Seeing as I’m asking for help choosing the best routes for the select guide I figured that I should try and describe some of the factors that I think are important.
To showcase the best climbing a country has to offer and do it justice is a big responsibility and choosing the right routes is important but I suspect (hope!) there is an large element of the 80:20 rule i.e. the vast majority of climbers would make similar choices most of the time.
The primary goal of the guide is to document the best of Irish rock climbing but it isn’t just a matter of compiling a list of the best routes, I must take into account how the book will be used and help climbers to choose the best destination for their abilities and preferences. Is there any point documenting the only easy route on a remote crag packed with brilliant hard routes? Is there enough routes at a certain grade to ensure that people can have a good day’s climbing?
Whatever my final selection, no matter how many people I talk to, some people will disagree. Everyone has different preferences and biases. The final list won’t, and shouldn’t, be my personal picks it should represent the sum of all the input I receive. Maybe the goal isn’t to please as many people as possible but to displease as few as possible.
I would consider the following as the most important factors.
Has to be number one really. If a route is good then it’s a contender, maybe it’s remote, maybe there isn’t much other good climbing on the crag, maybe it’s not that popular, it’s still a contender. Guides uses stars to indicate quality and different guidebook writers seem to have different approaches to stars, some seem more generous than others. I have noticed a tendency for hard routes to get 2 or 3 stars almost by default. It’s understandable that a first ascentist is proud of their route and thinks it’s great and there is probably some selection bias going on (they wouldn’t put the work into climbing a new routes unless they thought it was going to be good) but they aren’t really the best people to objectively assess the quality.
There isn’t an really scientific way to measure quality, it’s entirely subjective. If a route get climber often and is considered good then it probably is, ditto if it’s considered shit but the difficulty is with accessing less popular routes. The system on UKClimbing is excellent, everyone who logs a climb can vote on its grade and star rating. The Irish crags have a reasonable amount of data entered on them but again on only the more popular routes.
This is a tricky one. If you accept that good routes are popular for a reason and vice versa then no problem. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. What about hard routes that are rarely climbed? Have a quick look at the UKClimbing logbook entry for almost any crag and you can see that the most popular routes are the easier ones. It makes sense that the routes that most people can climb are climbed the most often (I think this is a cumulative distribution function).
The herd mentality is also a factor, ironically I think most climbers aren’t that adventurous preferring to stick with the established classics rather than taking a risk on a route that hasn’t got three stars or that doesn’t have a good rep.
However there is an opportunity in this. By highlighting (maybe with a great photo) and clearly describing some routes it’s possible to attract people to them, turning a once neglected route into a neo-classic. This has to be done very selectively, too much hyperbole and the guide loses it’s credibility.
The goal for the select guide is two fold, to satisfy climbers (by documenting the kind of routes they want to climb) and to try and broaden the horizons a little. I think that there are a lot of great routes in this country that have never been properly documented and have never got the attention they deserve. With routes that required cleaning before the first ascent the window of opportunity for them to become become popular enough to stay vegetation free is short. Take Luggala, a large mountain crag less than an hour’s drive from Dublin and outside of a half dozen popular routes it receives very little attention.
In many ways a select guide contributes to this the honeypotting problem by encouraging climbers to polish a small numbers of routes while other nearby routes, that are maybe only slightly less good, sprout vegetation. My philosophy with the bouldering guide was to document even very minor problems if they lay within an area that had potential. The thinking being that by attracting climbers to the area (seeing a problem, even a minor one, documented in a guide seems to add a certain credibility to it) they will, after having checked out the documented climbing, turn an eye to their surroundings and start exploring for themselves.
For a crag like Luggala this means clearly and attractively describing some of the best routes in order to encourage climbers to visit the crag where they will then see the potential for themselves.
I think climbers are ambivalent about convenience. When one is pressed for time a roadside crag is ideal but there are other times when one just wants to get away from it all and visit a remote area. Compare Dalkey Quarry and Cnoc na Mara, one is within the capital city and the other is as remote as you can get on this island (or just off it). Obviously one isn’t better than the other. The quarry is perfect for doing a few routes after work in the evenings and the Cnoc na Mara is one of the best adventures to be hand in this coutnry. Sometimes one tolerates remoteness or difficult access because the climbing is so good while other times the journey is as much part of the experience as the climbing. It’s just not as simple as roadside = good, remote = bad or vice versa.
Other climbing nearby
Rockfax select guides document virtually every route at their choosen crags and while I don’t this this is a suitable approach there must be some consideration given to the crags as a whole as well as just the routes. There is no point documenting one short Diff route when the rest of the routes on the crag are E7+. The flip side of this is that it’s possible in a select guide to document isolated routes that won’t ever make it into a definitive regional guide. Take the example of Carrot Ridge, one of Ireland’s best easy multi-pitch routes, which has never been documented in a print guide (not one produced in the last 30+ years anyway) as it lies in something of a climbing wasteland. (I know there are a reasonable numbers of routes in the 12 Bens and Maums but they have never got much attention). For routes like Carrot Ridge which are a day out in themselves there doesn’t need to be any other climbing nearby.
Routes that require a drought to dry enough to be climbable probably shouldn’t be included. On sea cliffs where a big sea will mean some routes are unclimbable it might be worthwhile including some routes that are more sheltered. A good example of this is Gola where the best routes lie on the Main Wall which is open to the sea, here there is a strong case for documenting the routes on the inland crags, especially as it’s an island and you might be there for a few days.However inclusion of the routes on the inland crags shouldn’t be interpreted as claiming that they are among the best routes in the country.
The goal would be to concentrate on routes that are within the climbing ability of the majority. I’m not sure what the average grade is but I assume it’s somewhere around VS. I also assume that the spread of abilities follows some kind of normal distribution ie. plenty in the middle and less as one moves towards either end of the spectrun. And it probably makes sense that the selection of routes follows a similar distribution. That’s not to say that every crag should have the an identical distribution of grades. Crags like Fairhead don’t have much in the way of easier routes so you would expect the focus to be harder there.
Finally I would like to emphasise that I’m very much looking for feedback and that nothing is cast in stone. So here is my current plan for guide, just to repeat CURRENT PLAN. So if you don’t like the look of it or think I have missed something please get in touch.
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