One of the cool things about traveling around the planet and climbing, is getting to meet people that are so psyched about climbing at their home crags that they commit to the all consuming and dubiously rewarding task of compiling a guidebook.
We, at the Traveling Climber, have decided to salute the guidebook writer in a series of interviews with several authors that we have had the pleasure of meeting in our travels.
Many guidebook authors give back to the climbing community in terms of volunteering time and money to maintain bolts and crag equipment and are also key players in access issue resolution in their areas. Given all the behind the scenes work, let alone the hours of actually compiling information, the job of a rockclimbing guidebook author is not a particularly financially rewarding one. Please consider showing your support and purchasing a guidebook on your next travels, rather than photocopying a friend’s guide. Yeah, we know they are often “expensive”, but they don’t print and ship themselves :).
Aris is a big figure in the Kalymnos climbing scene, he has a home on the island and has been a major route creator and on going re- equipper, for many years. He seemly knows everyone that has ever climbed on the island. If he passes you on the road on his big BMW motorbike he always seems to have the time to turn around and come back for a chat.
He has developed the Kalymnos climbing guidebook through several versions and last year launched a new guidebook for whole the of Greece.
- What made you interested in writing guidebooks in the first place?
Aris – I became involved in the development of new crags in Greece in the 1980s. It was soon apparent to me that every crag, no matter how good the climbing, absolutely needed a guidebook if other climbers –besides the locals—were to enjoy it. The better the guidebook, the better the climbing experience. Sure, the main purpose of guidebook is to inform climbers about the basics (routes, grades, approach), but a good guidebook inspires climbers and helps them plan their visit to the crag; when they are back home, a good guidebook takes its place on the coffee table or the bookcase so it can be looked over again and special moments re-experienced.
As the years passed, I went from simply recording the important information to wanting to write the best guidebook possible. It makes me very happy to see climbers enjoying the crags of Kalymnos and Greece with the help of my guidebooks.
- Do you keep a record of how many hours you spend on compiling a guidebook, if not could you estimate a figure?
Aris – A lot of hours! But it also depends on the project. For example, in the case of my most recent guidebook, Greece Sport Climbing: The Best Of, things were more complicated and time-consuming than usual, because in addition to my own work, I had to coordinate about 30 local climbers enlisted to help me.
It took approximately two years of working on the computer almost every single day. Early on it was just a few hours a day (1-3), but for the last three or four months before publication I spent up to 15 hours a day at the computer. So, on average, I’d say it took 5-7 hours of daily work for two years (approximately 5000 hours), a full-time job.
Thankfully some of these hours are spent at the crags, otherwise no climber would write guidebooks. To think how many potential “climbing hours” are spent at the computer instead can be very frustrating.
- What is the best bit about creating a climbing guidebook?
Aris – Without a doubt, the travel and field work (climbing, equipping, photographing, researching the area).
- What is the worst thing about creating a climbing guidebook?
Aris – The endless hours spent on a chair in front of the screen. (Though it becomes almost enjoyable towards the end, when the book starts to come together and you bubble with excitement.) And when you finally hold the printed guidebook in your hands, you can hardly say “right, now let’s go climbing”: you still have to worry about promotion and distribution, and keep the websites going. (It is absolutely essential, in my opinion, for any guidebook to be supported by a good website where climbers can interact with each other, leave feedback and stay informed.)
- As a guidebook creator how do you feel about climbing guide like websites, in particular the rise of mobile crag apps. Do you feel that these hurt or help guidebook sales.
Aris – I think mobile apps will eventually be the future of climbing guidebooks, especially when tablet technology improves and problems with network coverage, battery life or screen glare are eliminated. Imagine a guidebook which, besides large photo-topos, also gives you immediate access to all comments and descriptions of the route you want to climb; also, if you want more beta, the ability to access all photos, videos and moves of the route. I don’t think we are there yet.
At the moment, most crag apps I’ve seen are “quick fixes” with average or poor design, and they seem to mostly copy an area’s existing guidebooks. It’s not hard for a computer-savvy person to take a photo of a crag and copy the route lines onto the photo straight from the print guidebook. I’m not sure whether or not climbing apps will hurt guidebook sales or not. A lot of younger climbers probably feel more familiar with apps, and can more easily afford them, whereas a lot of older climbers say they prefer the print version.
A print guidebook usually originates from within the climbing community. It is usually written by an experienced climber and/or developer of crags and routes, who is very likely to re-invest a portion of guidebook proceeds back into the development of climbing (in contrast to an app, which can easily be made by a non-climber with no reason to do this). I think a lot of climbers want to support this, and so they will continue to buy print guidebooks.
(To use the example of Kalymnos, where the last official maintenance was done in 2010, the bolts used in any maintenance since are purchased with proceeds from guidebook sales. Had it not been for this unofficial maintenance by a handful of volunteers on the island, I daresay we would have had many accidents and Kalymnos would not be as popular as it is now.)
- Given that Kalymnos is constantly evolving with new crags and many new routers, how does this effect putting together your guidebook. How do you keep track of them all?
Aris – Among the thousands of climbers visiting Kalymnos, those equipping routes are very few. I know most of them, and have developed relationships with them over the years, so it’s relatively easy to keep track of the new routes. Usually the equippers will send me all necessary info about their new routes or sectors and my database is constantly updated.
The hard thing is finding the time to check all these routes (approximately 200 new routes per year). Thankfully, it’s not so hard to find climbing friends to volunteer.
- Feel free to add any other commentary or issues/challenges that you face as a guidebook author. Happy to hear your thoughts.
Aris – The first few times I visited Kalymnos in 1999, when I saw other climbers at the island’s few crags, I happily ran to meet and talk to them. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that climbers now do the opposite (look for crags where we can be alone!) and that the restaurants in Masouri are packed. As for the guidebook, even if I sometimes wonder whether it’s all worth it, it is reassuring to meet so many smiling people who thank me and tell me they are having the best climbing holiday of their life.
One of the challenges for guidebook authors is to keep improving from one edition to the next, so that climbers will still want to buy the guidebook. For me, personally, the current challenge is to introduce the—previously unknown—cliffs in the rest of Greece in all their stunning beauty.
Last but not least, since you asked about challenges, I have already started on the next one: to make the all-new 2015 edition of the Kalymnos guidebook noticeably better than the current edition. The new guidebook is due in late 2015, and all ideas are welcome. At the moment, I am in the “honeymoon phase” of the work, meaning only 2-3 hours of computer work every day and several hours at the crag with my camera and a lot of climbing!
You can get all the information you need to know about climbing in Kalymnos, from Aris’ website …
There is also a new website for the Best of the Rest of Greece as well …