Doctor of Climbology is your shortcut to becoming cultured in climbing. An imperfect, unscientific guide to 55 must-read, must-see, must-hear climbing stories from masters of the art.
We’re in a new age of media, and we are bombarded by it 24/7. But whether it’s a heady new memoir or a short video clip of an expedition on Instagram, quality is defined by storytelling. To find out which stories are really worth reading—or watching or hearing—we asked more than 35 writers, publishers, and filmmakers, plus Climbing readers, for their favorites.
This isn’t an end-all, be-all “best ever” ranking (and we ignored magazines—how could we be unbiased there?). Our only claim is this: If you love a good story, then you’ll love the ones highlighted in this series. Click here to see our picks in books and film.
13 Must-Follow Climbing Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts
The Internet is full of... stuff. But a few offerings are consistently interesting, funny, or outrageous enough to keep us clicking back. We focused on independent websites, blogs, and podcasts, ignoring mainstream and social media.
The Dirtbag Diariesdirtbagdiaries.com Fitz and Becca Cahall of Duct Tape Then Beer, along with producer Jen Altschul and a host of contributors, create long-form podcasts by and for outdoor athletes of all kinds, and they’ve found a big audience: more than 1 million downloads a year. “They tell outdoor stories rooted in real life, in a way that I find rare among outdoor storytellers,” says climber and content strategist Sara Lingafelter. “For a few years, the outdoors was my life, but now, being a weekend warrior, I find stories about the intersection of life and outdoors more inspiring.” A Facebook fan recently critiqued Dirtbag for having “way too much climbing stuff lately.” Obviously we unfriended this person.
Evening Sendseveningsends.com Writer Andrew Bisharat’s website—once purely a blog, now a multi-featured site in the Adventure Journal mold—may be prone to rants, but its independent thinking is admirable (and often a conversation starter in the core climbing community) and The Day I Sent first-person stories about notable—if not historic—climbs are often excellent. Bisharat recommends Tommy Caldwell’s piece on free climbing the Salathé Wall in a day—and so do we.
MTNMeistermtnmeister.com This new podcast features half-hour interviews with skiers, runners, and other outdoor athletes in addition to climbers and mountaineers. Boston-based host Ben Schenck posts two shows a week and already has more than 80 in the can. “The point of the show is not about the sports themselves,” he says. “I’m fascinated by human behavior, and the show revolves around topics that parallel our lives—weighing risk vs. reward, decision-making, and the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone. Our guests serve as extreme examples of those topics.”
For the Love of Climbingkathykarlo.wordpress.com The blog of Brooklyn-based all-around climber Kathy Karlo—“my current focus is climbing hard offwidth”—is packed with personal stories, engagingly and honestly told. To get a feel for the site, she recommends Grown-ups Don’t Sleep in Their Cars! and I am Not a Dirtbag. “These posts talk about the thing that most climbers are looking for: the balance between climbing and life outside of climbing,” Karlo says. “What kind of sacrifices do we make to live a life we love?”
West of Centerwestofcenter.org Veteran audio producer Jason Albert has turned his talents to in-depth stories—20 to 50 minutes—all “linking back to the natural world and a sense of place.” The first three episodes focus on mountain themes: El Capitan, avalanche prediction, and the Alaska Range in winter. The stories combine interviews with multiple subjects, recorded sounds, and Albert’s narration to hold it all together. In an interview with Climbing in 2013, he said, “Audio can be an incredible visual experience. In an audio story, your mind creates the visual storyboard.”
Semi-Radsemi-rad.com Writer (and Climbing columnist) Brendan Leonard is a very happy Joe Average in his consistently funny and often-insightful blog about climbing, hiking, mountain biking, road-tripping, and the outdoor life. Leonard picks a topic—e.g., the rules for dating a dirtbag, being a good tentmate—and riffs on them like a stand-up. Bonus: clever napkin drawings and flow charts, like Is There a Cute Girl at the Climbing Gym?
The Stone Mindthestonemind.com Justin Roth, a Salt Lake City climber—and former editor for Climbing and Urban Climber—averages one blog post a week at The Stone Mind. Alongside share-ready topics like 10 Climbing Personality Types are more introspective pieces like Hello Climbing, My Old Friend and Bouldering Alone. In such posts, says Roth, “I’m trying to bring a more thoughtful and philosophical perspective, using climbing as a window into a larger matter. People tend to think of climbing as something of value in and of itself, but its value is what it helps you become.”
The Enormocastenormocast.com Climbing podcasts come and go, but Chris Kalous’ interviews with the stars of today and heroes of yesterday are destined to last. As of mid-October, Kalous had posted 67 hour-long interviews, and his shows draw an average of 7,000 fans in the first two weeks. He’s not ready to quit his day job (house painting), but the enthusiasm of sponsors like Black Diamond has him planning new types of shows.
With Enormocast’s Chris Kalous
When did you start doing the Enormocast, and what void do you think it fills? December 2011. I listened to podcasts at my painting job and thought, I could do this. “WTF with Marc Maron” was the real inspiration. He started interviewing his friends who are comedians, and it became very popular. Enormocast fills the “authenticity” void. I once read a profile about Heidi Wirtz, and though it was well done, at the end—since I know Heidi really well—I was like, “This didn’t capture her at all.” Without hearing her laugh and her lack of self-confidence about her climbing, you don’t know Heidi. She can’t hide that in an actual conversation, and far from being detrimental to her image, it will actually endear her to listeners, particularly women.
What have you learned since starting? I am becoming a more confident interviewer. In some ways, though, the early shows are actually better. The slapped-together feel was quite compelling. It’s no longer as on-the-fly as it once was. Hopefully I will find a happy medium between quality production and DIY mayhem.
What pieces are you most proud of? The Hayden Kennedy episodes on Cerro Torre (Nos. 6 and 7). These changed the conversation about the bolt chopping for the better. I also really like the Paul Piana episode. I love the flow of the interview, and it meant a lot to talk to him about Todd Skinner’s death.
Storytelling on Instagram
Follow These 5 Inspiring Accounts
These days, a great story often starts with a tiny square photo. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, it makes perfect sense.
What are your favorite climbing websites, blogs, podcasts, and instagram accounts? Is there anything we missed? Tell us in the comments.
Culture consultants: Peter Beal, Andrew Bisharat, Michael Brown, Cameron Burns, Fitz Cahall, Doug Canfield, David Chaundy-Smart, Michael Chessler, Jimmy Chin, Paige Claassen, Jeremy Collins, John Dickey, Ed Douglas Anson Fogel, Chuck Fryberger, Ben Fullerton, Damien Gildea, Jon Glassberg, Steve Goodwin, John Harlin III, Clint Helander, Alex Honnold, Steve House, Mark Jenkins, Chris Kalous, Joe Kinder, Andrew Kornylak, Brendan Leonard, Sara Lingafelter, James Lucas, BeRnadette McDonald. Angie Payne, David Roberts