Thursday, November 06, 2008

This guide’s a cracker

As one of the true believers and a Tasmanian living in Sydney, I couldn’t part with my hard-earned cash fast enough when I heard that a definitive Ben Lomond guide was in the works.

In December last year Gerry Narkowicz announced that he and Bob McMahon intended to produce the definitive guide to what is arguably Australia’s finest crack-climbing destination, the Ben Lomond plateau, near Launceston, in Northern Tasmania.

Advance purchases were called for to help bankroll the project. A handful of people answered the call, including myself and the Sydney Rock Climbing Club, which contributed $2000 to the project from the guidebook fund.

Over a year later – on November 3 – MEMORY OF A JOURNEY: Rock Climbing on Ben Lomond (Climb Tasmania Incorporated) finally arrived in my mailbox.

It was well worth the wait.

Like past works by the McMahon/Narkowicz combination, this is a thorough guide to one of Tassie's great climbing areas. In this case it’s the soaring dolerite cliffs of the Ben.

The book is well illustrated with photo-topos and inspirational pics of climbing - yes, including of the guide book’s two authors.

This last point has been used in the past as a criticism of the duo’s guides, quite harshly I think. Unlike many “mainland” crags, Tassie crags are not usually swarming with climbers – save perhaps Coles Bay and sections of Mt Wellington. This is also true of Ben Lomond, which means that there is going to be a shortage of quality pics, unless they’re taken by and of the authors who’ve spent more time there than just about anyone.

Consider this: McMahon was on the first ascent team of 221 of Ben Lomond’s 350 routes and Narkowicz contributed 75 routes.

For the mainlander (such as I now am) there is a helpful list of "immortals" or the best climbs at each grade at every Ben Lomond crag.

There is also a handy precis of climbs and their grades at each individual crag and a three-star grading system.

The book also has a lot of non-guide book stuff and includes an evocative and highly entertaining section – chiefly by Bob McMahon - about the people behind the development of Ben Lomond’s individual climbing areas.

McMahon’s writing style is engaging and conversational. Even the deliberately stream-of-consciousness Who Did the First Climb on Ben Lomond? is a lot of fun, albeit an exhausting read, but then it is subtitled Stumbling on the Threshold of Memory.

Elsewhere McMahon paints with words:

“Full of delight, I want to say, this blue sky, these rocks, this mountainside, this stream, this dead twig, this white lichen, this yellow lichen, this black lichen – but there is no end to it, this naming of things in an effort to make the present graspable, complete, to exclude from one’s existence past and future, nostalgia or desire. And one may get stuck in the past by trying to hold onto the present. That’s the paradox. The present is continual, unfolding, despite the illusion of stasis one comes across on crystal mornings”.

And then there are the images of all those glorious soaring cracklines which are a sort of poetry in themselves...