I was sent an interesting book to review recently. John Proctor’s Sanctuary in the Extreme is a very personal account of transformation from a tough inner city existence through to finding fulfillment in a life of climbing.
This book is as much a reflection on British social history as it is climbing. The first half describes living in the cities on northern England on a diet of poverty, violence and drugs. Proctor is clearly an intelligent man, but he is unaware of his potential and finds it impossible to break out of this downward spiral. The scenes described are sometimes very violent and told with a disturbing degree of candour and authenticity.
A year in the army provides a possibly way out, and gives Proctor his first window to the outdoors, but ultimately but this doesn’t work, and once again and he tumbles down the spiral. Then an outdoor education opportunity provides a chance to sample the hills again and soon Proctor has grasped the climbing world with both hands. Gritstone becomes his playground and he quickly finds his feet climbing in the Scotland and the Alps. The tone changes from resignation and despair through to excitement and a celebration of the world’s beautiful places. Former aggression is channeled into climbing mountains and difficult routes.
The latter part of the book is taken up with blog posts of Johns’s most memorable ascents – The Rostrum in Yosemite, the American Direct on the Dru and Orion Direct on the Ben. Scottish winter interest is maintained with accounts of Cutlass and Gemini.
This is a pugnacious work. The writing is raw and up front. The grammar and spelling are unconventional which adds to the grittiness of the read. But overall the book conveys a message of hope – that there is a way out of even the most desperate of situations – and for some, climbing and mountaineering can provide that means of escape.