Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

The holidays are upon us, which means friends and relatives will soon be pestering you for your wish list.  If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend asking Santa for a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s outstanding autobiography Revelations.

RevelationsJerry Moffatt was probably the best climber in the world for most of the 1980s, and he continued to push standards throughout the 90’s.  He was integral to the explosion in free climbing standards that occurred during the 1980s.  He was also a highly accomplished trad, headpoint, and solo climber and perhaps the best on sight climber of his generation.

While Moffatt’s story is a fascinating and entertaining read in itself, I mention it here because the book also offers countless insights for the performance-oriented climber.  Moffatt was among the first climbers to really embrace training, and he goes into considerable detail explaining how he trained for different objectives.  He also recounts the legendary characters (like Bachar and Gullich) that influenced his ideas on training, while discussing his thought process when developing training plans for different goals.

Moffatt possessed legendary focus and determination.  He dreamt big, but he backed up his dreams with hard work and tremendous effort in the moment of each ascent.  His book describes in detail how he approached stressful performance situations (like the first On Sight ascent of the Gunks’ Supercrack and World Championship competitions).  Any climber, of any ability, can benefit from these lessons.

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt's considerable wisdom!  Photo: Nick Clement

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt’s considerable wisdom! Photo: Nick Clement

While Moffatt was often head and shoulders above his peers, he was not superman.  He provides a glimpse into an elite world that most of us will never experience, yet his story is very relatable.  He frankly describes his various injuries and accidents, humanizing himself while tackling the frustration and despair that comes with any setback.  He confronts many of the same challenges we all face on our own paths to continuous improvement, giving us real hope that we can overcome them too.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover three times now, and I will surely read it again.  Its hands-down my favorite climbing book.  His trials and eventual triumphs never fail to motivate me, and should give you the extra boost you need to fire up your winter training sessions.

For those who’ve already enjoyed Revelations, here are some other recommendations.  None of these are technical manuals; they are entertaining reads that also impart random snippets of climbing wisdom:

Wolfgang Gullich: Life in the Vertical by Tillmann Hepp.  This biography of the world’s most beloved climber is now out of english print and therefore correspondingly rare and expensive.  However, if you can get your hands on a copy you won’t be disappointed (check your library or ask around–the AAC Library in Golden has a copy).  In addition to recounting Gullich’s countless ground-breaking ascents, the book also discusses his training methods, tactics, and attitudes, including several interviews and short pieces penned by Gullich himself.

Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner.  This book describes Todd’s quest to free Trango Tower, but also details his development as a climber and other groundbreaking ascents like the Free Salathe Wall.  As a training tool, this book will help you with goal-setting and motivation.

Full of Myself by Johnny Dawes.  To put it simply, Dawes was a rock genius, in the sense that he was an artist of completely unique ability and vision.  He was never the strongest climber, but his talent for movement was incomparable.  His book goes neck-deep into what it takes to become a technical climbing master.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, consider viewing his legendary film Stone Monkey to get an idea of his abilities (in fact, if you can find the DVD, you might just ask for that instead of the book!):

A History of Freeclimbing in North America: Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament.  This tome is an encyclopedic catalogue of noteworthy ascents from 1869 to 2001.  It’s not the kind of book you would normally read cover-to-cover, but many of the entries include long, first-person accounts from the players themselves.  It’s absolutely essential for any lover of climbing history, but it also has some good insights for the performance-oriented climber, such as interesting training and tactical tidbits from legends like John Bachar, Tony Yaniro, and Alan Watts.  Ament’s occassional editorializing on style comes off as petty at times, but it’s generally easy to ignore.

If you have any other recommendations for books that offer a bit more than an entertaining read to get us through the long winter, please post them in a comment below.


5 thoughts on “Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

  1. This is a genuinely inspiring book- makes you want to suffer in a cave and sleep in a woodshed too! It’ll be available for loan in the JeffCo library system as soon as I fininsh reading it again and return it…
    I just finished “The Sorts Gene” by David Epstein which offers an intersting and persuasive counterpoint to the 10,000 hour rule espoused in three other books, all of which are somewhat similar but expand on Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outlier’s.”
    “Talent is Overrated” by Geoffrey Colvin was my favorite of the three, although “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle was probably more popular. “Bounce” by Matthew Syed is written from the point of view of an Olympic Ping Pong player, which is interesting in itself.


    • Mark,

      Its quite a coincidence you mention those books. At least three of the titles you mention are somewhat based on the research of Anders Ericsson, et al, research we discuss at length in our book. Ericsson believes the key elements of achieving “expert level” are what he calls “deliberate practice” (practcing a lot but moreso practicing well), working with high-quality coaches or mentors, and strong family support of the endeavor from an early age (to facilitate access to coaches and an early jump on deliberate practice). Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” was extrapolated (incorrectly, I would argue) from those three concepts. It’s important to note, however, that Ericsson primarily deals with highly skill-based activities (like chess and music), and less on more physical pursuits where genetics may play a larger role.

      Mike is currently reading the Sports Gene now (I get it next), but I recently read an extended interview here about it. The interview is a great read and worth investigating.

      The debate of Nature vs. Nurture is fascinating, and I think one that science is far from resolving. In some ways the “sports gene” concept can be demoralizing, but I think that Epstein’s larger message is that genetics pre-disposes us to certain traits, but they do not in themselves determine them entirely. I believe we still have a tremendous amount of influence on our abilities, especially in climbing where the sport is still pretty isolated from the larger gene pool.

      Thanks for the great comment!


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