Guidebook Review: Rocktown

by dpm | 12/04/2012

Guidebook Review: Rocktown


My first trip to Rocktown, Georgia  was about a decade ago. I'd already been to more famous areas like Hueco Tanks and Bishop so I was a bit skeptical while driving up the windy gravel road to the summit of Pigeon Mt. Georgia. We whipped into the empty cul-de-sac parking lot and stepped out into a pretty patch of forest that looked like everywhere else in the East; just a bunch of trees, a little stream, and not a speck of rock in sight. Armed with some crappy internet topo, we set off down the trail, hoping to not be shot by ever-present hunters, looking for what I thought would be a few overhyped egg-shaped turds shat out by the southern tip of the Cumberland Plateau, a geologic sandstone belt that tapers off right about where we were standing.

When we got to the first area, the Orb area, I knew I'd been wrong. The Orb (V8) itself is the first thing you see; a perfect series of arching slopers up a steep and smooth belly of perfect stone. The rock was some of the best I'd ever touched and made for a memorable trip of backsplats, thin skin, and great times.

On a return trip eight years later, the parking lot was packed. The secret was out and had been for quite some time but there still wasn't a proper guidebook. Everyone knew about the great bouldering but half the people were still grouped up in the main areas, sticking to the classics because it's all they knew. It was time for someone to step up and write a guidebook to one of America's best bouldering areas.

Local Sean Kearney and Zak Roper took the task and enlisted photographer Dan Brayack to act as publisher. Rocktown: A Comprehensive Bouldering Guide is Brayackmedia's first book and it's a good one.

The first thing that stands out are the excellent photographs. Being a pro photographer himself, Dan took nearly every photo in the book, and he took a lot of them. Over 200 full color action shots grace the pages of the 176 page book which means that on average, there's just more than one on every page. In addition to the excellent action shots, even the pictures of the boulders (with lines drawn in to show where the problems go) are excellent, often utilizing artificial light to accentuate the unique features and details including holds.

One of the greatest challenges with creating a Rocktown book was surely mapping the area. On a first visit it seems that clusters of boulders are just scattered about the relatively flat mountain top. I found myself wandering from cluster to cluster and randomly popping out at an area I'd already been to, completely turned around. Quality maps ensure you'll find what you're looking for. An overview map in the introduction gives a broad perspective, showing the breakdown of the 7 major areas that form the chapters. At the beginning of each chapter is another overview map that shows each area and its further breakdown into smaller, more manageable clusters with individual boulders shown.

Overall, the book possesses all the characteristics of a modern full-color, quality guidebook. Adequate, but not overly-detailed, route descriptions and a minimum amount of fluff keep the book at a manageable and lightweight size. One thing that I personally found lacking was the introduction section. It's completely effective including: notes on the hunting season, amenities, how to get there, access and etiquette, camping, and fees, but I'd like to see a bit more. There is no information on the geology of Pigeon Mt, one of the most unique geologic locations in the East including the deepest, unobstructed underground pitch in the continental US, not to did all those rocks get there? I'd also like to see at least a little history. Understandably, documenting the history of bouldering is very difficult since very little trace is left by first ascentionists, but I think at the very least a small history of the boulder field should be given. A few words from prolific Rocktown climbers, past and present, could also accentuate just how special the area is. That said, it's the absence of those extras that keep the book minimalist but effective for getting to the boulders.

Dan Brayack has provided the following photos and captions for a glimpse at this beautiful area. All photos are copyright Brayackmedia. To purchase a copy of the Rocktown guidebook click here. 

The Sherman Photo Roof and name-sake problem "Sherman Photo Route" V7 is a steep and highly featured roof typical of Rocktown, featuring brilliant movement up obvious lines of holds. Instead of the standard grab bad hold, stick next bad hold, these problems require technical and sneaky footwork. Dan Brayack working the problem.

Julia Statler sending the classic "Asphalt" problem (V4.) This problem is typical of the classic Rocktown bouldering problem in that it starts under a low roof and follows long (and sometimes dynamic) moves through perfectly gritty edges culminating with a typical HP-40 style sandstone topout. The problem got its name because the crux hold (which Julia is sticking with her right hand) is a perfect triangle pinch hold.

The Scoop (V2) is one of the most iconic features at Rocktown. Simply named, the "Scoop" is featured like someone took a giant ice cream scoop and carved out a section of rock, making a perfect and precise cut. The climbing up the Scoop isn't exceptionally unique or good (really kind of a scramble to a topout,) but just looking at the scoop, one has trouble wrapping their mind around just "HOW COOL THE THING IS!"

The Dugout is one of those features at Rocktown that is just sort of "Out of Place" in a really good way. A lot of the routes climb mario-esque mushrooms, however, problems on this feature, including the most obvious line "Tunnel Vision" (V6) climb a techy and thin vertical face to a super steep and mostly clean roof. You still get a hard, feet-dangling top-out though! Kim Shelton working the problem.

The name "Campus Punks" (V5) is actually a joke. Obviously this intense and thin slab is anything but a campus problem, rather a balls-to-the-wall slab, sand bagged in the southern fashion. Though this problem is an eliminate (the left arete is off), the climbing and sheer perfection of stone and the holds on this route make this one a 4-star classic. Julia Statler sending the problem.