Review: Tuolumne Bouldering by SuperTopo

by Tom Markiewicz on August 17, 2009

Back in 2002, I had a business trip to Silicon Valley and took a long weekend to head to Yosemite for some bouldering. There was only a smallish guidebook to the Valley bouldering at the time, but it was enough to get around and for me to sample the bouldering.

Since it was the middle of July, I was wise enough to head up to Tuolumne Meadows and avoid the 100+ degree temperatures and hordes of tourists. Unfortunately, there was no guidebook, but several climbers gave me rough direction to The Knobs.

As I was trying to figure out the correct parking pulloff, I saw what appeared to be an obvious looking climber. I pulled over, asked for directions, and was given tons of enthusiastic beta for the area. As I parked and gathered my gear, I kept thinking that guy looked really familiar. Then it hit me. It was Ron Kauk. He and Sterling Johnson were filming for their newest climbing video at the time.

In what was a completely random event, I and a few other climbers had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon bouldering with Ron and watching him climb some Tuolumne boulders as part of their filming. The combination of the beautiful scenery and spending the afternoon with a climbing legend will always hold a special place in my climbing memories.

So when Chris McNamara of SuperTopo asked me if I was interested in reviewing their new Tuolumne Bouldering guidebook, I excitedly accepted the offer.

If you’re familiar with other guidebooks from SuperTopo, then you’ll know what to expect as this guide follows their tried and true format. If you’re new to any of their guides, then you’re in for a great surprise.

This is the first edition of the guide, just released this July 2009. What I love about SuperTopo’s business model is when you buy the ebook, you receive three years worth of updates.

With tons of full color pictures, the Tuolumne Bouldering guidebook by Chris Summit is an excellent resource for over 20 Tuolumne bouldering areas. This thin book is only 72 pages in length but covers everything you need for each area including:

  • number of problems
  • best time of day
  • difficulty range
  • driving directions
  • the approach

I particularly liked the blend of problem guide pictures with climber action shots of many areas. I believe the trend toward full color guidebooks is excellent as it can solve the old problem of not being able to see the routes on black and white images (anyone remember the old Seneca Rocks, WV guidebook?). The photos of problems in Tuolumne Bouldering use a picture of the boulder (with no climber) superimposed with a red line outlined by white and a problem number corresponding to the text. Very visible and easy to follow.

The guide’s introduction also includes everything you need to plan a trip to Tuolumne Meadows especially the all-important weather and lodging information.

For each bouldering area, Chris Summit (yes, he says that’s his real name!) provides an overview plus some historical context where applicable. There’s also two mini articles by John Bachar and Ron Kauk.

I was also pleased to see a star rating for each bouldering problem. I’ve been seeing too many guidebooks moving away from this and it really disappoints me. I understand that placing a quality rating on a climb or boulder problem is subjective, but regardless it gives the reader a baseline to see what stands out above the rest. Chris uses a star rating of one to four where every problem gets at least one star. I would have liked to have seen what this meant. Is one star worthwhile or just so-so? A legend/guide to the star rating system would have been useful.

But looking at the star rating system leads me to a question. Are there problems with zero stars and if so, were they not included in the book? The back of the guide says it includes the best boulder problems in Tuolumne so I’m assuming the crummy ones were left out. This can be good and bad.

I’d say that while Tuolumne Bouldering covers over 275 boulder problems, I’m always a bit wary of “best of” or “highlights of” guidebooks for an area. Mainly becuase I end up needing to warm up on a bunch of problems and they occasionally are less than stellar. Are these then not included? I’m usually more inclined to see everything and then make my own decisions about what to avoid based on star ratings. My apprehension was completely appeased though with an appendix in the back of the book that lists other areas worth exploring and possibly not completely developed yet. The obvious advantages to a best of guide are the smaller size and a conciseness that allows you to focus on hitting the best problems.

If you’re interested in checking out the format of the guidebook, SuperTopo offers a free PDF chapter for the Tamarack Boulders.

Overall, this guidebook is a must have for any climber planning to visit the area and do some bouldering in Tuolumne Meadows. I wish this was available for my first trip years ago. Even if you only have eyes for the classic routes, take an afternoon to sample the bouldering and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

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