Author finds writing book on 50 favorite climbs an uphill task

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2001

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The granite pinnacle on the east coast of Baffin Island that Conrad Anker free-climbed in memory of climbing pal Mugs Stump. The enormous rock face in the Canadian Rockies to which Mark Twight successfully applied his ''fast and light'' Alpine techniques. The Teton traverse that the late Alex Lowe completed in record time despite gouging a huge chunk of flesh out of his butt.

These and scores of other climbs are featured in a new book, perhaps destined to become a classic, called ''Fifty Favorite Climbs: The Ultimate North American Tick List.''

Author Mark Kroese originally envisioned writing a sequel to the book that had inspired him as a young climber, ''Fifty Classic Climbs of North America,'' written by longtime climbers Steve Roper and Allen Steck. But he soon decided that his limited view of North American climbing -- his experience was mainly in California, Washington and Canada -- wasn't up to the job.

''I thought people might say, 'Mark who? Who appointed you?''' said Kroese, who was in Salt Lake City recently for the +Outdoor+ Retailers show. ''At least Roper and Stack were accomplished climbers. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great, instead of me choosing the climbs -- which could be controversial -- to go out and poll the best climbers in the country?' ''

Of course, Kroese then had to choose climbers. He knew at least 50 big-name climbers in Colorado alone. So he set parameters, favoring currently accomplished climbers over the sport's legendary pioneers, those with many first ascents, since they were likely to know the best routes, and those who had done seminal climbs.

Only two turned him down.

''The thing that amazed me was how people embraced this concept,'' Kroese said. ''They said this book needed to be written.''

Kroese asked his subjects to choose climbs that followed a striking line, offered great climbing and provided great views or a spectacular summit. He got a startling variety of climbs, including Yosemite walls, desert spires, Alpine traverses, Alaska behemoths, ice walls and multi-pitch sport climbs.

Four of the 50 climbs are in Utah. Eight are in Yosemite, which Kroese says remains ''the ultimate rock-climbing destination.''

Two of the 50 climbers -- Lowe and Salt Lake City's Seth Shaw -- were killed in the mountains during the 18-month project. Both their families agreed they should still be included.

Kroese interviewed 44 of his subjects in person, before a pressing deadline forced him to resort to the phone. He got to go climbing with a dozen of them.

As Kroese talked to the climbers, he began to realize that their chosen climbs were linked to compelling stories. Veering away from Roper and Steck's model, he decided to include these stories of epic survival, of pushing boundaries, of good times with friends.

With hours of transcribed tapes from each interview, Kroese found his real problem was figuring out what to cut. For each climber, he included a brief profile, a story about their climb and a route description. The climbers provided topo maps. Will Gadd's came complete with editorial comments: ''Icy cover, fun!'' he wrote beside a section of his mixed ice-and-rock route in Colorado's Glenwood Canyon. ''Get psyched!'' he wrote next to the tough final pitch.

To keep himself organized, Kroese set up a chart listing all 50 climbs with boxes to tick off the 20 tasks associated with each chapter: ''Interview transcribed.'' ''First draft done.'' ''Topo acquired.''

That's 1,000 jobs to complete. And there was nobody to delegate any of the work to. Kroese sourced all his own photographs, sent off his own FedEx packages and circulated each chapter manuscript to individual climbers for proofreading.

''I worked 12 years at Microsoft and I managed a lot of important, complex projects, and this was way harder,'' he said.

He took six weeks off after he finished. But now, after working 15 years at corporate jobs, Kroese is jazzed up about climbing again. ''I felt I'd drifted from my passion,'' he said. ''I'm more psyched about climbing than I've been since I was 20.''

The book has affected some of his subjects in the same way. Joe Josephson, who chose a climb in Canada's Banff National Park, e-mailed Kroese that the book has inspired him ''to yet another bout of Alpinism.''

''They've got to carve it out just like you and I,'' said Kroese. ''That was a great source of relief for me. Before I did this project, I'd think, 'God, Mark, you could have made it.' Instead I did the corporate America-family thing. And this just cleared it up for me. I don't have any regrets. I walked a mile in those guys' shoes and it was a tough mile.''

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Four Utah Climbs Make the List:

--1. Prodigal Son, Angel's Landing, Zion National Park Chosen by: Kim Csizmazia First Ascent: Ron Olevsky, 1981 Difficulty: IV+, 5.8, C2 Time required: one full day

--2. Sunlight Buttress, Paria Point, Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park Chosen by: Charlie Fowler First Ascent: Charlie Fowler, Steve Johnson, and Ron Olevsky, 1995 Difficulty: IV, 5.8, C1 or 5.11b Time required: one full day

--3. Tricks of the Trade, Isaac, Zion National Park Chosen by: John Middendorf First Ascent: John Middendorf, Brad Quinn, and Bill Hatcher, 1993 Difficulty: V, 5.10+, A2 Time required: two to three days

--4. Primrose Dihedrals, Moses, Canyonlands National Park Chosen by: Alison Osius First Ascent: Ed Webster, 1979 Difficulty: IV, 5.10, C1 or 5.11+ Time required: one full day

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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