The joys and not-so-joys of writing a bouldering guide
Mostly I started working on the second edition of Grampians Bouldering with Simon Madden, my co-editor, because I thought it meant I would be able to go climbing more. After all, I could tell my wife that I was ‘researching’ boulder problems.
But how often do our dreams founder on reality? Simon and I lugged our boulder pads up that steep hill to Buandik five times without pulling on. We went to Venus Baths five times but only climbed once (briefly, for photos). The Bleachers we went to innumerable times without climbing, the Valley of the Giants the same. We smashed through the scrub of the massive boulderfield of the Tower at least four times for exactly zero climbing. And it has to be asked, is there a more exquisite torture for a climber to spend all day looking at amazing boulder problems, recording them, photographing them, talking them up, but not actually climbing them?
We both knew writing a guide was a lot of work, but we didn’t quite ‘know’. Now we know: the hours in front of a computer, the frustrations of hunting down info, the gap between the world as we see it and representing it on a map, amassing and organising hundreds of photos, remembering what goes where, cajoling people into telling you where things are, trying to remember if such and such has a sit start or a stand. Then there are all the decisions: should it be soft V8 or hard V7, do we give the Wheel of Life a route grade, should I be on the cover or Simon? It’s not easy making these decisions. Particularly due to the ongoing power struggle between the two of us as to whether height and handsomeness trump hair and chutzpa.
And there have been some low moments in the guidebook journey. Like the day we lost our drone trying to map the Tower, a couple of grands worth of electronics disappearing into a sea of scrub – and the hours spent smashing through that scrub searching for it. Or there was the mat-missing, ankle-twisting fall off the highball dyno of Copperhead at Venus Baths trying to take photos. Or the many days when the weather or the light didn’t cooperate with the knowledge that time was ever ticking down to when we would have to send this beast to print. For a long time I thought the lowest moment was when one night driving back from the Gramps late I nibbled on what I thought was trail mix and discovered I was eating chalk. But I was wrong, it was the last five weeks of 14-hour-days in front of the computer.
It hasn’t all been bad, though. There is a lot of satisfaction to pulling all the information together – working out who did what, the hundreds of problems delivered into text, the topos that begin to make sense, the bank of hard earned photos of boulders, the slipping in of snide comments about mates. Humans love to map the world, to make it comprehensible, and Simon and I have pulled six new areas into a shape that is recognisable for climbers and that is exciting. People have also been psyched about a new Gramps guide, and that has made the process far more pleasurable, although also at the same somewhat more anxiety inducing as we’ve begun to think more about what could go wrong.
As we’ve done more and more work on the guide, and visited more areas, we’ve realised more fully that the Grampians is truly one of the world’s great climbing areas, and the old guide really only scrapes the surface of its potential. We’ve begun to more fully understand the quality of the bouldering here, and also its potential, because even with all these new areas there is still massive potential for more bouldering – the Gramps is very far from being even close to fully explored when it comes to bouldering, although future areas may not have the convenience of many current areas.
Many years ago, before Dave Pearson and Chris Webb Parsons created the first edition of the Grampians Bouldering, I began collecting topos and information for a Grampians bouldering guide. I never got much further than that, as I never had quite enough ‘time’. What I’ve learned is that it wasn’t about time. It was about commitment. To reach for an easy simile, guides are like the best highball boulder problems. You can prevaricate as much as you want, but at a certain point they require you to commit. Time is part of that commitment, but it also requires you giving up doing what you love for a large whack of time. It has definitely given us a new appreciation of the work that Dave and Chris put into the first edition of the guide. Without their commitment to the first edition, Simon and I wouldn’t be doing what we are doing – and for that we owe them a massive thanks.