Ron Fawcett - Rock Athlete

Review by John Horscroft
Monday 26th April 2010



Ron Fawcett - Rock Athlete by Ron Fawcett, with Ed Douglas

This is a brave book. It makes no compromises to the mainstream market; there’s no handy glossary of climbing terms, no tortuous explanation of climbing techniques, and certainly no sensationalism. It is not a book for armchair mountaineers, but for real climbers. It is written for those as steeped in the minutiae of the sport as its subject. In other words, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a down-to-earth, working class Yorkshireman - a man such as Ron Fawcett.

More than anything it is an evocation of a period of flux, when climbing changed irrevocably as talented climbers found they had a chance to make a living from the sport. It is also a moving portrait of a man thrust into the limelight, and who finds fame uncomfortably intense.  It was perhaps inevitable that Fawcett, whose childhood was spent almost entirely within a few square miles of the tiny village of Embsay in the Yorkshire Dales, would find the new professional opportunities that swept through the sport in the 1980's both a blessing and a curse. Growing up surrounded by the moors and crags of Yorkshire had instilled in Fawcett a love of just being outside, and climbing became a means of enjoying that solitude.  As Fawcett began to climb the hardest routes of the day and then ground-breaking routes of his own, his relationship with climbing would subtly change, not least because of his friendship with the late, great, Pete Livesey.

Fawcett is cheerfully irreverent about Livesey, and his drive to be famous. It is touchingly ironic that the fame for which Livesey strove simply fell on Fawcett's shoulders.  He didn’t lack for ambition and was determined to climb the hardest routes of the day, slowly but surely overtaking his older friend and mentor. By the early 1980's, it was clear that Fawcett was a naturally talented prodigy: one of those rare athletes who come along every generation or so, and completely redefine what it might be possible to do.

The recognition that followed this success allowed Fawcett to live the climber’s life, travelling the world and climbing the hardest routes of the day.  In contrast to Jerry Moffatt however, Fawcett was never fully comfortable with that level of exposure.  Where Moffatt revelled, Fawcett endured. 

Ron Fawcett - Rock Athlete is also a deeply honest book.  Fawcett is often hard on himself and admits his flaws; he pulls no punches with tales of infidelity, drug taking, bolt placing, and petty theft - or about placing that notorious bolt on The Cad. This candour simply made me respect him even more. As the book moves on, it becomes clear that the pressures of meeting commercial expectations did not sit well with a quiet lad from The 'Dales.

Yet Fawcett never falls out of love with climbing, only with the inherent pressure of being the top dog.  The book opens with him setting out to climb 100 extremes in a day, which later comes across as a determined attempt to remind himself what he really loves about climbing at a time when the pressure of professionalism was obscuring it.  The biography culminates with a delightful picture of Fawcett today, delighting in his daughters, and his two enduring passions - fell-running, and rock climbing. The lasting impression is of a man who quietly enjoys the affection he inspires. 

The subtlety of Ed Douglas’ work behind the scenes is such that the voice that we hear sounds very much like Fawcett’s own. Douglas also points out that Fawcett was one of his boyhood heroes, and that it says much that even now it is simply enough to refer to 'Ron' in British climbing culture, and everyone will know who you’re talking about.  This book is a fitting celebration of a climbing life well spent, and of a decent, ordinary man who just happened to be an extraordinary climber.


You find out more about Ron Fawcett - Rock Athlete on the Vertebrate Publishing website here.


















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