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Rock Stars: the World's Best Free Climbers

Rock Stars: the World’s Best Free Climbers. Heinz Zak. Bergverlag Rudolf Rother: Munich, 1997. Distributed in the U.S. by John Barstow’s Photography. Profuse color photography. 216 pages. $59.95.

WOW! The only thing more impressive than the resumes of the climbers featured in Rock Stars is Heinz Zak’s accomplishment of getting 78 of the top climbers on film at climbing areas all over the world. At first, I was skeptical as to whether I would like this book because I was afraid there might be too much sport climbing. But there isn’t. This book represents traditional rock climbing (Arnold, Bachar, Dawes), long routes, sport climbing, competitions, soloing (Croft, Robert), and bouldering (Gill, Godoffe, Nicole) equally well.

Some of my favorite climbing partners over the years are featured in the book (which I hope doesn’t hurt its success). And there seems to be quite a few top climbers missing, which means Zak has plenty of material left to produce a second book. Coverage of French climbers is predominant, but there are plenty of climbers from the U.S., Britain, and Germany covered as well. I like the inclusion of Yuri Hirajama, and climbers from Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and the former Soviet Union, as it gives the reader a better perspective of world climbing accomplishments.

Highlights include: a selection of quotes about soloing, competitions, route manipulation, and the joys of climbing. This collection highlight the experiences, passion and focus that climbers have from throughout the world. For instance, it is clear that route manipulation is not okay. It also is clear that both competitions and soloing require great concentration and that neither is right for everyone.

I enjoyed the pieces on Bernd Arnold because his home in Dresden is my favorite and its serious nature as a climbing area is well captured here. The Antoine Le Menestrel piece with photos of a performance of The Flying Carousel, and Alain Robert’s extreme solos and skyscraper climbs offer perspectives of climbs in another realm. The longer routes, such as Hill on the Nose, Huber on the Salathé, and Mariacher and Kammerlander in the Alps, show everyone how the explosion of free climbing during the last 20 years has left virtually no discipline or place on earth untouched.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the photography, as this is what the book is really about. The photos are fantastic. Too often today we see the close-up of the big pump. The photos Zak has collected here range from the scenic, to the home gyms, parties with friends, and depict a range of moods: serious, funny, beautiful, and inspiring. These images, coupled with a short bio introducing each climber, make a beautiful book (as well as great historic reference) for any serious library or coffee table.

Henry C. Barber