A review of SuperTopo

My Collection of SuperTopo Guidebooks

Yesterday I posted a review of my favorite guidebook publisher, High Col Press (which I will be updating soon), and today I am going to look at another one of my favorite companies: SuperTopo. Founded by renowned climber Chris McNamara in 1999, SuperTopo has been publishing beautiful climbing guides with excellent topos (for my non-climbing friends, a topo is a drawing of a route), detailed climbing history, entertaining personal stories and stunning photography. Like High Col, the authors are climbers who, if they haven’t climbed every route in their guide, have climbed nearly all of them.

I own 8 books by SuperTopo: Big Walls, Alaska Climbing, High Sierra Climbing, Red Rocks Climbing, Yosemite Valley Free Climbs, Yosemite Valley Bouldering, and Tuolumne Free Climbs. Prices are generally around $19.95, with Alaska Climbing & Big Walls costing $29.95, so these books are pretty affordable, and considering the content, well worth the cost.

While most of the books published by High Col (at least the books I own) strive to be comprehensive (and as a consequence they run from 360-456 pages in length), the volumes from SuperTopo are much more selective in scope, focusing on the respective subject area’s best climbs. Two different philosophies, yet both High Col and SuperTopo do an excellent job publishing high-quality guides.

Part of what I like about SuperTopo is that they do not strive to simply show an area’s most popular climbs, rather, the authors focus on a nice balance of great climbs that can be popular, but also hidden classics and forgotten gems, thereby avoiding adding to the congestion that tends to occur in places like Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne. For that they deserve commendation.

My favorite of the guides I own (reflecting my passion for alpinism) is the Alaska Climbing guide. Written by the late Joseph Puryear (who was tragically killed while climbing in Tibet), this guide gives route information for the classic routes such as the West Buttress route on Denali (aka Mt. McKinley), the Infinite Spur on Mt. Foraker, and the West Ridge of the Moose’s Tooth, but also reveals little-known classics such as the Sultana Ridge on Foraker and the North Ridge of Mt. Russell (this mountain is remote enough that its summit has only been stood upon by something like 6 parties). The pictures in this book in particular are nothing short of staggeringly beautiful. No book I have ever owned has made me want to go to Alaska like this one.

High Sierra climbing by Chris McNamara is another one of my favorites, revealing lots of lesser-known classics in the Range of Light, such as the various arete routes on Temple Crag – Venusian Blind, Moon Goddess Arete & the Sun Ribbon Arete. Other intriguing routes like the North Arete on Bear Creek Spire and the South Face of Charlotte Dome, while well-known, get a fresh look in this book.

Just like High Col Press, I really don’t have many misgivings or criticisms about what they produce. Sure, I might like a more comprehensive guide to certain areas, but that isn’t what they are about, it isn’t what they set out to do, so why whine when they do such an excellent job?

All in all, SuperTopo is yet another small publishing company that has set out to make guidebooks that stand apart and they have succeeded very well in doing it. I am certainly going to purchase more of their books in the not-too-distant future.


A review of High Col Press

The five High Col books I own

I love this company. Bar none, these are my very favorite guidebooks. So far, I have purchased five different books: The Waddington Guide, Selkirks North & South (2 volumes), Bugaboos, and most recently, Alpine Select.

What makes this High Col so fantastic? It really cannot be traced to any single element, but it is the overall details that make these guides awesome. Great photographs, superbly detailed route descriptions, writers who have climbed many of the routes and fine overviews of climbing history and geology are all part of what makes each edition of these books a worthwhile investment. Certainly these books are not inexpensive, but considering how much care and thought and effort goes into each one, then really, they are a bargain.

