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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

New climbing guidebook highlights region’s best boulders

Kristin W. reaches the top of Queen for Queen in the McLellan area, a photo from “Spokane Bouldering: A Comprehensive Guide to the Spokane River Valley.”  (Benjamin Boldt)
Kristin W. reaches the top of Queen for Queen in the McLellan area, a photo from “Spokane Bouldering: A Comprehensive Guide to the Spokane River Valley.” (Benjamin Boldt)
By Julien A. Luebbers The Spokesman-Review

To put it simply, there are a lot of rocks in Spokane. Too many for any one person to remember, even when you narrow them down to just the good climbing boulders.

From parks near downtown to the woods and wildernesses in the surrounding landscape, the Spokane area offers a heck of a lot by way of boulders.

For years, local climbers have discussed cataloging the region’s bountiful stone offerings, but the scope of the project proved to be too intimidating and nobody stepped up.

Finally, in 2016, Nate Lynch and Shane Collins took the monumental task upon themselves. For the next five-plus years they tracked and climbed hundreds of boulders across the region, compiling detailed directions, notes, ratings and names.

“We just decided we were those people, not because we were qualified, but because no one was going to do it,” Lynch said.

The pair initially chose to develop an app that would allow local climbers to contribute to a running list of climbs, but inconsistencies and development hurdles put that idea to rest. In the end, they settled on a book because of its accessibility and simplicity.

“Spokane Bouldering: A Comprehensive Guide to the Spokane River Valley” is a catalogue of over 700 local boulder problems, all within a short drive of Spokane. It’s enough material to keep new or weathered climbers entertained for years, especially as they work their way into the region’s more technical, higher-graded climbs.

Each boulder problem comes with directions, a short how-to of each climb (what climbers call “beta”) and difficulty and quality ratings, as well as graphics and photos. The book is easy to use, sorted by region and color-coded by difficulty, so climbers of any level can access a long list of options.

The process of making the book required more than just field research. Many of these climbs have histories, often difficult to track.

“Some people have really good memories of what they’ve climbed and what they called it and where it was, and other people don’t at all,” Lynch said.

Where they could, Lynch and Collins took existing names, passed on through the climbing community.

“We did a lot of research,” Collins said. “We talked to every single person that we could that developed the area.” But where they couldn’t, they had to put their own creativity to work, naming many of the book’s climbs and uncovering a few along the way.

Where many guidebooks will leave unnamed projects unnamed, Lynch and Collins decided it was important to name them for future clarity. To quote the book’s introduction, “everything has a name whether legitimately christened by the true first ascensionist, poached by a random kid with no knowledge of the history, or labeled en masse by two guidebook authors with no imagination and an aversion to climbing ‘unknown’ problems.”

“We named everything that didn’t have a name,” Lynch said. “It’s not hard to come up with stupid names for things.”

Though it is written to be a useful tool, “Spokane Bouldering” doesn’t take itself too seriously. Lynch and Collins weren’t about to let the utility of the book override the fun nature of the sport and its culture.

The writing is witty and humorous, filled with quips and climbing lingo to keep the reading light (there’s a list of terms in the back to help translate).

“What we wanted the readers to understand and feel is how much fun that we had” making the book, said Collins.

Even though they called on the expertise of local crushers (climbing lingo for very good climbers) Collins and Lynch geared the book toward a different group: “This book is for the person who doesn’t really know anything about climbing but is super interested in it and wants to know what is around in the area,” Collins said.

It’s also for someone who “has been climbing in the gym for like four years but hasn’t gone outside,” said Lynch. Without a book, the local options can be overwhelming.

So far, the book has been an unanticipated success, selling over 100 pre-order copies.

“We had really, really low expectations going into this,” Collins said. “And the feedback so far has been fantastic.”

The book is a must-have for any climber looking to explore the local bouldering scene, and if you haven’t taken up a pair of shoes and a boulder pad yet, you might want to after flipping through.

According to Lynch and Collins, Spokane bouldering is not only plentiful and diverse, but incredibly convenient. Some of the climbs in their book are just 10 or 15 minutes from downtown.

“Spokane is really lucky that we have these areas so close,” Collins said.

Even though they’ve climbed hundreds of problems and photographed even more, the duo agreed that the area has more to come, and said a new edition is in the works.

“I would say untapped potential in the Spokane area has not hit its limit,” Collins said.

Climb the book’s 700-plus problems, and there will still be more to explore.

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