• Timmy O'Neill

The Red Book

Lessons from Yosemite’s first climbing guidebook

“I have this idea,” Mikey texted last October. “Let’s climb all of the suggested routes from the Yosemite red-cover guidebook.” I agreed immediately. The tattered copy of A Climber’s Guide to Yosemite Valley arrived in the mail less than a week later. First published in 1964 by the Sierra Club, it was the first stand-alone resource for the hundreds of routes put up over the previous three decades.

I was intrigued by the idea of experiencing those early days of Yosemite climbing and seeing this place I knew intimately in a different way. He texted one stipulation, “No online research, we can only use the info in the guidebook.” A project like this could take multiple seasons to tick off the recommended classics, which apparently ranged from “short scrambles to the most demanding routes yet accomplished.” A few looked short and relatively easy, others would require long days, and the majority read like historic footnotes scattered across the Valley.

Even though Mikey and I had met over 20 years ago scrap-jumping leftovers in the Lodge cafeteria, we’d yet to tie-in together. The fact that it would be to uncover old-school choss piles and not to establish a new-wave test piece was a nod to our roots as toilers in search of obscure challenges. It was appropriate that all the climbs we’d be pursuing were put up before we were born.