Deconstructing guide books -


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 1 - 20 of total 122 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 17, 2012 - 12:20pm PT
From time to time a discussion comes up here on the STForum which is perhaps too pertinent to really be treated seriously, for instance: what are the elements of a good guide book?

There are shockingly few topics of any merit on this forum... here are some of the threads with "guide book" in their titles which discuss the issue:

But for various reasons, it is a contemporary issue for me... while we all want a variety of information from a guide book, the presentation of the information varies... and this calls on a deconstruction of the various guide books we've enjoyed using in our pursuit of climbing.

The descriptive guide books, think Roper's guides, for me the Boles, Kruszyna & Putnam guides to the Canadian Rockies, are examples that get you to the start of the climbs, provide some idea of the difficulties and perhaps suggestions on how to get off the climbs... these guides provide the reader with all the information to have a really great adventure.

Here "great adventure" means an increased risk of not succeeding at a variety of levels: blowing the approach, missing the route, underestimating the climbing, getting nailed by weather and other objective challenges, blowing the descent... all the elements of great climbing stories.

The Williams' 'Gunks guide is a great example of a written description, very brief, and a picture guide, easy to find the climb, good information on the difficulty, not much more. This guide format provides a more precise means of finding the climbs, but doesn't intrude on the actual climbing, you're left to do that yourself...

The advent of the topo guide, for me the Meyers and later the Meyers Reid and even later the Reid guide to Yosemite provide more information on the route, and interestingly less information on the approach and descent... one has the impression that if you could actually find the start of the route you would be golden... it seems to take some time hiking about to get a sense of how Yosemite Valley is "laid out" before the use of the guide book becomes efficient.

But the topo guides have a tremendous amount of information in illustrative form. The art is to reduce to a bare minimum the graphical depiction of the route and the features so that just enough remains to be recognizable. Of course, recognizing is also something that is learned.

No matter what my personal views are on the topic, maybe we could get a 20 or 30 response thread started on what current people think about guide books,

but specifically, how do you deconstruct your favorite guides, why do they appeal to you, what do you really need, what do you want, what do you get from all the guide books that sit, gathering dust on your book shelves, and the ones that are reduced to nearly rags from all the time they spend traveling with you to the crags.

Ranting is ok as long as there is an element of analysis that goes along with the rant...

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Nov 17, 2012 - 12:33pm PT
I prefer selective guidebooks over the exhaustive. No disrespect to the encyclopedia writers out there, I love you too. My favorite guidebooks have little stories and what have you, about the FA, or some follow on climb, or maybe some history or something about the area or route. Some cool tidbit. A few photos to really get you obsessing over the place or a route, some iconic shots, they don't even have to be that good. Simple over technical, whimsy before utilitarian. I don't even care if the beta is bad. I have a couple of books some folks love to hate and they're at the top of the stack of my favorites.

All that said? Sitting at a pullout on the loop road in the Valley, thumbing the guide, flipping pages like its some enormous menu with far too many good looking things to eat on it, like one of those asian menus with 200 items and a photo of each one, its too much! And yet?

The Great Days of the Valley - what shall we do... flipping those pages, noting the rabbit years of the favorite places... then the guide book is more inspiration than anything else. And I was sure inspired by those valley guidebooks. All of them. Never did imagine I could do that sh#t.

But these days I hardly crack open any guidebook. Mostly doing uncharted or new stuff, or just repeating old friends where no book is required.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:01pm PT

Go buy a copy of Steve Levin's Eldorado guidebook.

It is the GOLD STANDARD for guidebooks.

Check it out and we can talk further.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:09pm PT
Hi, Ed.

I think that the things that make a crag guide like the Bloom guide to IC lovely (photos and taco-style topos, extreme rack beta) don't work for something like the Reid guide whose biggest value is comprehensively covering a zillion routes, many of great length and little info. Since the beta is scant and the topos approximate for many of the routes, going too Taco-style on some, might set people up for trouble if they think the drawing is super accurate in a literal way.

I don't know what the best way to deal with info overload is. The multivolume Josh guide is great if you live there, but I've never expanded beyond the old, single volume Vogel guide.

I like the combo of description, topo, and photo in the Handren guide to red rocks. The heavy paper stock of some new guides is nice, but won't work for a mega volume like Yos. either.

I like it when I'm visiting an area from elsewhere and the guidebook gives me some sun exposure beta.

