What It Really Takes to Write A Climbing Guidebook
Brushing cobwebs from my face and peeling sticker bushes from my clothing, I'm cursing Matt's persistence. "Come on dude," he insists, “this is our job now. Besides, Cramer gives it three stars, so it's gotta be good." I plod on reluctantly. On the obscuro-meter, this one gets a perfect ten out of ten. Suddenly, the Ewok village undergrowth gives way to a completely hidden, and perfect-looking arete. Matt smiles at me, because he knows he was right. Though the trail is far behind, and I've never even heard tell of this route, much less anyone climbing it, I know as soon as I look at it: This will have to go in the guidebook. But finding the route is just the tip of the iceberg.
When I first envisioned working on a guidebook for the granite paradise of Index, Wash., I pictured many unreasonable things: day after day spent onsighting classic routes, stumbling upon secret garden trails into the underbrush that lead comfortably and easily to obscure crags, sunshine, rainbows, butterflies, and a finished product within a year. Since this is my first guidebook, I can't say with certainty anything about guidebook writing in general, but my suspicion is that those assumptions hold false any time guidebook writing is the task at hand.
First, there was the realization that I'm not a photographer. Now, since money was never the goal of this book, my obvious goal was to get one. Luckily, my buddy Matt Van Biene stepped up. His work is phenomenal and featured in climbing magazines both nationally and internationally, as well as major company catalogs. Getting Matt on board was, so far, the best move I made for the guidebook.
Glamorous though I thought it would be to live in Index and "just climb,” things have turned out far from my expectations. Matt and I have a perfect view of one of the best walls in Washington from our backyard, but we share a studio-size apartment that brings to mind memories of a college dorm room. We're messy, the place is a wreck, and the toilet and the shower share the same cubicle. It's awesome, and I'm not complaining, but it’s definitely not glamorous.
Neither is discovering, recovering, sometimes UNcovering old classic routes. At least two things are true of Index: One, every wall at Index is classic and awesome and worth climbing; and, two, every wall at Index that goes unclimbed will end up becoming reclaimed by the forest. This summer, Matt and I have spent countless hours bushwhacking through trails, trying to wrap our minds around old topos and descriptions that don't seem to make sense, attempting to onsight dirty and vegetated routes that are as sandbagged as any we've ever climbed, and clipping disintegrating bolts.
We soon found that in the case of Index, writing a guidebook meant more than just writing and taking pictures. It meant restoring Index to its rightful condition. We got a clean retro-bolting clinic from Kurt Hicks of the ASCA, and started to get support from the ASCA, WCC, and Petzl to work on modernizing routes with corroding bolts and unsafe anchors. We've also done a lot of scrubbing. I mean a LOT of scrubbing.
More than anything, though, what Index needs is for Index climbers to get out and explore. That's been the mission behind the guidebook in the first place, and the goal of various projects this summer including a slideshow at Outdoor Research headquarters, and the first annual Index Climber's Festival, held a few weeks ago under perfect blue skies. While it's hardly glamorous, guidebook writing is a labor of love, and Matt and I love the opportunity we have to be working on it.
In order to get information as soon as possible to the public, we’ve teamed up with Rakkup who produces downloadable climbing guidebooks for their smartphone app. So far our Rakkup guidebook Index Town Walls covers almost all the walls at Index, and about 1/3 of the routes. And we’re updating it with more routes every week. But fear not, book lovers, Rakkup is just a step along the path to a beautiful physical guidebook sitting on your coffee table, providing you with years of stoke and enthusiasm to come. And for what it's worth, this Rakkup author still has a flip phone. So just sit back, relax, and please be patient. It turns out writing a guidebook takes a little bit longer than we expected. But we'll have it done as soon as possible. That we can say for certain.