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Ask an Editor: How Hard Do You Have to Climb to Work at Climbing Magazine?

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Matt Samet climbing at the Distillery, East Elk Canyon, Colorado, in 2013 on Dave Pegg and Josh Gross’s route 100 Proof. Dave was an associate editor at Climbing for many years and was an important mentor to Samet in magazine writing, as well as a frequent climbing partner.Dave Pegg

I’ve always wondered this—and I hope it doesn’t sound like a stupid question—but how hard do you have to climb to work at Climbing? Like, is there a minimum level in each discipline you have to prove you climb to get on staff?

—Jenn P., via email

Good question, and it’s certainly one each of us on staff probably wondered as well before we came to work at the magazine. The short answer is: no specific grade. During my long affiliation with the magazine, beginning as a freelance writer for the title in the mid-1990s, nobody once asked me how hard I climbed—not the editors I worked with on stories way back then nor the publishers who hired me to my first desk-editor job, as associate editor, in 2002. And I’ve certainly never asked anyone I was in charge of hiring or bringing on, including interns, how hard they climbed.

The main thing you need for the job is a passion for climbing and a deep knowledge of the sport, two things you’d hope one would have anyway if they came to work at a title named “Climbing.” These are also two things you will surely come by if you’re a diehard climber—if you live, breathe, eat, and dream climbing (passion), then chances are you’re always reading about it in books and magazine articles, watching videos (how-to tutorials and sending porn), and ever honing your technical and ropework skills (knowledge). Whether you happen to climb hard along the way is immaterial; what matters is that you’re out there getting after it because you love it. What matters is that you are a lifer.

Many great climbers also happen to have worked at the title, but again, they were good at the sport and good at their jobs because of an abiding, core passion. I think of Michael Kennedy, who was editor in chief for many years. An uncompromising alpinist, Kennedy was on the 1978 expedition with George Lowe, Jeff Lowe, and Jim Donini that came within a hair’s breadth of completing the first ascent of the epic North Ridge of Latok I. Or Alison Osius, a top free and competition climber in the 1980s. Or Wills Young, the expert on and a guidebook author for Bishop bouldering, and a double-digit sending machine himself. Or Dave Pegg, who established tons of 5.13 and 5.13+ sport climbs on the Western Slope of Colorado, as well as 5.14s in his native England as a youth. Or Jeff Achey, a 5.13 climber, avid first ascentionist, and the author of countless trad and multi-pitch testpieces in Colorado and the Utah desert.

Currently, the editorial staff is only me and our digital editor Kevin Corrigan. I’ve been climbing for 33 years and still put up new routes and go mostly sport climbing three or four days a week—I turn 49 soon and my elbows, knees, and shoulders are creaky, but I will climb as long as my body holds out. Life for me is meaningless without it. Corrigan, who was “5.11 Kevin” for the last two years after leading his first 5.11, is now “5.12 Kevin” having redpointed his first 5.12a. Yes, it doesn’t rhyme as nicely, but it is an honorific we’re proud to give him after his diligent efforts improving his craft. Kevin climbs as much as he can, and recently built a home gym in his garage, including a heinous 5.16 wooden roof crack we’ve heard the Wide Boys have been training in secret for. Meanwhile, our associate publisher Kevin Riley was an AMGA certified guide for years, and is a passionate trad and sport climber and trail runner. He and I have been sharing a rope for the last 13 years on routes all over Colorado.

We’ve also had some very strong interns, young crushers who get after it. But again, that wasn’t the point—the point was that they loved, understood the history of, and cared about the sport. Besides, all climbing is hard if you’re pushing your limits, whatever those may be, so it would strike me as elitist to insist that staff members climb a certain grade. Ours is a difficult, complex, multifaceted sport, one I’m always striving to improve at in both in terms of personal performance and how this title reports on it. So, I’m doing my best—whatever that might be on any given day!

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