• Rockfax Top 50 Symbol – Outlived its Usefulness?

    Fisuras armoniosas (6a+) at Valle de Abdalajis. A Top 50 route that is showing signs of over-climbing.

    Back in 2006 we introduced a new symbol to the star-rating system – the Top 50 symbol. This featured for the first time in Eastern Grit and has been included in most guidebooks since. It was never intended to be a forth star, but instead to be a set of routes that were high quality and iconic routes for the area. Some of them were only really 2-star routes but, especially in the easier grades, they were important routes that covered the full grade range of the area.

    Since then the system has been applied reasonably consistently in our books although we have on many occasions gone way beyond 50 actual routes. What has become clear is that, whatever our intentions were with regard to it not being a forth star, climbers have very much been treating it as such.

    Work we have done on El Chorro and most recently on Mallorca has indicated that the Top 50 symbol may well have become a bit of a curse for some routes. In the green and orange spot grade range, these routes get a lot of attention! UKC Logbooks are full of comments on these easier routes questioning their Top50 status often because of polish and over-climbing.

    In 2020 we have redesigned the look of our Rockfax print guidebooks and this seemed like a good opportunity to drop the Top 50 symbol for the next few guidebooks to gauge the response. All the previous Top 50 routes will be given 3-star status which should increase the pool of target routes.

    Discussion thread here


  • What is it that makes Rockfax guidebooks so good?


    After a very successful three days at Kendal we received a lot of extremely positive feedback on our guidebooks and app. It was great to meet everyone who came to the stand and thanks all for your comments.

    We love making guidebooks and we continually strive to make them better. Each detail is thought about before and after we introduce it and we are continually reflecting on what we do to make sure we are publishing the best possible climbing information using the most up-to-date and relevant technologies.

    What is it that makes Rockfax guidebooks so good?

    Here are some of the design features we concentrate on when making a Rockfax guidebook. Please feel free to get in touch if you think that there are areas where we can improve, or if you think we have missed something that attracts you to Rockfax guidebooks.

    1. Route descriptions and topos always on the same page.
    2. Routes always listed left to right with page geography that reflects what is in front of you (ie. turn the page to the right and look right, turn it left and look left).
    3. Topos properly split across the spine of the book so detail isn’t lost in the fold.
    4. Clear crag, buttress and route symbols that are easy to use and not continually being added to from book to book.
    5. Colour-coded grade bands to enable you to quickly assess what a crag has to offer at your ability level.
    6. Cross-referenced routes on adjacent topos to help put the main topo you are looking at into context.
    7. Route descriptions made as autonomous as possible so that you don’t need to read the previous routes in order to track down where you are.
    8. Consistent use of approach and descent information in the same place so it is always easy to find.
    9. Clear and detailed climbing-specific maps, either never more than a page or two away, or clearly referenced to a page elsewhere.
    10. QR codes used with parking spots to enable quick phone navigation.
    11. Maps with north always at the top and geo-accurate (ie. everything is to scale).
    12. Cross-referenced page numbers all over the book so that you can find anywhere on a map or overview without going to the index/contents.
    13. Double cross-referenced action photos so you can find the description from the photo, and the photo from the description.
    14. Standard use of arrows and text on topos to ensure clear approaches and descents are obvious.
    15. Massive detailed photo-topos taking using the best photography techniques available and printed as big as possible.
    16. Contents ‘thumb tabs’ to allow quick navigation without going to the contents page.
    17. Everything linked to online versions so that you can tick the routes in your UKC logbook and give feedback.
    18. Destination Planner tables to help choose a crag based on grade-spread, approach and weather conditions.
    19. All available in digital and print form.
  • Rockfax and Bolt Funds

    We recently made a couple of donations to bolt funds – article here – which promoted some discussion on UKClimbing.

    Just to clarify, Rockfax have made donations to local bolt funds for many years and you can find out news about our major donations through this news item compilation link.

    A question was asked on a UKClimbing forum thread by Will Hunt and I gave him an extensive reply which I thought it might be worth reproducing and slightly expanding here.

    Back in 2010 Adrian Berry made some creative suggestions for ways which Rockfax could start helping local bolt funds in sport climbing areas covered by our guidebooks. Up to that point we had made donations but they had been sporadic and unstructured.

