Jerry Moffatt - Revelations

Review by John Horscroft
Monday 23rd February 2009

by Jerry Moffatt and Niall Grimes

(Published by Vertebrate Publishing)

Climbing literature is a bizarre genre.  The general public crave details of the latest D-list celebrity snow plod to the summit of yet another desecrated, litter strewn Himalayan peak.  Alternatively they want to hear about a near death experience or a litany of death and misery associated with the Eiger or K2.  Frankly, much so-called climbing 'literature' is a marvellous cure for insomnia.

By contrast, Jerry Moffatt’s autobiography Revelations is a breath of fresh air.  For a start, it’s about proper climbing: rock climbing.  Secondly, it’s about a bona fide, gold plated legend.  Moffatt was a pioneer who revolutionised training methods, pushed climbing to new levels of boldness and technicality, and accomplished what few British climbers have done: he went abroad and climbed many of the hardest routes in the world without even breaking sweat.  And no snow plods, oedemas, or Sherpas in sight.

The book has been written with the unstinting help of Niall Grimes, but the voice that comes through is very much that of the subject and one particular pitfall is skillfully avoided.  Jerry was very good and the biggest danger was that this book would turn into a catalogue of conquest.  Went to Germany did all their hardest routes.  Went to America, did all their hardest routes.  Went to France ...... well, you get the idea.  Thankfully, an otherwise rich stew is seasoned with wit and lunacy;  being mistaken for Gary Gibson while climbing in the Gunks, imagining himself back in Stoney (of all places, good choice) while flashing Supercrack at the same place, failing on an HVS chimney while being filmed live for ABC’s Wide World Of Sport and using bananas to entice monkeys onto hard boulder problems at Hampi. 

The evocation of a different era is also pitch perfect. His time in the Stoney woodshed sounds utterly hideous as a cold, under-nourished and penniless Moffatt subsists on bread and sardines smothered with tomato sauce liberated from the Lover’s Leap cafe.  In the eighties Moffatt, along with Bens Moon and Masterson, leaves Sheffield for France in a £140 Citroen Dyane to a blasting soundtrack of Wham, surely Moffatt’s most shocking revelation.  The Citroen subsequently catches fire in France before trundling driverless down the road while Moffatt and his crew hide behind a wall awaiting an explosion.

Moffatt’s early years are covered in some detail and when he is diagnosed as dyslexic, he is sent to St David’s College where he is introduced to climbing.  His progress through the grades is astronomical.  A seventeen year old Moffatt camps in the barn at Tremadog with Andy Pollitt and proceeds to tick nearly every route before ending the summer with a creditable effort on Strawberries.  

Moffatt’s career is not without its dark nights of the soul.  The death of his youngest brother hits him hard and his battles with injury are minutely detailed.  A trip to war torn Chad also leaves a deep impression; the dedication of the book to the many good friends he’s lost over the years underscores the point that this is no saccharine tale.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is the last chapter or two where we see Moffatt coming to terms with waning powers.  Married with two children and pursuing a number of business ventures, Moffatt now finds it impossible to put in the hours of training required to remain climbing fit.  When you’ve been as good as he has, it’s tough to be second rate.  My favourite chapter in the book is the last where we find Moffatt surfing off the west coast of Ireland.  Surfing is the new challenge and the kind of physical toughness that saw him survive the Stoney woodshed now helps him overcome mountainous, frigid seas. Revelations is a superb book about a superb climber.  Honest, witty and pithy, it explains to us mere mortals exactly what it takes to be the best climber in the world.

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