Grayson Highlands Bouldering Guidebook: A Review
Absolutely amazing…Brayack has done it again, but better!!!Around 10 years or so ago, the climbing guidebook industry started to see a revolution. Wolverine Publishing started producing some of the first real “climbing porn” style guidebooks…by that I mean an obvious change away from the basic black and white, crudely-drawn-on-a-napkin-at-the-Mexican-joint-after-being-at-the-crag-all-day line topo style guidebooks, to the detailed, computer generated, cant-get-lost-photo-topo-and-heres-some-of-the-best-action-shots-you’ve-ever-seen guidebook. Most remember the first Red River Guidebook and the effect it has on them after first seeing it, and for me, it made me never want to look at a basic stick drawing again. Sure there’s less adventure in route finding and it keeps things closer to what the FA’er experienced many moons ago, but many climbers and boulderers want to make the most of their time at the crag, while on a once every couple of years road trip. More recently, Greener Grass up’ed the ante with the HP40, Little Rock City and Obed guidebooks, adopting the more detailed and eye popping full color, maximize your road trip style books. With the release of the Rocktown Bouldering Guidebook, Brayack Media became the here and now of the bouldering guidebook publishers! So far focusing on some Southeast gems, Dan Brayack and his authors have up’ed the ante again, providing details and clean navigating that even a thug climber could follow to the local maximum star classic!
The newest tome to be published by Brayack Media is the Grayson Highlands Bouldering Guidebook. Grayson Highlands State Park, in southwest Virgina, and in my personal opinion, the BEST “Southeast” summer bouldering destination! When even the boulders littered around Grandmothers and Grandfathers Mountains near Boone are getting a little too hot and steamy to make it worthwhile, Grayson has a cool shaded spot with a breeze to send and grin at. Not only does it have some of the best southeastern summertime bouldering, but it has some of the most amazing scenery…and to top it all off, it has wild ponies! Bouldering in the Highlands when a wild pony walked up to watch me top out, is by far one of the most incredible and memorable moments of my 20+ years of bouldering!!!I’ve been following the development of Grayson Highlands State Park since it first appeared on Mountain Project in 2009. Aaron Parlier was cornering the market on some incredible bouldering routes in southwestern Virginia and posting them up in rapid speed…and as a southeastern boulderer that had been looking for the perfect summer spot for a long time, this was pretty exciting for me! Here in the Jocassee Gorges, it takes me 4-4 ½ hours or less to hit all of the GOOD southeastern boulderfields (like HP40, Rocktown, and Little Rock City/Stonefort) and these are all late fall-winter-early spring areas. Boone is only 2½-3 hours to Lost Cove, Grandmothers, 221 and Blowing Rock and has traditionally been the summer spot to hit…but even Boone has its point of diminishing returns for a boulderer when the heat and humidity rise too far and frequent thunderstorm that keeps the pebbles soaked, making a road trip less and less appealing. And then there was Grayson…4-4½ hours away, with all of the Boone boulders on the way, and one of the most beautiful bouldering areas you could imagine! A not so secret bouldering area among Boone and southeastern locals for decades, but no one had systematically went through and developed practically every possible route they can on each boulder, as they came to them, until Aaron. Badasses like James Litz and Steven Pope are attributed for plucking many of the plums, but Aaron began to fill in the gaps and make Grayson a really good all-around bouldering area. The route entries became encyclopedic quickly and the appeal was there in spades the following summer of 2010 when we took our first trip of many.This guidebook is another photographic knockout, just like the previous Brayack Media release, the Rocktown Guidebook! The vivid colors, perfect lighting and sharp details pop off of the page like you were wearing 3D glasses! The information in the guide is spot on and invaluable to a perfect visit to Grayson, but the photos alone are worth amazing enough to warrant buying this as a coffee table book.
There is minimal wasted space in the guidebook, very little filler and the ads are strategically placed so you barely notice them as you thumb through looking for your favorite problems. The meat of the 160 page book are the various problems and ins and outs of the specific bouldering areas with dominating and stunning photos, but in less than 10 info pages the Introduction is an incredibly valuable resource to understanding how to get to Grayson, where to stay, a little history and the nuances of the boulderfields and problems.
The book begins with the Table Of Contents, which in this guidebook is truly a valuable tool because of the spread out nature of Grayson. There are 6 different parking areas that lead to 9 different bouldering areas and hundreds of boulder problems…a quick reference like the Table Of Contents, along with the color coded headings for each area, make it easy to narrow down your search quickly.