    We initially adopted a method of paying around £1 from each copy of a book sold for the initial sales of new books. This was capped at the first 2000 copies for all sales, although we are now reviewing that. After that point had been reached we then dropped back to online sales only. The result was good initial payments that then drop back as the guidebook ages.

    This has worked well in the UK where areas have organised bolt funds with PayPal pages. We created the web site UKBoltFund.org to bring the various funds together into one place and allow climbers to easily find bolt funds in areas they visit. So far we have given a lot in North Wales, Dorset, South Wales, Yorkshire, Cumbria and also a fair amount towards Gary Gibson’s bolt fund page.

    The success has led us to target environmental projects from non-sport books like the paths around Portland from Dorset Bouldering, and now hopefully the bridge at Harrisons Rocks by working with the BMC ACT from the sales of Southern Sandstone.

    In Spain and France contributing is much more difficult to arrange. Most of the areas don’t have public bolt funds, and the concept of climbers donating to bolting is fairly alien to them. I never really understood why they make a thing about guidebooks funding bolts in these areas but seemed to not put much effort into creating guidebooks that sell well, appeal to the masses and are easy to get hold of. There are few initiatives directed at getting the climbing public to actually contribute – PayPal funds don’t really exist, there are few rattle tins, and little text or explanation in guidebooks about how bolting is funded and how readers can help.

    I recently had a very revealing conversation with Pedro Pons and Nuria (refuge owners at Chullila) where he explained to me that the system of public donation just doesn’t seem to get traction in Spain (and France I suspect). He told me the story of the rattle tin they had at their refuge for 6 months and, in the end, it had €23.50 and 20 of that was a single donation he witnessed from an American climber.

    I don’t think that bolt funding systems in France and Spain are inferior, they are just different. The systems clearly work in most places since there are lots of well bolted routes. I have my reservations about the quality and availability of local guidebooks these systems lead to but I also don’t think that better produced international guidebooks have much effect on the system.

    In order to actually contribute in Spain and France we have had to take a different approach. In Mallorca, working with ex-pat Derek Watson, we arranged for around £1500 bolting materials to be bought but the whole process to around 18 months and lots of emails (not Derek’s fault). In the Cote d’Azur, Mike Owen has put us in touch with some locals and we have made a few decent donations of around £1200 so far and Mike has donated his own commission as a small contributor to the book. This is ongoing and we will keep it through the life of that guidebook (ie. not capped at 2000 copies). This does indicate a problem though since the donations there are only going to one of the areas covered in that book. In El Chorro we are in contact with two groups of active bolters. Donations are around £1800 so far and ongoing for the life of that book. We have also helped establish a PayPal system in conjunction with the Olive Branch. In Kalymnos we have donated £1500 to the Glaros Bar bolt fund in a one-off payment, £500 of which was a personal contribution from author Chris Craggs.

    So far we haven’t linked anything to the digital sales since those haven’t been significant enough until we went to subscription last month, so it does need looking at.

    However it hasn’t all been a success. I have been in touch with bolters in two areas in Haute Provence – St. Leger and Dentelles de Montmirail – and offered them money and help with communicating the bolting message. They have been friendly and cooperative but have so far not accepted any money despite at least two years of trying.

    The main thing I take away from my struggles to actually contribute financially to the bolt funding in some areas is just confirmation of my theory that this debate has never really been about actually funding bolts. It is about localism and who has the right to document information in their own areas – climbers resent outsiders covering their climbs. It is understandable but it isn’t going to stop us producing our books since I think that the climbing community itself is better off for the things our more professional approach allows us to develop.

    So that is the picture in  September 2019. It is still all a bit ad hoc and there are areas like the Costa Blanca where we certainly need to put some work in, but I think we do our bit now. Hats off to Adrian Berry who was the driving force in getting our system going.

    Alan James

  • Rockfax and Bolt Fund / ACT Donations

    Since January this year we have been running ‘point of sale’ donations on books bought direct from the Rockfax web site. These have started to bring in a little bit of cash to some of the bolt funds and the BMC Access and Conservation Trust (ACT).

