by Derek Walker
When Hard Rock was published in 1974 it was immediately recognised as a must for every climber's bookshelf. Ken Wilson had assembled a distinguished group of climbers, including Bonington, Crew, Perrin, Boysen, Drasdo, Nunn and Drummond, who, in an inspired series of essays, relived their experiences on some of the finest and hardest climbs in Britain.
The result was a feast of climbing literature, a celebration of 60 of the best routes in the landranging from Mild Very Severe to Extreme, illustrated with a superb collection of crag
and action shots.
Here was a book to dip into, to savour past grips and excitement but, better still, to lure you to new crags and fresh adventures. It was the first of its kind in Britain and a forerunner to the later companion volumes of Classic and Extreme Rock, and the series of walking books in a similar vein which Ken was to produce
Hard Rock was published just as the revolution in rock climbing standards from the mid-70s was taking shape, brought about by a number of factors including Pete Livesey, a key figure in the new advance, training, chalk, climbing walls and later, Friends and sticky boots.
Up to then the most difficult routes were all simply "XS", and the hardest grade in the book was 5c. It is probably fair to say that until the early 70s, the fiercest routes were not much harder than those of Brown, Whillans and Smith in the late 50s - the real advance was yet to come.
Once the book was out, it was common to meet climbers rushing to crags all over the country ticking off the routes. One of the most prolific tickers was Will Hurford who, by the late 70s, had done all but "the big stopper - the Scoop on Strone Ulladale.
After four days of desperate and dangerous pegging, Will was stopped by pitch four. He'd had enough and decided to tick all the routes in Classic Rock instead. I've heard that Lakeland climber Stephen Reid has completed the Hard Rock set, and no doubt there are many others who have done all but the Scoop.
Terry Parker tells one lovely story of seeing a young lad arrive at the top of Kipling Groove on Gimmer with a copy of Hard Rock tucked down his shirt! Nearly all the Hard Rock routes are brilliant and represent all that was best in British climbing at the time. If you haven't yet got the book and have a sense of history, atmosphere and tradition, then go out and buy the new edition. You'll enjoy the reading, the photos and the climbing.
Adapted from the article Hard Rock first published in Climber & Hillwalker November 1992
Note: Since this article was written, two routes in Hard Rock have been badly effected by rockfall, both in the Lake District. In fact Deer Bield Buttress has collapsed completely! Also the chockstone has fallen out of the Great Flake on Central Buttress. This has increased the difficulty of the original route from HVS, 5b to E3, 5c. Fortunately an alternative way has been found up the front of the flake at a more reasonable E1, 5b: this is described in the latest FRCC guide.