A Colorado Springs man is moving forward on a guidebook that has divided some in the region's climbing tribe who would rather Pikes Peak's precious rock be kept secret.
Phil Wortmann, 43, expects his self-published "Alpine Adventures on America's Mountain" to be on city shelves later this summer. The book is the culmination of a revered climbing career locally; since the late 1990s, Wortmann, a school teacher, has raised the bar on the peak, ascending cracks and crags never achieved by pioneers of past generations, while maintaining a humble, generous reputation.
"Alpine Adventures on America's Mountain" represents one of a kind. The only comparable record of route descriptions is colloquially known as the "Golden Book," a collection of hand-written notes protected by a local shopkeeper since the '60s — for certain, worthy eyes only.
"If there's anyone that should be writing the book, it should be Phil," said Brian Shelton, a longtime member of the sport's regional guard and co-founder of nonprofit Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance. "There's no question he's got the knowledge, he's got the experience up there."
The question of simmering debate, however: Does anyone have the right to reveal beta that has historically been kept to tight circles? Could the guidebook be an invitation? Like formerly hidden wonders across Colorado, could those above Pikes Peak timberline be subject to overcrowding and degradation?
Explaining his motive to friends and idols has been "uncomfortable" and "stressful" at times, Wortmann said. Outspoken naysayers, he said, are indeed outspoken.
"What I try to tell them is, it seems like every year there's more information on the internet about it," he said. "And all that information, it's this is how cool it looks, this is how amazing it is, and you should go. But there's nothing out there to say, this is how it's gonna kill you, this is how you're gonna impact the environment up there if you're not careful.
"It's not like we can go up with everyone and give them a tour. People are gonna go up there. The hope is this can help educate."
The first pages of the book are dedicated to "please don'ts," a long list requesting visitors pick up trash and step on rocks rather than the fragile alpine tundra, for example. Wortmann said he reached out to Pikes Peak Highway personnel for advice — rangers who patrol the road and tend to drivers who embark into the wilds from parking pull-offs.
"Several" climbs have been left out of the book, Wortmann said. "Because I thought it would have a negative effect on the relationship between the highway and climbers."
Banned access would be one concern of increased popularity, said Stewart Green, another co-founder of Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance, with time on the mountain dating to the '70s.
"But I think the biggest concern I have as well as a lot of other climbers is the additional placement of permanent bolts," he said.
The hardware is central to sport climbing. That style, with gym-bred practitioners flooding such places as Cañon City's Shelf Road, has not fit into the proud culture of Pikes Peak alpine — "a true adventure arena," Green called it, true to the "rope, rack and shirt on your back" phrase.
A bolt war — one side placing and another side chopping — would be the last thing America's Mountain needed, Shelton said. In light of Wortmann's book, Shelton said he's heard threats. That could mean a greater strain on rangers.
The highway's manager, Jack Glavan, struggled to foresee a significant climbing rush. "It seems like it's only the real experienced ones that come up," he said, adding that the few are "respectful" and "work with us."
Shelton and Green recognized other barriers, such as the fee to drive the highway and the short, seasonal window to climb; those properly prepared know that afternoon storms threaten and that their car must be down by the tollgate closing time.
While neither supporting nor opposing the book, Shelton and Green expressed careful confidence in Wortmann.
"I know Phil is real respectful of climbing traditions around here," Green said.
In one gesture of blessing, Wortmann was given yellowed pages from the sacred "Golden Book." This came as he reached out to old-time climbers while writing.
"I think just by telling their stories, it makes the place more important and more significant," Wortmann said. "That's where we get that value of place."