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AAJ Editor Reports from Germany—2nd Editors’ Summit

Posted on: November 15th, 2011 by Luke Bauer

In the autumn of 2008, American Alpine Journal Editor John Harlin III and the AAC organized a gathering of magazine and journal editors from around the world and dubbed the meeting the First EditorsSummit. Editors of print journals and websites gathered in Colorado, then Utah for climbing and discussion on a range of topics pertinent to publishing in the Internet age. The Second Editors  Summit was held in September of 2011 in Munich, Germany. Lindsay Griffin—Contributing Editor to the AAJ and all-around walking alpine encyclopedia—traveled from Wales to represent the AAC. He sent us the following report, which details some of the bizarre climbing in Germany and the topics discussed at the Summit.

[Click to view Lindsay’s Photo Gallery.]

“Sudriss,” said legendary German climber Bernd Arnold. “Oliver Perry-Smith weg, 1913.”  Arnold, the undisputed guardian of the Elbsandsteingebirge, was pointing to a soaring crackline on the 80m south face of the massive Falkenstein. In today’s currency it is VIIb, or around 5.10a—but with very little meaningful protection by modern standards. The sandstone towers of Saxoney have strict ethics: no chalk and no removable metal protection. Gear placements rely on slings over small spikes, the odd thread, and jammed knots—where the opportunity exists, which is certainly not as much as one would like. Harder routes have rings (large bolts) but often no more than one or two per pitch. Of course, a good knot is bomber; that is until you’re teetering 20-25′ above, when its brilliant novelty suddenly seems to lose all appeal.

In 1906 Perry-Smith, an American living in Dresden, established UIAA VI in the Elbsandstein. Prior to World War I, nowhere in the World were climbs harder than V, with limited protection— making Perry-Smith way ahead of his time. In fact it’s likely that in terms of boldness and technical difficulty, the climbing in Elbsandstein was unmatched until after the Second World War. It is an acquired art and even today relatively few climbers outside the local community visit these towers.

So what was I, a complete bumbly, doing there?

In the autumn of 2008 the First Editors’ Summit was held. It was an informal occasion, as befits all good meetings that involve climbers. There was an initial “sit down” in Golden the day after arrival, but most of the highly successful event took place in Utah—where discussion was relaxed and the climbing anything but.

The word “First” in the title presented an obvious challenge: Where was the “Second” to be? One or two people threatened, but it was Volker Leuchsner and Ralph Stoehr from Germany’s premier magazine Klettern that took up the baton. Sadly, although the event was initially well-subscribed, in the two or so weeks leading up to the late September 2011 start date, there was a significant number of drop-outs. This left a cozy nucleus, with fleeting additions from various editors who could only spare a day or two.

Having escaped classic North Wales weather to arrive in Munich’s scorching hot and sunny climate, it was ironic that the first day found us at the German Alpine Club’s [DAV] climbing wall (the biggest in the world, they say). The club had provided a small conference room and suitable refreshment. Suitable refreshment in Germany tends to mean beer.  Interestingly, most indoor walls—and there is a rapidly increasing number, particularly in north Germany where there are no crags—are now owned by the DAV, which gives discounted entry fees to its members. Olaf Perwitzschky, who edits the broad-based magazine Alpin, confirmed that in common with most European countries, rock climbing is growing (while, relatively, alpinism is declining), though perhaps not as fast as ski touring.

Much of our discussion centered on ideas for producing greater magazine sales—a topic less relevant to the AAJ—and website development. It appeared only Giulio Caresio from Alp had experimented with digital versions of his Italian magazine (downloadable at around half price of the paper copy) but noted that eAlp’s sales were very few. A couple of years ago I’d got the impression that most European magazines, and certainly those in the U.K., were struggling with declining sales (unlike the U.S., where the situation was stable). I was glad to hear that today sales are more or less stable. Later in the week we were joined by Piotr Drozdz, from Poland’s major magazine Gory, who confirmed our obvious conclusion: in his country a decreasing number of people read paper media, but the climbing community is growing, providing a fine balance.

Various perennial policy topics were re-visited and more or less agreed upon, such as the need to ask permission before using photos on a website. However, we came to the conclusion that our current group was probably too small to make meaningful “pronouncements,” and instead should produce a comprehensive summary document that, for the moment, would remain “in-house.”

