Greetings fellow climbers. My name is Frank Marino. I'm a career Animation Director and long time climbing enthusiast. Stone Quest is my new venture combining my love of bouldering with my love of dragons. I produce high quality poster art- area maps displaying the locations of each area's best and most popular routes along with some of my fantasy artwork. I've worked hard to curate select lists, locate the climbs, and design a flow and aesthetic that honors the natural beauty of each area. It's a self fueling endeavor. The mapping fuels me to produce the best art of my life which in turns fuels me to produce better and better maps and I'm excited to share these creations with the climbing community.
Stone Quest was born out of the frustration of wasting so much valuable time searching for the bouldering routes I wanted to climb whenever I had the chance to get outdoors. I'd walk in circles back and forth trying to make sense of hand drawn topo maps, sometimes standing right on the Mountain Project marker with nothing around, and even sometimes giving up on finding a route altogether. We've all been there. Steep terrain, crash pads on back, and aging climber legs don't exactly help. I started making my own small area maps for context and trip planning. I started asking the question, "Why not built out the entire area?". I happened to be doing some development art for a project involving dragons right around that same time and the light bulb lit up bright in my head. I'd combine my art into the maps and make wall posters. Did I mention I love drawing dragons? The original name for the venture was actually Dragon Maps! On top of all that, I had gone to college and graduated with a degree in graphic design! So the entire concept came together naturally, albeit with lots of turns along the way.
My first attempt was Black Mountain. The photoshop map I built from zoomed-in Google Map grabs was over 20 gigs and covered over five square miles! It proved to be overwhelming as a first try so I set my sights on smaller areas like The Happys and Sads up in Bishop. Those maps were coming along beautifully, but the great rains of 2023 severely limited our ability to finish so I had to put them on hold.
While the atmospheric rivers rolled over Southern California, I built a Stoney Point map and learned a ton about overall process. (Although not sure if or when I'll release that one) With a new found confidence I decided to build a Tramway version and take another try at Black Mountain. The badly damaged road up to Boulder Basin was beating up my jeep, so I set my focus on Tram and never looked back.
I've been buying up guidebooks and studying Mountain Project, Youtube, and Instagram for the areas I'll focus on next. Joshua Tree seems like it would be a challenging high priority and I'd still like to do the Buttermilks. After those, we'll see. I remember in the 90s when a few friends started going on trips to Hueco Tanks, TX, but I never made it. Joe's and Moe's in Utah, Grande Junction, CO, Kraft Boulders, NV, Squamish, BC, The Gunks, NY all sound amazing. That's getting a little ahead of things but I do have ideas!
The Select lists for each area were created using a combination of area guidebook(s), Mountain Project, Youtube, Instagram, talking to area regulars, and any other information I could find. Stars in guidebooks, stars and reviews on MP, and number of video posts on YT and Instagram were the main sources I used to curate my select lists in an organized way with repeatable rules. I tried to keep a balance at all difficulty ranges with fair representation at each sub-area on the map. If there were tie breakers to make it onto the list, I steered away from dangerous highballs. And if there was a second tie breaker, it went with the non-slab route. (Personal preference with apologies) My effort was to have area context by locking the specific route locations with double confirmation from existing reference or eyes on the climbs. In some areas, we are able to use our drone for confirmation. (We do go out of our way to avoid disrupting climber zen) Some areas don't allow drones and some have heavy climber traffic, in which cases we confirm on foot by GPS. In all cases, the people we meet and the fun adventures have made the entire project worth while no matter where this goes.
Stone Quest uses and honors the (Vermin) V Scale ratings System. I've done my best to solve the numerous and inevitable ratings discrepancies respecting the original FA rating while considering the opinions of the larger climbing community. I made adjustments to route grades when there was enough consensus and picked sides to all slash ratings up to V6. ie, a V3/4 is either a V3+ or a V4-. I came up with a fire symbol for Added Danger on a route (Like PG13) and two fire symbols for High Danger climbs (Like R). And what do we call bouldering routes under V0? I've seen VB, Veasy, V0-, sub0, .7, .8, .9 and the color green. I've lumped them all together into VB for these maps. We in the bouldering community need to tighten up that grade somehow.
