Tuesday, December 20, 2016

New Borrowdale guidebook:The future is now?

The new Fell and Rock Club’s Borrowdale guidebook has created a bit of a brouhaha in the climbing world on account of it following the commercial ‘greatest hits’ guidebook formula and producing a work that is big in size, big in price (£26.50)! but small in content. In fact compared to the 2000 guide, the latest ‘rucksack size’ jumbo edition has lost over 500 routes! And not just routes but entire crags have been banished from print and sentenced to remain in fading print or hidden in historical Internet files for all eternity. Unless by some miracle, future climbers suddenly rediscover the adventure bug, turns their backs on the indoor wall, the bouldering circuit and the sports routes and go up country once again.

In the Lakes as here in North Wales, trad climbing as we know it, has been dying a slow death for decades. Hundreds of crags, more especially in remoter areas like Mid Wales or the Carneddau, have disappeared under vegetation. Even on relatively popular crags which sport once classic routes,  the majority of these routes have to be regularly gardened back to life by a handful of enthusiasts who nevertheless, appear to be fighting a losing battle.The irony is, there are probably more climbers active today than in its perceived golden age which in itself is subject to debate but could be seen as the post war decades until the new century.

For myself as someone who after completing many of the north and mid Wales classics, gravitated towards the unexplored back of beyond crags which offered rich new routing potential, it is hard to understand why any climber would forgo these quiet pleasures. The delight which comes from peeling back the green mantle which encases pale rock. Revealing a sinuous line which disappears into the blue sky.When a new route finally ‘goes’, there’s no feeling like it. I was telling the Lakeland climber Paul Ross-who appears underwhelmed by the new guidebook as it happens- about the routes I’d done in the Arenigs. In common with most routes done there, almost certainly never repeated. Paul said of his hundreds, if not thousands of new routes both here in in the US, that he wasn’t at all bothered if they were never repeated because the pleasure was in the adventure. In pushing the envelope as far as he could and if it all clicked into place, brilliant!

Whatever the climbers’ motivation, the fact remains that our traditional climbs and crags are disappearing fast. When popular crags like Tremadog require BMC organised crag cleaning days then what hope is there for Arenig’s Ddaer Fawr or Buttermere’s Sheepbone Buttress? As for guidebooks; the demand these days is towards providing details of those still popular crags with a limited selection of what are considered the crags best routes. These are inevitably a handful of two and three star routes with unstarred and single starred routes left out.  What we are left with are guides like the current Borrowdale Bumper fun book. Except it isn’t really that 'Bumper’- apart from the format and eye watering price tag!

In truth, trad climbing as we know it, seems to have gone beyond the point of no return. An activity which once was seen as the very heart and soul of rock climbing, increasingly the lonely preserve of the dwindling band of greybeards. Lugging their old Karrimor sacks over arthritic shoulders and following faint paths into high cwms. Where only ravens and the odd stray sheep remain. Climbing’s desert island castaways.

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