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Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing, by Peter Livesey. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1979. 116 pages.

After several readings by non-climbers, it was determined that Rock Climbing does indeed answer many of the questions asked by those unfamiliar with the sport. It was interesting, according to these individuals. They found it objective, much like a short text.

Rock Climbing is a compendium of techniques and ideas on how to go about learning the sport of rock climbing. The author shows us how to tie knots and set up belays and rappels; tells us how to get out of trouble and how to lead a pitch. In 116 pages, he manages to note just about everything concerned with free climbing, which brings up a point. Livesey isn’t interested in aid-climbing, ice climbing, alpinism or mountaineering, it seems, but that’s all right, as the title of the book is Rock Climbing. What is espoused here is free-climbing, with all of its merits, as well as all of the rules and regulations that have become part of the game. Everyone’s goal, says Livesey, should be to lead, and to lead hard. The reader buys this. We all want to progress. Now for the regulations: as to the matter of over-protecting, the author notes that “Nuts placed above the head give a great deal of confidence, but do turn the lead into a sort of ‘top-roped’ ascent.” One learns, likewise, that “cheating” occurs when “the climber has run out of strength and is resting on his own protection nuts.” I was unable to tell if it is Livesey who is shown cheating on a Yosemite wall (one is usually able to spot him by his large socks).

Livesey can’t be faulted for putting forth the current morality in climbing. He is simply stating fact. The problem is that he is talking about the hard climbing that’s being done. The climber for whom this book is written will fall, cheat and grovel more than just a few times on his or her way to XS or 5.11. Not many 5.4 climbers around are too concerned with grabbing pegs. To survive is enough.

Comparisons with such a book are probably unavoidable. Some people tell you how to do it better than others, and Royal Robbins, some years ago, told us about all we wanted to know about the technicalities of getting up rocks, and then some after that. His two books, Basic and Advanced Rockcraft, pretty much covered the subject. Livesey probably knew that and thus chose to take a different tack, that of the overview. Less a “how-to” book, it is more a “what-is” affair. With a few good pictures and some basic text, Livesey gives the uninitiated an idea of what the sport of rock climbing has become, how it’s done (briefly), and if you want to learn how to contact the British Mountaineering Council. They’ll have some ideas.

It’s tempting to find fault with the book, but the book does, however, serve a purpose in answering the what-is, what-if, and how-to questions. The problem remains, though, that one can’t just read a book, buy a rack and go out and climb. But that’s left unsaid.

So what to do with it? The next time someone asks you, “How do you get the rope up there in the first place?” you can tell them to go read Rock Climbing.

Burton Lee