When I was a young climber Climbing magazine was the main source for great storytelling. This was the late 1990s, before the internet was big, and the written word provided the portal to adventure that I deeply craved. During those years, a Climbing magazine was never more than an arms reach away in my apartment, the stories provided the stoke for our own epics, and the imagery showed me exactly where I wanted to be when college was out for the summer.
by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine
As I grew up and became a writer one of the very first places I wanted to get published in was Climbing. When that dream came true and I saw my own name in the very magazine I obsessed over for so many years I was proud of myself.
As the years went by I kept writing and soon realized a lot of what I wrote was out of the scope of what most magazines would publish. In short, I developed a style that relied more on prose and poetry than your typical standard magazine writing. So, I decided to start my own publication, The Climbing Zine.
These days most climbers know about “the zine” but a lot of our history remains unknown by many readers. Our first issue was black and white, and stapled together, inspired by the original skate and punk rock zines. We printed 100 copies and gave most away for free. Eventually we moved into all color format, hired a rockstar designer, and decided that we would create a niche for ourselves alongside the other three prominent American print climbing publications: Climbing, Rock and Ice, and the Alpinist.
In the meantime I started publishing my own books, which I’ve found just as rewarding as creating issues of the zine. I’ve continued to contribute to “the big three” magazines, and prided myself on maintaining a spirit of collaboration over competition.
Everyone has their own opinion of which of the four magazines they like the best. Climbing seems to have gravitated towards shorter articles, primarily aimed at the younger, growing audience. That’s fine. Recently, I’ve heard rumors about their integrity going downhill in a major way. In this year alone I’ve heard countless complaints about their practices, ranging from plagiarism to copying formats to stealing article ideas from contributors. Ask around amongst climbing writers and photographers, and I’m sure you will hear the same.
I wasn’t sure what to believe, and then Climbing, the very same magazine I adored growing up, took something from us.
Since 2012 we have had a column in the last page of our publication called “The Last Pitch”. It’s a very simple format: an intriguing photo coupled with a short piece of writing. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the most recent issue of Climbing only to find that they had duplicated the idea. Their column was called “Last Pitch” and followed our exact format. The replication of the format is not the most alarming thing, rather it is the duplication of the same title.
When I approached Julie Ellison, editor of Climbing, with this issue, she said I was accusing her of plagiarism, despite the fact that I never said that. She also made it seem like I was doing something wrong, so I ended the conversation. All I wanted was an acknowledgment that our column had been copied, and that they would immediately stop doing so.
Climbing magazine do you really want to become the Melania Trump of the climbing world?
I am a one man show over here at The Climbing Zine. I am the only full time employee of our publication. You have several people in house on your staff. Clearly you can do better than this. You can publish with integrity. It’s not too late. Issue a formal apology. Get back to your roots. You were once a great publication that produced original content. I will be awaiting your reply.
Luke Mehall, Publisher, The Climbing Zine
Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of American Climber, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed.
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.