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Clogwyn du'r Arddu: The Black Cliff

Clogwyn du’r Arddu: The Black Cliff, by Peter Crew, Jack Soper, Ken Wilson. London: Kaye and Ward, 1971, 158 pages, 111 photos.

Climbing literature is replete with biographies of famous climbers, but this volume is the first biography of a cliff.

Clogwyn du’r Arddu—“Cloggy” to its habitues—rises some 600 feet on a shoulder of Snowdon in North Wales. While its size is quite modest compared to the faces usually described in the pages of this Journal, size is not necessarily the determining factor of the value of a climbing ground. The less tangible factor of quality is more important; quality is something that Cloggy has in abundance.

The place has an atmosphere all its own. It’s name, roughly translatable as “the black cliff of the black height”, hints of the feeling of intimidation felt by most who visit the cliff. This intimidating atmosphere, coupled with the very real difficulties of the climbing problems presented by the crag, limited exploration to a few minor lines on the fringes until the late 1920’s, even though rock climbing had been actively pursued in Britain for more than 30 years prior to that time. Since the first ascents of the major buttresses—the east in 1927, the west in the following year—Cloggy has been the crucible for the development of most of the finest climbers in Britain and the scene of many of their finest achievements.

This history is well covered in the book—the climbers as well as the climbs. Together with the numerous and superb photographs with which the book is illustrated, this should be enough to make anyone interested in climbing want to own the book. But there is a further reason, which I think should make reading of this book mandatory for those seriously interested in the future of climbing.

The authors focus heavily on the ethical issues that determine the nature of the development of our sport. They discuss, in the context of the history of climbing on Cloggy, the evolution, preservation and modification of those unwritten customs which attempt to maintain the basic challenges of climbing in the face of technological developments that many feel threaten those challenges. Over time some of these developments have become accepted by climbing opinion, while others have lost favor. In Britain such issues have always been central; the same has not always been true in this country. Times are changing though, and The Black Cliff offers numerous insights into what the future might be like.

Alan Rubin