The guide is spiral-bound A4 format, with just over 100 pages, covering 291 rough-stuff routes, ranging from easy paths to high routes involving glacier crossings. The routes are graded, from Easy to Very Severe, and there is also a grading of "scenic quality and interest". The guide has some well-reproduced colour photos, which I thought added a source of inspiration for the reader. There are also appendices on tips, equipment and maps, as well as a valuable index.
The area is split up into 16 chapters, each of which generally covers one or more Cantons or Lands. Each chapter begins with an outline map, which shows clearly the location of the routes described. Although it is fairly easy to navigate between the sections, as some routes from another chapter are shown at the edges of the maps, I think a newcomer to the region might have appreciated an overall map, showing how the sections fit together.
This is described as the second edition of the guide, being an updated version of the OCD/RSF [Rough Stuff Fellowship] guides, but it seems that the aim of the guide has, I think sensibly, been changed to be more of a planning resource. The first edition came (like the other OCD guides) in smaller unbound sections that could be folded up to take with you and it also had detailed maps of each route. In this edition, the outline maps are augmented with thorough details of the maps to consult for more information. Perhaps this wouldnt suit the cycle tourist aiming to do just one or two roughstuff routes during a longer trip, as they might not want to buy (say) a 1:50 000 map just for one day. However, I think the format works well for exploring possibilities before a trip - and individual pages could easily be photocopied, or even unbound, to take with you.
The sources of the details of the routes vary widely in date, from the 1950s to 2000, but each route has its source(s) clearly listed, with some references to Cycloclimbing for more details. It must be said that the name "Fred Wright" crops up with great regularity! Hopefully the guide will prompt more up-to-date reports on those routes not so recently visited - and especially the 59 routes listed which have not had a reported crossing.
It is slightly difficult for me to comment on the details of the routes in the guide, as most of the roughstuff routes that I have done have been written up for Cycloclimbing and thus I find myself quoted in the guide. And unfortunately, I think the Editor would have been reluctant to finance a weekend trip to the Alps for me to "test-ride" one of the routes described, quite apart from being a bit early in the year for some of them yet. However, reading some of the routes that I have followed in walking trips, the descriptions sound perfectly plausible. The details appear clear and helpful, with many interesting comments on surroundings, history, sources of food and water, or even overnight possibilities.
This is an excellent book, for which Fred is to be greatly congratulated. I found it a most enjoyable read and, perhaps most importantly, its given me itchy feet (or wheels?) to get out on the bike again. At such a reasonable price, everyone should have one!
First published in OCD Cycloclimbing magazine No. 97 (Winter 2002).