American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Classic Rock

  • Book Reviews
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  • Publication Year: 1979

Classic Rock, Compiled by Ken Wilson. New York: Granada Publishing Company, 1978. Many photographs and topos. Price $19.95.

Classic Rock is a large-format book which chronicles fifty-five British rock climbs, none more difficult than Hard Severe (approximately F6), written in the same manner as Ken Wilson’s earlier book Hard Rock.

Classic Rock is characterized by Wilson’s well-known thorough approach, precision of detail, and professionalism throughout. Each climb is given from three to six pages which in each case include a photograph of the cliff, a topo giving pitches and named features, action photos of each climb, a written account (each account by a different writer), and tabulated information on locations, campsites and bunkhouses, map references, weather, and literature sources.

The most noteworthy attribute of Classic Rock is that it lends a little glamor to the easy and mid-range climbs—a long-overdue seal of legitimacy to help compensate for years of inferiority feelings on the parts of those who have never been able to manage the harder routes. These are wonderful climbs. Grand climbs. Climbs that beginners and experts alike can savor. Wilson has chosen well and one cannot quibble with his selection.

Though certainly functional, the book does not have the zing of its predecessor Hard Rock. This stems from inherent limitations in the quality of both photographs and prose. Photographs of easier climbs are unavoidably less graphic than of steeper and harder routes. Typically there is neither the verticality nor the architecture of line. A particular weakness is that Wilson devotes a full-page photo to each cliff. This is less than useful as the book is too big to carry to the base where eyeball comparison might serve a purpose, and, fairly uniformly, the cliff photographs are undistinguished. In contrast, the quality of the eight color plates is very good, some of the sharpest and most vivid color reproduction that this reviewer has seen in a climbing publication.

Variable, with a tendency towards the ordinary, best describes the prose, which all too frequently degenerates into extended guidebook description. In his preface, Wilson refers to the Hard Rock “formula” and it is this characteristic which is Classic Rock's undoing, for indeed it is a formula book. With a compulsiveness that will delight the methodical, each climb is given precisely the same treatment. With repetition comes a certain dullness. Giving the climber this much detail before he arrives at the cliff takes some of the magic and some of the soul out of the climbing. On the easier climbs where technical demands are not high, charm is correlated highly with mystery. There is little doubt that Allen Austin could not have had the splendid adventure he describes in his account of Clachaig Gully had he read a book like this before he went.

Likely Classic Rock will serve the socially useful purpose of funneling the majority of route baggers onto the fifty-five climbs listed, making them even more classic than they are now, and leaving the lesser-known gems for those of us insiders who prefer a little more peace and quiet. For those who prefer a somewhat less prescribed approach, who have a predilection for the less-trodden path, the book serves the purpose of telling you the climbs to avoid (particularity on weekends and holidays). There are other commendable ways that Classic Rock can be used. Enough detail is given that you will be able to bone up sufficiently on each climb to talk about it confidently and authoritatively—without the necessity of ever actually having done it. Another possibility is to buy the book but not read about a climb until after you return—thereby preserving the sense of the unknown whilst still availing yourself of the opportunity for coffee-table reminiscence.

Robert Godfrey

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