Starting a job for a global computer services provider was supposed to be the begining of a stellar career for me and being charged with looking after a huge IT system for a global telecoms company seemed like an excellent start. Each day I'd turn up at my desk to survey my empire, check the various nodes of the system and ensure no component of this vast, expensive system was about to fail. Each month I'd go to a management meeting and present graphs, figures and slide shows demonstrating the systems prodigious performance figures and, hopefully, my expertise as a master technician. Each month the management would stare blankly back at me. Gradually my disgruntlement began to grow as it became more apparent that they had no idea what I was doing there and still less what this system actually did. A little investigation by me soon revealed that the reason for the blank stares and the lack of any breakages for me to fix was because no one used the system. Millions of pounds worth of hardware was collecting gigabytes of, what I found out to be, obsolete data that was no longer required and never looked at. My role was purely to fulfil a long forgotten contractual obligation between the telecoms giant and my employers. Since then I like to think my career has progressed a little but, in truth, my job as an IT consultant still means I churn out documents full of wisdom and sage advice which are then summarily ignored by their intended audience.
I guess it's this sort of experience that led the people at UKC to ask me to review the new North Wales Climbs guide. Let's face it, no matter what I write here you will buy this guide. There is more quality climbing in this guide than any other UK guide so it would have taken something quite spectacularly bad for this not to be a success and a quick flick through is enough to convince that this isn't the case, hardly surprising given the editor's pedigree with the North Wales bouldering guide.
However, as anyone one who has read a Jeffrey Archer novel will attest, popularity is not the same as quality and if you've read down this far its probably because you want more from this guide. Like me you probably have an affection for the area and a hope that this guide, like the 1986 Llanberis guide or the Black Cliff, will become part of the climbing folklore it seeks to describe. I doubt any selected guide could ever manage that, there just isn't the space, but in every other respect this guide is fantastic. Covering, as it does, a well documented area allied to all the pre-publicity the guide generated, I was worried the visual impact of the guide might be diminished but this guide is packed with so many new, quality photos that the whole area looks fresh even for the most jaded. Better still are the photo topos which are of such clarity they'll leave the enthusiast gazing for hours, the Cloggy ones being particularly good in this respect.
Before I saw the guide I mentally set some tests for it to see how much effort had gone into the detail, on every count the guide did not let me down, best illustrated by the detailed approach description for Clogwyn yr Eryr. It would have been so easy to say “head towards the large crag” but it is obvious that someone has gone there to make much needed detailed instructions. This thorough approach is apparent throughout the guide and it's obvious that this is a labour of love for the Ground Up crew.
As far as route selection and grades go there is little to quibble about, sandbags are saved for the graded list and the routes largely pick themselves though there are pleasant surprises throughout. The only slight disappointment is the absence of any crags south of the Moelwyns but given the name of the guide this can hardly be considered a criticism!
Of particular interest to me was how Gogarth main cliff was dealt with. Done well and this would be reason enough for someone who already owns a lot of guides to north Wales to buy this selected guide. It's obvious that the use of photo topos, of the quality on view here, works well for Gogarth but unfortunately the ones of main cliff are too small to settle some of my queries about which lines go were. The double page spread of Mousetrap Zawn shows how effective they can be and I hope that the next definitive guide to Gogarth contains reproductions of these or similar photos, printed in as a large a format as the guide allows.
I share many peoples concerns about the impact of selected guides on the definitive editions but north Wales has so much to offer that I'm convinced that a guide like this will only inspire its readers to explore further and hopefully go on to purchase the definitive versions. The Ground Up team have raised the bar for north Wales guides and if future definitive guides are half as good then the area has been well served. The guide reaches and in most cases exceeds my high expectations and is as good as the area it describes, best of all it's inspired me to dust down my rack and head west and it's been a while since I've felt like that.
You can read Chris Cragg's review here