If a guide is going to share histories and profiles, I'd rather read about the people developing the area than those who just climb really hard there. Partly it tells more about the style of the routes, and partly it's just that there isn't much in a one paragraph blurb about Lynn Hill or Tommy Caldwell, as impressive as their climbing is, that we haven't read a zillion times. When it gets dark at 5:00 I like to read the cool histories that most have never heard...I love this aspect of the Bloom guide (some of the stories). Learning about the history and evolution of the dominant styles of an area helps me understand it better. Some guides have interesting bonus material about the geology and other anthropology of the area which adds to my appreciation.

As for topo biggest pet peeve are topos that show the line without large orienting features high on the rock.

I appreciate a heads up if I'm going to need a second rope to get off a climb.

Trad climber
The land of Fruits & Nuts!
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:14pm PT
Good question. My personal opinion has flip flopped back and forth from the beta intensive to the minimalistic approach. I see real value in both, although, even though I like the old Roper descriptive guides, their usefulness when it comes to highly committing, dangerous and difficult routes is almost zero. On the other hand, guides with too much info, though sometimes annoyingly insightful tend to really not matter much when you actually put rubber to rock, because all that beta is going to be different for everyone anyway. We all know more often than not of the descriptive topo you call bullshit on at almost every turn right?

I like a big history section. I like to be inspired before I get there by how the place developed over time. Gives you a real sense of the places "feel".

Next, I like photos of the major features with the more obvious routes marked so I can orient myself. Color helps. Some grainy black and white only adds confusion and is hardly inspiring.

Then, I like every single route included, even the shitty ones with rusted out broken studs for bolts. Even if it's just a dotted line with a grade. That shits important, I like to climb every single route in an area. I don't need diagrams and charts plotting their course, I just need to know it's there and it's been done.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:19pm PT
Some of the new guides are really well done. There is an art to organizing information in a logical and useful way and some do this way better than others.

I was planning a trip to England a few years ago and was very impressed with some of the guides there.

The Fell and Rock Club has a guide to the Lake District that is compact and really well done. It uses color coded tabs and other clever methods of making it easy to use.

I do not like a guide that leaves out the first ascent information and the history of the development of the area. It's a richer experience to climb in a new area when the guidebook provides this sort of background.

Ed and I lost again, despite the guidebook.

Photo: BrassNuts
Photo: BrassNuts
Credit: Rick A
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:20pm PT
I think that the Secor guidebook to the High Sierra is the standard to which all other guidebooks should be measured. Secor got it right. I am not aware of any other guidebooks that are even close to being in the same class as Secor's book.

I haven't seen Steve Levin's Eldorado guidebook. But every other guidebook that I've seen of the Sierra, California, Colorado, Tetons, Pacific Northwest (yes, even Becky's) and the Adirondacks are simply terrible.

A good guidebook should have all of the following:

Easy-to-find overview maps of the region
Map of topographical map coverage
Organization of peaks by region
Approach beta (roads and trails)
Cross country beta (passes and routes)
Some info on geology
Some info on flora and fauna if important to climbers
First ascent data
Route beta

I think a pure roock-climbing guidebook is going to be vastly different from a mountain guidebook. The Meyers Yosemite topo guide was great.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Social climber
moving thru
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:34pm PT
I feel like a kindergartner participating in a college discussion....but there are newish climbers out there, myself being one, that would like/need detailed pertinent information for a variety of reasons. One that comes to mind immediately is just getting me to the climb.

Example: I work at an outdoors store. I participate in a variety of outdoor activities, but I don't recognize the name of every climbing area in the US and foreign countries.

When I go to our guidebook section and peruse them in an attempt to learn more, I have to laugh because many authors often don't even include anywhere, at least in an obvious place in the book, just what state or country the climbing area is in. One has to waste time checking out much of the book just to see if the area is in the same state you live in. (Maybe I'm exaggerating, but not much.)

Tomorrow I'm going to Big Rock at Perris Lake, Riverside County. Haven't been there for 30 years. Looking on line and in the So Cal Sport Climbing Guidebook and it says, "go about 7 miles and turn on an unmarked dirt road."
Surely one could be more specific. I usually drive alone and meet people at the climbing area.

My point is I don't want to waste time getting up too early in case I can't find the place or at worst making people wait for me. And what if it's dark?