    In addition to these PofS donations from people buying the books, we have committed to donating £1 from the Rockfax proceeds to the appropriate Bolt Fund or the ACT for all sales of our main books made direct from the web site. We will implement this from 1 Jan 2013 and have just made the first round of donations to the ACT, the Dorset Bolt Fund and Gary Gibson Bolt Fund.

    The Bolt Funds which feature with our book sales are all the ones included on UKBoltFund.org. This means that our books to some sport climbing areas (mostly the ones in France and Spain) aren’t included. This is because we aren’t aware of any bolt funds in these areas. We would be very happy to include more bolt funds in our lists. If you would like your bolt fund featured here please get in touch to discuss it.

    For the forthcoming North Wales Climbs, Rockfax will be giving a special donation of £1 per book to the North Wales Bolt Fund from the first 1500 copies sold anywhere. After that it will revert to the £1 per online sale system operated with the other books.

  • North Wales Climbs to Support the North Wales Bolt Fund

    The forthcoming North Wales Climbs guidebook, due for publication this autumn, covers several sport climbing areas on the Slate and North Wales Limestone. The sport routes in these areas rely on the bolting efforts of local climbers which are co-ordinated via the North Wales Bolt Fund.

    Colin Goodey Rebolting at Castle Inn Quarry. Photo: NWBF

    Rockfax are happy to have been able to support the North Wales Bolt Fund via our UKBoltFund.org site for the last 3 years and we are grateful to everyone that has donated money by whatever route. We have also recently added point-of-sale donation options for our online sales which direct people at the bolt fund associated with the local area they cover when purchasing a guidebook direct from the Rockfax web site, and this will be added for the North Wales Climbs guide when that book is published.

    However, the North Wales Bolt Fund is a very active bolt fund which has spent over £12,000 over the last few years and has plans for a number of new initiatives, particularly in the limestone area. More funds are needed which is why we welcome the proposed new definitive guidebook to North Wales Limestone. This book has taken on the definitive coverage from Rockfax and, in a new development in British climbing, has pledged that all its profits will be donated to the bolt fund.

    The funds provided by the new definitive book may well ultimately provide some much needed cash for the North Wales Bolt Fund but this is unlikely to happen for a year or two due to the initial publishing costs needing to be met first. To help bridge this gap we are pleased to announce that we will be making a donation of £1 per book from the first 1500 copies sold to the fund, and that we will be making this donation monthly after publication, based on the previous month’s sales.

    July 3 addition – After the first 1500 copies have sold, Rockfax will donate £1 for each online sale of the book from this web site. This is in addition to the point-of-sale donations availability for people buying the book direct.


  • Water-cum-Jolly Access

    On Friday 2 March a group of us walked down Water-cum-Jolly to discuss access to the various crags with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) and the local water bailiff. The climbers were represented by BMC stalwart Henry Folkard, BMC Access Officer Rob Dyer, climber and DWT volunteer Kris Clemmow and myself.

    The object was to establish what access was allowed to the various crags on DWT land and also agree access terms with the water bailiff. In recent months climbers have been asked to leave from certain crags like Moat Buttress and Jackdaw Point, by the water bailiff and his associates.

    Jackdaw Point in Water-cum-Jolly - one of the crags on DWT land

    As it turned out the land ownership of WcJ is extremely complex and DWT only own a section which contains Jackdaw Point, the Upper Circle and Ping and Pong Buttress. Their land doesn’t include the neglected Lammergeyer Buttress, nor Vision Buttress. The fishermen own the rights for the path but are happy for this to be used and don’t have a problem with climbers at Rubicon.

    DWT are very keen to establish WcJ as a very low impact wildlife reserve (ie. lower than Chee Dale which they also manage) so they would prefer no climber access at all. However, as we walked down Julia Gow from DWT was prepared to allow access to the three established crags mentioned above as long as climbers stay within the strict limits. We will define these limits in the forthcoming Peak Limestone Rockfax guidebook (due in May) but they are essentially the same as the crags already listed in older guides.

    One aspect that went for the climbers in this case was the fact that when we looked at the various paths in the wildlife reserve, I was able to point out to Julia Gow that the majority of them were nothing to do with climbers since the climbers paths were obvious by being direct to the three crags.

