Deconstructing guide books -


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Gym climber
sawatch choss
Nov 20, 2012 - 10:33pm PT
I used to have this fantasy of destroying the AAC library, just to preserve awhile longer those few remaining blanks spots on the map. There's precious little mystery left in the world.

Take your time, Ed.
Greg Barnes

Nov 21, 2012 - 12:34am PT
Lots of us have these sorts of mixed feelings on reporting routes. One measure would be just how many of your FAs have remained secret, and for how long. By "secret" I mean known only to you and a partner or three. Go check your notes and give us some numbers - a percentage if nothing else.

Of course this may tell us more about who climbs in ultra remote areas than it does about who keeps their routes secret!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 21, 2012 - 12:53am PT
of the 31 routes I've participated in putting up, 10 are known,
nearly all of them are in Yosemite Valley, some in Tuolumne

one in Vedauwoo was reported as an FA probably after we did it

all these routes are in accessible areas, some right next to well known routes, others a short hike to the cliff, but there are those that take an hour or more to get to

of course the list of climbs to do is longer still, and that is usually where the "secret" comes in, somehow we have the misguided belief that someone else will snake an FA we could do... well it has happened, but usually because no one knew...

Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Nov 21, 2012 - 05:23am PT
This idea of "killing the unknown" is an important one to explore I think.

I can advocate for both sides of it. I love being lost on a good mystery, but some information creates a bond. Knowing who put it up, knowing someone who epic'd on it, or even asking around and getting a hint of recognition but no beta or knowledge of anyone who's done it... these things add a dimension to the experience for me. In addition to my own experience, I get to share in the experience of those who came before me, excitedly tell my stories to those who might care, gobble up the stories that come out of the woodwork in the wake of my sharing, and so it goes. I am enriched by the sharing. And I enrich others, or at least enjoy the illusion of doing so!

Maybe these are all the informal parts of sharing, the romance that somehow gets lost when a route is reduced to properties in a database object? It turns a spark of life, a deeply personal experience, a thread of human connectedness, to a sterile piece of information? Maybe that's a worst case scenario. The fear is based on some bit of something real, and it needs to be protected against.

So I can go that far to agree with Dingus.

But it doesn't have to be that sterile. Maybe a database entry with fields of numbers to represent all the properties is over the top killing it. But trip reports addressed to anyone who reads them is not? It is a cry in the dark, declaring our presence, seeking like-minded individuals with whom to share this grand adventure of life? There is using the power of technology to bind us together, to find our social needles in haystacks or ropes in the talus fields.

And the world doesn't stand still. Frontiers shift and move, and we have to move our crusty asses to the new wild places as the old frontiers become settled establishments. The process is fast in the big picture, but we have time to enjoy our solitude.

As I write that, it rings dangerously hollow. I fear the end of being able to go to a place and really find solitude. Unexpected encounters and friendships in the mountains are great, but there is also magic in being in an open expanse with no sign of other humans. Sometimes our spirits are like snails that need to be left undisturbed for a while before the feelers pop out. There is a real risk of losing that as more people seek the same happiness that we seek. I am part of the problem, you are part of the problem, we all are part of it.

I don't know the answer. Just late night rambling when I was too tired to get up and go to bed! I'll dream on it and see if anything new pops up for me.

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Nov 21, 2012 - 08:41am PT
Greg, most of my routes fall into the 'partner or three' category. But that's partly because I live in a total backwater. I could spray all day about some crumbly 60' cliff with an hour approach at 11K' and not too many people would trudge up there to check it out. I also pay for my own gear and am under no obligation to subject others to my hot flashes.

More to the point, I like the 'sharing among' friends model of route dissemination. But let's face it, Yosemite is a very public place and an update is long overdue.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Nov 21, 2012 - 09:36am PT
nutjob I like your words.

I think there is great value 'in the story.' The story however, doesn't have to include approach directions, bolt counts; route names and little maps.

I'm not saying everyone should be just like me either. There are other unknowns to discover in climbing and not everyone is motivated the same way. I get that.

But I suggest keeping yer traps shut about location location location. Don't tell anyone how to get to your prized area and be stingy with location photos. Tease and tempt to be sure... just don't give away the approach. Don't give away the data to some faceless online server.


Social climber
Nov 21, 2012 - 09:48am PT

This is the gold standard for guides. Randy's climbed almost all of the routes, or knows a bunch of people that have, they are routes worth doing and its a beautiful book to get you excited. Just enough info to keep you safe and preserve the right kinds of adventures.

I've been obsessing over this guide the last 2 seasons and have been plucking off classics like i'm ordering hor-douvres at a fancy restaurant (I haven't the slightest idea how to spell that word).

A great guide is like a freind showing you around, telling you the convenient routes, the classic routes, the beautiful routes and history - LOTS and LOTS of history.

That's what makes these areas so special to me - the climbs not only have character, but are characters themselves. Sidewinder, Solid Gold, Left ski track, north overhang, catch a falling star... more like a group of friends you haven't met yet but are sure to love.

Nov 21, 2012 - 10:07am PT
Less was more for us. Something that is light and small. (Guess that goes with the first requirement.) I found we had to rummage around in an area to get a feel for the climbing wherever we were. I think we had to do the same thing with the guides. Different minds = different guide styles = different perspectives. We had to get in synch with both before we felt comfortable heading up something we had never done. I guess that's a reasonable description with any author and story.
The Chief

Climber from the Land Mongols under the Whites
Nov 21, 2012 - 10:22am PT
Guide Books....

REMEMBER: They are just a "Guide" based on one or two persons opinion. Hopefully they actually did the routes that they put together into a book and describe.

We all know what that is like when we encounter a route discription that is complete bullshet!


