Hard Rock was originally compiled by Ken Wilson in the early 70s, the intensity of his vision sears through generations and is replicated in this wonderful new edition from Vertebrate Publishing and edited by Ian Parnell. The first of the three part series of Classic Rock, Hard Rock and Extreme Rock to see a new edition; all are steeped in mystery and climbing folklore. Perhaps the epitome of the puerile ticker’s ticklist, they are the antidote to the high fiving and fist bumping generation seen at many indoor walls today. Ken Wilson was well known as an advocate for adventure and not just as a perpetual sandbagger and Ian Parnell as editor of the new editions is of an equally adventurous leaning. No one can deny that these routes will provide memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.

From Vertebrate Publishing:

Hard Rock is the best of British rock climbing. Featuring over fifty crags and sixty-nine routes in England, Scotland and Wales, it epitomises all that is great about traditional climbing in Great Britain.

Ken Wilson’s first edition of Hard Rock was published in 1974 and quickly established itself as the definitive representation of British rock climbing. Ken’s vision for the book’s format – part guidebook, part literary celebration and part coffee table visual showcase – is one that has been much copied but never equalled.

In this new edition, editor Ian Parnell has ensured Hard Rock continues to honour Ken’s original concept, in particular keeping the route, not the climber, centre stage. While the activity of climbing has undergone myriad changes since 1974 – sticky rubber, camming devices, and the rise of sport climbing and indoor climbing walls – many climbers are still drawn to the drama and challenge of traditionally protected climbing. And this is why Hard Rock is still as relevant now as it was in 1974.

Stretching across the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the Lake District, the Pennines and the Peak District, North and South Wales and down to South-West England, the routes tackle big mountain walls, gritstone outcrops and epic sea cliff adventures. Focusing on the trad connoisseur’s grade range of VS to E2, with additional routes at E3 and E4, the featured climbs are within reach of a majority of climbers. Timeless classics include The Bat on Ben Nevis, the Old Man of Hoy, the Central Buttress of Scafell, Cenotaph Corner on Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass, Vector at Tremadog, Right Unconquerable at Stanage Edge and Suicide Wallat Bosigran on the Cornish coast.

Alongside many of the original essays, written by a formidable cast of climbers including Pete Crew, Ed Drummond, Royal Robbins, Chris Bonington, Hamish MacInnes and Al Alvarez, this new edition features thirteen new routes and pieces by Eleanor Fuller, Stephen Reid, Kevin Howett, David Pickford, Paul Harrison, John Lawrence Holden, Martin Moran, Paul Donnithorne and Emma Alsford. It is illustrated with all-new colour photography throughout.

Both part guidebook, part historical prose the genre of such a work defies definition and carves out a genre of its own.
Originally Don Whillans was approached, but having just completed his biography he politely declined, “Speak to Ken, he’ll do you a book", and that was that. While not particularly handy for taking to the crag at a weighty 1750g and approx 31x25cm, there is enough helpful information and commentary in each article that in the digital age of this new edition you could take a quick pic of key sections to peruse over a lunchtime Thermos of tea and combine with lighter weight local guides for visits to the crag.
As the full book series starts from the very bottom of the grade spectrum to the upper E grades with Hard Rock itself covering the middle ground accessible to most aspirants of VS to E4; the books allow you to grow with them throughout your climbing career, keeping a sense of adventure and true British traditional climbing values alive. The complete ticklist has to be up there in the ratio of subscribers to completers making it one of the most dreamt about of its type.
What puzzles but pleases me is there is no equivalent, no rival. There is no book describing the finest sport climbs or boulder problems in the United Kingdom, and the only European equivalent I can think of is Rebuffat's top one hundred. It is often forgotten what a compendium of routes is housed in a country with such serendipitous geology as the United Kingdom...

The greatest gift that Hard Rock gives is woven into the diversity of the routes and areas that are visited.
It would be the first book to show any visiting climber and really showcases what is available on our damp & foggy island. The additional routes continue the theme and exemplifies how Ken Wilson’s legacy will live on. And in part; only goes to show how ephemeral, in geological terms, these routes often are.
Although we are blessed with an abundance of rocky coastline, many of the routes must be climbed before they go the same way as the Ring a Ring ‘o Roses, and they all fall down. ‘The Scoop’ at Strone Ulladale and ‘Main Overhang’ at Kilnsey have always in my mind been a bit of a throwback nod to aid climbing and enough to put off a purist free climber of average grade from completing the lot; so I am glad to see them removed. Ian Parnell has done an excellent job of keeping that tradition alive with his additions whilst enticing any would be completists to new areas of the country. Most notably Swanage, after its glaring omission, is finally getting the exposure it deserves as the quality of the routes is staggering and once the abseil ropes are pulled can feel as lonely and desolate as any mountain crag. ; although as a sixteen year old I can remember reading somewhere

“Climbing in Swanage is an acquired taste that is not suited to everybody’s desire; some of us wish to continue living, just a little while longer”.

In all of Ken Wilson’s books you can expect a range from the truly esoteric of ‘The Chasm’ to the sublime ‘Dream of White Horses’.

This fourth edition keeps all the heritage of previous versions in its writing, with supplements from modern day authors on the additional routes. Browsing the list of essays reads like a who’s who of commentators from the period in which the idea was seeded. Those such as Al Alverez, Jim Perrin and Wilson himself are immortalised in these pages.

“A time past, when the rocks stood about unknown to us, and eager and lustful we explored their every intimacy, climbed until the failing light veiled the crags with shadow and widowed them into night; and tired we would gather bracken golden from the slopes to sleep in sandy caves, our hands lacerated by the crystals of many a crack savagely fought.”

It could be assumed that some success of the original series can be attributed to the quality of the routes and not the climber being the particular hero of the tale. For once, ego is placed aside to describe and enliven the faulted and disjointed rock. As an example, 'Zawn' is an unusual term, known only for those sharing a penchant for sea cliff climbing and geology as Dave Pickford knowingly reveals,

“Could this (Zawn) be the most powerful and mysterious word in English geomorphology? Tightly drawn, thickly webbed and wrought from strange materials, it’s hard to know whether it describes a place, a creature or planetary object”.

This inspires both a confidence in the new wave of climbing devotees and a nostalgia for those who have gone before, with the core of the book sticking to its true values.

The photography speaks in bright volumes about what is out there. It tempts you out into the wilds of Scotland, to make that long drive to the West Country or finally book that ferry to Lundy. In most cases it is always a struggle to convince my long suffering climbing partners for any walk in over an hour, but being a ‘Hard Rock’ route is normally enough to silence any subversion in the ranks.

It goes to show that even though climbing may be headed towards competition climbing and social media likes, the beating heart of true British climbing remains alive and well within these pages.

Hard Rock is available to purchase for a SRP of £31.97 from Vertebrate Publishing

Thanks to Alex Hallam for the review.