One of my briefs was to bring up the topic of the AAJ to members only, which was proposed policy at the time. While only a few at the Summit had a direct interest in the sort of climbing the AAJ records, there was startling distress, and two noted they used to buy copies regularly around 10 years ago. [Ed.: The AAJ is available to all climbers. Read the details. ]

However, the conversation rapidly developed into the value of printed media when it comes to works of reference: there was simply far too great a risk of loss with digital register alone. On this even the website editors agreed. It reminded me of a chat with a professional photographer some years ago. His observation at the time was that the average “happy snapper” often stored photos on CDs, which were tucked away on a shelf or in the attic and generally forgotten. In a decade or so it would become difficult, expensive, or in some cases impossible to retrieve those images. Remember the three and a quarter inch floppy disk? 

I think we all found that first day rather shattering. I pleaded jet lag (Germany has one whole hour time difference from the U.K.), though this was met with a slightly confused stare from Hiroshi “Hiro” Hagiwara, chief editor of Rock and Snow, who’d just flown in from Tokyo. I offer this as an explanation of why we probably seemed less than enthusiastic during our specially organized tour of the DAV Alpine Museum later in the day. I can’t say I get too fired up about seeing a pair of Messner’s old boots, though I have to admit being impressed with Franz and Toni Schmid’s Olympic Gold medal, awarded for their first ascent of the Matterhorn North Face.

We ignored the distractions of Munich’s famous October beer fest, which had turned the city into a madhouse, and sped off to the famous crags of Frankenjura. These are generally one-pitch limestone walls, riddled with holes and pockets, where, if you make the former steep enough and the latter small enough, you end up with Action Directe, or the more modern Corona, arguably the hardest sport route in Germany. We spent a brief few hours with Corona  author Markus Bock, and Sarah Seeger, both employed by Marmot’s Europe branch. As we craned our necks below Corona, Bock waxed lyrically about the beauty of the “line.” Call me old fashioned, but I couldn’t see a “line” anywhere in this severely overhanging blankness, less could I see anything that resembled holds. I’m guessing he was referring to the fact there were just enough microscopic features to make it possible. Seeger, who has redpointed 8c, is involved with Marmot’s publicity and this started a discussion on whether the recent trend toward company publications, such as the 100-page Marmot Life, which are well produced and contain full articles by their sponsored climbers, will prove direct competition to traditional magazines. The answer from Seeger was an emphatic no—this was certainly not their aim.

After two days of delightful pocket pulling protected by closely spaced bolts, it was time to move to somewhere altogether different. We set off across the great agricultural plains to the former GDR, stopping briefly to visit the beautifully reconstructed city of Dresden, which gave Hiro the opportunity to satisfy the honorable traditions of the Japanese tourist by filling several 8Gb memory cards.

The Elbsandsteingebirge lent meaning to an “editors’ summit.” There are more than 700 sandstone towers in this scenic region known as Saxony Switzerland. Summits are important here. You are forbidden to put up a route on a formation that can be walked up. Vast and impressive escarpments with features and cracklines, dotted through acres of prime forest, remain untouched by climbers’ hands. Erosion over millennia has often resulted in the base of these towers being undercut, some severely, leading to fierce starts. Fortunately, we had a secret weapon in the form of Ralph to handle the hard bits.

For the average U.K. climber, making a direct grade comparison could sometimes be a problem: there are a lot of awesome chimneys and wide cracks here. Most British climb chimneys during their apprenticeship and then spend the rest of their career doing the utmost to avoid them. So, after three days of “interesting” climbing, hot sunshine, and relaxed gossip, it was time to head for our flights. Alpinist Magazine Online Editor Keese Lane’s hands were torn to shreds, and the whole of my body needed a break.

While there were proposals that we create a sort of international mountain media association, where site links are displayed on each of our home pages, and, more ambitiously we produce a printed annual, where each association member contributes one or two of its articles published in the preceding 12 months, the greatest benefit of these gatherings is always cementing relationships with old contacts and establishing new colleagues. Best of all was our determination to meet up again at a Third Summit, hopefully within the next couple of years.

Read more about Lindsay Griffin on ukclimbing.com.

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