How the Pandemic is Disrupting Your Favorite Climbing Magazines and Journals

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Even on a good year for climbing magazines and periodicals, meeting publishing deadlines are a Herculean effort. Despite that we’re in the midst of a global health pandemic and social uprising over grave injustice, publishing is just as hard, if not harder, to climbing publishers. And it could be easy to dismiss our climbing magazines and journals as unimportant, however, climbing is where people congregate and put whatever values — for health or racial equity — into practice and express ourselves in the subtle ways that matter.

Like everything else, the work of our favorite publications all stopped in shock — twice — first with the shutdowns to public health, and then again after the uprisings around George Floyd and many others. I asked several magazine and journal editors whether they would be publishing as normal through the end of the year. Some were fortunate to get the very-much in demand, but too scarce, Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) financial assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration under the CARES Act. Advertisers have pulled back, according to all of those I checked in with. Everyone said something to the effect of, “If nothing else happens…” they will be publishing as normal through the rest of the year.

And I also checked in with Katie Sauter, the Director of the Henry S. Hall Jr. American Alpine Club Library, to get a global view, because they receive all of the publications. As of a few weeks ago, the magazines were coming in but that she recently learned that from the New Zealand Alpine Club that their magazine and journal will not be printed this year, but many other club journals and magazines have continued to stream in.

Here’s what the editors reported:

ANNUALS

  • American Alpine Journal — Dougald McDonald, the Editor of the AAJ, says the 2020 edition is a month behind schedule but otherwise on track to deliver a full issue to AAC members this fall. However, with no climbing in Alaska, no spring Himalayan season, probably no Karakoram season, and so forth, the 2021 edition will be briefer than typical editions.
  • Accidents in North American Climbing — The American Alpine Club, which also publishes the AAJ, suffered in its revenue from the pandemic shutdowns, and as a result will be offering a digital version of Accidents only. So when AAC members receive their box this fall, it will not contain a hardcopy of this important book. It was a necessary sacrifice to still provide all of the AAC’s valuable content.

PERIODICALS

  • Alpinist Magazine — Height of Land Publications, the parent company, has declared their operations as “business as unusual,” in what actual seems to be business as usual for most media today, even before the pandemic. Despite some advertisers pulling back, they expect to publish roughly on schedule for the next couple of issues.
  • Rock and Ice Magazine — Although the issue recently released during the first three months of the stay-at-home orders was delayed by two weeks, Francis Sanzaro said they’re hard at work but no telling whether it will be on time or a week or two delayed.
  • Climbing Magazine — Matt Samat — who, I suddenly recalled, edited my first piece in Alpinist about eight years ago — is the Editor and he told me, “We are on schedule for our next two issues, and fingers crossed for our annual (final issue of the year).” The magazine has emphasized its digital content while everyone was home, and started a Contributor Fund.
  • Gripped Magazine — There were delays at the printer initially, as the vendor temporarily shutdown. David Smart (yep, the author of Paul Preuss,) Editorial Director, said with the printer back up and running and everyone at Gripped to a regular work schedule means they expect to publish the regular number of issues through the rest of the year.

GOING FORWARD

The next several months we will receive our favorite magazines, perhaps a week or two late. But the effects of the pandemic with climbing publications hasn’t stopped there. The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, which hosts the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival, is a large educational institution on a global stage. Due to financial constraints, the Banff Centre was forced to permanently lay off 75 percent of its workforce — 284 people. The Festival, which also hosts the Banff Mountain Book Competition, normally hosts 20,000 from around the world over a week’s time every fall, but due to global travel restrictions, and public health concerns, the event will be held virtually this year.

Over the last four months you were probably thinking… let the subscription lapseonly the social change happening now matters… And you were right. Yet the real change is going to happen, not over social media or even in policy, but in our day-to-day interactions and habits over the coming months and years. Our habits seep into everything else we do. Better health choices for everyone’s safety, and relationships that respect everyone’s dignity regardless of the color of their skin, in our ordinary interactions are where the change happens. It will happen at school, work, churches, and our recreation. So it matters in climbing too, and these publications aren’t just about being better climbers, they are exhibits of us being human and, hopefully, better people.

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Life in the Mountains and Modern World through the Eyes of Bree Loewen

Avalanche risk. (All rights reserved)

Natalie, the kids, and I have been cooped up on our suburban homestead for a month now, trying to do our part to beat a pandemic with everyone else. Other than my bouldering pad being used as a crash pad next to the rope swing, we haven’t taken to staging climbing the house, kitchen cabinets, or even the fireplace.
Sticking to our routine has been our key to sanity. For us, it isn’t too much different than a normal day, except we’re eating out less, I don’t have a commute (which I really like,) and I moved my office to our cellar for more privacy during phone and video calls. Plus I can close the office door and officially “leave work” at the end of the day.
I still workout every morning and read and write, though most of my writing is about housing issues these days. We’re working on ways to prevent evictions with landlords and foreclosures with lenders, especially after the 90 day forbearance periods end. Reading time has been my favorite part. It was before this self-isolating and quarantine period too. And I finished the next book on my tick list: Found: A Life in Mountain Rescue by Bree Loewen (2017).
(First off — and I am not being paid to tell you this — Found is published by The Mountaineers Books and they are still shipping and even offering 25% off right now; use discount code TIMETOREAD at checkout.)
Found by Bree Loewen
Loewen’s book won Gold in the Heroic Journeys category of the 2017 Nautilus Book Awards, but it came on my radar when Paula Wright interviewed Loewen on the Alpinist Podcast. Loewen said she used to conduct her rescues and be so affected by the passing of an adventurer, another person like her, that she used write down the story — the story of the other person — and then burn them or make paper boats and sail them out on Puget Sound, because they weren’t after all, her story. Or were they her story too? And that was enough to intrigue me. One of my friends even confessed to have read this book twice already, and it just came out three years ago at the end of last month.
Found is about juggling the crazy life we have today: A foot in the mountains and a foot in our own hectic, modern world, while finding purpose and meaning in the modern world. Loewen is a dirtbag climber that became a volunteer member of Seattle Mountain Rescue (SMR) and retells, after years of reluctance to share, the stories from the rescues and the recoveries of someone’s loved one. She explains and contemplates how she is a bystander to someone’s life, whether its an accident or a tragedy. She and her teammates take charge in the backcountry by helping the patient focus on their job to trust the rescuers to lift them back to care and shelter. And sometimes she is collecting pieces of teeth and someone’s jaw, which Loewen feels is an incredibly intimate act; perhaps their mother should be doing this, but their mother can’t be there, so Loewen fills in.
Loewen’s narrative covers several rescues and she blends in her real life seamlessly, showing the tension and trade-offs of having a foot in each world. Loewen is a wife, to another SMR volunteer named Russell, and a mother of a preschooler with big blue eyes and pigtails named Vivian. Vivian gets accustomed to her mother getting paged to join the park rangers and fire department with other SMR volunteers on a moments notice and never leaves anywhere without her bag of the most important things, including a stuffed animal and a pink polka dot security blanket. Loewen drops off her daughter at grandma’s or leaves her with Russ, if he isn’t at work, and heads to her mission in her compact car.
Unfair Judgment
Generally, Loewen and Russ don’t go on rescues together. They try to take turns, going one at a time, but Loewen is the full-time mom and always committed volunteer to SMR. Why is she so committed?
When they both go on a mission together, leaving Vivian at grandma’s, the question is especially complex for Loewen. Russ is the bread winner and the life-insurance policy holder, filling the traditional role as head of the household. When they are the most qualified volunteers on site and look to rappel down to the injured, should Vivian’s mom go too? Is she risking making Vivian an orphan? Who gets blamed in this situation? Was Loewen short-sighted and irresponsible?
Loewen examines this and calls it a Catch-22 because she is a woman and a mother. Because Loewen considers the alternative: What message is she sending Vivian if she backs off and does not go help? Is she telling Vivian that women are too conservative and can’t be committed enough to do good work? She concedes that no matter what, what people think of you has real consequences.
What We Want Most
Throughout the story, Loewen is trying to find what the next step in her career will be as she finishes her era as a stay-at-home mom. She investigates being a full-time fire fighter and settles, the reader is slowly revealed, in nursing school. But why is she so committed with SMR, answering the calls, and letting grandma care for Vivian while Loewen goes on all-nighters in the snowy woods without food. During these forays she usually isn’t even thanked by anyone, and abruptly gets back into her compact car to race home and pour the breakfast cereal for herself and Vivian.
Loewen says she believes that hardship increases camaraderie. And that is what she wants most out of this world. Everything she does is about a human relationship of proving character and trust to her teammates, daughter, husband, and the people she meets on her search-and-rescue-missions. They are all people and human beings like herself, trying to find purpose, belonging, and an expression of human affection, even though it’s rarely ever a hug. The affection is delivered in competence, in coming at the call, and being there for teammates and the person that placed the call.
I highly recommend this story and hope that you read every word, maybe sometimes twice, like I did. It was enriching.
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The Short Long List of Books

Winter in the Adirondacks. (All rights reserved)

So here is my list of books.

It started as a mere 36 titles in December which grew to about 60 in January, and now, a month later, it stands at 98 books. It’s no longer a list of just classics, but books that could be modern classics, and ones that are trendy or influential, and those that simply interest me. The goal, as I mentioned in my previous post, is to help me be more intentional and satisfied in my reading.

I reviewed all of my clippings in Evernote and my notebooks with book recommendations, names of authors, and then looked over Banff Mountain Book Competition winners in the Mountain Literature category, and winners of the Boardman Tasker Award. Then I removed books that didn’t interest me and I did not think, from what I knew about it, would be a classic or modern classic. I could always change my mind.

To get myself started, I then looked over the list at what excited me most and decided to focus on those. I will either obtain them from a library, my local bookstore (not a chain,) or Top of the World Books in Vermont. My short list — the start of a tick list — was supposed to be 10 titles, but I decided to include both of Nick Bullock’s books and Andy Kirkpatrick’s books, so it came to a rounded list of 10:

  1. Annapurna South Face by Chris Bonnington (1971)
  2. Tides by Nick Bullock (2019)
  3. Echoes by Nick Bullock (2012)
  4. Minus 148 Degrees by Art Davidson (1969)
  5. The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer (1959)
  6. Espresso Lessons by Arno Iglner and Jeff Achey (2009)
  7. Psychovertical by Andy Kirkpatrick (2008)
  8. Cold Wars by Andy Kirkpatrick (2011)
  9. Found by Bree Loewen (2017)
  10. The Bond by Simon McCartney (2016)
  11. The Villain by Jim Perrin (2005)

While I was developing the list I have been reading Found by Bree Loewen (2017) as I knew it would make my list and I already owned a copy.

If you look at the spreadsheet I included, I have a handful of obscure titles about Alaska. I love Alaska, so my list has another bias regarding the state’s mountain adventures.

During this project, which will take years, I am still going to read Alpinist Magazine, books on fundraising, management, social issues, and fiction but the books on this list are part of a different quest. I am seeking their insight about climbing, humanity, and drawing on the power they felt among the mountains. And it is not romantic bullshit. As Amrita Dhar, professor in English at the Ohio State University at Newark, said, “Mountaineering is the most literary of all sports.” We go, we come back, we write and the best writing is the introspective that borders on the metaphysical. It’s a theme that has been done by hundreds of climbing writers and it makes the best climbing stories. And most interestingly, it’s unprompted. We haven’t been taught how to write about climbing, but those of us that have been brave enough to go into the mountains have come back talking deeply about our humanity.

One day I hope to make a list of what would be the must-reads, having read many of them. I will probably add to my list of 98 and maybe even remove a few to keep the list manageable. But regardless, I hope to learn from the writers and apply it to my own more modest mountain adventures. I will keep you posted on how it goes.

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My Strategy for Fulfilling Reading in the Year of the Rat

Annapurna 1952 Color-Gravure of Lionel Terray at fixed rope above Camp II.

While I am considering better ways to satisfy my climbing reading interests this year, it’s a funny coincidence that we are in the year of the rat. The year of the rat is about demonstrating inquisitiveness, shrewdness, and resourcefulness. I read a lot in 2019, but I don’t think it was entirely fulfilling; perhaps some rat characteristics will help me.

In 2019, I read 18 books and all four Alpinist issues, which is a book unto itself. That was more books than I read in 2018 or 2017. However, I read far fewer climbing-related books last year, which saddens me because there are a lot of climbing books on my “short list.” In fact, you won’t be surprised that one of my ambitions is to become extremely well-versed in climbing literature.

So isn’t this as simple as just reading more climbing books in 2020? Well, no. Reading more has been my strategy for years, but I rarely look back and feel that the books I read helped me make progress toward my goal. And at times the book, while germane in scope, was not especially moving, though it was unique in its story. In fact, the long-form articles in Alpinist Magazine are more consistently stirring. So now, at the beginning of 2020, I realize that my standards and hopes have risen.

I have read 80 to 100 books (I think) about mountaineering, climbing, the mountains, and skills. However, the quality and enjoyment has been mixed. My strategy has, however, been haphazard. Whatever books I find I acquire for my shelf. I like the process of discovery at used book sales, which can mean many used book sales before finding a gem or even a popular or semi-popular title I do not own or haven’t read.

So what do I need to do in 2020 in order to read more climbing books?

First, I need to make a plan. Or perhaps it’s a list of books. I now have a list of 60 or so titles about climbing subjects along with their authors, and the year the book was first published. I have to consider the books on that list and whittle what I haven’t read and do not own.

Second, I need to change some habits. In previous years, I would read in the evenings, weekend mornings, and several pages scattered during the week after lunch, sitting in waiting rooms, on subways, or while I waited in the car with Wunderking and Schnickelfritz while Natalie ran into the market. Now that I drive (I in Lancaster, PA now sans-subway,) my work is a little more all-encompassing, and the kids are older and less likely to leave me to sit quietly by their side to read a few pages. I think evenings and an occasional weekend morning might be my best steady time slots.

Third, and lastly, I have restructured some of my overall priorities. I have asked after my responsibilities as dad and a housing nonprofit leader, what is the best use of my time? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to nutrition and fitness for overall health followed by my hobbies, and climbing literature is at the top of my list. I grow miserable without my hobbies, and I decline in energy and health if don’t focus on nutrition and fitness. So I will be reading more and training four days a week to be a V6 boulderer that isn’t sloppy or scrappy, rather I want to climb with deliberate movements, and transfer that to some walls.

So here goes with inquisitiveness, shrewdness, and resourcefulness. I am going to share some of the book lists I used to inform my list of classics-plus. I have interests that also extend into Alaska, Western Canada, Baffin Island, Patagonia, and New England and the Adirondacks. And there are also newer books, like Barry Blanchard’s The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains that could be called a modern classic. But we’ll see.

Of course, it’s also ironic that I am thinking of reading and rats. Unless we’re talking about Templeton from Charlotte’s Web, rats don’t read. Of course, Templeton may have only recognized words. Would Templeton have found me a scrap of Climbing Magazine had I asked him, “Mountains, Templeton, mountains!”

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Two Unexpected Turns in 2019

Road trip. (All rights reserved)

It’s a foggy morning here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Christmas was snowless and warm and now the moist air is merging into the drier air. With everyone still asleep, instead of working on fundraising or project planning, like I have been lately, I wanted to share with you two changes before 2019 came to a close.

It’s been more than a year as the executive director at a large nonprofit in south central Pennsylvania with a team of about 20 and hundreds of volunteers. As always, my work has been split between work, family, and balancing those things through diet, fitness, reading, and maybe some writing. The time has been more crunched than ever as my vision for the organizations is taking shape. By contrast to previous Christmases, this was the first Natalie decided to skip involving me in the Christmas card process; she said I was noticeably busy and it was just easier. It’s saddened me to think it was easier to avoid my involvement as we always had, but she was right; I couldn’t take much more.

Over a year ago I started working out almost daily to make sure I was staying in shape and help relieve some stress from juggling whether I was taking time between staff, board members, donors, volunteers, public officials, or my wife or children. Having three events at the same time to commit to attending is a terrible thing, and playing king of the hill with one of them is always about picking winners and losers. Still, I like to consider the options, make my decision and let everyone know as quickly as possible, which could take a day or so.

I started dropping into the climbing gym by my home every couple of weeks. I tended to work out harder at home if I had a boulder problem I was focusing my energy toward training. And when I was bouldering, I wasn’t thinking about anything other than what was under my toes and fingertips, so it has always been a huge physical and mental break from the ordinary.

In November, Natalie and I decided to take a step further and for me to join the gym and go at least weekly if not more often. I’d never joined any gym before, even a nonclimbing one. I’ve set myself a reasonable goal, though not yet with a timetable, to boulder V6. This has definitely cut into some of my mornings and evenings, but I think I have been more enthusiastic about, well, everything.

The biggest change I had been attempting to make all year, but a prolonged illness, did what my willpower couldn’t do. Over the years, as a policy analyst and advocate in Washington, DC I had worked my way up to being a caffeine abuser. I’d tease about decaf by a sly “what’s the point?” quip. But I would read and summarize policy papers and make PowerPoint Presentations with gusto. As I started working out more, and eating more fruits and vegetables over the last year, I knew I was drinking too much. Six cups a day, often more, was too much. And yet, at the time, I thought, “Oh, coffee doesn’t affect me much.”

Before Thanksgiving I came down with a cough, which developed into a cold, and became a sinus infection that lasted over three weeks and took two antibiotics and Prednisone to shake. I drank a cup of coffee in the morning and that was it for the day; my throat just wasn’t having it.

By the end of the whole experience, I decided to use this as an opportunity and stop drinking coffee at one-and-a-half cups or two cups in the morning before I left the house. The results have surprised me: I was more alert throughout the day, and I wasn’t dry and anxious by the end of it. I used to attribute the anxious feeling to the stress of my jobs. On some days the feeling was so intense I would crave a beer or a glass of wine to relax. Since I cut back on the caffeine, I didn’t have the same interest in beer or wine; I think I just wanted a depressant to bring me down from the caffeinated high. Until then, I had no idea what a grip caffeine held on me. Everything has been brighter, easier, and more enjoyable ever since. Perhaps you don’t need your cup of coffee as much as you think you do?

I did read 17 books this year, which I think was the most I have read in 12 months in the recent couple of years. Most of them were not about climbing. I read all of Alpinist Magazine’s long-form essays and stories, which should be considered a collective book in and of itself.

For Christmas, our friends in London sent me The Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

“>The AlpsThe Alps: A Human History from Hannibal to Heidi and Beyond

“> by Stephen O’Shea (2017). The back cover reads, “For centuries the Alps have been witness to the march of armies, the flow of pilgrims and Crusaders, the feats of mountaineers, and the dreams of engineers… Journeying through their 500-mile arc across France, Italy, and Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia, [O’Shea] explores the reality behind historic events and reveals how the Alps have profoundly influenced culture and society.” It sounds like my kind of nonfiction. They told me that they’ll give me a pop quiz when they see me next. I’m okay with that and accept their challenge!

Click to buy your copy now and support TSM:

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PS… While I would never stop reading about climbing, writing about climbing and its literature and history isn’t free, so my posts contain affiliate links. Every purchase you make through those links supports The Suburban Mountaineer. So if the book or gear interested you, click the link and get it for yourself.

Dieter Braun’s Mountains of the World

Natalie gave me this book as a Christmas present last year. Her interest went beyond just giving me a beautiful book, but she hoped it would serve as an impetus for me share my love of the mountains with our young Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz that goes beyond our pilgrimages to the peaks themselves. It was. At the beginning of the New Year we finished our reading session before bedtime by reading 5-10 pages Mountains of the World by Dieter Braun (2018) over several nights, and always discussing some aspect of nature, weather, and people among the mountains.

Braun takes his audience on a tour, or a survey course, on the subject of mountains. He starts with the origins of mountains, considers whether we’re measuring mountains greatness properly, what lives among mountains, legends like the Yeti, and even covers spelunking and the fragile qualities of the mountain environment. And yes, he actually considers whether we are measuring mountains greatness and relief properly in a book primarily intended for children book, and his illustrations are sometimes better than words alone. My kids grasped the idea and their eyes were wide and were clearly in wonder. Braun’s mantra is clearly show then tell.

Dieter Braun is an illustrator and children’s book author from Hamburg, Germany. He gotten up close with wildlife, visited great destinations, and captured their essence, or what he felt was their essence, in his books formatted for children. I say formatted for children, because they are made by the publisher for children, but they are enriching even for this guy; I’m just blessed to share it with two kiddos.

And yet, there were some oddities of choice that Braun included. I enjoyed the page on Iceland and the aurora borealis, but was not sure that it was germane, though I thought his inclusion of “Mountains of Sand: The Desert” was a thought-provoking portion.

Braun devotes several pages to mountain climbing, skiing, and mountain biking recreation among the mountains. He features Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, and Reinhold Messner, which I enjoyed talking to the kids about and even had an excuse to raise Jerzy Kukuczka, Messner’s rival whom I admire, with Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz. However, Braun appears to have had to make some editorial decisions about how to simplify the list of “Types of Climbing,” which he limits to bouldering, free climbing, ice climbing, and urban climbing. All four were quite beneficial to talk about, and I agree breaking climbing into sport climbing, trad, aid, big wall, and so forth would dull my kids wonder, but did Braun feel alpine climbing was adequately covered through Hillary, Norgay, Messner? I think alpine climbing needed a little more attention through definition.

Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz had their horizon’s lifted through this book and our subsequent discussions. Even just listening to them about their new interest in finding a way to start at the Pacific seafloor and “climb” all the way up Mauna Kea. Or their excitement to learn to ski in the next season or two.

Dieter Braun’s Mountains of the World is a book to own and share. You won’t regret it.

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