East Coast Rock Climbs. John Harlin III. Chockstone Press, Denver, 1986. 397 pages, black and white photographs, line drawings, maps. $22.00 (paper).
This is the third volume of John Harlin’s ambitious Climber’s Guide to North America series. It provides a comprehensive overview of the fifteen principal climbing areas on the eastern seaboard, ranging from Yellow Creek Falls in Alabama to Charlevoix in Quebec, Canada. The format is identical to the earlier Rocky Mountains and West Coast volumes, and has standardized introductory remarks about the purpose, scope, and use of the book; ratings; safety; style and ethics; and similar guidebook conventions. This is followed by informative essays on the nature of the climbing in the East and its colorful history.
Each major climbing area is covered in its own chapter, and there is even a separate chapter at the end of the book that briefly describes a scattering of smaller, less-heralded crags that the author encountered on his travels. A general selection of routes in all grades is included within each area, with the emphasis being on the most popular or accessible. The routes are mostly shown on a combination of photographs and line drawings (topos), but are further described when additional clarification is needed. Helpful comments about protection sometimes appear as well. Besides the routes, each chapter has a wealth of information on the area being considered, including highlights of the climbing, environment and local history; location maps; the availability of camping; the nature of the weather; a listing of local guidebooks, guide services and equipment stores; emergency services to contact in case of accident; public transportation; and, most important of all, restrictions and warnings.
An especially desirable theme that is echoed throughout the book is the need for climbers to minimize their impact on the environment, both on and off the rock. Harlin is right to declare that “damaging the rock [chopping holds] is the biggest transgression in American climbing” and that “littering is unthinkable in the outdoors.” At the same time, he also should have condemned the equally destructive practice of placing bolts on rappel, but unfortunately, his sentiments do not run in this direction.
One of the biggest problems the author experienced when writing this book was to balance his limited amount of time with the book’s vast geographical scope. Shortcuts necessarily had to be taken, and most of the information had to be obtained from existing guidebooks and local climbers, rather than personal experience. Inevitably, this has resulted in a certain number of errors. Perhaps the most obvious one is the use of topos in the Shawangunks. On cliffs where features are few and far between, topos are often effective, but in the Gunks, where the architecture is exceedingly complex, they simply do not work. Aerial photographs in conjunction with route descriptions would have been better. Elsewhere in the book, several of the photos are too dark (pages 53, 169, 195, 319, 324), while others are poorly cropped (page 314), out of focus (page 281), or of limited interest (page 241). A big disappointment is the use of numerous photos that have been published before, thus robbing everyone of the chance to see new faces in new places.
In terms of the accuracy of individual details, I can’t speak for areas I am not familar with, but in the Connecticut Traprock section I noticed three worthy of note: Sam Slater was on the first ascent of “Superpower,” not Sam Streibert; Bruce Dicks was not on the first ascent of “Thunderbolt”; and “Silmarillion” has one pitch, not two.
Despite these problems, East Coast Rock Climbs is well written and has been carefully organized and designed to be of maximum value to the traveling climber. Although some may argue against the usefulness of such a broadly based regional guide, everyone has to agree that the idea has proven to be immensely popular. Not only has the book opened up several “new” areas for climbers to enjoy, but it has also done a better job of documenting certain other areas than the local guidebook authors have done themselves. East Coast Rock Climbs is therefore highly recommended, and I hope John Harlin continues and improves the series.