it is just so weird! (Click on the thumbnail to the right). Actually I might switch it to February (below) at some stage since that is just a magnificent shot, as is March, September, October and December. Overall though this calendar paints an extraordinary picture of a unique climbing environment in the beautiful lanscape around Elsandsteingebirge, to the south of Dresden in Germany. The strange antics that the climbers get up to negotiating the various towers are eye-catching enough but it is the huge run-outs exhibited in some shots, the combination of gritstone and limestone climbing techniques that seem to be required for many routes, and the general atmosphere that leave the lasting impression. Each shot seems to have something and for that reason I am choosing this one for the back of my toilet door.
However all the calendars would all be worthy of the slot so I'll leave you to contemplate your own stocking filler from the ones that are available from most specialist retailers in this country.
Late Addition - I have been sent a review of the Entre-Prises Boulder 2005 Calendar by Robin Mueller. The calendar is produced by Entre-prises.
For those of us who prefer our adventures on a more compact scale, the Entre-Prises bouldering calendar provides ample inspiration for the coming year. With large and dynamic b&w images, the photography succeeds in evoking all the intensity and excitement of the moment. These are not photos in which the climber seems a stranger to the rock and an imposter to the environment; these are photos in which the focused faces and striving bodies combine with the rock to suggest the next move almost as vividly as the image actually there. This effect is admirably enhanced by the panoramic format, which allows the surrounding landscape to convey a strong sense of atmosphere.
As far as subject matter is concerned, there is a good variety of locations and top climbers, mostly European. Grade-mongers may be disappointed that only problem names are given, but the order of the day (or year) is minimalism, which allows Radek Capek's photos to achieve maximum impact. If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say that in the UKC gallery perhaps two or three of these photos would be awarded 4 and the rest would certainly get 5.
Having said all that, this calendar is designed for boulderers, not organised people! Those who fail to see the appeal of the sport and would substitute "focused faces " for "looking rather constipated" had best steer clear, as the minimalist design relegates the practical function of the calendar to a single row of numbers, with little space to record appointments.
Practicality may suffer, but aesthetically, this is a wonderful calendar. If bouldering is your addiction it's likely that this is the one for you.
The Climbing Calendar - Photography by Dave 'Cubby' Cuthbertson - £12.95
Climbing 05 - By Keith Sharples - £10
Keith Sharples Photography
Stanage 2005 - By Pete O'Donovan - £14.95
Kettern im Elbsandstein - By Mike Jaeger - €10
Boulder 2005 - By Entre-Prises - £12.95
Thanks to Karsten Kurz, Keith Sharples and Jo George for supplying the calendars.