Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review -- Red Rock Odyssey

This article was originally published in the April 2005 issue of Climbing magazine. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author, a senior AAI guide.

Red Rock Odyssey: Classic Traditional Climbs
By Larry DeAngelo and Bill Thiry
Verex Press; $24.95

Throughout the years, dozens of books have illustrated the history of major climbing destinations like Yosemite Valley, the Alaska Range, and Joshua Tree National Park. Until recently, one area has been conspicuously omitted from North America’s literary climbing scene. Red Rock Odyssey, by Larry DeAngelo and Bill Thiry, stands alone as the first book to explore the history, the characters, and the routes that laid the foundation for the modern climber’s experience in Red Rock Canyon.

DeAngelo and Thiry have put together a book that, at first glance, appears to be a guidebook. With chapter titles that are also route names, it’s quite easy for a climber familiar with Red Rock to come to such a conclusion. However, the route names are merely a means to access the history of the canyon. The authors have compiled a book that includes essays written by first ascentionists, stories penned by modern climbers, a history of the area, and route information, which cumulatively paints a picture of both the past and the present of Red Rock Canyon. Clearly, the work could be used as a guidebook, but the authors intent appears to be more oriented toward literature than simple route guide.

Red Rock Odyssey looks closely at the people who have influenced Red Rock’s history, and their exploratory climbs. Early ascents by Joe Herbst, George and Joanne Uriosite, and the legendary guide Randal Grandstaff, are detailed with interesting anecdotes, comic stories, and sometimes even with bitter tragedy.

There are moments in the book that stand out as humorous. Alex Chiang, one of the book’s essay contributors, wrote an entertaining story about climbing a route the “historical way.” In an attempt to see how the first ascentionists felt, DeAngelo convinced Chang to climb with nothing but old-school tube chocks, hip belays, and nylon swami belts. Chang – a relative newcomer to long trad routes – comically recounts his feelings as DeAngelo hands him one-inch webbing for a swami belt and tells him he can “save weight by leaving the ATC.”

Along with the comedy, there is also tragedy. Though DeAngelo and Thiry chronicle the untimely deaths of Randal Grandstaff and a modern local climber named Lee Stout, the vividly written story of a third climbing-related fatality is the most striking. In 1980, Betsy Herbst was high on a wall when she suffered a stroke. The ensuing epic of descending with her and finding medical care was a nightmare of the worst kind.

Along with a storied history, Red Rock Odyssey provides route information and excellent photos of the climbs, which are chronicled throughout the book. This guidebook element is a welcome addition to the literary work, and greatly adds to the overall flavor.

Joanne Urioste’s original 1984 guidebook to climbing in Red Rock is dedicated to “the Paiute Ghosts that haunt the Red Rocks.” DeAngelo and Thiry expertly pay homage to a different set of ghosts that dwell within Red Rock Canyon. These are the ghosts of climbers both alive and dead, who, through their adventures and their love of the place, made Red Rock a world-class climbing destination.

-- Jason D. Martin

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