A Love Letter to My First Climbing Guide Book

I still think about our first climbing trip together. I know, I definitely wasn’t your first, and that’s fine…I admit I was a totally inexperienced. But still, you gave great directions. You started with a gentle warning, explaining that this place was “way out there, in more ways than one,” but assured me you knew the “least likely way to get lost.” I still got turned around a few times, but hey, I finally got it. Drive down a rough road and look for the obvious pullout.

You had a sexy name, “The Wild Wild West,” and we were inseparable for a while. Together, we made some crazy memories, and the annotations filling your blank spaces often make me blush.

We aged together, from trip to trip, year after year. Your pages, now dog-eared at the corners, are held within your busted spine by a silver strip of duct tape. You even picked up a couple of piercings along the way–brass tacks through both your front and back cover with a hair-tie looped across to keep your pages from spilling out.

It’s been a while since we’ve traveled together. And yes, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with other guidebooks recently. What can I say? I needed to explore.

When I look at my crowded bookshelf these days, I realize I’ve amassed quite the list of names. There’s “Rodellar,” my sleek Spanish guide that toured me around a veritable limestone heaven. Oh, and here’s “Muzzeroni,” my Italian companion for three magical days in the Mediterranean…okay, okay, I’ll stop.

But I swear I collect guidebooks not only to find a way into amazing worlds of rock and ice, but also to find my way back once I leave. In truth, I’d say all my guidebooks are like gently worn paths, waiting to lead me back to old haunts with just the turn of the page.

There’s something I need to tell you though. They say your days were numbered. You see, there are these digital guides that have been developed, and they lead you right to the base of climbs with space-based navigation systems like GPS. Even hardcore soul climbers like Alex Honnold think app-based guides are the future. He told me it just makes “way more sense.” He even has his own futuristic theories that he let me in on.

“I’m sure someday an app guide will just link to videos of all the problems, especially for bouldering,” he prophesied. “Makes total sense for a place like Bishop, where every problem is surely available on YouTube.”

And you know what? I think Honnold’s probably right. I can easily picture climbers standing at the base of a wall, linking through an app on their phone to get the “approved beta spray down,” and watching, with raptness, as they mentally note the crucial sequence of moves. I just hope they know they’re blowing their onsight.

But there’s something else I really want to tell you. Even though you might be getting faded and wrinkled, I’m still smitten with you. There’s just something about your old-school style that feels so damn good. And every time I pull you down from the shelf and turn your tattered pages, I get butterflies remembering the first time we hung out. You will always have a special place in my heart, but more importantly, a nice sun-warmed spot on the dashboard of my van the next time we roll out… into the wild wild west.

Photo by Julie Parker



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