COMMON WEALTH | The Bird Blog - Arc'teryx
"We shape and are shaped by where we live."
Words and Photography by Jordan Manley

COMMON WEALTH

BC photographer Jordan Manley set out to capture the unique identity of rock climbing in the UK. He brought back a vision that connects land to building to human movement and culture.

Traversing a country’s roadways can be a great way to recognize subtle but significant patterns in the landscape, both human and environmental. In an age where it has become desirable to think and eat locally, it is interesting to see that ‘build locally’ was the order of the day hundreds of years ago.

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Last spring, I spent two weeks searching out climbing zones with British Mountain Guide Chris Ensoll and Arc’teryx athletes Katy Whittaker and Mina Leslie-Wujastyk. Over thousands of kilometres, zig-zagging from North Yorkshire, to the Lake District, to the Peak District, to North Wales, to the Isle of Skye, and finally, to the Old Man of Stoer on the high Scottish coast, I asked climbers that we met what made UK climbing so unique? Young and old, weekend warriors, camper van dwellers, and veritable legends, with a single voice they answered: It’s the diversity.

As we drove through the lakeland fells, Chris told me about his shepherd friend, a man in his nineties who had walked and scrambled over the fells his entire life. He had a particular dialect, highly precise, to describe the landmarks vital to everyday living, working, and moving around. Termed as the ‘mountain languages’ of the British Isles by author Robert McFarlane:

Shreep: slowly clearing mist
Fèith: a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer
Zawn: a wave-smashed chasm in a cliff
Roarie bummlers: fast moving storm clouds
Tor: a high rock or pile of rocks on the top of a hill

Each time we made our way through a new township or shire, the ubiquitous dry stone walls that shaped the roadsides also appeared in the surrounding buildings. Built in part to keep sheep out of traffic, the drystacks were a form of art, a live geology.

This relationship was a kind of lithic telltale, and it became a predictable rhythm where the built landscape inevitably gave way to unsculpted stone outcroppings.

Katy’s descriptions of differing rock were a form of poetry. “The grit has excellent friction but is quite rounded so you need to be good at holding slopers. The climbing is usually very subtle and technical. It also requires the climber to have excellent body positioning, movement, and trust in their feet.”

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Observing the relationship between people and their naturally occurring and built structures.

Slate, with its cleaved surfaces, “has barely any friction and is usually slabby… Like the grit, body positioning and movement are useful, but rather than smeary footholds, you have to be able to stand on tiny edges.”

Watching her move up a nearly featureless arc was to discover the gift of precise body positioning, the imaginary line in space where there is just enough friction to overcome gravity.

Quarries, crags, outcroppings—are these natural or human landscapes? After observing the relationship between people and their naturally occurring and built structures, I was left with the feeling that they are as equally historical and cultural landscapes as they are natural. We shape and are shaped by where we live.

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Jordan Manley

Jordan Manley is commercial and editorial mountain adventure photographer, based in North Vancouver, BC. As a senior photographer for Bike and Powder magazines, he has travelled from the Arctic to Antarctica capturing people who live, work, and play in the mountains...

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