Friday, 3 February 2017

Livesey on Langdale

Livesey on Gogarth

The following piece, originally published in the late lamented Crags magazine, 37 years ago, shows the inimitable Pete Livesey in waspish form as he offers 'another vicious poison pen guidebook review'.Casting his national health specs over Mike Mortimer's Fell and Rock Club Langdale guide.

Another vicious poison-pen guidebook review. The man they all love to hate strikes again! 'Have pen, dog and Marjorie; will travel'—the motto of Mike Mortimer, country-trotting lightning guide writer. Now working for the FRCC, Mortimer has produced a thoroughly modern update of Allan Austin's 1966 and 1972 guides to Great Langdale.A place like the Llanberis Pass that is considered the barometer of an area's climbing position and progress. In comparison with recent CC guides, the FRCC are producing a much tidier job with more information where it should be, ie- with the route, and not hidden among innumerable lists and indexes at the back. Information is well presented, understandable and well suited to its function; guiding. In sorting out both the Tremadog and Langdale guides, Mortimer has shown what a professional job in guidebooks should look like. The guide is hardly the revelationary affair that the recent Tremadog and Northern Limestone guides have been. New routes since 1977 in Langdale have been both fewer and of lower quality than in most other popular climbing areas. And it may well be that the guide will not be in the same sales league as, say, the Tremadog and Borrowdale guides, despite the area's traditional popularity.

Mortimer again indulges himself in his own brand of idiosyncrasies and dogma, much of the comment in the guide being a reflection of pure Mortimer. The FRCC parochialism still exists, perhaps surprisingly in view of MM's international activities and allegiances. Comment in the historical section and in the first ascents list persists in devaluing certain climbs (and by implication, climbers) in particular, through sometimes misinformed, ethical grounds. Other climbs, or new route activities involving other possible ethical malpractices are however completely ignored. Routes described as minor variations are omitted while others of more recent but even less worthy origin are included. Longhair is left out (and wrongly described in a passing comment) but the much less independent and more artificial Poacher Right Hand is included. Fine Time is debased with the comment "Yet another preplaced peg and sling 'for aid".Inferring that "It is no solution at all to fail, and then go round to the top and abseil down and place a fixed piton and hanging sling which can be reached from below, in order to bypass a particularly troublesome spot".

Langdale: Image-The National Trust 
Both insults are totally untrue, ill conceived and unnecessary; Fine Time was climbed on sight and the route's aid point was already in place, complete with an old sling (it was of course an old aid route). There was no "pre-preparation" as there is on most modern (IE. since 1970) first ascents. The Ragman's Trumpet/Sally Free and Easy confusion is still not sorted out, the dates again being wrongly recorded. Sally Free and Easy was climbed in two attempts, the first pitch being the major pitch (indeed, the only real pitch) of Ragman's Trumpet, but climbed nine days before that route. Neither is the upper pitch loose as described—it is eminently sound and holdless. Why doesn't the historical comment mention the much more serious trends evidenced by recent routes; the preplaced nut on Warrior, the profusion of manufactured holds on Desperado, Peccadillo and Take it to the Limit, or the almost universal practising of crucial moves on a top rope prior to the first ascent?

Such practices, particularly the last one, should be mentioned; they have a profound effect on the possible seriousness of a subsequent ascent, particularly on unprotected routes. The style of ascent of older routes such as Cruel Sister and Peccadillo, criticised in the text, is considerably "whiter" by comparison. Despite professionally written material, the finishing work on the guide is seriously lacking; the old Heaton Cooper diagrams are hopelessly inadequate for today's crowded cliffs. Indeed, many have not even been amended to include newer routes or correct old mistakes. Even worse, a second modern diagram of the East Wall of Pavey Ark is included.

Although both diagrams cover the same piece of rock, they are both unrecognisable as the same cliff and neither are much good as topos. Photographs are included but are distinctly mediocre, although I have rarely seen good photos of the Lakes suitable for such a small format—perhaps better to leave them out altogether. I think the grades are generally good, with the glaring exception of Armalite (Raven Crag) graded E2,5c and badly described, while the route is in fact a 6a unprotected chop route—just the thing for the aspiring E2 leader! I actually wonder how someone who aid climbs most routes over El can give such a subjective appraisal as an E grade to harder routes; maybe they are printer’s errors for Al, A2 etc (Bitch!!!—Ed).

Finally, I'd like to know why the description of Poacher Right Hand didn't say "Alternatively the crux can be avoided by following Poacher on the left", just like the Tremadog guide described Legbreak.

Pete Livesey: First published in Crags, Aug/Sep 1980.