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Red Rocks: A Climber's Guide Editorial Review

Submitted by vegastradguy on 2007-10-21 | Last Modified on 2010-03-26

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by John Wilder

By vegastradguy

Guidebooks are a troublesome thing. To start with, itís impossible to please everyone, and so no matter how diligent you are, as a guidebook author, youíre bound to upset someone. Usually for either being too specific or too vague- go figure.

In Red Rock, the history of guidebooks is probably in line with many other areas. In the beginning, there was the Red Book- the original guide to Red Rock by Joanne Urioste. This book was an excellent guide- it included picture topos and very general descriptions of the routes- usually pitch by pitch for the more classic routes. Next came the Swain guide and its later incarnations- the Falcon Swain being the most recent. Everyone loves to hate this book, despite it being far more comprehensive than Joanneís guide, it was riddled with vague information, and perhaps most famously, very short approach times (multiply by three, and thatís the real time, is something youíll hear from a fair number of people). Finally, thereís the Brock guide- the true behemoth of Red Rock, this guide included far more routes than Swainís, but unfortunately, because it was pushed to press sooner than it was ready, it was riddled with so many errors that it has become a joke among locals. Personally, I have yet to go out to any location in the book and have the information be correct. In between the Brock Guide and Swain there was the Supertopo, which was probably the most accurate guidebook ever printed for Red Rock, its only downfall being a limited number of routes.

Enter Jerry Handren- a long time local climber who, according to rumor, has been working on a guide book for the area for the better part of a decade. Rumors of the book became more concrete last fall when Jerry let it be known that the book was indeed going to be published and began asking for information and photos. Iíll be the first to admit- another guidebook? The Falcon guide was last printed 5 years ago, and Brockís was published in 2005, and now another book so soon? Then the rumors started getting more specific- friends had seen the initial proofs and they looked good. Really good. On September 21st, 2007, Red Rocks, A Climberís Guide arrived at Desert Rock Sports and after talking with Travis (the owner of DRS) and then Jerry himself, I managed to get a copy for review.

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The beautiful cover of the new guidebook.
Jerry Handren
The beautiful cover of the new guidebook. Photo by: Jerry Handren.

At first glance, the book is beautiful, the cover shot portraying Simon Peck on a stout 5.12b in Juniper Canyon- exemplifying the rock that we as locals know is plentiful throughout Red Rock but visitors may not have seen before. Previous covers have shown excellent climbs, but sometimes the rock doesnít look as exquisite as it does on Handrenís cover. The book, in other words, is beautiful. Not unlike the recent Indian Creek guidebook- it makes you want to purchase it, even if youíre not planning a trip there any time soon.

As far as overall presentation goes, Handrenís book is so much better than previous books that itís not even fair to compare. The book is full color- every photo, even every topo is glossy and rich with color. The photos are also nothing short of incredible- itís obvious that Handren went to great lengths to shoot every topo photo and many action photos in just the right lighting conditions. He also used many photos from other climberís photo albums, riddling the book with shots of average climbers on moderate routes- a nice touch.

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While not a moderate route, this shot is a good example of action shots you can expect to find throughout this guide.
Jerry Handren
While not a moderate route, this shot is a good example of action shots you can expect to find throughout this guide. Photo by: Jerry Handren.

The number of new trad routes is also impressive- itís obvious that Handren not only talked with locals, but he used the internet as a big part of his research- especially Mountain Project- to get information on as many new routes as possible. So just about every new route that was put up until Spring 2007 and was published online or talked about is in this book. The book also includes extensive information about the area, how the book should be used (definitely a must read!), and a sweet tick list in the back of the book for both sport and trad routes at a given grade.

When looking at guidebooks for Red Rock, one of the first routes I check is Cat in the Hat. The reason is because this route is ridiculously popular, and it also starts on a west facing wall and finishes on an east facing wall. The approach takes about 40 minutes or so, and Iíve never seen a good topo for the route. The best attempt thus far has been in the Supertopo, but because the route is three dimensional, even Barnes had a tough time with this one. Handren solved this problem beautifully. The route in his book has a full color picture shot from across the canyon and above the route, giving you the only full view of the route possible. Then, right next to this photo (on the same page), a full color topo that gives an excellent impression of the route.

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The Cat in the Hat photo- taken from across the canyon and high above the route- note that Handren highlights the classic route in red- he does this throughout the book to prevent confusion with nearby routes.
Jerry Handren
The Cat in the Hat photo- taken from across the canyon and high above the route- note that Handren highlights the classic route in red- he does this throughout the book to prevent confusion with nearby routes. Photo by: Jerry Handren.

The second route I check is Tunnel Vision, another Red Rocks classic that usually has some problems with the topo due to the tunnel on the route. Iíve heard of more than one person climbing the outside of the tunnel because they didnít realize that the dotted lines represent tunneling. Handren again puts together a beautiful color topo with a bold ĎThe Tunnelí mark with an arrow indicating the entrance to the tunnel. I also noticed in this topo a comment about the tough traverse off the deck that is a hallmark of this route. Upon further inspection, Iíve noticed that on moderate trade routes, Handrenís beta is close to that of Supertopoís when it comes to certain comments. Itís certainly not as extensive, but it definitely illuminates certain routes better and I think gives a more friendly feel to the book without overdoing it.

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the Tunnel Vision topo- notice the various different colors for each route and the comments for Tunnel Vision and its neighbor, Group Therapy.
Jerry Handren
The Tunnel Vision topo- notice the various different colors for each route and the comments for Tunnel Vision and its neighbor, Group Therapy. Photo by: Jerry Handren.

