A Canvas of Rock transports the reader through two of the most influential periods in modern British rock-climbing as seen through the eyes one of the UK’s well-respected rock climbers – Mark Radtke.
This collection of personal experiences and friendships with some of the influential climbers from the 1970s to the present day, provides a rare insight and first-hand account on some of the crucial and at times contentious episodes that paved the way to today’s rock-climbing scene. We are also treated to insights of the man himself – his passion and his drive that have allowed him to challenge his limits and to pioneer many new Extreme routes.
‘The sheer amount of time spent living outdoors, touching rock and getting dirty with the elements has undoubtedly brought me closer to nature. I know thatI am a part of nature and not above it. Climbing has allowed me to explore my own fallibilities and shortcomings. Failure has occasionally resulted in one or two broken bones, but more often a bruised ego has been the more painful.
It has provided the opportunity to satisfy creative urges as in my own minds eye I have painted new routes on canvases of rock.’
Hardback with Colour Plates
Review by John Sheard published in Climber Magazine April 2012
There has been a plethora of climbing books over the past few years, many written to a predictable and fairly conventional formula which provides light, informative reading and a record of derrring-do. Seldom are we challenged or even fully engaged and the necessary, if unfortunate, practice of skipping odd bits becomes a prerequisite to the warding off of boredom. There have been notable exceptions and the likes of Pritchard and Cave immediately come to mind. What, then, are we to make of the canvas on which Mark Radtke (AKA Rad) portrays his memories, passions and thoughts on the great game which means so much to us but on which we are generally unable to articulate our own experiences.
Let’s not be niggardly in our appreciation. It’s the finest piece of meaningful writing, on what is, after all, a wonderfully complex and superficially pointless activity, to grace my bookshelf in a long time. On a purely practical level the hardback production is professionally done, the pictorial selection and production excellent and just enough technical information included to allow the book to appeal to a wide audience. It looks right and feels right. I get the impression that nothing has gone into the book which hasn’t been carefully considered. The dust jacket artwork speaks volumes for what is contained within.
The author starts in the time honoured tradition of childhood, upbringing and formative years, related with wonderful description which will bring back half forgotten glimpses of early days for many a time-served rock-climber and mountaineer. Green, slime-covered ponds, dark tunnels and brushes with authority are the basis of adventures which probably continue throughout life as we continue our pursuit of rock and ice. This theme continues throughout the book; indeed, this is what it’s all about. It takes the author through his development as a climber, his interaction with friends and his various careers as he continually reinvents himself to follow the dictates of his quest for adventure. Early Alpine attempts, intimate exploration of the Yorkshire crags, Spain, Australia and America are all described with graphic detail, humour and occasionally regret. Rad clearly doesn’t keep still for very long. Fortunately, when he does the time seems to be devoted to introspection, self analysis and, most importantly, fun.
But this book is not just about Rad. It’s also about you and me and a host of colourful characters who are all part of the great game we simply refer to as ‘climbing’. It’s a commentary on the intrinsic beauty of the outdoors, the fun, the compulsion and dedication, uncomfortable though they sometimes may be. It challenges danger, injury and reward. It’s about friendship, self knowledge, honesty and trust between we happy band of brothers. Serious stuff this, but told with humour and sometimes self deprecation so that we cannot fail to identify and feel deeply involved.
Whilst following Rad’s adventures through the many facets of climbing I was repeatedly struck by similarities and empathies with the life of Pete Livesey; the acceptance of risk, the restless need to explore and innovate, the concern for the future. Where the two depart is over the introduction of sport climbing. Whilst Pete was irrevocably opposed, Rad embraces the bolt but with some misgivings and apprehension as to the potential change it might bring; ‘they foster comfort zone mentality’ and ‘feed a culture of pure recreation’. He makes no attempt to preach or persuade but cogently discusses what lies at the roots of climbing at whatever standard, giving cause to consider our own attitudes and responses. As a habitual user of climbing walls, I’ve watched in awe as relative newcomers fly through the air with the greatest of ease. I too get the worrying thought that something might be missing. Should this be the case, then the loss of the fundamental element of adventure, so effectively expounded in this book, would be a sad and serious loss to climbing.
Enough of this, lest I give the impression that the book is overly pessimistic and philosophical. Whilst I was given cause to consider the future, I also fell about laughing at the past, including the wonderful description of the legendry hyper active Alan Stephenson aka Heavy Duty ‘mouth twitching like a rabbit’s nose’. It’s exactly how he was and I’d never realised it! This is engaging writing which seamlessly moves between the humour of fun climbing and something altogether more serious. It extends from shared days spent on competitive bouldering to the personal intensity of hard traditional climbing in Gordale, where outcomes can be very different. A timely first book, it leaves me with the definite feeling that there is more to come from this author. I look forward to sharing his continuing adventure.
Some of the Characters
Read about some of the characters that enrich the climbing scene share some of their tales and maybe discover what makes them 'tick' Dave Barton. Alpinist, Tradman, Competion climber. Ian Cooksey original Lakeland hippy. Jerry Peel one of the UK's first official boulderers. Chris Frost Australian sandbagger. Mick Johnston introduced sport climbing to the Yanks. Adrian Ledgway Mr Font. Glenn Robbins, international photographic ace and a host of others. In the photograph below, Mick Johnston is captured mid Red Point on Pierrpoint 7c, Goredale.