The spirit I bring with these posters is the same one I came up with in the 90s, which was that yes, holds break and new beta is discovered making some ratings adjustment absolutely necessary. However, it's also perfectly fine if a rating is a bit soft or stout for whatever reason. It's been part of the sport since the start. Efforts to solve certain perceived rating issues have only created different issues and frustrations. I'm personally not a fan of the color ratings at all. There will no doubt be debate on some of the decisions I felt had to be made creating these maps and anyone who know me knows I'm up for talking about the issues at great length philosophically and constructively. I hereby pledge to continue in that spirit and make adjustments and corrections on future print runs as necessary.
It was 1992 or so when my roommate Angelo and I rented K2 from Blockbuster and absolutely loved it. One of us said the actual words, "Hey, we should try climbing". Angelo shows up the next day with rope, harness, shoes, and chalk and I said, "Well I guess we're doing this!" I went out and bought my own gear along with John Long's 1989 "How To Rock Climb" book and learned the bare minimum before beginning at the Santee Boulders in East San Diego County. (Before the High School went up across the street) We really didn't have a clue what we were doing and should probably have been injured or worse for that lack of knowledge. We grew and learned as the sport started to gain popularity through the mid nineties. We mostly sport climbed as we trusted the security of bolts over our fears of trad. We frequented Mission Gorge and whatever established sports routes we could find around San Diego before branching out to Williamson Rock and Joshua Tree where we climbed almost every weekend. We ventured further out to Red Rocks and my favorite, Owens River Gorge where I took my longest whipper. I just couldn't figure out the top of Pick Pocket. I don't want to oversell my climbing credentials. An 11c in High Desert called A Death Before Dying was the hardest sports route I ever lead and I'm super proud to this day!
Angelo eventually fell out of the sport after a few years but by then I was a regular member at one of California's first indoor climbing gyms, Solid Rock in San Diego (now Vertical Hold, San Diego). I was one of the gym's regulars for years late into the nineties when I got married, started my animation career, and moved north to South Orange County. My climbing days slowed to a full stop around 2000. (Sad violin music...)
Changes in family life and the closure of Sports Chalet brought me back to the sport in 2016. I saw a pair of La Sportiva climbing shoes in my size on clearance at the Going-Out-of-Business sale and thought, "Yeah, I need that back in my life". Mid life crisis? Maybe... I looked up local climbing gyms and found a nearby bouldering gym. What the heck's a bouldering gym? How lame! When I was sport climbing in the 90s, bouldering was only what you did to train for endurance and hard crux moves on sport routes. There was a bouldering area at Solid Rock Gym but it was before the art of route setting developed and I think they rated everything with YDS ratings. With much skepticism I gave it a try and immediately fell in love with the freedom, flowing body positions, and comparative safety bouldering offered. I brought my kids, 11 and 14 at the time, and they too were quickly bitten by the climbing bug subsequently passing me up like I was standing still. Bouldering became great bonding time for us as a family as well as a healthy and positive force in all of our lives. My son is doing fantastic film work in the sport and my daughter even manages a local gym here in South OC!
Now entering my mid-fifties, I'm striving to continue climbing as far into my older years as possible. I'm hoping that my work on bouldering maps can keep me close to the sport even longer. Could I have left the dragon art off and only mapped? I can't honestly answer that. I can only repeat that the maps inspired the art and the art inspired the maps in a self propelling way that has brought me to this point where I now offer it out to you, the climbing community. I wish you all successful sends on your projects!