I've tried to find specific climbing/ areas using guide books only to find myself wandering around and again wasting time because the words did not match up with the terrain.

I guess it's like putting together a toy for Christmas. The directions can either be very user friendly, or suck. Dingus and Many of you have been at this for years. Experience has taught you much. But I don't think I have enough years left to learn simply from experience. hehehe, lynne
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Nov 17, 2012 - 02:50pm PT
Ed Webster's guide to new hampshire is a good one, for each climb he gives a paragraph describing some details of the first ascent, and general explanation of where to go. About every 20 pages is a tiny picture of the crag with lines drawn on it. Topos may have more embedded beta but this is the kind of book that helps you explore on your own. Plus reading the stories gets you excited about the routes before you go there.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Nov 17, 2012 - 03:52pm PT
I'm with Dingus on this. After many decades of climbing, I really don't care what the guidebook says. I'd rather just go climb whatever looks good.

Guidebooks once had their place for me. They are certainly good for organizing a day into getting in as many quality routes as possible. Topo guides are best for "high milage" days.

I am fortunate in that I rarely get lost and can often find route on very faint information. I sympathize with others that don't have this talent as they stand at the base of Manure Pile with their topo guide trying to figure out which one is "After Six" and "After Seven."

I would prefer to read a descriptive guide the night before, look at map, and set off the next day with the info downloaded into my mind.

I also have this sick enjoyment of being off-route and bushwhacking.
John M

Nov 17, 2012 - 03:53pm PT
I like what you posted Lynne/LL. Seems like you either have to know someone who knows, or be a mystic and that seems to stem from the conflicting desires of climbers. Wanting to have a guide, but not wanting too many people to find an area so as to overwhelm the area.

french, spider
Nov 17, 2012 - 04:37pm PT
I'd always consult everything possible. and nearly know everything by heart, as well as asking as many people as possible. Further, I fell into the FA trip, so that solved part of the problem. The guidebooks I have at home are not dusty - more like greasy in fact. Oh yes, and I'd like the ones that easily fall apart.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 17, 2012 - 07:36pm PT
interesting points all,
love that picture Ricky!
you did find the route though...
The user formerly known as stzzo

Sneaking up behind you
Nov 17, 2012 - 07:50pm PT
It's interesting that in my mind "good" is not necessarily what I like in a guidebook.

I like books that are full of routes, like the Reid Valley guide and the Falcon JTree guides. But I wouldn't necessarily call them good -- sometimes a good way to get lost. But I don't like the limited selection in the books that pick and choose the "best" routes.

IMO, good guide books are accurate and have area maps, photos & whatnot that help find routes.

Availability in PDF form is something I value as well. It's so much nicer than squashing the book down on the copier trying to get a decent copy.

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
Nov 17, 2012 - 07:52pm PT
cf. Croft, Peter. The Good, The Great, and The Awesome

like a classy hooker, THAT is the gold standard. Don't show too much, just enough to get sprung.
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
Nov 17, 2012 - 08:21pm PT
but specifically, how do you deconstruct your favorite guides, why do they appeal to you, what do you really need, what do you want, what do you get from all the guide books that sit, gathering dust on your book shelves, and the ones that are reduced to nearly rags from all the time they spend traveling with you to the crags.

My favorite guide/s had to be the ones to Yosemite, like the yellow Meyers guide. It may fall down with the second part of this tale, but at the time it was like looking into an oracle. The more you stared at the El Cap topos, the more you thought you knew, until at some point it was just like already having done the route. I never went for that Xerox routine at the Lodge Desk, I always redrew the lines myself before going up on the wall. Deep intimacy with every wrinkle on the wall before the upcoming task ensured better results.

