Guidebooks: a celebration (and a competition)

Send us Your Photos and Win!

A selection of Simon Mentz's Arapiles guidebooks, including the Carrigan, Shepherd and Mentz/Tempest versions, showing notes on routes Simon has climbed (obviously many, many years ago) and corrections used to update the latest edition of Arapiles Selected Climbs.

For us at VL, the best guidebooks are works of art, labours of love that operate as a reflection of climbers and our culture. Australian guides in particular have their own character, separate from those of other countries. As anyone who has climbed in Europe or America will know – where topo-heavy guidebooks proliferate – the very best Australian guides have soul and a sense of humour – they are more than the sum of the words they contain.

The guides that become classics exceed mere repositories for the nuts and bolts information we need to find and climb routes, instead they mix form and function. They are part resource, part talisman, they are rest-day reading and, when you can’t climb, a way of dulling the itch that can’t physically be scratched. They hold the history, lore and stories of our sport, an insight into the ethics that dominate an area, and, above all, they contain the promise of adventure outside the sphere of our everyday lives.

Glenn Tempest's Wolgan guidebook with notes about his second ascent in 1976 of Henry Barber's The Weirding Wall (22/23).

Most climbers have on their shelves at home a collection of guidebooks. Clumped together, they often stand out for their odd sizes, but mostly for their battered appearance compared to the rest of your book collection; spines scratched, corners bent and ragged, signs of water damage, page edges marked by grime from the putrid hands that have flicked through them many, many times.

Often when you open them you find the pages themselves are full of notes. These inscriptions are the records of a climbing life; what was done with whom and in what style, failures and successes scratched in ink or pencil. This art of scribbling in books – marginalia to the bibliophiles – has a glorious history that extends from the very earliest illuminated manuscripts and continues all the way down through time to towering literary figures, like Sylvia Plath and her most-probably-pained adolescent scribblings and the musings of David Foster Wallace. For as long as we have been reading we have been annotating our books.

The best marginalia add a personal and original layer to a book, and in climbing guides it can make the pages shine with the story that lies behind each notation, sometimes it appears prosaic – no more than a date and some initials – other times the details are so evocative as to be life affirming. The marked-up guidebook then is an external memory, making up for the fallibility of the one inside our heads.

The question begs to be asked, are guidebooks a dying art form? Is the digitisation of climbing information robbing us of these works of art? You can’t mark up a tablet, unless it’s made of stone. Sure you can life-log a torrent of data into The Crag and cross reference your onsights at grade 23 before midday on cloudy days with the alignment of Jupiter, but that’s not really channeling the spirit of David Foster Wallace.

Glenn Tempest's notes in a Victorian climbing guide, circa 1975 - including notes about how each route was done using 'chocks'..

Whether or not the printed guides are going the way of the dodo, we want to celebrate the Australian climbing guide and the stories hidden amongst the scrawl that ranges across them, we want you to send us scans or photos of your most-battered, most bizarrely annotated pages (Kiwi climbers are also welcome to submit photos of their best). The images don’t have to be fancy, they can be taken with your phone, so long as they show the guidebooks in all their messy, altered glory.

We’ll make the entering part easy. You can post your pics or scans directly to our Facebook page, tag them on Instagram with @verticallifemag or email them to us at Include any explanatory detail that you think is pertinent.

We will pick the best of the contributions in two weeks’ time (Wednesday 12  September) and the winner will receive a swag of guides from the industry-leading good folk at Open Spaces Publishing ( and iCrag (, including the printed version of Arapiles Selected Climbs (RRP $59.95) and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne (RRP $29.95) and their corresponding app versions: Arapiles Selected Climbs (RRP $29.99) and Rockclimbs Around Melbourne (RRP $14.99) – so you can have the best of both analogue and digital worlds.

3 thoughts on “Guidebooks: a celebration (and a competition)

  1. Claire

    I love my guidebooks, but the digital iPhone versions are just so bloody practical… All they need is a way for you to leave notes and tick off climbs, then they’ll be perfect!

    1. AdventureTypes Post author

      True Clare, there is nothing innate about print as a technology and the digital guidebook is coming strong, that’s part of the reason we are interested in this competition – to document what is surely a dying artform. (We are calling it art, too, the scrawls in guidebooks.) Practicality is a strong driver but so is beauty, and nostalgia, marginalia has a sense of permanence that digital books are yet to replicate. Handing down your second-hand digital books to anyone else?

  2. Olivia

    Love this post. Even though the digital world is very easy and practical, there is nothing like looking back on your old climbs and scribbles about how it went, it takes you right back to all of those fantastic memories!
    I will never give up the old paper and pencil!


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