Preface of my How to Big Wall Climb Book


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 18, 2008 - 04:44pm PT

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 18, 2008 - 04:52pm PT
Hope you stress learning to walk before running.

It seems half the ankle biters in Zion are people that didn't want to try to do a single aid pitch before attempting a wall (and likely jamming up a popular route).
They fool themselves into believing that they are "adventurous" when in fact they are too lazy and inconsiderate to pay their dues and acquire the requisite skills to truly ENJOY wall climbing.
hungry man

Trad climber
Oct 18, 2008 - 05:50pm PT
Go, Chris! Awesome "rant", your writing style is fun. I can't really think of anything constructive to say. I like the simplicity thing.

Social climber
Oct 18, 2008 - 06:17pm PT
I like it! It feels like its written at about the right level for your intended audience and your enthusiasm really comes out in a genuine and motivating way. Id buy a copy of the book after thumbing through that intro!

There was only one question I was left with and it might just be with regards to your intended scope. Are you just covering "low land" big walls or are you going to talk about alpine big wall aid techniques at all? The extent wasn't clear.

Great take on it all- I can't wait to see it in print.
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 18, 2008 - 07:07pm PT
glad you are enjoying the book so far. I am not very experienced on alpine big walls. in fact, The cobra pillar on Mt. Barille is the only one that comes to mind right now... and that was a day climb. so not sure I am the guy to write that section.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 18, 2008 - 07:55pm PT

I think all your ideas are hugely encouraging modern ones and should make a very positive read. And that we need your book!

I think this version of the preface verges on being a preface/chapter one though, and may steal some of your excitement and thunder from subsequent sections of your book. A preface only has to be a preface. Grabbing the reader at this point can take place best by a slimmer look at what you are going into detail later.

One example would be that baggage handling doesn’t have to be discussed quite so deeply at this point but soon enough in the body of the book. I find that there is too much nitt-gritty here on it and some repetition, even though everything you say is exactly correct. I suspect you will be saying it all again in chapter three or something, which probably will make you not want to write that chapter when you get to it or resume it.

I think in general a preface to a book on big wall climbing technique doesn’t have to be too lengthy at all unless you want to go into history. And that might actually warrant its own chapter. And I assume that you are working with a detailed outline for the whole book so little redundancy develops and the forcefulness of your great advice and awesome experience stays sharp and clear. The reader should generally never have to read the same points too many times over lest you lose him or her.

Since you state that you are having trouble getting this volume done, I am lead to believe that you should, as I say above, make sure you have developed a fairly massive outline that then simply just has to be filled in. Getting the outline done is actually the true work of a book such as this since it it not poetry or stream-of-consciousness authorship. Then you will get this book done, as it would then be way easier than trying to grok the entire book every time you work on it which to say the least is just really way too hard and perhaps “cart before the horse”, if you get my meaning. Meanwhile wall climbing is changing all the time too, yikes.

I think having some inserts or actual chapters by climbers like Conrad is a great idea, t*r, and having a female also contribute. This approach has worked really really well with some recent climbing books (Heidi Pesterfield: Traditional Lead Climbing). Your book could become quite a bit more than a slim how-to volume and take on more mass and maybe you would find the whole idea incredibly much more fun and important.

That’s briefly what I see here and send the very best to you, P.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 18, 2008 - 08:54pm PT
I agree your preface maybe has a little too much detail. I think alot of the more specific ideas should be split within the chapters. I'd guess the preface should be maybe 3 pages-ish. Good stuff there chris keep rollin!

Trad climber
Oct 18, 2008 - 10:25pm PT
I hate aid climbing, but I do a lot of editing, and I have to work online tonight, so I'll offer some comments.

I think this looks really good. ST makes it look longer than it will be in book format, but I don't think you're giving away too much. The punchline (HOW to climb efficiently and easily) won't appear until the later chapters, so you have a great hook.

This draft is very readable. The devil will be in the design details-- bulletpoints or section titles, font, etc.

It still needs a catch phrase. "Fast and light" is pretty obvious, given the PCT and alpine instructional books that flood the market, altho you might prefer one of yr own.

