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Shawangunk Rock Climbs

Shawangunk Rock Climbs, by Richard C. Williams. New York: The American Alpine Club, 1980. 463 pages, 102 photographs, appendices. Price $14.50.

The new guidebook had a tough act to follow. Almost everyone agrees that the 1972 edition of Shawangunk Rock Climbs by Richard C. Williams was a well-laid-out, compact, sturdy and reasonably accurate guidebook. Unfortunately, the 1972 edition has been out of print and unavailable for three years. Any person wanting one had the choices of stealing it, xeroxing it or paying scalpers’ prices as high as $50.00. Information in the old guide had become dated. It listed thirty-six aid routes that have now been free-climbed. Because this new information was not common knowledge to visiting climbers, some of these routes were still fending off the blows of the aid climbers’ hammers. There was also an increasing problem with misinformation on many new free routes. Where were they? How difficult? Many debated which lines had or had not been climbed. So a new book was needed now. The new guidebook may not be perfect, but it exists, it is real—this is an important point.

It is a fat, red book with a not very durable-looking cover that refuses to fit into my jacket or trouser pockets. Let’s face it, Chouinard and other mountain chic designers aren’t going to help us out on this one. Bigger pockets just aren’t fashionable and the market isn’t yet ready for chalk bags with pockets attached.

The 1972 edition listed 380 route descriptions on 135 pages. The 1980 guide gives us 530 routes on 463 pages. That’s 150 added route descriptions and 328 added pages; more than two new pages for every new climb. Is bigger better, or is someone selling us a lot of paper?

The new pictures of the cliffs are bigger and better, with lots of room for drawing in those inevitable new route lines. Some of the gossip complains that the new pictures do not depict the true nature of the climbing. (For example, overhangs not casting shadows; looking like smooth faces.) Perhaps these folks could look up at the rock before they start their climb.

I have no trouble reading the print in the 1972 book. The bigger print in the 1980 edition must be for the benefit of aging climbers and alpine club members. (It didn’t, however, benefit the publisher’s proofreaders too much.) The printed text could have been reduced 25% by staying with the old format.

The appendixes are nice but I would rather the book fit into my pocket. The same goes for the personality photographs in the front of the book. But who could leave out those great shots of Fritz Wiessner, Hans Kraus and Mike Sawicky? I also would have liked to see an action climbing photo of author Dick Williams. What proof do we have that he climbs at all?

Williams deserves a pat on the back for doing away with the listing of climbs by number. How annoying it was to have someone scream up at you from the carriage road, “What number are you climbing?!” In the same breath let me add that someone deserves a crack on the knuckles for not cross-indexing those pages on which the descriptions appear with the pages on which the photos of routes are and vice versa. The average climber finds it far too much work to turn back to the index and then flip through all those photo plates.

530 routes is a lot of page flipping but it also represents a lot of long hours in research and organization. I think most climbers recognize and respect the amount of work invested and are thankful for an updated edition of the guidebook. In general, the descriptions are accurate and complete. The rating of the climbs are by Yosemite Decimal System and in all but a few cases they seem to be more accurate and reasonable than in the 1972 guidebook. Originally, a modified Australian rating system was going to be used in the new guide. A lot of research was done and it was found that most people could count to 11 or 12 faster than they could count to 27. So we still have the Y.D.S.

As a final note, I’d like to mention that many excellent new routes and variations did not appear in the new guide because of publication deadlines or inconsistent criteria for including a route in the guide. I know of at least one person working on a supplement to the guide that will include these climbs as well as note any inaccuracies in the 1980 edition.

Lastly, a word to the wise. Take a minute and think about all the mountains of gossip that new routes, guidebooks, supplements and reviews produce: now, try to forget all that and go climbing.

Mike Sawicky