    Crags on the south side of WcJ are not affected by any restriction but both DWT and the water bailiff were keen to stress that there should be minimum disturbance on that side especially because of the possibility of nesting otters.

    Climbers should no longer be asked to leave when climbing on the crags described.

    It is extremely important to point out to climbers that DWT are perfectly within their rights to ban climbing altogether on the three crags and it is only because of our good relationship with the DWT that we are able to maintain access to the three current crags. They do not want any gardening, nor do they want any new routes, although they are keen for lower-offs so some new bolts may be added. Any breach of this will certainly result in climbers losing access to all three crags and maybe more if the other landowners are brought in.

    The discussion group on our Water-cum-Jolly walk through

    This is a great example of the BMC and other interested parties working together to form an agreement that suits everyone.


  • Knot Safety

    A few weeks ago Boulders Climbing Wall in Cardiff announced a policy that they were banning the use of the bowline knot to tie on at their walls (UKC thread here and article on Boulders website here). This follows two recent tragic accidents in the last 10 months, one at Gloucester and one Stockport, where climbers died after falling the full height of the wall. Initial investigations in both cases seem to suggest that the accidents may well have been caused by a simple bowline knot coming undone when loaded on a fall or while lowering off. These are the first fatalities at climbing walls in Britain since the BMC started keeping its accident database in 2002.

    Faced with these bare facts it is easy to understand Boulders decision – the simple bowline appears to be an unsafe knot and no doubt the insurance companies will be looking for action on the part of walls to show that they are taking steps to avoid such accidents happening again.

    Before I go any further I should point out that a simple bowline is not a safe knot to climb on and should never be used without the Yosemite (or Edwards) variation, or a stopper knot. I would sympathise with any wall that banned people from using a simple unfinished bowline but in this case the wall has made a blanket ban on all bowline knots, even those that are properly tied. It is my belief that not only is this an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction but, more significantly, it is one which may actually make walls less safe.

    The Edwards bowline

    The figure that is needed to accurately make this assessment is not how many fatalities there have been since 2002, but how many times has someone plummeted the full length of the wall since each plummet is a potential fatality. It may just be good luck that the other falls haven’t resulted in fatalities and coincidence that the two fatalities appear to have tied on using the same knot. I haven’t got the figures to hand but brief discussion with a few wall owners has revealed exactly what I suspected – most climbers are dropped by their belayers due to inattentive belaying or incorrect use of belay devices. This is a very important issue but a different one to what I wanted to discuss here where the knot used to tie on is the thing that is in question.

    So what it the alternative to the bowline? Well it is the rethreaded figure-of-eight (Fo8) – an excellent and solid knot that is taught to most beginners due to it being easy to tie and safe to check. It has certain other advantages and disadvantages over the bowline but overall there isn’t much wrong with it.

    The figure of 8 knot, with a stopper

    The Fo8 does however have one flaw which has made it responsible for a number of very serious accidents over the years both indoors and outdoors. It is a two part knot; you tie a knot, thread it through your harness and tie the second part of the knot. Without this second part the knot is completely useless. The accidents have occurred when people are distracted mid-way through tying their knot – someone says something, they chat for a minute or two, then stop and start climbing having the impression in their mind that they have already tied a knot. This is easy to prevent with the buddy system and there are also many anecdotal stories of people discovering the unthreaded Fo8 halfway up a climb and having to rescue themselves in a panic. There are also a number of stories (more than 2 since 2002) of people taking long plummets to the ground and sustaining serious injuries due to unthreaded Fo8 knots and ten years ago the Fo8 was the unsafe knot due to some high profile accidents at crags.

    The point here is that both knots have been implicated in serious accidents. It would be possible to do some in-depth research to find out which one has the worse record based on wall accident stats and considering every long drop as a potential fatality. The bottom line is though that all this research would probably show is that neither the bowline nor the Fo8 are totally reliable if not properly tied – not really a very startling conclusion!

    So to instigate a policy at a wall which forces people to tie a knot they may not be familiar with would seem to me to be increasing the likelihood of people not tying their knot correctly. Far more valuable would be to try and drum into people the benefit of the buddy system, where belayer and climber check each other – how to use it and trying to make it a ritual habit like chalking up before we grab the first hold.

