By rights, the best crag in the world should have the best guidebook in the world. You may think that such a lofty expectation would put an unreasonable pressure on the guidebook writers, making it so daunting a task that most would shy away from it. Not so with Messrs Mentz and Tempest. In 1999 they produced the first incarnation of Arapiles Selected Climbs which, largely because of its excellent maps and topos, became the guidebook of choice over Louise Shepherd's definitive 1994 guide. Although reprinted in 2001, Selected Climbs has been out of print for some years now, frustrating many recent visitors to Arapiles. The 2008 version has therefore been keenly anticipated, despite being dumbed down by the authors as a 'rehash of the old guide'. This may have been a ploy to lessen expectations, because what they have produced is quite different.
This is no 'rehash'. Sure, much of the text is lifted from its predecessor, but there's no need to rewrite a perfectly accurate (and frequently amusing) route description; and some of the photos are familiar, but in the new guide they are in vivid colour (given the 1980's penchant for lurid ballet tights this isn't necessarily a good thing!). There the similarities end.
Substantially bigger than the old guide, it is a quite a hefty tome for a climbing guide. You certainly wouldn't carry this guidebook up a multi-pitch route and it looks more at home resting on a coffee table than perched on a log at the Pines campsite. It never was going to be pocket book, with more than 1200 climbs described (more than the old guide), 154 colour topos and nearly as many action photos. Yet more space is given to supporting information, with a long and engaging history of Arapiles climbing, plus lots of other interesting and helpful titbits. Two pages are given to safety, including how to use that dastardly Aussie invention, the 'carrot', which may well save a few European climbers' lives over the coming years. Other sections are less crucial, but they all combine to provide a very informative and inspirational read, even before you get to the route descriptions. You will have to keep turning the crisp leaves to page 46 before you get to the first of these.
Here is the meat of the guide. As expected for modern guidebooks, the descriptions are supported with excellent colour topos which often say more about the climb than the words do. Aware of this fact, the authors have made full use of them, with large topos splashing the beautifully vivid orange sandstone across almost every page spread. These are enhanced still further by good action shots from every age of Arapiles' development, from historical first ascents and important repeats, to happy everyday family outings. The photos give a real flavour of the nature of climbing here, and the breadth of its appeal, ranging from multi-pitch trad routes to world class sport test-pieces, and some fine bouldering.
Many climbers visit Australia and many of those get no further than Arapiles, for it is a rock-climber's paradise. The international pull of the place is acknowledged by the guide from its very first page – the inside front cover features an international grade conversion table which folds outwards to remain easily accessible as you pore through the guide. Many overseas climbers are featured in the photos which somehow makes the place feel more welcoming, even if some of the captions are laced with some good old Aussie irreverence, for example, “Some pommie geyser dragging his arse up The Rack (18)”.
There is a lot to say about this guide, but really you need to get one for yourself to appreciate the effort that has gone into it. As soon as you open the stiffened cover and see the fold-out map of the crag, you will know that this is one high quality and very useful publication. Just keep turning the pages, and you will see that it is also an inspirational one. It was a year late in the making, but Simon Mentz and Glenn Tempest have achieved something quite outstanding. The only criticism likely to be levelled at it would be from those who like to carry their guidebook up their climbs, it's simply too big.
Is it the best guidebook in the world? I think the answer to that is the same as for: Is Arapiles the best crag in the world? It's a matter of opinion, but both of them must be strong contenders.
About Steve Bell:
© Steve Bell
Steve Bell founded the well known mountaineering company Jagged Globe. Originally from Bristol, he has emigrated to Australia and is a regular visitor to Arapiles. His climbing experience is extremely varied, from Cheddar Gorge to the summit of Everest. He doesn't draw cartoons for the Guardian.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Steve Bell: