Guidebooks have come a long way in their relatively short lifespan. Back in the day it was all word of mouth; one dude telling another dude where a sweet grade 16 was that wasn’t really that mossy at all, just up the back of Paul’s Cutting, park at the gate and over the stream, yeah, nah. And usually, it was backed up with a bit of Q&A sandbagging too, as per the overall theme. Hm? Protection? Yeah nothing to worry about, mate, bung a couple wires in and you’re sweet as. Not run-out at all…
That era of trying to get ya mates’ legs broke with cheerful misdirection was quickly followed up by the quasi-futuristic route-scribble on the back of a bottle-ring stained napkin in the pub. A squiggly line, some x’s to show where the anchors were (if not, then add a couple anyway just for your own amusement), and a vague yet unnecessarily complex set of track directions, and there you have it.
After that it might be a whole crag description on a sheet of A4 refill. If you were somewhat of an artiste, then you’d match up your routes with the ruled lines. If not, nobody really cared. And considering few were ever likely to read it or visit the crag in question other than your weirdly clandestine click of belayers and hangers-on, the names were never anybody’s idea of witty. You might be directed to Phil’s f&#k Palace for a weekend’s tugging on Epiphytes and getting moss in your eyes. And generally the names of the routes themselves followed along the same lines of haunting lyricism.
Then came the printed guidebook. Put the phone down Maureen, come have a look at this! It’s bound and stapled and everything, and look, the cover’s in full colour! Coo wee! Yes. Poorly spell-checked, wonkily formatted and full of grainy off-centre pictures of things that might have been rock-faces hit the shelves and the dark recesses of crag-bags nationwide. They even had route-descriptions and little symbols to show you what gear you needed, as well as grades and the names of the first-ascentionists just so you could scoff and say nah that’s not right at all! I was there when they climbed that and he was belaying at a completely different section of the wall! Maggot drunk! Guides such as Len Gillman’s Whanganui Bay opus or Castle Rock Climbs spring to mind. Groundbreaking stuff in their day.
Fast forward to the futuristic world of today, and all of the above are now collectors’ items, gathering dust and shamed into the corners of bookshelves (or lowest strata of the crag-bag) by the modern age of guidebook stardom. The North Island Rock Deluxe is one such glamorous article. Glitzy covers, full-colour pictures inside of people better looking than you climbing in envy-inspiring locations on amazing routes that you can only dream about, and that nice smooth shiny paper that shimmers in the sun and blinds you while you’re trying to read.
Not that it’ll ever leave your bookshelf, of course. Like all the rest, the NIRD’s like a new red Porsche 911 Carrera to the balding, midlife crisis man. Like him, you’ll buy the NIRD to impress all the boys down at the office (or the crag, as the case may be), as well as some of the girls too, but you’ll guard it jealously for fear of foxing the edges or, heaven forbid, getting a smudge on that photo of JP lurping his way up his own closed project. You’ll invite people you don’t really like much over for tea, all with the hopes that they’ll see your copy of the NIRD left lying casually about (and not at all pre-placed with the utmost care) and be hopelessly overcome with jealous rage.
Beyond the pomp and glitz, what makes the NIRD such a must-own book is the fact that these committed, inexhaustibly enthusiastic lads, Palmer, Brown and Hoyle, have seemingly done the improbable. They’ve unified the North Island’s piecemeal and scattered climbing folklore into one volume. They’ve delved into the cobwebbed vaults of history to rediscover the North’s humble beginnings and some of its long-forgotten gems, exhumed all the old corpses to gather their stories and present it for the new generation of today’s North Island climber, so that he/she might be cudgelled into a new respect for their own roots.
All the traditional guidebook features are out in force. The directions are detailed and come complete with flashy CG topos, but in practice are vague and difficult to follow once you’re actually in the car; the grades are at times dubious and suspect; certain classics get no stars while utter piles of shite get three; and the route-descriptions are equal parts dry, bland, misleading, droll, amusing, belittling of the first-ascentionists as well as the locals who climb on them, or intended to be humorous puns of the routes’ names themselves. Some description gems include ‘Crack Climbing!’, and ‘Climb the rib’, ‘Yes, the first half dozen holds are chipped and wet,’ or ‘Guess that makes it an eliminate!’ and so on. In fact, some would argue that the above phrases sum up North Island climbing rather well.
There’s even something called a Crag Comparison Chart, too. Not sure what it does but it’s got nice colours and little pictures of autumn leaves and suns and flowers in, so that’s nice. And if you don’t know who Robbie Mcbirney, Roland Foster, Charlie Creese, Bryce Martin or Graeme Dingle are and what they did for North Island rock climbing, then you’d best get to reading the history section to find out who established the routes that you’re always whinging about.
As it says on the cover, this is a guide to the best crags and boulders. Best. None of this selected nonsense, but the best. They’ve sifted the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Not everything’s in here, so if you’re a huge fan of Buck Rock, for instance, prepare to be disappointed. Still, there’s plenty in here to keep you occupied, and unlike a lot of guides, you’ll actually find yourself flipping through those glossy pages on rest days or while you’re sitting on the couch waiting for the kettle to boil. Or, I dunno, waiting for your government sponsorship to come through, say. Whichever. Each area has a nice write-up and picture for the impatient, and while some of the starred routes and grades might be solely a product of the authors’ opinions, they’re generally on the button. There’s also a bit of contention amid the ranks about first-ascentionists and bolting ethics and so on, but that’s best left to the old folks who were actually there at the time to quibble over.
So what’s crap about it? Not much, to tell the truth. I’m in there, so that gets a star in my book. The actual pictures of the rocks you’re going to want to visit are big and bright with nice squiggly lines in different colours, so usability is high while head-scratching and nonplussed frowns are kept to a happy minimum, and if you want a bit of light entertainment while you’re belaying your chump climbing partner up his/her crappy project, you can always read the authors’ bios on the little flippy-outy bit in the back cover. Choice!
So, how many stars does the NIRD get? Zero if you’re from out of town, or three if you’re a local. And if it were a route, what would its description be? Well-scrubbed, a bit devious in parts but on the whole well worth a blatt. Oh, and watch the run-outs. A classic in these parts according to the first-ascentionists…
Borrow it from ya mates and never give it back, or stop being a stinge and buy it from whoever sells it. Bivouac Outdoor, or straight from the source.