The book also includes rack information for many climbs, but unlike Supertopo it keeps it fairly vague. It does, however, go beyond Brocks and Swainís when it comes to needing rock climbing gear outside of a standard rack. If specialty gear or specific quantities of gear are needed, Handren makes it known to the climber. I like this approach- it lets me carry my preferred rack for unknown routes, but at the same time, I know that if I want to climb, say Crawfordís Corner, Iíll need triples in the 1.75Ē-2.5Ē range- a good thing to know!

Finally, Handren made sure to get some history and detailed information into his book. Along with having Larry DeAngelo (our local historian) help write the history in the introduction, he goes beyond Swain and Brock and gets some fantastic writers to contribute essays to the book. Joanne Urioste, John Long, and Larry Hamilton all contribute excellent essays to the work, and Handren even has an essay from Jed Botsford, our local BLM guy who gives a detailed history of BLM involvement at Red Rock and what the current status of the land is and where the fees go.

The book is not perfect, of course. There are a few typos here and there, but nothing that would prevent you from getting to and completing the climb without too much trouble. The one major difference between this book and many other guidebooks is that Handren does not use the commitment grade system (I,II,III,IV,V), nor does he use ĎRí and ĎXí on his climbs (with some exception). Instead, Handren chose to use the actual height of the routes to gauge commitment, and discusses run-outs within the first paragraphs of the route description itself. A good example of this is Rock Warrior- a famously run-out route on the Black Velvet Wall. Handren spends the first paragraph discussing why and how the route is run-out rather than just mark it with an ĎRí. While most will appreciate this method- letting information about the route help them decide rather than relying on the authorís opinion of the route, others in a hurry may miss the fact that the route theyíve chosen for the day is a bit more serious than they anticipated. Finally, the biggest negative of the book is its hefty price tag- at $36.00, the book is not cheap. However, given the fact that it is full glossy color in its entirety, includes hundreds of new routes and a few new areas, Iíd say its well worth the price.

Red Rocks, A Climberís Guide can be purchased online at: or locally at Desert Rock Sports in Las Vegas, NV.

Full Disclosure: The publisher of this guidebook provided it free of charge to and then provided it as compensation to the reviewer for his or her review.


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19 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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This is a great Guidebook. The pictures and routes are spot on. Good beta on logistics. This book is the next level in climbing guide books.
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5 out of 5 stars I can't comment on the book since I havn't seen it, but the review is excellent and gives me an informed opinion of whether I should buy it or not if I every make it that far south.
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Having recently visited RR, and used this new book it was indeed easy to use. I like to browse a guidebook before a trip and the only book I could get locally was Brock's book. Too bad I couldn't get this new one. Worth the money.

Another option to guidebooks are the topo's available from Desert Rock Sports. I think they are also worth a mention here as they are of the same calibre to this new book. A small, highly detailed, laminated card; it contains approach, pitch descriptions, topo, and descent info. They are currently available for about 29 routes and cost $2.99 each. Not exactly a substitute for a guidebook but an excellent supplement. Handy and cheaper than a whole guidebook if you're only around for a couple of days.

I'm not affiliated with the producers although I did meet one of the guys involved. More info at :
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nice review VTG. looks like a really good guide.
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I was able to check out this book for the first time this past weekend. This book is vastly superior to the last (red) guide book and I plan on purchasing it soon. Many new routes, better descriptions, and better information in general. I also agree with most of the reratings of the starage(tm) of the routes and difficulties.
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I wasn't going to buy this book because I own all the other red rocks guide books and the $36 price tag. But damn! I saw it first hand at DRS and cursed the fact it so good. Had to have it. It's really that good, there goes my gas money!
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Exellent review.

I am alway apprehencious about blind buying books before I get a chance to hold the book in my hand.
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I headed to R.Rocks this past weekend and purchased this book which is vastly superior compared to the other options at a first glance. I climbed at the first two pullouts and not being quite established with the trails found the book as a perfect guide to get to the walls my group wanted to climb. Excellent real pictures and topo's of every wall. The best guidebook I own for any climbing area.
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i ordered the book on monday, and its in my hands today.
the two day delivery is awesome.
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I've seen the new book and I must say that I'm a fan. The glossy pages, detailed route descriptions and full color photos are definitely awesome. You get much more for you $30 then you do from any other book I've seen.
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This is the best guide book I have ever bought. Well worth the price even if you own the others.
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Excellent guidebook. Used it for both multipitches and sport routes.
And the price, hmmm, most guidebooks in EU cost 10-20 $ more.
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5 out of 5 stars Outstanding guide book. I have the Swain version as well, and this one is vastly superior. Well written, outstanding COLOR photo's, good descriptions and new routes / areas well covered. Nice.
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This is a great book. Just returned from my first trip there, the color pictures were great. Seemed like every other person had this book.
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This is a great review. I like all the examples you gave from the guidebook. And this is a great guidebook as well. So much better than any of the previous books. It's so nice to have correct information and photos with the routes drawn in. Well worth the money!
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5 out of 5 stars I was in the market for a Red Rock guide book, but had been unimpressed with any of the previous guides. After reading this review I knew I needed to see this book. Luckily I was able to find it at a local shop. The guy at the shop couldn't say enough good about the book and I agree. I wish more guide books were like this. It's only limitation is that topos are only included for the very popular routes; however, there is a photo of nearly every wall.
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5 out of 5 stars vegastradguy, and publishers of this book: thank you. Planning my first trip to Red Rocks, and will be purchasing this.
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This guidebook rocks and really is the one to use and have. Topos and info. on pitch lengths and raps and descents, not to mention the photos, is invaluable.
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5 out of 5 stars Well-written review. This new guide is very nice, but not perfect (nothing is, I guess). As with other areas I've been to, it was good to have more than one guidebook for cross-referencing; the Swain book helped fill in for some deficiencies in the Handren book, and vice versa.

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