Now, as for the bad or the pisser or what I like with guide books... Get me to the base of the route like I'm Helen Keller. I was using a Supertopo book and could not find the start or which way to go on the trail to the Regular Route on Fairview! True story!
A guidebook author should assume nothing. Obvious to you may not be obvious to me. Use good photos and make sure the lines are actually on the route.
I like when the description gives some idea of the rack needed, in inches, not esoteric color coding of gear I will never own. Give me the straight poop in INCHES, like "a few med nuts and a handful of cams to 3"" Telling me I need a blue/orange Trango or magenta Metolius does me no f*#king good at all.
I also like putting the pitch rating where the crux is, or where I might find the difficultly as labeled.
I like XX for bolts and P for pins. I like the listed feet of a route to be accurate. You can tell most guidebook authors are men and all think they have 60ft dicks with the way they measure crags. If it is that hard to figure out, hang a rope down the thing. I've been to dozens of 80ft crags that were 40ft high. This really comes into play when you trying to run pitches together. Accuracy counts.
Tell me how to get down once I top out. Use terms like "climbers left" instead of "head to the big tree" when I'm standing in the middle of a f*#king summit forest.
Have someone get fresh eyes on your work. By the time a guide book goes to print the author is so familiar with the info that everything seems obvious. Get the thing test-driven by someone who does not know the area.
History is good and FA info is even better. I got on a route in Vegas a while back that was like 5.10b or something. Almost f*#king stroked out and had the sh#t scared out of me. Even though it was within what I should be doing, it was a bit much. I find out later it was a Bachar/Lechlinski route. Had I known this I would have never gone up on the thing.
Use a durable binding. Loose pages are lost pages. Now that we are all modern, I suppose GPS info is good for those things way back in the woods. Google Earth type stuff is cool too and gives a great overview that I can keep in my mind while wandering around lost.
Sun and shade info is nice.

Nutshell: get me to the base and give me some idea of the rack, how long it is, how hard it is, and where the crux is. Then get me off the pile and back to the car for beers before dark.

Edit to add: The Sherman bouldering guide to Hueco is up there on the fave list too.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Nov 17, 2012 - 08:49pm PT
The best guide book would be two volumes. The first volume is just the basics such as approach info, route beta and topos. The second volume would include all the interesting history related to the routes and the area.

Volume one goes with you to the crags. You read volume two in your easy chair in front of a fire. Trying to combine both books into one is a poor compromise. The book can be too bulky and heavy to lug around or the history section is edited down to such a few pages that it really doesn't do a very credible job of chronicling the development of the area.

Another bad compromise it to break an area up into sub areas and then come out with one guide book with both volumes for each sub area. Yuck!

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Nov 17, 2012 - 08:56pm PT
+1 " biggest pet peeve are topos that show the line without large orienting features high on the rock. " Photos with lines usually solve this.

+1 "Get me to the base of the route like I'm Helen Keller." Amen to that. I hate flailing around en route to some huge thing I don't even know if I can get up in the daylight.

" Get the thing test-driven by someone who does not know the area." excellent! plenty of tourists around for this.

History is great. My books are all well-thumbed, you'd think I actually climbed a lot by looking at 'em. Give me some cool inspiring stories from when things were fresh. Not so much the latest kid to crank V13d.

Seasonality is important: sun, aspect, wind, etc. The locals all know this stuff, but visitors should know that having their heart set on climbing Ten Years After in June will only lead to disappointment. What's comfy when is real beta.

Don't get a cheapo binding: get examples first.

Maybe break it up so it doesn't weigh 5 lbs. and you can actually carry it around.

Indicate whether you actually know anything about a particular route beyond the topo some obscurista just handed you. It's OK to say 'not much info on this one'.

Maybe the cover photo could be reflective of what really goes on there, not just some local's hot imported GF clipping bolts for the camera. Ahem.

Leave some things out. Maybe indicate what's been climbed, but you don't need a topo for every damn thing. And saving a few retreats for the lokes in a tourist haven like Yosemite is a nice gesture.

"old bolts" etc: nice to know!

Good luck with it...kind of a giant undertaking.



Trad climber
The state of confusion
Nov 17, 2012 - 10:52pm PT

The new South Platte guide is another gold standard like
the Eldorado Canyon book. . .

just sayin'

Jim Henson's Basement
Nov 17, 2012 - 10:52pm PT

I quite literally deconstruct a lot of them and bind them into mini-guides.

Santa Monica guide.. I just cut it in half and I've got Malibu and Echo and I can leave the dead weight at home.

Roxanna's Red Rock Guide... I ain't haulin' around that 10lb encyclopedia.. it's now is 9 mini-guides.

My biggest pet peeve.. hand drawn topos with no way to orient yourself. There needs to be at least one damn photograph of the crag with a clearly marked route so you at least know if you are standing at the right cliff.

Everyone hates bad approach beta. I'm usually there to climb.. not wander around lost all day or epic on some death route I thought was a 5.8.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 122 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews