It was a fantastic coincidence. I was due to go on a weekend climbing trip to North Wales and on the Monday before my trip the new North Wales Bouldering guidebook was published. I’d been waiting a long time for this book.
The first edition had been out of print for years and it seemed that only the quick and lucky (and possibly wealthy) could buy a 2nd hand copy. From reading the periodic UKClimbing threads asking when the next edition would be published, I had the tantalising impression that the reason the second edition was still not available was because the author, Simon Panton, just kept finding more and more bouldering delights in North Wales that he could not leave out. I had been making do with the bouldering sections in Climbers Club guidebooks and in Boulder Britain, but what they covered felt meagre compared to the amount of rock in North Wales. It felt like I was missing out because I just did not know where the best bouldering is. I was therefore delighted when I found out the new edition was coming and that I would have a chance to put it to use so soon.
When North Wales Bouldering arrived in the post it was obvious why it had taken so long to write and what an amazing achievement it is. It’s a huge 667 pages crammed with over 4,000 problems. There are so many problems in this guidebook that there isn’t space for an index and there is only a brief introduction with neatly summarised information. This guidebook includes the essentials of what you need to go bouldering and little else. One little extra that is included, and which I really like, are small sections spread throughout the book with information about the geology, natural environment and history of the area immediately around the bouldering. These are fascinating snippets that can give you a bit more perspective and understanding of the area you are climbing in. As these sections have the National Trust symbol next to them, I presume that this is who wrote them.
Like most climbing guidebooks, North Wales Bouldering is organised by broad geographic areas. Each area receives a brief description of the bouldering, approach and conditions as well as a clear, simple map. Each of these areas is then grouped into smaller bouldering areas that get similar descriptions but with slightly more detail. It’s a shame that there is no destination planner of the sort that feature in other guidebooks and which provide a neat summary of each bouldering area over a couple of pages. These make planning a climbing trip easier (particularly if you are just coming for the weekend) and would certainly help navigate this very large guidebook.
The photos of the bouldering areas and the photo topos of the boulders themselves are excellent. Each problem also gets a good, succinct summary of the line. There are amazing and inspiring photos of bouldering throughout. The layout is also clear and easy to follow.
I found using this guidebook last weekend both a joy and a bit of a disappointment. I discovered fun and interesting bouldering that I had never known about and would probably never have found out about without this guidebook. However, I also found that North Wales Bouldering can only give me a limited supply of this bouldering. This is because only a small proportion of the 4,000 problems in this book are at the easier grades that I currently boulder outside. There are few problems with the UK technical grades 3 and 4 and the lack of a destination planner or index means that you have to search through the book to find them. I’d have to study this guidebook in a lot more detail to be absolutely sure, but it feels like most of the easier problems described are at the RAC Boulders, in the Llanberis Pass and in the Ogwen Valley.
I’m disappointed that North Wales Bouldering doesn’t copy the format of books like Rockfax’s Peak Bouldering with its green circuits of easier problems. It’s possible that bouldering in North Wales is mostly hard stuff and so my disappointment should be about what is available rather than the contents of the book. However, I’m sceptical that there is not more, easier bouldering available in such a large, rock-filled area as North Wales.
Perhaps strangely, my other disappointment of last weekend was that I didn’t get to use North Wales Bouldering more. It rained most of Saturday morning and so hung out in Llanberis waiting for the rain to stop. I then spent some time hunting around for places that weren’t getting the remaining showers and where there was enough dry rock to climb on. Thankfully, I did find places to boulder on Saturday while on Sunday it was dry and often sunny. I ended up having a good weekend doing some great bouldering in some fantastic locations. I wouldn’t have had quite the same weekend without North Wales Bouldering and I’m really pleased that I have a copy. I want to put it to use again soon.