Wolverine Publishing has become known for high quality guidebooks to climbing areas across the country, including our very own Rifle Mountain Park & Western Colorado Rock Climbs. We caught up with Dave Pegg, the man behind the madness, to find out how the company has grown, what the future holds for guidebooks, and what makes him tick as a climber. Enjoy.
To start out, where are you from originally?
The North of England. I grew up in Leeds then lived in Sheffield before I moved to the States. Leeds and Sheffield are big industrial cities and close to lots of great climbing.
How long have you been living in Western Colorado and what brought you here?
I’ve lived on the Western Slope for 11 years. I came to the States in the winter of 96/97 to visit my girlfriend. She was a physical therapist in Sheffield and had gotten a visa that allowed her to work in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a year. I was only going to stay for a few weeks but after leaving rain-soaked Sheffield for sunny New Mexico I didn’t want to go back. I spent a lot of time in Hueco Tanks and had some fun adventures border-hopping to Juarez to renew my visa and extend my stay. Just as I was about to go back to Sheffield, Climbing Magazine offered me a job in Carbondale. Michael Kennedy [then owner of Climbing] was awesome: he sponsored me for a working visa and green card. If it wasn’t for Michael, I wouldn’t be here. It still freaks me out to think I came here for a short vacation. Today I’m a U.S. citizen. This is my home.
Where do you spend most of your time climbing locally?
Rifle. Is there anywhere else to climb on the Western Slope?
Seriously, every year I make resolution to climb less in Rifle and more in other places, and every year I break it. It doesn’t help that the canyon is only 20 minutes from my home in Silt. I’ve done my share of bouldering and trad climbing but as I’ve gotten older I’ve gravitated toward sport climbing. (I wrecked my knee and ankles bouldering and I’ve become too much of a coward to enjoy anything more than very mellow trad climbing.) I like picking a project that’s at the limit of my abilities, pushing myself physically, and figuring out “weak-person’s” sequences. Rifle is perfect for that. It’s also home to a fun and supportive community of climbers. So many of my friends climb there that going to Rifle is a major part of my social life.
Main Elk and The Fortress of Solitude are two more of my favorite local crags. I used to live at the end of Main Elk Creek and could walk to both crags from home. I think Main Elk is the most beautiful valley in the area. Plus I love putting up new routes, and there are lots of them to do out there. I’m looking forward to climbing at The Creek and The Fortress this winter.
What was the first guidebook you wrote?
I wrote a guide to Kilnsey, my favorite crag in England. It appeared as a chapter in a guidebook called “Yorkshire Limestone.” Unfortunately, the book title didn’t stand out well against the cover photograph. People probably thought the book was about a man called “Ykshi mesto” who wore Lycra tights.
How did Wolverine Publishing start?
I left my job at Climbing in 2001. Fiona and I bought a piece of land in Main Elk Creek and built a house — we pounded the nails, did everything ourselves. When we were working on the house we saw a wolverine. Pound for pound, wolverines are the fiercest predators on the planet — a 30-pound wolverine can take down a moose and will fight a black bear. They are also extremely rare, so seeing one seemed like an omen. Our first book was the “Western Sloper” climbing guide to Rifle and the Western Slope. It was pretty primitive but it got us started.
You now feature guidebooks on everything from paddling to horseback riding, how has it evolved to the point its at today?
Everything we’ve done so far has come from the contacts we have in the climbing community or the reputation of our climbing guidebooks. Evan Stafford, one of the authors of our kayaking guidebook “Whitewater of The Southern Rockies,” is a climber. He saw our “Hueco Tanks” guidebook and contacted us because he thought there was an opportunity to create a color book of similar quality for kayakers. Other times we’ll have an idea for a book and use our contacts in the climbing world to find an author. That’s how we teamed up with Neil Beidleman for the “The Aspen Ski and Snowboard Guide.”
Today, if there’s a sport or activity that people do outside and are passionate about, we’ll consider publishing a guidebook for it. The passion is important. If you publish a $30 guidebook packed with color photographs of people jogging, no one will buy it.
We’re also interested in publishing other types of outdoor books. It was fun to work Chris Davenport and Art Burroughs on their book “Ski The 14ers” — we’d love to do more hard cover coffee-table books. We’re also looking at the possibility of publishing some mountain literature.
You have really pushed the format of high quality color guidebooks, what caused you to head in that direction?
I think if you are going to do something you might as well do it well. We’ve tried to focus on the biggest and best climbing areas: the Red River Gorge, Bishop, Hueco Tanks, Smith Rock, and so on. The thinking is if you produce guidebooks to popular areas you can sell enough copies to print them in color and spend the time to make sure they are well researched, well written, and well designed. I also think by working on iconic areas you can produce a book that people will buy as a source of inspiration and a celebration of the great climbing in those areas, not just because they want route beta. People have told me they’ve bought two copies of some of our guidebooks — one for the crag and one to put on their coffee table at home. That’s the best compliment I can imagine because it sums up what we are trying to do.
Some people think sites like Mountain Project will replace guidebooks. I don’t agree, but what do you see as the future of climbing guidebooks given all the free information available online?
Websites like Mountain Project are great if you want to research a specific route or small cliff, but not very convenient if you want information about bigger areas. Our new Boulder Canyon guidebook covers more than 1500 routes; it would cost you more in ink or toner to print that information from the internet than it would to buy the book. Plus you’d be lugging a five-pound binder with you to the crag.
I’m sure we’ll soon start seeing guidebook apps for smartphones and other hand-held devices. We’re currently working on a guidebook app, but other than that it will be to a major U.S. climbing area and present information in a different, more interactive way than a traditional guidebook I’m not at liberty to tell you much more right now.
Even if apps take off I still think there will be a market for print guidebooks. Digital media is very good at organizing and presenting data, but if you are passionate about a sport — like climbers and kayakers and backcountry skiers are passionate — you want more than just data, especially when it comes to the iconic areas. Bigger, better books that really capture the flavor of the best areas. That’s the future of print guidebooks.
Any cool new books in the works that you can tell us about?
We’re almost finished with a new comprehensive color climbing guidebook to the New River Gorge. It also includes Summersville Lake and the Gauley and Meadow rivers. The book is packed with great photographs and text you’ll want to read. The author Mike Williams has done a brilliant job capturing the rich history and colorful personalities of the climbing scene at The New. This book is going to be our “flagship” guidebook. Hopefully it take it to the next level! Here’s a sample from the history section of the book.
If you have Adobe In Design skills and would like to pick up freelance work you can do at home or on the road, contact me through our website at www.wolverinepublishing.com.