Imagine this: climbing is your passion, your life, your raison d’être, so much so, in fact, that you leave a lucrative electrical-engineering job to make guidebooks. And then, to ensure those guidebooks’ accuracy, you maintain yourself as a ripped physical specimen so you can climb (and establish) routes across the entire grade spectrum, up to 5.14b/c (Walk of Life, Allgäu) and V13/14 (Feuerwalze, Schwäbische Alb). This is the case with Harald Röker, 39, a German lifer now living in the crag-dense Allgäu.
With his brother Uli, the congenial Röker runs the GEBRO Verlag publishing house (est. 2005), which has produced 11 guides (16 editions) to Euro destinations: the Frankenjura (first English-language books); bouldering in Tinos, Greece; the first-ever bouldering guide to the Alps, covering about 32 areas in northern Italy; and southern Germany’s Allgäu, with its 26 bouldering areas and sandstone/limestone/conglomerate sport crags. Röker established at least 500 boulder problems around Allgäu while writing his book, a big jump from the sub-100 routes previously there. “Doing new problems and making the guidebook for them,” says Röker. “Life could be worse.”
When did you get into climbing? Around 1977. My brother Uli was fascinated by climbers at the Reußenstein at Schwäbische Alb, so he bought a 30-meter rope and some pegs, then started to climb with self-made rope ladders at the clay quarry near our house. Once a year, our parents took us to the Wental crags at the Schwäbische Alb, and we climbed the rock towers with mostly self-made material, like nuts made from wooden slats and harnesses made of slings.
How did the guidebook business come about?In 2001, I had surgery for a dislocated left shoulder. All went well with the operation, [and afterward] I quit my job for at least half a year to climb. I was bouldering a lot in the Alps, and made topos for myself. I moved to Allgäu, and many people asked for info on the Alps bouldering, so the idea was born to make a guidebook: the Blocheart. My brother quit his job then, too. In the past, he’d made topos for the Frankenjura just for fun, but everyone said, “Hey, you should make topos!” And so it was that we founded GEBRO Verlag.
What attracts you to writing guidebooks? The more areas published, the fewer people will be in any one area. The challenge is to write the books really well. When someone wants to enjoy his rare holiday days, he should not spend those days searching for the crags!
Tell me about your unending motivation for new climbs. Doing a new route or problem is always special—a bit like Christopher Columbus in miniature. One really inspiring thing was the first ascent of a 7a problem on a Tinos boulder, overhanging on all sides and not one easy way up. When I stood on top, I think I was the first human on the stone ever. Not really important, I know, but somehow a strong feeling.
It can also be a lot of work, no? Sure. Last year, I developed a conglomerate crag here in Allgäu, steep with big roofs. The rock is very, very smooth and pocketed, so you have to use glue-in [bolts]. On one climb, it took me about three days to bolt, one day to clean the loose rock and dirt, and one more day to clean each hold and climb the route. I was in the harness fi ve to eight hours a day.
You’ve repeated blocs like Atomic Playboy (V12) in Fontainebleau. Do you keep a scorecard? This system of scorecards destroys a bit of sport climbing’s spirit, destroys a bit the honesty in the world. Climbing for me is the rock and nature, solving problems that nature has put up. A scorecard is so far away from all that is climbing for me.