New Book Project: 100 Belays

You will often come across ancient belays that only comprise of very old and rusty pitons, with no way to place your own gear, so knowing how to maximise what you find is vital.

My mum tells me that as a kid I was never bored, and was always on the go, always doing something, which is something I seem to have carried over into my adult life (I suppose you’d now class that as ADHD or something?). This means I like to always have a project on the go, with one project often overlapping another, or, each project giving birth to the next, hopefully with each new project a little better than the last.

Finishing my “Down” book was an incredible relief, after a mammoth amount of work and stress (that book was literally written on the road, in Oceania, Arabia, Europe, Africa and North America), and so it’s been very rewarding to see its impact already on readers, with the book garnering 128 mostly five-star reviews on Amazon already, and I hope to see its messages filter down into the culture (namely, fewer dead climbers).

Of course, self-publishing a new book when all the climbing and book shops have been closed down around the planet for a year has not been ideal (my usual book royalties have gone down by four-fifths), but writing books is a long game, so I’m very happy with where Down is at the moment and view it more as a book that is slowly smouldering away, starved of oxygen, an underground book, but one that will one day be as common to climbers as “Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills”, or at least I hope so.

I had planned on starting a new book on clothing and equipment, titled “By a Thread”, but the more I work on a draft outline, the bigger the project appeared to be, with just handwear being a book in itself.

I’ve also had the idea of doing a follow up to Down, covering the belay chain, so belaying, belays, protection etc, but again, such a project looks to be a multi-year project (once you add in illustrating your own book, you quadruple the work/time involved).

Since 2014 I’ve funded all these projects via Kickstarter, which has been really effective, but I’m no longer on social media (I’ve gone back to web 1.0, with just my website and Substack newsletters), so I’m not sure how effective such a campaign would be, meaning I’d have to set my sights much lower, i.e a smaller project.

But the real spanner for me has been having a new baby appear in my life six months ago, as well as other hurdles (our house burnt down, we got deported from our home in the Middle East, etc), meaning for once in my life I didn’t have a new project on the go, as just finding an hour or two a day to keep up my Substack writing has been struggle enough.

But a few weeks ago I managed to sneak out between the showers and climb a classic - or maybe infamous - local route in the mountains of Connemara (Ireland), a 1,000 foot Hard Severe (or “at least HS”) named Seventh Heaven. The route is well known for being runout and scary, with very little protection, wet rock and vegetation (more moss and bog than mud and grass), and “problematic” belays. This was one of those routes that were pretty ungradable at the sharp end, where you know its sort of easy, but you also feel you could fall of any move, and if you did you’d probably die, and kill your partner as well (or “Technically OK But Don’t Screw Up”).

I climbed the route with a random person called Pat, who I met sat outside the local coffee shop (he’d seen Psycho Vertical, and spotted me sat there). It turned out I’d made a dangerous assumption about Pat’s climbing skills when I asked him if he wanted to climb Seventh Heaven, one warning sign being how he carried a pulley on his harness, that he called a “belay device”. Pat did have a belay device as well, although he subsequently dropped it while feeding the rope into it with shaking hands (luckily, I had a spare one, just in case).

One thing that stood out about the route, which was very cool, was how bad many of the belay were, each one being like a little test, their strength important when you might only get two good runners in a sixty-metre pitch (I also didn’t want Pat to die, as I’d only just met him).

Many belays featured really rusty pegs and nothing else, or a tiny tree, wobbly hanging flake, or just general unhealthy rock furniture (if there was a crack, it meant the something was loose and broken and hollow).

I’d not climbed for many months, and so we were a bit slow, climbing slow and steady, and didn’t top out until 8 pm, or get home till 1 am, but it was a classic day it.

Seventh Heaven was one of those climbs where you could think back to how you approach certain aspects of it, asking if you were safe, or how you could have done better, namely about how you dealt with the belays, if you kept your partner safe (as you were really more in guide mode). Thinking about this I thought back to other routes and their belays, the ones that were testing, where you had to sometimes make something out of nothing, belays on the Eiger, Mount Kenya, Troll, UK trad climbing etc (because there’s always something). And then it hit me, a new project, covering the subject of the belay, via a 100 belays! This book would be part illustrated instruction manual, covering both the basics and advanced belays, part anecdotal, learning through pictures and stories, bring all the skills, info and techniques together into one book.

So, what do people think?