How to Write a Guidebook

Charlie Barrett is writing a guidebook on bouldering in Yosemite National Park’s Tuolumne Meadows. How does one write a guidebook? Charlie explains how he ended up with this job, that it’s not as easy as it sounds, and why he thought Tuolumne Meadows would be the perfect place to write about.

I used to climb routes in Tuolumne Meadows when I was a 16-year-old kid. But, I quickly realized that the hardest moves I wanted to do weren’t going to be on a rope here. I started bouldering at all the classic, roadside areas and soon started looking for new boulders and areas to satisfy my newfound bouldering love.

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After years of searching and wandering around the woods with my friends, we started to realize Tuolumne Meadows was on its way to becoming a major bouldering destination. I remember talking with my friend Chris Falkenstien, a rope-climbing guidebook author, and he asked me to help out with a small bouldering section in the back of his route-climbing book. We ended up writing about five or six pages on bouldering, a tiny amount for what the sport was to become.

Years later, I asked him if he thought a full bouldering guidebook could be a book in itself. He thought yes. But it took until a few years after that conversation, when I was sitting in Rifle, Colorado, fresh off an injury that occurred while sport climbing, and the Tuolumne bouldering guidebook idea popped back into my head. I called Chris to see what he thought about doing the book over the next few summers. His reply? “We were just waiting for you.”

Charlie's desktop during guidebook-writing season.
Charlie’s desktop during guidebook-writing season.

About two years ago I finished writing the Mammoth Bouldering Guidebook, which took a whole year to write – figuring out the programs, cameras and how to take proper notes. So now with a new area to map, look through and climb, I’m overwhelmed! So here I am today, working away on this new project. I go to bed at 4:00 a.m. and wake up at 9:00 a.m. to start working and researching again. But I’ve come to realize making a guidebook isn’t just work; it’s a pleasure, a chore and a lifestyle I wouldn’t change for anything.

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