An Open Letter to Climbing Magazine by Luke Mehall

Jul 20 • Uncategorized • 13085 Views • 10 Comments on An Open Letter to Climbing Magazine by Luke Mehall

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.

A side by side comparison of the columns. The Zine is on the left and Climbing magazine is on the right.

A side by side comparison of the columns. The Zine is on the left and Climbing magazine is on the right.

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

Read The Rest of the Story…

Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of American Climber, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed. 

Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. Check out the FREE preview

zine_cover8 (5)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

We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

Related Posts

10 Responses to An Open Letter to Climbing Magazine by Luke Mehall

  1. Matthew says:

    Good for you for stating this. I think that if a piece you’ve written was once published in Climbing then there is no way you and your publication aren’t on their radar to some extent. If they were smart they would regularly hire you as a consultant and writer. I like your entrepreneurial spirit my friend. Keep on trucking and I am sure your publication and personal craft will climb to great heights!

  2. Mark says:

    I just subscribed. And cancelled my 12 year subscription to Climbing. I hardly ever read that shit anymore anyway.

  3. John says:

    I think most people know that a person’s character is revealed when things go wrong. Ms. Elison’s initial reaction indicates a lack of character. I buy Climbing off the stand, but, if she doesn’t admit her mistake, I’ll stop buying their magazine.

  4. Rachel says:

    I hope you receive the apologies that you deserve! That said, I think “Last Pitch” is a very clever column.

  5. Jackie says:

    If you think you are the first magazine to do a last page format like this you’ve willfully had your head in the sand. My first published piece was in UC (Climbing’s younger brother) over 10 years ago and it was a very similar format to this. Photo plus short piece of writing, as a stand alone last page. You did not invent this format. Not in the climbing magazine world and not in the greater world.

    Re the name: I seriously doubt they copied the name on purpose, as it’s an obvious name for a last page of a climbing mag. I’m sure they’ll change it if you ask them to. Everyone should remember that this is one side of the story and stop being so quick to trash Julie as editing a magazine is a fairly thankless job at best and she’s done more than anyone, especially anyone here, would give her credit for to help the magazine evolve and improve as the digital world changes the landscape for climbing media.

    • Luke says:

      Jackie, I understand there’s a similar format used in many publications. However, this one is an EXACT replica of what we do, it is a blatant copy, something Climbing has been notorious about doing recently.

  6. Emily says:

    Plagiarism accusations shouldn’t be made lightly… You better have excellent proof, and the fact that your last pages are similar in format or even that they have the same title just doesn’t cut it. (C’mon, isn’t “The Last Pitch” a pretty obvious choice for the last page of a climbing publication?).The unfortunate aspect of blogging, social media and posting stuff on the web is that you get a soapbox for your woes without any substantial evidence, and the accused (Climbing Mag, in this case) has no hope of defending themselves, because even if they were willing to expend the energy to do so, the damage is done. Also, I would definitely not consider your zine as the same caliber or in the same league as Climbing, R&I or Alpinist, all of which are robust and thoughtful publications that have been around for quite some time. Think a little bit more in the future before you start tarnishing people’s reputations (for what appears to be your own personal gain).

  7. Buzz says:

    Luke, my gut feeling is that you have too much time on your hand if you have such a strong reaction over such a minor issue. Both publications have an article with the same format on their last page, and they chose the same, not very creative, name. So what ? Another way to look at it is that there’s no way your claims would stand in court, so why waste energy on it and create unnecessary division in our community ?

  8. Steve says:

    Your cover with Lynn Hill is an Alpinist ripoff. Letterbox format with the title and issue in big and bold. Plagiarizing layout and design is what you’re calling others out for, no?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

« »