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Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia

Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia, by John Cleare and Tony Smythe. London: Secker and Warburg, 1966. 127 pages; 39 plates; one map. Price: 35s.

For the past twelve years hero stories have been filtering out of the British Isles. This information was taken to mean that a new generation of "hard men” have pushed their way into a higher standard. Now, contrary to British understatement, this book confirms our assumptions. It all began in the early fifties in North Wales. A small band of climbers under the brilliant leadership of Joe Brown fought to create a higher grade called Extremely Severe. Brown was soon joined at the top by Don Whillans and there they stayed alone until the early sixties. Then there were about twelve climbers that could climb as well as Brown but he still reigned supreme. Whillans became one of the finest mountaineers of our day. In spite of several outstanding Alpine and Himalayan seasons, Brown will always be remembered most for his Welsh rock climbs.

Rock Climbers in Action in Snowdonia is a delightful and surprising attempt to relate a most difficult story. The authors must not only inform the general public but also the rank and file of climbers. They must convey to the reader just how major an achievement this pioneering was. The goal is well achieved by good writing and photography. John Cleare painstakingly photographed many of the new routes as they were being repeated. He has assembled an outstanding collection. Tony Smythe relates his own attempts of a few of Brown’s lines. I was disappointed at first with Smythe’s story which starts basically as an autobiography, but it later becomes apparent that this was the way to convey to the reader the emotions of a climber at breaking into this standard. Being just a step below the top climbers places Smythe in a better position to relate such experiences. He is also not a part of the original group and so has to tell the tales secondhand. This is possibly also better because it leaves a mystical air surrounding Brown and his henchmen. Smythe is a frank and quite humorous writer whose style seems at times American.

Near the end of the text the author states that the standard has been pushed even higher by the young harder than "hard men.” I, however, feel that this advance is merely a shade higher and not a leap. My conclusion is based on the amazing fact that not one piece of Brown’s aid has ever been eliminated.

Reading the book makes one want to own it.

Arthur Gran