Consider the Bugaboos guide, written by Chris Atkinson and Marc Piche’. The first guide I purchased to this area was the book by Randall Green and Joe Benson, published by The Mountaineers (another one of my favorite companies), and while there was a decent amount of information, the pictures were fair and it was easy enough to understand, if you compared these two guides, there really just isn’t any comparison. The Bugaboos is one of the most amazing, spectacular alpine climbing areas in the world, and the Green and Benson guide really didn’t do it justice, while the High Col version is filled with dramatic aerial photography, comprehensive route information and truly gives one an appreciation for this special place. I mean no disrespect to The Mountaineers or their authors, but anyone looking at both books would have to say the same thing.

Another cool thing about High Col Press is that many of their books are literally the first comprehensive guides to their respective areas. The Waddington Guide is a prime example. Located in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Waddington and the outlying peaks of this area comprise another world-class venue for high-level alpinism, yet little has been written about this range, which, in all fairness, is understandable considering the remoteness and the limited number of climbers that make the effort to climb here. Thanks to Don Serl, who has made the range his own personal playground, this area and its namesake mountain now has a guide worthy of its greatness. This was also the first book I bought from High Col, which at that time was known as Elaho Press (the Elaho is a river in B.C.) I have been dreaming of climbing Waddington (and Combatant, Tiedmann and Munday) ever since I got this book.

The two-volume series Selkirks North and Selkirks South by David P. Jones is another couple of books that bring a less-known range into the climbing public’s awareness. There were a few books written about the Selkirks before, but none can come close to being as comprehensive as Jones’ books. The coolest aspect of these guide? There are numerous peaks, especially in the Northern part, that have not been climbed yet. Astounding! Before these books came into my possession, I just assumed that North America was fairly tapped out of first ascents, but these books really opened my eyes. Certainly many of these unclimbed peaks  have since seen first ascents, but just knowing that there is a range that isn’t in Alaska or the Yukon that still has virgin summits is kind of cool. The irony of this is that the Selkirks, in many ways, was the birthplace of alpinism in North America. It’s almost like people started the trend of climbing there, and then just forgot about it.

Alpine Select, my most recent acquisition from High Col, is written by the owner/founder Kevin McLane. While not focusing on a single range or area like the other volumes in my library, this book casts a wide net across Southwest British Columbia and Northern Washington state, bringing the best of many ranges into a single volume, from the North Cascades to the Thiassi Range. Like the other guidebooks, this book has a nice blend of ice climbs, alpine rock climbs and even a few easy glacier plods.

The Banff Mountain Festival Book competition has nominated four volumes for their prestigious award (the award for climbing guides),  and on three occasions (Selkirks South, the Bugaboo Guide and Canadian Rock: Select Climbs of the West) they have won the top award in the Mountain Exposition category. Impressive indeed.

So what kind of criticisms do I have for High Col press? Well, there aren’t any that I can think of, although I would live to see them make more books to more areas. And maybe a buy-five, get-one-free option. Honestly, if there was one company I would point to if I was giving advice to anyone wanting to make a guide, it would be these guys. They are about as close to perfect as guidebooks can get. So much love and care is put into each volume that it would be difficult to find fault with what they do.

Here are the rest of the books that they have published and are going to publish in the future (not including the books I have already written about): Canadian Rock: Select climbs of the west (Kevin McLane), Skaha Rockclimbs (Howie Richardson), The Climber’s Guide to Squamish (Kevin McLane),  West Coast Ice (Don Serl), Cordillera Huayhuash (Jeremy Frimer), Squamish Trail Guide (Kevin McLane). Upcoming: Canadian Alpine Classics (Kevin Mclane, Marc Piche’ and Chris Atkinson – I am super excited about this one), new volumes of the Squamish and Skaha guides, Central BC Rock (an E-book by Lyle Knight), and Alpine Select Canada (Marc Piche’, Chris Atkinson and Kevin Mclane – a companion guide to Alpine Select).

In summary, if you are looking for a great guidebook for Western Canada, or you are like me and buy guidebooks even if you aren’t planning a trip to the area, then look no further than High Col Press. They are worth every penny you pay. Plus, I really like supporting smaller companies like this, especially when they make a product that is superior to nearly everything their competitors make. Be sure to check them out.