    UKC Article on tying the Edwards Bowline

  • Mallorca – Now available

    We have received stock of the Mallorca guide 4 days earlier than anticipated. It is now available for next day delivery within the UK and for sending to the rest of Europe, USA and further afield (delivery times for these areas may vary).

    The book looks great and we are really happy with the colour and the finishing. Copies are at the main distributors and should be in specialist outdoor retailers by the end of the week. They will take a month or more to get to the non-specialist retailers.

    The book has 7 new sport climbing crags in it, plus many new additions to the existing crags. It also has a full deep water soloing guide to the whole of the island which is a significant update from the Rockfax Deep Water book, and the Rockfax Mallorca Deep Water Soloing MiniGuide.

    You can view more info about it in the shop.

  • Rockfax and Local Bolt Funds

    Me on Flashdance (7a+) Lou Passo, Buis-les-Baronnies, France. Photo by Phil Vickers.

    I was recently in the South of France working on a selective guidebook to the sport climbing in the area. There has been a lot debate taking place on the rights and wrongs of guidebooks that are not produced by local climbers. Debate is always healthy, but many of the arguments against books such as the one I am working on are ill-informed, and fail to take in the wider picture. Unlike Alan James, I’ve not bravely engaged in the forum discussions. Instead, I’m going to try and answer the criticism one by one and you can make up your own mind.

    Argument 1: Outsider guidebooks damage access.

    Obviously an important issue, so I’m happy to look at this first. Knowing where you can and cannot climb requires information that is up-to-date. It really doesn’t matter where that information comes from, so long as it makes it way to the heads of those intending to visit. While it is possible that a more popular guidebook may exclude access information, that is not the policy of Rockfax books. Who in their right mind would spend the time producing a guidebook to an area that was likely to be banned? There are a number of crags where climbing happens, but is not allowed, I’m not putting them in this book despite them being suggested to me. A guide that is better produced, more widely available and in a language that almost all visitors are likely to understand will be updated more often than a locally produced topo, as such it will be a more effective way of communicating access issues than will local topos. Of course, a sign at the parking area of the crag would also work.

    Argument 2: Rockfax guidebooks take money away from local topo sales that fund bolting.

    Firstly, I am a keen bolter myself. I’ve bolted sectors in Kalymnos and in Wales with bolts paid for with my own cash. I don’t expect to get proceeds from the sales of the Kalymnos guide to pay for my efforts! I climb because I love it. I bolt because I like to produce something that others will enjoy. If I were to take contributions from climbers via guidebooks sales, then I would be under a moral obligation to bolt routes that they will be able to climb – and I want to bolt whatever takes my fancy.

    Now let’s look at the money. At the moment, the vendors of local topos are getting nothing from climbers who don’t even know about the area. Surely better to get some money from the climbers who are brought in by another guide? I’m not saying that every person will choose to buy the local topo, but if even one person in a hundred does, it’s better to have 1% of something than 100% of nothing. And is it really reasonable to expect visitors casually travelling from crag to crag to contribute the same amount toward the bolting of an area as local climbers who climb there all their lives? Hardly, especially when you consider that most climbers from the UK are for the most part looking to climb routes in the 5s and low 6s whereas most new areas being developed are in the upper grades.

    Selling topos is just one way of raising money for a good cause. Local businesses benefit hugely from guidebooks bringing in climbers from afar, ask them for help. Local clubs have far more vested interest in having their local areas developed and maintained, a fund-raising Christmas dinner could raise money easily. Heck, you could even sell the Rockfax guidebooks and use the profits from that the pay for bolts, it really doesn’t matter where the money comes from, just don’t rely on the proceeds from topos.

    Here’s another way of looking at it. If you buy a Rockfax guidebook and go on a climbing holiday. The amount of money the author of that guidebooks gets from your group is probably less than the spare change tip you give to the waiter in the local restaurant on your last night. It is from the pocket of the author that any charitable contribution is taken. Are those offering more profitable services such as local accommodation not in a better financial position to contribute towards bolting?

    Finally, the book I am working on will be entirely in English, and I doubt it will even be sold in France, so it’s hardly going to be competing with local topos.

