Marc Bourdon relaxes in a chair at the Squamish Adventure Centre and wraps his fingers around a cup of coffee. He is a tall, quiet man with the lean face all guides possess. He begins our conversation by asking me about my ankle injury, and as his face crinkles in sympathy, I can see why the guiding company he used to own and operate, Squamish Rock Guides, is one of the more popular in the area. He answers all my questions in the manner I imagine he climbs and leads: with precision and quiet confidence.
He confesses that this guide book, the second edition of the popular Squamish Select, has taken a while to put together. Because he runs his business by himself, it’s hard to find chunks of time to dedicate to the project. And chunks of time is indeed what one needs when putting together a project of this size. “You have to do a lot of field work and research,” he says.
He’s not kidding. He did all the photography of the cliffs and crags himself – no easy feat when you are looking at snapping pics of over a hundred cliffs. And what Squamish is blessed for having – hundreds of trees – is a hindrance when you’re trying to make sure you’ve got light on your cliffs for photos. “The trees cast shadows in the sun,” says Bourdon. “Ideally, you want to shoot the cliffs on a bright, high overcast day.” But wait, there’s more. Both the cliffs and the ground need to be dry; a wet cliff will reflect the light and muddy ground will dampen the light. All this means there are only a few weeks a year that Bourdon could take pictures, most of which are around the summer solstice when the haze is gone and the days are clear. Even then, he had to really plan which cliff he would visit at which time. He would watch the weather forecast and he often went out to a particular cliff in advance of the shoot, just to confirm the time it received full sun. “There is a lot of sitting and waiting,” he says. “You don’t want to show up at the wrong spot at the wrong time.” Especially if you’ve spent forty-five minutes hiking to that cliff, and you have many to shoot in a small weather window.
Bourdon’s hoping the hours of walking, waiting, and planning will pay off. The second edition boasts new photographs, all in colour, with colour-coding to indicate whether the climb is a sport or traditional route. Bourdon spent a lot of time wrestling with the decision to colour code the routes based on style. In the second edition of his bouldering guide book, which came out two years ago, he chose to code the routes based on difficulty. For this edition, he says that more people will probably want to flip through the book and find out if an area offers sport or traditional routes. “In the end, protection trumped difficulty,” he says.
Although the guide book is a select, which means Bourdon has chosen an assortment of popular routes and cliffs, it is anything but minimalistic. “I tried to make this book to show the best of this area, in a manageable size, at a fair price,” he says. In addition to the numerous photographs, there are topographic maps and icons, both of which help readers who don’t speak English. Bourdon has toyed with the idea of writing a comprehensive version, but the reality is the book would be over six hundred pages. “This is a huge area,” he says. “There are thousands of climbs across a variety of genres. Most people don’t want to pay or carry a six-hundred-page book around, especially if they are visiting. Why would they pay seventy dollars for a book with ninety percent of the routes they won’t use?”
All this begs the question: how does one select the climbs that go into the book? At this, Bourdon leans back in his chair. “It’s a struggle to deal with an area of this size,” he admits. Choosing the climbs is a subjective process, but Bourdon used as much of a scientific method as is possible. He first drew upon his vast experience from living, climbing, and guiding in the area for over twenty-five years. As a guide, he used the Smoke Bluffs extensively. “I’m familiar with what worked, and what didn’t,” he says. He also read a lot of websites, most notably 8a.nu. Through the sites, Bourdon was able to determine which climbs were the most popular. The third piece of his trifecta technique was consulting local references, namely Colin Moorhead. “He knows Squamish like you wouldn’t believe,” says Bourdon. “He said ‘These are the routes you should put in’, and made a list.” Bourdon used the list to plan his photography sessions.
But even through all of that, the process of choosing is tough. Bourdon admits that no matter what, an author’s preference will leak into the selection. At the front of the climbing section, he has included a Top 100 list, which he is confident will be controversial. “How do you choose your one hundred favourite climbs?” he asks. “It’s kind of impossible.” Climbs from his favourite area, the Grand Wall, will certainly be on the list. “It’s such an incredibly, sheer, clean face,” he says. “The exposure from that high route [The Split Pillar and The Sword] is unparalleled in Squamish. There is no vegetation, except for the lone tree at the base of The Split Pillar.”
Not all the routes in the second edition will be five-star, though. Bourdon’s philosophy when putting together the book was that if he included a cliff, he included it in its entirety, even if some of the routes aren’t high quality. This explains the ghost and skull and crossbones icons. The icons indicate that a climb is dangerous, but Bourdon believes it’s important to include them so climbers can identify all the routes of a cliff, and not struggle to figure out which of the seven climbs on the wall in front of them is the one that is highlighted in the book.
At the end of the day, the second edition will be three-hundred-and-sixty-eight pages, just a hair over a hundred more than the first edition. It will include new areas like Area 44, Cat Lake, and Squamish Valley. To help reduce confusion on where a multi-pitch begins (a large occurrence on the Apron), Bourdon has put in pictures of the starts, as well as a shot looking up to the first pitch.
For those who are new to Squamish, Bourdon has made a two-page spread asking Where Do You Want To Climb Today? He then guides climbers to the best area, depending on their objectives. There is also a kid-friendly category that includes places that are safe to take kids, as well as a list of climbs for kids and novices.
The new edition should hit the shelves on or around June 15th, 2012 for the price of $33. But if you’re itching at the fingers to get a copy soon, you can pre-order it from Bourdon’s website and get a discount.
And if you don’t get lost on the route you’re climbing, send Bourdon an email at the end of your day. After all, guides always want to know they have taken you safely to your place of joy.