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Wizards of Rock: A History of Free Climbing in America

by Pat Ament

Berkeley: Wildernhss Press, 2002. 381 pages.


“Pat Ament has always been an artist, whether he is focusing on chess, music, the martial arts, writing, or climbing. (…). He is clearly one of climbing's most prolific writers with over 30 books to his credit. Now Ament has turned his efforts toward history, and who better to tackle the history of free climbing than one so steeped in it, not only as a scholar and artist, but as one who was there pushing the standards himself.
Wizards of Rock is a historical overview of free climbing in America beginning with its roots in early explorers like John Muir and Elkanah J. Lamb, carrying through to contemporary climbers the likes of Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, Alex Huber, and seemingly everyone in between. Broken down in general time periods the book begins with the 1800s and gets more and more focused as the developments in free climbing get more intense. Each period is the story of free climbing legends, pioneers like Robert Underhill, Glen Exum, Fritz Wiessner, Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, John Gill, Layton Kor, and Lynn Hill. The list goes on and on, as does the list of climbs and contributions made by the aforementioned. (…)
Once one starts to turn its pages it's hard to stop. Pat Ament has made yet another very important contribution to the climbing canon, one that serves not only as an important reference book, but fun read as well.”
Mikel Vause, „American Alpine Journal” 2003, p. 448-449


“An ambitious attempt to create a composite history of free climbing in the Lower 48, Wizards of Rock: A History of Free Climbing in America is Colorado climber Pat Ament's latest contribution to the climbing canon. The meat of the narrative is a series of chronologically bulleted events beginning with John Muir's solo of Cathedral Peak in the Yosemite high country on September 7, 1869, and concluding 132 years, 333 pages, dozens of black-and-white photos, and countless historical bullets later on October 28, 2001, with Hans Florine and Jim Herson's new (and, in retrospect, short-lived) 3:57:27 Nose speed record. (…)
The big names are all here — Robbins, Chouinard, Frost, and Pratt; Bridwell, Barber, and Bachar; Kauk and Croft — but most enjoyable are the more obscure nuggets that Ament has mined from the darkness and woven into the great tapestry of free-climbing milestone. (Harold Goodro climbed 5.10c in Utah's Big Cottonwood Canyon in 1949 — who knew?)”
Greg Crouch, “Climbing” 2003, No. 221, p. 90

“This curious scrapbook of events does precisely nothing it says on the tin. It's neither a 'history', nor is it concerned with 'America'. Rather, it is a long list of significant first ascents of rock climbs in the United States accompanied by some often-subjective notes by the author. These sometimes succeed in adding contextual interest, but are often larded with silly hippy nonsense (‘The '60s were a time that tried men's souls’; ‘To climb is to love life’;’[Beth Bennet was] a beautiful, healthy slab of lean lady’, etc...).
In terms of structure, the book reads like a Sumo-sized version of the first ascents listings commonly used in British climbing guides, but applied on a giant scale. And although, as befits a US climbing luminary with the stature of Ament, the facts are deadly accurate, they are also deadly dull. Unfortunately, this problem isn't helped by poor production quality. The photographs of people and places, which are copious, are unattractively washed-out and grainy.”
Colin Wells, „On The Edge” 2003, March, No. 125, p. 66



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