    Argument 3: Local topos are perfectly fine.

    No, they are not. They are, in general, hard to find, over-priced, restricted to small areas, amateurish, and often plain lazy. Take a look at the Céüse guide, the best crag in the world some say, not one route has more said of it than a grade and a dotted line on a vague graphical representation of the crag, an over-priced lazy piece of work that owes its existence to the fact that there is no other guide, it’s an insult to the crag and those who love it. And you can’t even buy it on Amazon.fr. I’m not singling out the guide to Céüse, it is one of the better ones. The free market has winners and losers, the reason it is the dominant economic model for the world is that we are all far more winners in the free market than we are losers.

    Argument 4: Rockfax guidebooks plagiarise local topos.

    That would be flattery. The only information reproduced from (numerous) local sources are the route names and grades, which are originally provided by the first ascentionists. Lists of routes are not protected by copyright law any more than the places on a map, or entries in a phone book. Copyright law affords protection to ‘original’ works as a means to protecting creative products. While there are no legal precedents for cases specifically regarding climbing guidebook information, a very similar situation of a telephone directory consisting of names and numbers in a natural order has been found not to be protected by copyright law by the US Supreme Court in 1991 in the case of Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, in the words of the court: “It is not enough for copyright purposes that an author collects and assembles facts”. All copyright law is based on international convention and so the decisions on one country are very likely to be followed in others. Anyone attempting to sue for copyright infringement due to the act of reproducing route names and grades is sure to lose a lot of money on an utterly hopeless case.

    Legal arguments aside, a huge amount of work goes into checking routes and grades, approach descriptions and maps, new photos are taken and grades are checked for consistency, and then all that needs to be turned into a book. A surprising amound of work goes into correcting the errors in local guidebooks.

    Talk of Rockfax guidebooks ‘stealing’ from locals is an outrageous statement. An outsider guidebook raises greatly the number of visitors to an area, visitors who need somewhere to stay, something to eat, entertainement on a rest day, they pay airport taxes, road tolls, they buy gear from local climbing shops when they need it. Without guidebooks such as Rockfax, many of these visitors simply won’t know about the areas. To support a monopoly for local guidebook producers benefits the very few at the expense of the very many.

    Argument 5: Rockfax guidebooks bring too many people in to areas.

    The problem is that there are so few good guidebooks to European sport climbing areas, it’s no wonder that certain places are packed with people, where other areas are under-utilised. I was at Buoux last year and found a large group of climbers operating in the 5s and low 6s. There wasn’t a huge amount for them to go at, while an hour away were empty crags filled with routes in that grade range. Having good quality guidebooks to all the crags will serve to distribute people more evenly, taking the strain off over-used areas.

    Furthermore, when climbers come for a climbing trip, they generally take a week off. Most accommodation rents from Saturday to Saturday, so apart from the ‘take it easy’ first day, one-week visitors aren’t even visible at the crags on the weekends when the locals are out becuase they are travelling to or from the area.

    Argument 6: Rockfax guidebooks should contribute to local bolting efforts.

    Firstly, the proceeds of a guidebook are not that great. Those of us who do it, don’t do it because we want to get rich, I’ve produced three books in four years, and I doubt that the proceeds I’ve received to date have even paid for my camera. There simply isn’t the money in guidebook proceeds to make a meaningful contribution to the bolt funds unless the guide is very cheaply produced, and covers a very small area (meaning you needs to buy lots of them). To get topo guidebooks to all the best areas in the South of France would cost literally hundreds of Euros, would you buy a selective guidebook if it cost more than your rack? Furthermore, who would administer this fund and on what grounds is money allocated? It would be completely impossible to check that money was being wisely spent, and would those placing the bolts want to be paid for their time? If such a fund existed then we would be one step closer to being able to make a charitable contribution to re-bolting areas, but would other manufacturers whose businesses also depend on access to crags similarly contribute?

    To conclude, I don’t wish to paint a picture that all local climbers are against this guidebook – One day I was out at the crag, and was approached by a visiting French climber, curious as to what I was taking photos of the crag for, when I sheepishly informed him I was producing a guidebook, he asked me if it was a Rockfax, I said it was and he shook my hand and told me it was about time. I agree.