Rock Climbing – Introduction to Essential Technical Skills for Leaders and Seconds
Sport Climbing – Technical Skills for Climbing Bolted Routes
Both by Pete Hill, MIC (published by Cicerone)
These two attractive books are full of excellent up to date photographs which illustrate a nice chatty text style. Much of the text however may have been better accompanied by diagrams and this would have led to a lower dependence of text which, as we know, is not to the liking of many learners these days.
Pete Hill suggests these books would be useful could aide memoir for someone having been on a recent climbing course, I beg to differ. A contempory climbing course will focus much more on teaching the novice or improving climber how not to fall off the route and climb it well rather than begin with the safety techniques of the rope-work system. So movement skills form the basis of any rock course today at whatever level candidates attend and this is an important area not acknowledged in either book. Most climbers today will take their first steps on an indoor wall so when they move outside it is to a conversion course such as indoors to outside. So it seems strange that the introduction mentions four times going on a introductory rock climbing course is a good step to take, this was the norm maybe fifteen years ago but is the exception today. Moving on from movement skills the limiting factor for most climbers is the mental side of the game; many climbers would argue that this is the element of climbing which makes it different to other forms of recreation and provides the real challenge. I suspect there are more of us who have backed off climbs because we lacked confidence rather than ran out of strength. So the failure to discuss this aspect of climbing in any depth is a real failure of both books.
Moving on to the detail of the books there are several other minor niggles such as calling the Climbers Club Guide to Ogwen ‘The Ogwen Valley’ or the assertion in the grades table that 6b is the norm for E4. Is Easy really a grade these days? In twenty three years of instructing I’ve never come across a student weak enough to be taken on rock climbs with the Easy grade (if indeed there are any!). I couldn’t believe the ‘washing line’ for a rope story came out again! If Pete Hill started climbing with a washing line then to see him soling a French 7a above his introduction in the Sport Climbing book is very impressive. On choice of ropes I personally like to get new climbers into using double ropes as soon as possible if only for the reason you can put twice as many runners in, so a book aimed at new climbers the omission of this ‘normal’ technique seems strange. I don’t know any climbers who refer to cams as SLCD’s. The section on direct belays is positively dangerous in the hands of a novice. Pete describes techniques which are only suitable for experienced climbers as they require a high level of judgement. I would like to see two novices climbing a multi pitch route with one of them leading all the pitch’s using Pete’s belaying system on page 89 in Rock Climbing! I can’t believe that Pete talks about retrieving the abseil rope above a picture of someone abseiling to sea level above a very choppy sea, do people really do that sort of thing? But the most bizarre suggestion comes in the multi pitch climbing chapter when Pete suggest the novice leader should create a bottom rope situation to belay the second through a wire placed above the stance, bizarre!
In Sport Climbing Pete starts the book by showing novice sport climbers how to place bolts with no ethical context given, yet later on in the book he talks about bottom roping etiquette, a topic he felt superfluous in the bottom roping section in Rock Climbing. Double roping is deemed worth some discussion in the Sport Climbing book, why? He also spends quite some time demonstrating how to tie on to anchors thereby repeating something from the Rock Climbing book which is not at all the same in a sport climbing context.
It frustrates me greatly that these books will be taken as the state of the art for teaching climbing as practiced by Mountain Instructors, this does us a great disservice and the books are not at all relevant to the vast majority of courses being run in North Wales today. Maybe this is how things are in Scotland where Pete lives, and maybe the male is always the leader and the female always the second, and maybe this is why there is perceived schism between what instructors do and what coaches do. Whilst this book has no approval from any particular body, Pete talks about being a life member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors, this body would do well to proof read future books written by its members.
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