It was my dad's art room where as a child, I traced his drawings on tracing paper and snuck peeks at his Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo fantasy art books. I soon started collecting comic books and copied the styles of Walt Simonson, Arthur Adams, and my favorite, Marc Silvestri. (Especially his years on Wolverine) I desperately wanted to be a comic book artist into my late teens but decided to back it up with a college degree in Graphic Design from San Diego State. However, graphic design was going digital in the early nineties. When college ended, my portfolio of hand-drawn class assignments with stenciled or even glued-on text stood no chance against the gorgeous, professional looking, digital work produced by others graduates.
Luckily, a good friend from SDSU named Joe Scott called and told me about a small educational software company that was hiring artists for animation. He helped prepare me for the in-betweener test I took, which got me hired kicking off my 25 year career in animation. I've enjoyed the privilege of working alongside some truly amazing people on some very memorable animated productions including Futurama, Transformers: Robots In Disguise, Curious George, and Duncanville, which I supervised for three seasons. I'll forever be in your debt, Joe! Visit https://frankmarinoanimation.com/ or https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0547772/ if you're interested in more about my animation work.
During my career in animation, I grew accustomed to adapting my art from show to show and over time, lost touch with my own personal artistic style. My "style" had developed into more of a filmmaking and directing style and my drawing abilities were simply my best tools. It was during the creation of these maps that I re-connected with a sense of my own personal art style. Comic books meets fantasy art along with my graphic design education, countless influences from my animation career, my color blindness, my love-hate relationship with photoshop, and my director's eye. I used it all.
Some of these items go without saying, but I feel the necessity to state them regardless. It's easy to get lost out there. Even for someone who's done it most of their adult life. These maps should not alone be used for trip planning and Stone Quest cannot assume responsibility for anyone getting lost or hurt while hunting these gems down. Everyone should carry a compass or secondary directional device, especially on solo trips. If you go out only with a cell phone and it runs out of juice or breaks, it could be extremely difficult to find your way back from some areas on your own. Clouds come into some areas like Tram sometimes causing visibility to drop to 20 ft or less which can make even guided hiking difficult. During the time I was working hard on the Tram map, actor and experienced hiker, Julian Sands died on Mt Baldy. That weighed heavily on me because I had briefly found myself lost a couple times while up at Tram. Once in Undiscovered Country and once in the Edge of Nowhere. Everything looks the same in every direction at times. These maps were made from smaller, high resolution Google Map images stitched together in photoshop. Small incremental adjustments are made during the stitching process to account for the curvature of the earth. GPS apps can have mistaken information, so I found. No, Mystic Rhythms is not in the middle of the trail! For many routes, I had double confirmation on their locations from gathered resources and didn't go to personally confirm. If there was only one source or conflicting information, I went and confirmed myself. All of this is to say that the information on my maps shouldn't be taken as absolute. Guidebooks are still the best source for route information. Here's hoping we continue to have good ones published in the near future.
I couldn't have done this without the patience and support of my wonderful wife, Cindy, who's been front row to this entire ride. She believed in me from day one enough that she studied for and achieved the FAA 107 certification to fly our drone for Stone Quest commercially. She also compiles all of my research for each bouldering area into organized exel files. I dedicate my first map at Tramway to her and all the times we had there in the Summer of 2023.
Special thanks to my daughter, Alaina and my son, Quentin who helped with verifying some of the route locations and were always there to bounce ideas and concepts off of and altogether indulge their father's ups and downs as he tried to figure out the whole crazy idea.
Much thanks and gratitude to the countless others who gave me the input, support, and encouragement along the way. There were many at my local indoor gym that allowed me to chat their ears off time and time again. There were many climbers I met out in the field who were always helpful to me as well steering me in the right direction. One that stood out was one of the FA developers at Tram from the time of the guidebook who happily went out of his way to help me find Slot Machine. That chance encounter really encouraged and motivated me to aim for an ever higher level of accuracy in my maps.
Thanks always to my Mom and Dad for always supporting and encouraging my art throughout my life. Especially my dad, who was my very first artistic influence and the one who introduced me to the beauty of fantasy art and dragons.