Next the Grades, Stars and Symbols used in the guide are covered…which is pretty helpful also. The guide uses 5 different colors to signify difficulty of routes on the photo topos; V0-V2 in black, V3-V5 in Green, V6-V8 in Red, V9+ in Blue and Projects in Yellow. This helps narrow down the routes in each boulderers range when looking at any random photo topo, and easier to find a route in any area you’re at, heading past or finding warm ups near your project. Grayson is also based on 4 stars, common on Mountain Project, so this is helpful for those used to a traditional 3 (or even 5) star system.
The basics of where Grayson is located and the best way to get there from Boone and I-81 are covered, followed by driving times from various southeastern and east coast cities (as well as Hueco Tanks, Bishop and Squamish). A map of the surrounding area of Kentucky and The Red River Gorge, West Virginia and the New River Gorge, Virginia and McAfee Knob, Tennessee, and North Carolina and Boone, Rumbling Bald and Looking Glass helps keep things to a regional perspective for a possible extended road trip.Grayson Highlands State Park itself is covered next, with a Park Map of the different bouldering areas and a Bouldering Overview that includes a brief description of each area and some history of major developers over the history Grayson. Trip Beta is covered with details of camping (which is pretty sweet for a pull up/car camping area), cabins, park hours, fees, average precipitation, and high and low temperatures. To round out the trip info and details of the state park a list of Grayson’s Greatest boulder problems is presented next to make sure you hit some of the high notes as you peruse your way through the magical forests and windswept highlands of Grayson State Parks.
Each of the 9 areas are introduced with a description, driving directions and approach beta. From there, each of the boulders or clusters of boulders are detailed with a brief description followed by each individual problem. The classics and overall best problems in each area are brilliantly spotlighted with an eye popping full or double page action shot with the description of the route tucked away in the corner. This is another great way to easily guide you to the best problems, no matter where you are in the park.
Wrapping up the book are 2 helpful Indexes, one based on grade and the other, an alphabetical one so you can locate each individual problem rapidly.On our most recent visit, with the guidebook, I was able to find and send problems I had tried to locate almost every previous visit I had made to Grayson…like the amazing Foot Kaput and Ballad Of Love And Hate. I had never been able to understand the lay out of the Listening Rock Trail that well from Mountain Project descriptions, but it was super easy to find my way to all of the boulders and tons of great problems I hadn’t seen before! Another great thing about the book is that it articulates with Mountain Project and creates the basis for finding new classics that have been posted online after the guidebooks publication, truly enhancing the value of both the guidebook and the hundreds of pages and pictures on Mountain Project.A nice write up about Aaron Parlier, the author, is included at the end with some basic biographical info and thanks (including one to me…thanks back ‘atcha Aaron!). In all honesty, this guidebook would only be a shell of a nonexistent area if it weren’t for the author and primary developer of Grayson Highlands, Aaron Parlier. Since I first met Aaron, he’s been as nice as I could have imagined for a developer in the Southeast…encouraging me to visit and put some routes up, unlike most developers that like to keep the pot of gold for themselves. Arriving at the park for that first July 4th vacation, I ran into Aaron up in the Highlands Area, walking up as he was on one of the most iconic lines in the park, Horizon Line. Let me tell you, this was the best way to meet Aaron and get familiar with Grayson, all in one of the most beautiful bouldering locations you could ask for! I was hooked on Grayson from that moment on!!! Since then, Aaron has been hard at work developing the area into the now 800 problem destination that Grayson is. Aaron has a background in the military, where afterwards he attended Virginia Tech for undergrad and is currently in grad school at Appalachian State University. Aaron’s humor and wit shine throughout the book and let you in on his true personality.
At the very end of the book are a couple of paragraphs about Dan Brayack, the incredible photographer, layout guru, topo magician and publisher of the Grayson Guidebook. This is Dan’s 3rd guidebook after Coopers Rock and Rocktown and with the new Rumbling Bald Guidebook on the horizon, he’s truly laying the cornerstones of his publishing company on experience and some of the absolute best bouldering areas in the Southeast and United States. Dan’s vision of the future of guidebooks is exciting to see and see the results of! I would like to share an experience I’ve had with Dan that shows his dedication to making the best guidebooks around. Upon posting my review of the incredible Rocktown Guidebook, a critical comment was posted about the perspective of the topos, the individual boulders and the photo topos. A poster was unhappy with the change of perspective from each of these spatial views and felt it too confusing to find their way around easily. Dan responded to this legitimate comment with a very professional rationalization of why he did this and went one step further in this guidebook by placing small cameras aimed in the same direction the photo topos were taken, on each of the boulder or cluster topos to clear up any confusion. This showed a lot to me…Dan is willing to listen to what the customer and average boulderer thinks and wants and is willing to modify his approach to make sure it’s the absolute best guidebook he can release. Dan, my hat is off to the incredible job you do to represent our areas to the best possibilities!