Since Allen Williams’ first Peak District bouldering guidebook appeared in the 90s, the Peak bouldering scene has exploded in popularity with climbers from all over the world making crashpad-laden pilgrimages to dance their way up the sublime gritstone classics and powerful limestone crimp-fests.
These days Williams’ edition is a little out of date and you’re most likely to see Rockfax’s Peak Bouldering (2014) and Vertebrate Publishing’s Peak District Bouldering (2011) out at the crag. Most climbers buy one or the other, but circumstance has it that I have and use both guidebooks. In this group test and review we get into the nitty gritty to work out which Peak District bouldering guidebook does what best…
The number crunch
Peak District Bouldering (Vertebrate Publishing): over 3300 problems on over 70 crags, 2150 below font 7A and 1150 at 7A and above.
Peak Bouldering (Rockfax): 3394 distinct problems, 66 separate crags and 60 bouldering circuits.
Style and presentation
Peak District Bouldering scores high for inspiration-value. It has a coffee table book vibe with simple glossy lettering over the classic Lowrider shot and a landscape format that, despite putting extra stress on the spine, allows for a stylish layout within. The photos inside are as good as the cover, sure to stir up enthusiasm for a weekend or summer evening out cragging.
Peak Bouldering features the usual bright and loud practicality that we’ve come expect from Rockfax. Busy, colourful pages give you all the information you could possibly need on each area, with icons for skim-reading. The foldout topo key is easy to find and use, making it perfect for quick reference at the crag (don’t worry, you’ll soon become fluent Rockfax iconography!).
VP splits the Peak into three sections: Western grit, Eastern grit and Limestone. Although Rockfax’s more specific categories are easier to navigate (Burbage Valley, Northern Peak, etc.), VP’s looser division does encourage you to explore less popular venues, which can’t be a bad thing.
When it comes to durability, that stylish landscape format does make the Peak District Bouldering guidebook more fragile. It’s well worth investing in a guidebook cover to preserve it when it’s kicking around in your bag.
Maps, approaches and crag info
Before I was a local living in Sheffield, VP’s Peak District Bouldering was my bible. The page I used most was the Peak District Area Map, a simple but effective trip-planning resource for those who don’t know the area.
That said, once you get down to the detail I’ve always found the Rockfax approach notes and colourful maps clearer and more comprehensive, making it ideal for newcomers to the area. The destination planner is also invaluable: essentially a table of all featured crags, it gives you the grade range, approach time, exposure to sun and wind, seepage, dry-time and a quick summary for each crag.
Whilst VP’s less prescribed structure makes the approach notes a little less clear, this gives plenty of room for their creative (and enjoyable) anecdotes and opinions. ‘The Burbage Valley – bigger and better looking than Bas Cuvier’ is one of my favourites, it certainly is beautiful!
Peak Bouldering is structured much like other Rockfax editions and every practical detail has been considered. Each problem gets both a Font and a V grade, 0 – 3 stars and icons for style and feel (eg. crimpy, bold or burly), with coloured number icons to give an idea of difficulty if you’re skimming through quick reference. If planning a day out based on grades and style, it makes things as simple as possible. Photos are used throughout over hand-drawn diagrams to show boulder problems.
In Peak District Bouldering, Vertebrate Publishing uses only the font grading system. This may not appeal to the boulderer more accustomed to V grades, but it’s definitely a system worth learning for your inevitable trip to Font. The page layout is simple, clean and nice to look at, but without the icons and colour-coding you are required to actually read the descriptions to get a feel for the climb! Occasionally hand-drawn diagrams are used over photos for the topos: a good use of space but sometimes not as clear as the photos – common-sense may be required!
My favourite thing about Peak District Bouldering is that it tells you the first ascensionist of the boulder problem. To me this is an important part of Peak District history that has been omitted from the Rockfax guide.
In terms of scope, it’s hard to say which guide covers more of what as both boast roughly the same quantity of climbs. Although the original 2004 Peak District Bouldering was said to favour the harder boulders, the 2011 version now gives good coverage across the grades.
The scope also differs from crag to crag… At Wharncliffe I’d rather have the Peak District Bouldering with me, but at Bell Hagg Rockfax gives me more to go on… It’s hard to judge these books on scope alone.
That said, a nice addition to Rockfax’s Peak Bouldering is the inclusion of circuits: many of which make for an enjoyable day out on the grit.
To round up…
It’s hard to say which Peak District bouldering guidebook is the outright best as both have their pros and cons. However I do think each suits a different approach to climbing…
General opinion is that the Rockfax guide is the best-suited to visiting climbers in Peak; I can’t help but agree. Peak Bouldering is incredibly practical – sharing local knowledge about conditions, popularity and reputation where necessary – and is incredibly easy to navigate. It’s insanely user-friendly, if not quite as inspiring as the VP guide. The circuits are a nice addition too.
What is lacks in pure practicality, Peak District Bouldering makes up for in style and presentation. It also feels a better connected with the history of Peak climbing, in part down to the inclusion of first ascensionists and the odd anecdote, which feels essential to the experience of climbing here. From personal usage, Vertebrate Publishing have created a book you’ll want to flick through for inspiration or to explore new areas, as well as take out to the crag with you. Well that’s how I use it, anyway.
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