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A browse through the Al Rouse Collection

Photos by Gemma Thorpe.

As the spiritual home of climbing in the UK, it is perhaps no surprise that Sheffield has a sizeable section on climbing and mountaineering in its imposing Central Library.

The books here form a collection of national importance as well as very personal significance. The core is made up of books that belonged to climber Al Rouse, who lived in Sheffield. A leading light of his generation, he applied his talent to local British crags, Scottish winter climbs, the Alps and the greater ranges, all with great success. Tragically in 1986 he failed to descend from the summit of K2 after making the first British ascent, aged just 35.

A trust created in Al's honour donated his personal book collection to Sheffield Libraries, to benefit the general public. It has since grown substantially and comprises well over 3000 items, which include donations from modern publishers and other collectors.

Although the collection is in the reference library, you can borrow a selection of titles including current guidebooks. For those who want to delve a bit deeper there are back catalogues of numerous British climbing magazines, new and old, as well a complete set of Alpine Journals and an amazing number of expedition reports.

You could spend weeks in the stacks (the library's basement storage area) looking through the huge collection, covering every location and time period in detail. Highlights include the J. W. Puttrell Collection of century-old volumes, donated by the Peak District-based Polaris Climbing Club – The Annals of Mont Blanc (published in 1898), anyone? A bit closer to home, Moors, Crags and Caves of the High Peak and Neighbourhood (published in 1903) is a charming volume, written by local hero Ernest Albert Baker.

Equally impressive are the guidebooks from Rouse's early climbing years, such as Ed Drummond's Extremely Severe in the Avon Gorge, and Lime Climbs (hand-stamped with Rouse's address and telephone number). The latter bears a handwritten description of Gordale Scar's classic hard route Deliverance (then HXS, now E5 6b); Pete Livesey's creation would eventually make it into the hallowed Extreme Rock and was clearly on Al's to-do list.

Returning to the present day, every year copies of all of the books shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature are added to the collecion – a notable enough corpus in itself. Or, if you are looking for a quick hit, how about all of the issues of the much-loved High, starting 1982?

The appetite for climbing history is always high and yet few people know about this incredibly important collection. So if you consider yourself a true armchair mountaineer, guidebook geek or are just nursing a finger injury, then why not dig out your library card (or register for one) and get stuck into this fascinating resource?

Written by Gabriel Morrison



Location: Sheffield Central Library, Surrey Street, S1 1XZ.
Phone: 0114 273 4712.
Useful links: Join the Library.
Search the Collection (you can narrow search by location to "Al Rouse collection" and "Al Rouse core collection").

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