Monday, 8 February 2010

Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia

Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia, published in 1966, was "the first really modern book about climbing in Britain." So wrote Steve Dean in a Climbers Club article celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the hugely influential guide. With spectacular pictures by John Cleare, and text provided by Tony Smythe, it went on inspire a new generation of climbers and book publishers.

Now Footless Crow has just reprinted the piece complete with a selection of Cleare's pictures. Part two appears next Friday.

A clue as to why the title made such an impact can be found in a quote by Ken Wilson when he was interviewed about the influences on Hard Rock. Wilson said: 

"What was less of an influence was Rock Climbers in Action is Snowdonia, though I do think that it is a fine book, but it is not my style. It is all about the feeling of climbing and its verve and position and very 'photographic' and the captions are poetic rather than factual. Leo Dickinson, Ray Wood, Bob Keates and John Beatty are photographers that might be said to be part of that school. I favour a more scrupulously factual (some might say boring) approach and I particularly like to see the climber in his architectural setting."

The "verve and position" point seems to complement Dean's description that "something had appeared in print that in words and pictures really managed to convey just how rock climbing felt." 

Apparently Al Alvarez was originally going to write the commentary but in the end was too busy to take on the work. However, Alvarez did write The Edge of the Impossible, a feature about 'hard' climber Peter Crew, and illustrated with Cleare's pictures, that appeared in the Observer magazine on August 22 1965. This, as Jim Perrin was to later put it (The way you climb is the way you are, The Climbing Essays), was a "wonderful and over-the-top essay," that a did good job of turning Crew "into climbing's first pop icon".

As a footnote, the following week saw some heated debate on the letters page as to just how classless climbing really was.

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