Gym climber
sawatch choss
Nov 21, 2012 - 10:30am PT
"... just don't give away the approach"

This is just plain weird. WTF is a guidebook for, exactly, if not to get you through a certain physical space? Folks who want to go shwacking around trying to find a cliff don't need a guidebook. The ones who buy the guide can reasonably expect a modicum of approach beta.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Nov 21, 2012 - 10:45am PT
WTF??? WTF??? WTF???

Well I wasn't talking about a guidebook when I wrote that.

I was talking about writing TRs. Nutjob was discussion the merit of trip reports. I happen to agree with him, reading trip reports about a big route or peak I have my eye on can, does, and has... enriched my experiences. He wondered how to strike a balance and I suggested (paraphrased) - just don't give away the approach. ie Don't tell people where it is or how to get there. Let them find it themselves.

The other big problem I have with open source online routes databases is many submissions are created by people who have little or no standing with a given route or area - in some or even many cases these people have not climbed the route or peak in question. I won't name names but I know one site that is notorious for this. That's a bunch of crap.

If you didn't do the FA then you, personally, who ever you are, have NO BUSINESS reporting that route to some giveaway site. None.


Trad climber
The land of Fruits & Nuts!
Nov 21, 2012 - 10:55am PT
I believe he was referring more to the online aspect, rather than a guidebook itself.

Edit: oops, post rendered moot by posting too late.
Lone Quail

Trad climber
Littleton, Colorado
Nov 21, 2012 - 11:06am PT
The art of imaginative writing is rare in modern guides, which are based mainly on topos and photos rather than written descriptions. The gold standard has to be Jim Erickson’s “Rocky Heights” (1980). Consider his descriptions:

The Upm Slot, 5.10:

“A breath-taking climb. One’s bust and buttock size will determine the grade, 5.7 for beanpoles, 5.11 for the bulbous.”

Scotch ‘N’ Soda, 5.11:

“Straight up or on the rocks? The first few feet present a veritable quagmire of cruxes.”

Throughout the book there is enough information to find and do the climbs, but always an uncertainty (often with the moves or protection) which adds to the adventure. Also, the historical notes on early ascents give great insight into the people and the era.

Sure – Modern guides are easier to use, but I appreciate the old ones too.


Social climber
Nov 21, 2012 - 11:48am PT
If you didn't do the FA then you, personally, who ever you are, have NO BUSINESS reporting that route to some giveaway site. None.

If you don't want information spread about your route, don't tell anyone about it. Gossip just spreads faster on-line.

Hold on to your topo, Smeagol, and hold it close.

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Nov 21, 2012 - 11:49am PT
OK, that makes more sense.

But...nobody is allowed to post online about how to climb, say, Cathedral Peak? Because the FA never got around to it? What, exactly, is the difference between looking in a guidebook and looking online here?

between the flat part and the blue wobbly thing
Nov 21, 2012 - 11:53am PT
Bloom's Indian Creek guide is so nice I hate to pull it out of the pack and get it dirty. Fortunately for the book I don't get to IC very often.

I think Chris overdoes the detail in his topos. There shouldn't be description of how to do specific moves.

Trad climber
Nor Cal
Nov 21, 2012 - 12:05pm PT
Most of my routes are know only to a few, I have about 50 routes and 30 have been climbed by less than 5 people most likely. Most are 20-30 min walk from the road and easy-.6-.10 and less than 50ft, trad and sport. They are almost all of good quality. You can scope then out on line if you search a while, but because they are in a backwater, up HWY 4 in CA no one ever bothers, rarely to never do I see anyone climbing.

I have my favorites ones for different reasons:

Pinnacles by Brad young, the little red one for Lovers Leap and that Thai shown up thread. For some reason these all hit the spot.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Nov 21, 2012 - 12:29pm PT
What, exactly, is the difference between looking in a guidebook and looking online here?

Plagiarism, for the most part, accounts for the difference.


Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Nov 21, 2012 - 12:39pm PT
If someone copies the guidebook info, I see the plagiarism, but if you do an FA and then I go have my own experience on that route, I'm free to write about. I can't distribute your description of your creation, but I'm free to make my own. Just like I can write about a meal you cook in restaurant or book that you wrote.

I've seen a couple of my routes get retrobolted because folks didn't realize they'd been climbed (a downside of leaving no trace). I've also seen a route go from a mungey obscurity to one of the most popular 5.9's in the Valley and I know that it's in part because I sprayed about it here and it ended up in the Taco guide. A comprehensive guide with a gazillion routes (including Mountain Project) will only draw traffic to an area if a route is highlighted and endorsed in a big way (i.e. NEB of higher is possibly the finest 5.9 IV in the Valley) or has a lot of lore.

The good news is that 99+% of the people end up on the routes in the select. Most of the time, you can't spray enough about a route to make the chances of running into someone at the base real. Maybe if you discover the only crag in an area with no crags, but if people have options, they want 5 stars.

Hawkman's Escape, The Tower of the Cosmic Winds, Commissioner Buttress, Via Aqua...these are all well-known, full-value routes/areas where your chance of seeing someone is next to nill. Is there a more magnificent looking line in the Valley than the Cobra? I only know of three parties including the FA to have done it. If a climb doesn't have some special significance (RNWFHD, Steck-Salathe), people won't schlep to do it. And they certainly won't tolerate much in the way of dirt, diorite, or back gobies.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 21, 2012 - 01:06pm PT
Yeah, M, my tolerance for back gobies would be kinda low...ha ha!

The power of the 'net. Birdland in Red Rock is an example. Until the Handren guide, and, since it was established relatively recently, the only source for beta was online. And, it got HUGELY popular. Great route. Deserves it popularity, which, was primarily fueled by online beta, at least initially.
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