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Kevin McLane's Canadian Rock: What It Takes to Write a Guidebook
Filling the Pages
Aside from the challenges of actually choosing which climbs to include, McLane explained that figuring out how to get it all into one book is where the work really began.
"You have to put boundaries on the framework because otherwise you'll never get to the end," McLane said. So, as he was self-publishing, he first determined the number in order to give him a context for selection. He decided that the biggest influence on the relevance of the climbing area would be the number of pages it would get in the book. Small jewels, for instance, would get two pages while a climbing area as large as Skaha would get 26. McLane said that the predetermined pages were also strongly influenced by photographs. Alberta ended up with the biggest section even though it has fewer routes than Squamish because the photography is just so great in the mountains.
Building the pages of the book was a challenge all on its own. In addition to spending his life in Corel Draw, Adobe InDesign and other computer layout programs, McLane spend many hours sending documents to climbers familiar with specific regions to ensure the accuracy of the information.
In many cases he also had to get out into the crags to do some climbing of his own. For some climbs, the grade on a route was changed because McLane himself had done the climb and felt that the given grade was an unpleasant sandbag. One reason why he was very cautious is because of the wide range of grading applications between the different climbing areas featured in the book.
Ultimately, McLane felt that climbers would cut him some slack on grades because it is just impossible to have surgical accuracy on thousands of climbs.
A Time Capsule
With all this perspective on the work that goes into writing a guide book like Canadian Rock, Alpinist was curious to ask McLane about his insight into how these books stand the test of time. While this feature was first being authored, for example, Alpinist published a story about Sonnie Trotter's Sugar Daddy (5.14), a new line up the Big Daddy Overhang in Squamish, British Columbia. The author of the article used Canadian Rock to gain some insight into Trotter`s new route. Instantly, this new guide book, fresh off the shelf, was outdated by Trotter`s accomplishment.
In response, McLane remarked that beyond the new routes that climbers establish, other factors, such as access issues, can void the information in his book. But what is in Canadian Rock already will not date very quickly and someone will still be buying that book 10 or 15 years from now, said McLane. As it is for any guidebook, the day it hits the streets, or the crags, is simply a statement of that moment.
Conversely, when a book goes out of print, McLane reflected that you would lose the community of climbing that surrounded that book. Often people don`t know this or appreciate it until it is not there. "This is a reflection on the difficulty of having that entire mountain culture there in one small package of a guidebook," said McLane. "The entire known history and recordings are in this one singular object, but that object is very vulnerable to disappearing."
But for now, Canadian Rock will be a new companion to many climbers hitting the crags in western Canada. And the book itself may generate a new community of climbers, now bonded across a region much wider than ever before.
Sources: Kevin McLane, Canadian Rock: Select Climbs of the West