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I have a confession to make.
My name is Chris and I'm a guidebook addict. My bookshelves groan under the weight of them. My wife groans as she stumbles over the various piles of them around the house. There's something about guidebooks that I just can't resist. It's not just that a user-friendly guide will make your day at the crag much easier. A good guide will whet your appetite and motivate you to get out, not to mention something to remind you in later years of what you've done. Oh, and I like looking at the pictures too, especially of routes that I've done.
In recent years, however, my habit has become harder to maintain. Glossy guides coming at me from all directions and at an unprecedented rate – by my reckoning we've had 8 for the Peak in the last 4 years alone. I now have 11 guides featuring Stanage in my collection. I have almost as many guidebooks as my wife has pairs of shoes – and believe me that's a lot.
I'm not to going to say that Rockfax is entirely responsible for my habit, but with their glossy guides that can make even the grottiest quarry look appealing, they have certainly been culpable. And they now unveil their latest innovation – the Pokketz series of selective guides. Is there room in the marketplace for more Peak guidebooks? More importantly, is there any room on my bookshelves?
The first thing to say about these guides is they are temptingly neat, half the size of a standard Rockfax and almost wafer thin. Yet there is lot packed into just 128 miniature pages. So far we have 2 books, each containing around 500 routes, 60 % in the HS to HVS range, a handful of easy extremes, and the rest Severe or below . Peak NE covers the gritstone crags from Rivelin via Stanage and Burbage through to Millstone, Lawrencefield and even Yarnclffe. Peak SE packs in no fewer than 14 crags – the gritstone edges from Froggatt through to Black Rocks, but it also mixes in limestone (oh the heresy) with Stoney, Horseshoe and Ravensdale, down to High Tor, Wildcat, Willersley and Harborough.
The guidebooks are exactly what you expect them to be – stripped down, reformatted and repackaged versions of the standard Rockfax guides. In most cases the crag diagrams are exactly the same as those in the parent guides, the same size even. The only place where I think the size limitations might be a problem is Horseshoe, where the attempt to squeeze 20 lines isn't helped by the lack of obvious features on the walls.
So what's missing? Well obviously a lot of those harder routes which you know you'll never climb but just make you feel weak and inferior, not to mention those poxy eliminates and grassy esoteric lines. But there are also a lot of fine and not exactly obscure routes that have failed to make the cut. Crag tables, graded lists, top 50s, top 5s, geology notes and most critically history and first ascent details have all been sacrificed. Admittedly none of these are required whilst at the crag, but they do make for interesting reading back home.
The photos are good but not exceptional – you can't help but think that these were the ones that didn't make the cut for the full guides. And with only one action shot per crag, the selection provides only limited inspiration. However it is refreshing to see a lovely pair of Dalmatian print tights gracing one of the covers, a fine throwback to the '80s and a time before the fashion police took over !
It has to be said that I'm not exactly the target audience for these guides. It's not so much that the grade range is too easy for me, but after 20 years with these crags on my doorstep there's only a handful of routes that I haven't at least looked at. For a beginner though, keen to work through the grades but cash-strapped after buying that first rack, these guides could be very tempting. They could almost be marketed as “My first guidebook”. Critics will argue that this will only lead to more “honey-potting”, but ask yourself this – what did you climb on your first visit to Stanage – obscure routes near the causeway or classics at the popular end ? And here's a fun game to play in the café whilst waiting for the rain to cease – try to work out the first route you led on these crags that isn't included, and how far into your climbing career it was?
But at just under a tenner these are slightly too expensive to be considered an impulse purchase. Furthermore, for an extra tenner you can get a full Rockfax or a BMC definitive guide, with 4 or 5 times the number of routes and far greater armchair reading.
However the other major selling point is, of course, the size. They fit so easily into your pocket, that even if you have the full guide it might just be worth taking these instead for convenience. On the limestone routes in Peak SE they will be very useful, particularly for those of us with a reputation of going off route on even the most obvious multi-pitch route. I really hope the format is a success, as it could prove superb for sea-cliffs – so small and light you don't even notice that you're carrying one and cheap to replace when you get hit by that rogue wave.
There is undoubtedly something very seductive about these compact packages of fun. I now know how my wife feels about shoes. It's not a matter of whether or not I need them, it's not even a question of how often I'll use them.They're neat, they're attractive, I like them, I want them, I'm having them.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Chris Moor: