Good Guidebooks: Rock Climbing

2009 November 11
by David Schlichter

There seems to be a revolution taking place in rock climbing guidebooks.  Until very recently, nearly every climbing guidebook had no photos, poor quality black and white photos, not-to-scale hand-illustrations, or hard-to-interpret computer illustrations accompanying the route descriptions.  These illustrations and photographs take almost as much energy to interpret as it took to climb the actual routes, and they left a lot of room for error and guesswork on the part of the climber.  For some outdoor adventure activities, the lack of high-quality photo overlays is not a problem (road cycling, for example).  For a sport in which your life literally hangs in the balance, leading readers to scratch their heads in confusion is not an option.

Two publishers, in particular, are redefining rock climbing guidebooks as we know them.  Wolverine Publishing and Sharp End Books recognize that the days of low-quality images and illustrations are over.  They both are producing guidebooks with high-definition color photos and nearly all routes included in the books are overlaid on top of the images.  The days of guessing whether you are on or off-route are nearly extinct after the release of this style of guidebook, and once you go high-definition color photo overlay, you’ll never go back.  It’s like watching color movies v. black and white.  Yes there are a few classic ones in black and white that you’ll still watch from time to time, but–in general–why would you watch movies in black and white when you could watch them in color?  And why would you put your life on the line with routes planned from low-quality images or bad hand drawings when you could have access to a high-quality color photo?  Wolverine and Sharp End are both revolutionizing rock climbing guidebooks as we know them, and we can’t wait to see the entire industry follow their lead.

Below are the two best rock climbing guidebooks for in and around Denver and Boulder.  Each of them feature spectacular color photo route overlays. (FYI: “sport” climbing is where you clip into bolts already drilled into the rock wall and “trad” or “traditional” climbing is where there are no bolts and you depend on cams, nuts, and other gear you bring along to anchor yourself to the wall.)

61wqbeh6UVL._SL160_Boulder Canyon Rock Climbs by Bob D’Antonio (Wolverine).  Home to incredible world-class sport and trad rock climbing and just minutes from Boulder, there is something for everybody in Boulder Canyon.  D’Antonio provides over 1500 routes, and nearly all of them are included in the stunning high-quality color photo overlays.  Even though it was published at the end of this past summer, nearly every climbing group we’ve seen there in the past couple weeks has had a copy.  The book is incredibly useful and designed very well.  As you flip through the pages, you move from east to west as the climbs are organized by their distance from the start of the canyon.  Each face has an “access” feature which tells you how to get to the base of your climb from where you park.  Rock faces are given either a blue or red color at the page, representing cold/shady or hot/sunny crags (on the south side of the canyon v. on the north).  Routes are also given blue or red line representing traditional or sport climbing.  Descriptions are brief but useful, allowing you to bring the right gear without giving away how to complete the entire route.  This book is one that you will be able to use for a lifetime.

EldoEldorado Canyon: A Climbing Guide, Steve Levin (Sharp End).  Eldorado Canyon is home to phenomenal trad climbing with a lot of history, and it is only about 35 miles from Denver.  It is also the subject of perhaps the most useful and comprehensive climbing guidebook ever compiled.  Released just this past September, the book has over 400 pages worth of routes, history, photos, and more on climbing in Eldo.   The book is incredibly thorough.  In addition to great route descriptions and high-quality color photo route overlays, many routes include information on who ascended it first and when.  Biographies of and interviews with Eldo’s earliest climbers provide context and perspective on the canyon, and give the reader inspiration as well as a few cautionary tales.  Levin uses “seriousness ratings” in addition to standard decimal ratings (5.10, 5.9, etc.) to rate each route.  The seriousness rating is based on the movie scale (G, PG, PG-13, R, X) and evaluates the danger of falling on the route.  Routes are also given 0-4 stars based on the quality and enjoyability of the route.  This book really does take climbing guidebooks to a whole new level, and Levin and Sharp End deserve all the credit in the world for producing such a phenomenal book.

If you are going to get any rock climbing guidebooks for the Denver and Boulder regions, the two above are the ones you must get.  We also want to plug two more books: Rifle Mountain and Western Colorado Rock Climbs, Dave Pegg, BJ Sbarra, Jeff Achey, and Nate Adams (Wolverine) and Clear Creek Canyon Rock Climbs, Darren Mabe (Sharp End).  These offer you similar features as the books above for two common destinations for Colorado climbers that are a bit farther away.  The new, color version of Climbing Boulder’s Flatirons, Jason Haas (Sharp End) also is a great development for climbing the Flatirons and the area surrounding them.  The color photos allow you to clearly see the route, the top 50 routes at the beginning are a nice touch, the beta is Good, and we really like the inclusion of first ascent history on many of the routes.  We would have liked to see bolts marked in the images and perhaps one route color for sport and one route color for trad though, but overall a very nice resource for climbing the Flatirons.

We’d also like to plug the website, a site with climbing routes all over the world and a strong climbing community.  Climbers there post notes, find partners, share photos, send messages to other members when they lose gear (it is actually common to get the gear back), review new gear, and sell used gear (often for pretty cheap).

All of the climbing guidebooks mentioned today (with the exception of Clear Creek Canyon Rock Climbs and Climbing Boulder’s Flatirons–not on Amazon yet) as well as the hiking and biking guidebooks reviewed yesterday and Monday can be purchased here.  We also encourage you to check out the sites of Wolverine Publishing and Sharp End Books for other great books they’ve published and the two books that we weren’t on Amazon yet.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the best guidebooks for the Denver/Boulder areas, and we hope they keep you safe and help you have an amazing time on the trails, roads, and rocks of the great state of Colorado!

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