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Climb: The History of Rock Climbing in Colorado

Climb: The History of Rock Climbing in Colorado. Jeff Achey, Dudley Chelton, Bob Godfrey. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, second edition, 2002.200 b&w photos. 256 pages. Hard cover: $44.95. Paperback: $29.95.

The Rocky Mountain’s Front Range and the Colorado Plateau to its west make an environment conducive to rock climbing in general, and an interesting regional history and development specifically. The sandstones of the western slope desert stretch into Utah, while the gneissic and granitic composites form the Rocky’s core. The swirls of the Black Canyon, the crack-infested dihedrals of Long’s Peak’s Diamond, the compact shatters of Eldorado Canyon’s quartzite, and the steep undercut blocks of Rifle—all these create a recipe for every type of climbing practiced internationally, but also a development that historically has been set apart by its vari ety of rock and by the people who have explored and climbed it. Historic names (some more widely heard than others) like Lay ton Kor, Steve Wunsch, Dave Breashears, Billy Westbay, Duncan Ferguson, Jimmy Dunn, Tommy Caldwell, and many others, have all put their mark on stan dards, much of that within the confines of the eastern front of the mountains west to the towers of the Colorado Plateau. Documenting this history is no small feat.

Jeff Achey’s collaboration with Dudley Chelton, who, along with Bob Godfrey, wrote the original edition, condenses the pre-seventies well, and brings the book up to speed with the fast pace of rock climbing in Colorado in the 26 years since the first edition was published. Con densing the original edition could have compromised its thoroughness, but Achey and Chelton keep the integrity and pay appropriate homage to the original masters of Colorado rock climbing. Though it is never really focused on, the theme of the book brings out the uniqueness inherent to the attitude, styles, and ethics of Colorado that are the culmination of the state’s geography, geology, and the many characters that have added to the alchemy.

Achey makes it clear that this book is about rock climbing specifically, and to not have drawn that arbitrary line would have made too broad a topic upon which to give appropriate respect and coverage. And, to his credit, he avoids spreading himself thin, and ties common threads through the generations as they built upon the standards and mentorship of those before, from the era when multiple days were spent to climb a wall in the Black Canyon to the present feats of climbing the Painted Wall plus the two Chasm View walls in a day.

It is due time for this book, too. Colorado has about every type of rock offering every type of climbing, and has been a contributor to international standards for years. The layout of photos and anecdotal history make for an entertaining journey through the history of rock climbing in Colorado. The chapters are not only organized by era, but by theme and disciplines within the larger arena of rock climbing. Instead of disrupting any sort of flow, this gives the reader a sense of when and where certain aspects of the greater discipline of rock climbing were happening. Interspersed throughout are accounts from the first ascensionists, which help to not only to vary the tone of the book’s dialogue, but give a personal perspective to the history.

Achey does justice to the complex and interesting history of Colorado’s rock climbing past. He covers every noteworthy area in the state, and all those who were instrumental in the development of routes and standards. Along with the presentation of information, it is also apparent that all this effort came from a climber, and one who is proud of the history of his home turf.

Bean Bowers