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Free Online Guidebooks Make Road Trips Even Better


 

by Sean Hudson

August 09, 2001

Free guidebooks! Now there is an idea. Say you are on a roadtrip and you want to see if there are any good climbing areas close by. Well now you can go to DrTopo.com and download free quality topos of the climbing area of your choice. This one-man project is spearheaded by Alexandre Gerrits who believes since you have to pay for access, for camping, for parking, at least you shouldn't have to pay for guidebooks.

Alexandre Gerrits had a vision to provide people with free quality topos of climbing areas across North America. It was such a strong vision that he quit school and decided right there to make it his full time job. It started as a solo act, and now he is getting some help with a slow growing following of friends that are helping him out along the way.

Camp4 caught up with Alex, while he was on the road in Flagstaff, Arizona, and asked him a few questions.

Camp4: How long has the site (DrTopo.com) been around?
Dr. Topo: Since January. After I quit school, I left on the road to work full time on the website. I have been on the road since, but I will go back home (in Quebec) after the trade show in SLC. I will rest a little bit, work on local topos and work on advertising. Hopefully, I will round up enough money to create a small team and travel together. I would also like to pay people to write guidebooks.

Camp4: How long have you had the idea?
Dr. Topo: I had the idea in November. It was in my class of Economics. I got really excited about the idea and was ready to quit school that day. Unfortunately, I had no money so I finished my semester in order to get a scholarship and also get the parental conscent (which mean a few more dollars)

Camp4: Who is behind DrTopo.com? Just you or are there others?
Dr. Topo: It is pretty much me. A friend called Baptiste made 2 models of webpage that are the base of the website and that I modify. Patrick is working on the French page of Quebec. We have many underground topos for Quebec and a small forum.

Then Antoine joined me over three weeks ago. He is taking pictures to add dynamism to the website. He took the pictures for the Vedauwoo slideshow that appeared on climbXmedia. More slide show should come up on climbX and we would like to push the collaboration further next year.

Camp4: How did it first get started? Do you provide all the topos yourself or are people actually sending them in to you? It has been my experience that it is hard to get audience participation when you first start a site like drtopos.com or camp4.com.
Dr. Topo: It is true that it is really hard to get people's collaboration. So far, I made all the topos myself. In the last month, I've been working on topos that have never been done before. People have contacted me through the website and I went to their place to make topos. I've did Vedauwoo like that. I was just at Black Mountain and the Tramway and I have to put the maps on the computer then some people will help me with the ratings and the names. I'm curently in Flagstaff working on a PriestDraw guidebook. It makes some local mad as they think it will be bad for the area, but other locals (actually, mostly from Phoenix) help me.

Some persons have contacted me and said they would make topos but I'm still waiting. I don't really expect much. When I get advertising money, I will offer a small amount to encourage people and the growth of the website should get much faster.

Camp4: Where did you get the idea for the Postcards From the Road? I like it. Who sends all the pics to you? readers?
Dr. Topo: I got that idea just before Antoine met me. I though it would be a good thing to make the website more dynamic. It end up that I take most of the pictures (with the digital camera) because Antoine use his 35mm. We try to put the postcards the same day, but because of hard-to-get internet access on the road, they often wait a few days.

Camp4: Heck, I can't think of anything else to ask. So here is your chance to talk about your project, goals, etc.
Dr. Topo: My goal is to provide a cheap alternative for travellers. I don't want to take the business out of published guidebooks. For most crags with over 150 climbs, I make a selection of the best areas. I have talked with a few guidebook authors and some like the idea. For exemple, Mick Ryan from Rockfax think it helps to promote an area and therefore his guides (because they are so well done). Other authors are mad at me. They think they own the knowledge of the area. I do all the drawings and the descriptions, but they also think that the names of the climbs are their property.

So far, I have focused on the well-known areas, but I will like to work also on smaller areas that travelers would never buy a guidebook to but would check out a few days if they had free information. There is a lot of rock in North America and I think if climbers would spread out more, we could reduce a lot the stress on the most popular places. For example, a few years ago I spend a day at the Narrows in Utah. This place has like 20 climbs, but because I had a free guide from Pusher, I checked it out and it was as fun as anywhere else.

"Now you have to pay for access, for camping, for parking, at least you shouldn't have to pay for guidebooks." We heed to share our little home crags. I would be so happy to see an American on my home crag.



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