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California Road Trip
A Climber's Guide Northern California

Tom Slater and Chris Summit
California Road Trip; A Climber's Guide Northern California by Tom Slater and Chris Summit

This hefty road reference for climbers is an ideal guidebook for any climber — whether local or visitor — traveling in Northern California. It uses maps, abundant photos, topos, and in depth area information to get climbers on the path to adventure from the Pacific to the Sierra Nevada. Over 2,000 routes and more than 100 crags in the north half of the Golden State await your discovery. Get this book, hit the road, and enjoy the beauty and splendor of what can only be described as a climber's paradise.

The excellent coverage ranges from Lone Pine and Kern River in the southern Sierra to Big Sur in the southwest to Lassen National Park in the northeast to Redwood National Park and even a few crags in southern Oregon in the northwest. Climbing styles include traditional, sport, bouldering and top rope.Each crag gets rated from one star to five stars, one and two being good local crags, three being regionally famous, four excellent and five world class. Just like other Maximus titles, this guide has some awesome climbing photos.

September 2009, 456 pages, 7" x 10", full-color cover, 245 black & white photographs, 75 maps, 224 route diagrams, California Climbing Timeline, appendix of Best Climbing Routes You've Maybe Never Heard Of, plus California Facts and Trivia, Top Ten Tourist Destinations in California, Index. Published by Maximus Press.
ISBN 978-0- 9824988-0-4. trade paper

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California Road Trip:
A Climber’s Guide Northern California

By Tom Slater and Chris Summit

Reviewed by Ken Stanton, avid climber and author of Great Day Hikes in & around Napa Valley

It’s always a great pleasure to review a book on a subject close to one’s heart. California Road Trip is obviously a labor of love for authors Slater and Summit. To cover an area the size of northern California, roughly 80,000 square miles bigger than most countries in the world is no small task, and the energy and enthusiasm they bring to this project shines throughout these pages. In a book of this scale what to include and what to leave out can present many logistical dilemmas, but the authors have achieved an admirable balance. They have done this by highlighting many less known, quality crags and de-emphasizing more popular climbing areas already adequately covered by other guidebooks.

My first impression of this book was of the richness and density of material presented. So many places I’ve climbed and yet so many unknown! In fact with the acceleration of the information age, many venues once known only to locals are now on everyone’s radar. My own climbing career spans nearly forty years, the bulk of that in California, yet when I tallied how many areas I’d climbed, it came to less than a third of those featured! That alone is inspiration enough to get into shape and back on the road.

The authors have divided the book into five, easily conceptualized sections: the Southern Sierra, Yosemite/Gold Country, San Francisco Bay, Tahoe, and the North Coast, with additional subsections as needed. Each separate climbing area has an elaborate introduction. You will get an area overview, crag description, climbing style(s) traditional, sport, bouldering, top-rope , best season(s) to be there, recommended gear, other guidebooks that cover the crag, the nearest climbing store or gym, the closest gas, food and beer, along with clear, concise directions. In conjunction with written directions, clean, uncluttered maps help you find your way there. One handy feature I have not seen before is a route count showing which routes are less than or greater than 5.10, pretty much the line between intermediate and advanced. One of the stand-out features are the abundant, high quality black and white photos, with over 80 of them being full page action shots. Crag overview photos delineate most routes clearly.

Even with all this wealth of information, the guide is not intended to be exhaustive. Indeed if it tried, the book would be as big as the Oxford Dictionary. Back in the 1980’s John Harlin came out with a road trip book titled West Coast Rock Climbs covering the Pacific coast from the Mexican border to Canada. Although geographically larger in scale, the Harlin book was a standard 6 inch by 9 inch trade paperback and featured only the plums, the best of the best. California Road Trip is more ambitious, a larger 7 inch by10 inch format, and a full 100 pages longer. It will help everyone from the novice visiting his local crag to the international traveler looking for world-class destinations.

A guide like this can be incredibly valuable to a climber who doesn’t have time to ferret out the best climbs in a given area. Take for example the Alabama Hills. Back in the late 70s rumors emerged of good climbs there. On a solo visit after a Sierra backpack I spent part of a day wandering around, finding only highly eroded, ravaged looking rock, never locating the good stuff. Also, climbers of a certain age will be pleased to see that some old school ratings have been upgraded. To wit: Bottomless/Topless at Donner was 10a, now a b/c. The painful, jamcrack crux on the Bear Crack on Mount St. Helena, once known to locals as 5.8+, now gets a solid 10a rating.

Druthers: If you know an area well, you have your own opinions on the best climbs, and to see them excluded is... the way it is of course. Sometimes it may be just a matter of lack of page space. At Pinnacles, one of those excluded routes is Tiburcio’s X, a route having all the characteristics of a classic: enjoyable, challenging moves, exposed climbing, aesthetic location and a finish atop a lonely pinnacle. At Consumnes River gorge, there are fine, albeit runout face climbs on the far right side of Gutenberger Wall that are frankly more enjoyable than the featured center routes.

Admirably the authors have left off giving routes star ratings that lead to queue lines and overuse. Once in a while however they sneak in a give away word like ‘classic’, or ‘mega classic’ or ‘one of the 50 Classics’! Mega classic is the word given for The Line at Lover’s Leap and it indeed deserves it. But a less known route, Hospital Corner has no such indicative wording. The second pitch on Hospital is a dead vertical 100 foot, hand jam/stemming extravaganza with perfect pro, rivaling the much more heralded first pitch of the Line. It is my favorite single pitch at the Leap. Try it and see if you don’t agree, 90 feet up the right leaning dihedral, stemmed out to the max, totally secure with double hand jams and your belayer framed between your legs.

Few books are perfect and this one has a couple of things I wish were different. The price tag, at fifty bucks is going to jolt a few buyers to another selection. Not that it’s not worth it, it is. This one book could keep you climbing for a lifetime and your next reincarnation too. It’s just that I predict more than a few dirt bag climbers won’t be able to sling the cash for this one. Then there’s the weight, almost as hefty as the price, at about two and a half pounds. You may wish to use this book for previewing only, leaving it in the car during your hike and saving room for extra gear or a maybe a small boombox.

I was pleased to see in the contents that Mount St. Helena was rated three stars, (regionally famous, good destination). Back in the day it was kind of a backwoods destination, visited by Calistoga locals and a few hot shots from the next county. It’s one area I can speak about confidently since a friend and I put up most of the routes at the Far Side between 1988 and 1992. I found a few minor mistakes in this chapter, one or two misnamed and/or misplaced routes. A relatively recent alternative name for the Silverado Mine, The Quarry, has come into use and is reflected here. By definition a quarry is a pit dug to remove slab or block stone for buildings, or crushed for road paving. The Mine however was only used for extracting ore for gold and silver production.

In summary, California Road Trip is an enormous pleasure to peruse and use. I look forward to climbing at a number of crags not yet seen and in some cases whose existence I hadn’t even known of. This book will be a handsome addition to any climber’s library. A companion volume covering Southern California is in the works.


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