Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview > Greener Grass Publishing > Stone Fort Bouldeing Guide

There is something about climbing guides, well written and laid out climbing guides that allows the user to find an area and it's climbs quickly and easily. We've had some proper shite guides, Noodles can relate stories about Fontainbleau where finding a climb involved two guide books, a rabbits foot and pot luck; we can show you the printed out Val David guides that involve the use of a divining rod, three satellites and napalm strength bug repellent to find a climb.

Stone Fort used to be like this, but now the bullet white sandstone has a saviour who goes by the name of Andy Wellman & Greener Grass Publishing

You're going to wonder where you know the name Stone Fort, it's probably because if you follow the Triple Crown one of their stops is at this area right down by one of our favorite climbing areas HP40

When you first open the book the format is clean and simple and once you get past the adverts (people have to make money I guess) ; the page on bouldering ethics (you SHOULD know these already) you start to get into the meat of the area with all of the details you need to know; land access and right etc the guide starts.

The layout is clean and simple with the areas (sample shown above) having their own write up, an overview map of that area and then the problems listed one by one with nice big color photos and lines to show you where the route actually starts and get this where the climb ends... so there can't be any spraying about being off line or not completing a climb :)

If that wasn't enough add inteviews with people like Luiz Rodriguez & Marvin Webb (the co-owner of Rock/Creek Outfitters (super fun read btw)) and then a whole host of really nice photos of people like Lisa Rands, Jason Kehl, Nic Oklobjia from some really quite respected climbing photographers it almost seems like a shame to take the book outside and trash it in the dirt :P

We liked the book so much we decided to have a sit down and chat with Andy, the guides author:

Name and job:
Andy Wellman – owner of Greener Grass Publishing.

So you aren't just the guide book author you're the owner of the company that publishes the guides?
Yes, I am the owner of the company that publishes the guidebook, and in the case of Stone Fort Bouldering, I am the author as well. This is the first guidebook that I have ever written, though. In most cases I work as a publisher to help authors produce their books.

How long has Greener Grass Publishing been publishing guidebooks?
I began Greener Grass Publishing in March of 2009, so it has been around for about a year and half at this point. Before that I worked as an editor/designer/ and sales and shipping guy for Wolverine Publishing, another guidebook publisher based in Colorado. Stone Fort Bouldering is the second book published by Greener Grass Publishing, the first one was Horse Pens 40 Bouldering, written by Adam Henry.

You sent us the new Stone Fort guide, it's a thing to behold, how long did it take to put together?
Thanks, I’m glad you like the book. The book came together in two phases, both of which had tight deadlines due to the financial considerations involved in starting and maintaining a business. The first stage was researching the information, which took me about four months. At the time that I started collecting info I had already been living close to the Stone Fort and climbing there about 2 days a week for the previous 8 months, so I had a good idea of what I didn’t know about the place, and would need to find out. During this phase I drew the maps, wrote the descriptions, took all the boulder photos, lined up the support from the key players, met with climbers out there to get tours of things I didn’t know, and arranged all the essays and interviews in the guide, as well as the action photos and advertisements.
The second phase was the design and layout phase. I took all the raw info that I had collected and in one feverish 6 week span created the whole book that you see. I worked for 8-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for 6 weeks to get it all done. It was brutal, it’s much more fun to work without a deadline.

There are lots of interesting interviews with some characters, who was your favorite to talk to?
I’m not sure that I could pick a favorite. Talking to everyone was interesting because they each have a different story, and everyone I would talk with would tell me things I didn’t know. Meeting Jeff Drumm and Luis Rodriguez out at the Stone Fort one steamy morning was really fun cause they showed me so many problems that had been lost to time. There were things that were buried in moss that I never could have dreamed had been climbed that they had stories about doing 10 years before.

There were actually lots of people that I never managed to get in touch with, which I would have liked to have talked to. Everyone I talked to would give me a list of a bunch more names, and soon I had way way more names than I could track down, find the time to talk with, or fit in the book. If there is another edition down the road, hopefully I can fit more history into the book.

What grade do you climb?
This past winter while working on the guide I was bouldering V8’s on a good day.

So how many of the routes from Stone Fort have you actually climbed?
I’m not exactly sure, but I’m guessing around 400. I guess I should use the tick list from the book to find out!

Any stand out lines that spring to mind?
Way too many. Grimace, Heroin, Celestial Mechanics, Instinct, Tennessee Thong, those are probably my favorites. Moderate classics like the Wave or Tristar I climb pretty much every time I go there.

Do you have any projects there still?
Yeah, lots. There are way too many to name.

