Scottish Mountaineering Club Guidebooks -The new Rockfax mobile app! Old guides a few thoughts ?

One of my first guides.

Guide Books – Over the years if your a climber you collect lots of Climbing guide books since I started climbing I must have about 50 just for Scotland! I love them especially the old guides so simple a  few lines of route description, some basic drawn diagrams some to describe a big long route. Many come with a history of first ascents and some notes on the geology etc. They became great friends and I read them cover to cover. The wonderful names of climbs each with a story and like a work of art are loved by many especially those who first climbed then and have the privileged of naming them. That is an article on it own about climbs names! Some are still controversial! Like at Creag Dubh. I have always written in my guides who I climbed with the weather and the odd note.

Old guide loads of tales!

In the old days information was fairly simple and climbing was an adventure and this was only a “guide”.  Few climbed and grades were interesting to say the least,  I remember writing in them commenting on the climbs I had done with friends and adding a date and who I climbed with.    I got slated for this but too me the Guide book was to be used and taken on trips it became part of the climb. A few were dropped down routes battered by weather and all well used.  A few were lent and never returned but most have been kept and still enjoyed, they lie on my book shelve like me getting old. We used to go through the guides especially in bad weather in a tent or a bothy and our knowledge of that mountain  area grew as did the routes we wanted to climb. The RAF Kinloss Team was renowned for some of the troops sitting reading the guides all night instead of the pub. The bothy at times was like a library as the climbing bug bit!

1954-Ben-Nevis-guide A CLASSIC

Things move on  – From the SMC

“We’re pleased to announce that our first winter package is available through the Rockfax mobile app. This bundle covers two of Scotland’s favourite winter climbing destinations, Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain, with an extended selection of the best routes and including new routes climbed since our last guide was published. To get a copy, search for the Northern Corries in the Rockfax app, available on iPhone and soon to come on Android. Let us know what you think!”

New App

So now we have apps on the phone I had already been photocopying the climbs for many years and now to have all this on the phone is great and the way forward well done the SMC.

New App

Guide books changed over the years from  the wonderful Hamish’s  MacInnes guides they were in many places a route description of one line entries” straight on up” and no grades above Very Severe ( VS) given. This guide also had black and white photos a breakthrough at the time to the magic new guides of today with great diagrams. I loved them and they were so good at opening different areas for new climbers. We tried a climb on Fuar Tholl many years ago with a one line for a big route, got lost and scared and it still scares me today.

1954 Ben Nevis Diagram – of the cliffs wonderful art work

Many guides nowadays have so much information but are too big to carry and never see a crag or cliff. Climbers now photocopied the guides for the routes wanted and used as tick list and few get into the history or some of the information on these great cliffs. Some of the old winter guides showed well-known avalanche danger spots and highlighted this in the cliff diagrams which were and still are beautifully crafted.


To me these Climbing Guides are a labour of love from the guidebook editors and contributors and a history of this great sport.  Few Guide Book editors make any money out of them and the new technology may mean that things will get harder to publish. Nowadays go on the internet and it is easy to download a climb or a diagram for the day without any thought how long it took to produce.  Progress?

1971 Scottish Climbs Hamish MacInnes – scary

My club The SMC publish Guide books and through the Scottish Mountain Trust put a lot back into the sport with the profits which help with Footpaths and various other Mountain based projects. How many know this? The new Skye Sea Cliffs and outcrops has over 300 pages and this is a separate Guide from the Mountain Routes!

My old friend Paul Williams had a great guide to North Wales many years ago, it was full of great descriptions and was so funny in places a bit like Paul. Again Paul’s intimate knowledge and love of the area shone through and the book has always been very highly regarded and is a classic! In Scotland we are blessed with so many great Guides and people like Andy Nisbet and friends adding new routes, great names and climbs for many to enjoy for future generations.

We are a privileged generation, I bet you go and look at your old guides now and give them some love and care. Grab a dram and maybe you may have a tear in your eye of thinking of these past routes. Now when is Dan back to get me climbing again?

Great days! Comments as always welcome

Peter White Chalky my old mate and who looked after me on many a route.

From Neil Reid –  “Aye, always kept a note of dates and partners. And collect old guide books too – though for sanity’s sake (and that of my wallet) I’ve restricted it to the Cairngorms.”

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Articles, Avalanche info, Enviroment, Equipment, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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