Lost Soul: The Future of Climbing Magazine

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Julie Ellison
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Julie Ellison Camping Rock Climbers

The true spirit of climbing can be found sitting around a picnic table in Yosemite after a long day of climbing. Photo: Andrew Burr

One of the biggest perks of my job is access to Climbing’s complete 46-year archive, a full 342 issues of obsessive passion, wild personalities, harebrained ideas, monster epics, blinding Lycra, and incredible accomplishments. The older issues contain an indescribable enthusiasm that shows up on every page, an electric energy the reader can feel, because she’s a climber too, she’s been there, she’s experienced that—she gets it.

Over the past several years, this magazine shifted to the pragmatic side of things by focusing on the how-to information, practical knowledge, and actionable advice that is so necessary for the rapidly growing number of climbers. And we did it in a way that made climbing accessible to everyone—as it should be. But in making that shift, we lost sight of something more fundamental to our sport than any knot or skill or technique: the soul of our community.

While many will claim that the exhilarating days of our pioneering forefathers are long gone, I would argue that a new chapter of greatness is just beginning. Think about it: One of the strongest climbers in the world right now is a 15-year-old girl from New York City. After seven years of work, a quiet father of one (soon to be two) completed the world’s hardest climb in a place that many thought was tapped out. V16 and 5.15c are real grades—and multiple people are climbing them. The achievements and individuals of modern climbing are far more compelling than sleeping in the dirt and eating beans out of a can (although we definitely still do that).

As I take the helm of Climbing magazine, my goal is not to harp on the past or wax poetic about the “good ol’ days,” which, frankly, I’m not nearly old enough to have been a part of. Instead, I want to capture and chronicle today’s thriving climbing community and the unique spirit at its center. We will still provide important service for climbers of all levels and disciplines, but we’ll also refocus our efforts on covering the people, antics, and issues that characterize the current state of our sport. The stories are out there; we just have to find them.