One brief point-- I'd add a pitch. Lots of yr. potential readers live in Texas or Iowa or worse. Since this is the bit that folks in the store (or online) will browse, I'd point out that you can learn efficient jugging, top-stepping and changeovers almost anywhere. You can make this basic point in a few sentences. (Party Two has practiced jugging and changeovers at home on the old maple tree/choss pile/hwy overpass, so they . . ..)

Actually two points: Give us something more colorful than "first party" and "second party."

Looks good-- almost makes me want to get into the conga line.

Andrew Barnes

Ice climber
Albany, NY
Oct 18, 2008 - 10:26pm PT
I have to say that reading chapter one of John Long and John
Middendorf's book on Big Walls was inspirational. Sometimes
it is stories like that really stoke the fire.
One idea is to have a few "guest" contributions: entertaining
stories from other celebrated climbers. In Mark Twight's book
on Extreme Alpinism, he has stories of actual climbs at the end
of each chapter. Everyone likes a nice, juicy story (even if
partly fictitious), and there are plenty of stories floating on
the taco. One of the most entertaining was the all beer ascent
of leaning tower. Stuff like that livens the pace of a "How To"
Good luck, I'm sure the end product will be fantastic. (And I
would gladly fork out some cash for something so good).
Andrew Barnes
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 18, 2008 - 10:38pm PT
"stories floating on the taco"

Boy, you said a mouthful (but better your mouth than mine,...)

Tacoma, Toyota
Oct 18, 2008 - 11:09pm PT
Really good! But as said previously, saving a lot of the detailed stuff like how to climb the Nose in 3 days for the chapter that will cover that. Be less detailed. Do include some sort of story that emphasizes the point the preface is trying to make (fast and light). Maybe use "El Cap" less- It felt like you were only prefacing a How to Climb El Cap book (which it very well may be for most!)
good luck!

Trad climber
Oct 18, 2008 - 11:12pm PT
There is a notable absence of either booze or sex.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 18, 2008 - 11:14pm PT
and that's not all

Oakland: what's not to love?
Oct 18, 2008 - 11:24pm PT
I would have benefited from reading that before my first wall, and you're not even getting into the goods yet. Liked the two scenarios bit.

Your book is going to be great. Keep plugging away!

Re. Piton Ron's point about encouraging people to practice and burnish skills before jumping on the classics: he already published a book called 'Road to the Nose'. I think he's covered on that point.

Edit to add: it seems like efficiency and speed are going to be threads that underlie most of you're writing. If that's the case, it'd be a mistake to try to confine any language about speed and efficiency to only one chapter. You are transferring knowledge that you have accumulated to people who don't yet have it - this seems to be the core aspect of that knowledge. I think it's smart to let that core spread throughout the text.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Oct 18, 2008 - 11:43pm PT
Good sound effort Chris. I agree with t*r, perhaps somebody like Conrad to write about alpine big walls.

Sebastopol, CA
Oct 19, 2008 - 05:52pm PT
Chris, this is great!

I can see how the preface could be shorter (saving some of the material for later chapters), but I also think that it works for getting the reader hooked. It doesn't really matter that much whether this hook at the beginning is titled "Preface" or "Chapter 1", as long as it's the first thing people read when they pick up the volume.

One important aspect of a preface, though, is the author's personal experience that motivated them to write the book in the first place. You address this, but I think you could elaborate even more. Without being immodest, you might refer to the number of hours you've spent on big walls, and the psychological extremes you've no doubt experienced.

The two El Cap scenarios are fabulous. Hell yeah, I want to be the second party! At the end of that paragraph, I'm ready to take the book over to the cash register and have them ring me up.

I sure look forward to this -- keep writing! Seven years isn't that bad. It took me ten to finish mine (an engineering text; not exactly a page turner). Just like a long route...

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Dec 24, 2008 - 01:20pm PT
doctor J

Trad climber
Alexandria, VA
Oct 20, 2009 - 11:10pm PT
A few editorial corrections below. The info is great.

You have to ration your food and water which just ads to your malaise. you finally top out. You are relieved and feel proud to have summitted. However, because of the hauling, bad bivies, belay clusters, you can't honestly say that climbing what is probably the best route in the world was much fun.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 20, 2009 - 11:36pm PT
2 aiders are fine huh?

(didn't catch that before.)
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