How are the descriptions of the climbs written? Is it just you or did the areas developers help?
The descriptions were written by me. The previous guide to the area was in the form of a little pamphlet put out by the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. I wanted the book to be unique, so I set out to rewrite descriptions for everything without plagiarizing. I set out to climb or attempt every single problem that had ever been done there, and after doing it or attempting it for a while, I would speak the description into a digital voice recorder, then type it up at home later. At first I set out to record 40 new problems every day, a goal which I didn’t come close to meeting for a couple weeks. By the time I was done I was recording 60-70 problems a day. Plenty of days I would encounter friends out there and would have to make excuses to not join them on a rad project, instead I would keep bouldering dirty obscure problems alone.

After I had the first draft done, I started meeting with climbers out there to help me fill in names I didn’t know, or whether certain projects had been done or not. I was also shown a lot of problems that I missed, which I described with the help of the people who showed them to me.

All of the areas are very well described and the maps well laid out and labeled, that must have taken loads of time to get into a readable format. How many iterations did you do of these?
The maps were actually not too hard to make, but I really enjoy making maps and dork out on it a lot, so for me it was really fun. It took me about 6 days to draw the entire boulderfield by hand on paper. Then I took all those pieces of maps and scanned them into the computer, and rescaled and fit them together like a puzzle into one big map. Lastly I colored them in to make them look nice. Every map in the whole book is just a piece of the one big map, which is the overview map in the front of the book. So no matter what map you are looking at throughout the whole book, it is all the same map, drawn the exact same way, oriented in the same direction.

The hard part is numerically labeling the problems in the maps and photos. It is an extremely detail oriented task. I printed out copies of my finished map, and then walked around the boulders drawing in the problems. I could spend a couple days doing that, and then someone would tell me about some problems that I missed. At that point, I would have to renumber the problem descriptions in the text, and the photos, and the maps. This happened more times than I can count, and the attention to detail required is certainly enough to drive one nuts.

The photos are pretty nice as well, from some pretty big named photogs... were there any that you wanted to put in but couldn't?
Not really. I solicited everyone I knew that had photos, and if they took the time to send me stuff, then I made sure to include something from them. My goal was to have the action shots represent the boulderfield as a whole, which I managed to do – easy problems as well as hard, with an equal representation of all parts of the area. In an ideal world, each “model” would only have had one photo in the book, but you have to work with the material you have, and there were plenty of people with their face in there more than once. There were certainly some local climbers that I would have liked to have photos of, but couldn’t find any. It was also a goal to have a local on the cover, but again, I had to choose the most stunning shot, which I think worked out well.

Stone Fort used to be closed to climbers, were you part of the SCC (Southeastern Climbers Coalition) that helped open it up?
The SCC and the Triple Crown Bouldering Series negotiated the open access that we as climbers have today in 2003. This effort was spearheaded by Chad Wykle, Jim Horton, and Dawson Wheeler. I had nothing to do with any of this, and of course owe these guys, and the SCC, a huge debt of gratitude, as we all do.

Chad Wykle and John Dorough still work with the owners of Montlake Golf Course on climber access related issues on nearly a weekly basis. I worked closely with these guys making the Stone Fort Bouldering book, and they are certainly going above and beyond for climbers, the SCC, and the Triple Crown, to keep everything working as smoothly as possible at the Stone Fort.

I have been climbing for the past 15 years, and have touched stone in pretty much every corner of the US. Along the way I have met literally thousands of climbers, and enjoyed hundreds of different areas. In that entire time, I have never seen such a seemingly hopeless access situation turned into such an overwhelmingly positive one as at the Stone Fort. And despite the fact that there are climber advocacy organizations affiliated with virtually every climbing area in the country, not a single one of them can boast anything like the incredible successes that the Southeastern Climbers Coalition has managed time and time again. That is a tribute to their leaders and members – cheers to all those people!

Did you start writing the guide before the areas were officially open to the public?
I began work on the guide way after the area was open to the public, so that was never an issue. However, the owners of Montlake Golf Course had instituted a cap on the number of climbers who could climb at the Stone Fort on any given day, due to overuse problems they had experienced in the past. So, it was generally accepted amongst the community that a guide like this one would not be allowed.

But, through the continued work and negotiations of Chad and John, and the climbers respecting the new rules and cleaning up their behavior over the previous few years, Montlake was becoming open to the idea of more open access, and was considering new rules which would back off some of the previous mandates (these new rules have since been instituted). I heard about these new developments through the grapevine and so began working on the book. I was not super confident that I could pull the whole project off, so I chose to keep it a secret for a while as I began work. After a month or two, I had good momentum on the project, and knew it was time to bring everyone on board. So I dropped off a copy of the new Horse Pens 40 Bouldering guidebook made by Greener Grass Publishing and pitched Montlake on the idea of a similar guide. The managers at Montlake are not climbers, so it took a number of discussions before we were all on the same page, but in the end they were thrilled with the idea, and supported it fully.

What other guides are on the way?
There are a few in the works that I don’t want to reveal. But I can tell you that the next guide from Greener Grass Publishing will be a comprehensive guide to the sport climbing, trad climbing, and bouldering at the Obed River Gorge in Tennessee, written by longtime local and developer Kelly Brown.

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