The Future of Technology and Climbing – Part 1

by Tom Markiewicz on March 12, 2009

Late last year my wife and I bought a house in Colorado and we went through all the normal stressful steps accompanying it. At one point during the process, I received a return phone call from my real estate agent from an unusual place – he was climbing the Third Flatiron!

Now my first jealous thought was “dammit, get back to work…”, but then I started thinking about technology and climbing. I know my agent carried some smartphone so he was probably checking his email and calling from the summit before rapping off.

Personally, while I’ve had the ability to do business while climbing (by using my iPhone at the crag), I’ve always hesitated for a couple reasons.

First, there are the financial issues. These devices are not cheap and I’m not interested in breaking one by throwing it into my pack while climbing. I know his can be mitigated with a nice case, but it’s still an issue.

The second factor is simply the separation of work from play. While I know many times working on a project or training for climbing feels like work, it’s still climbing. I’ve always believed that a bad day climbing is still better than good day working.

I’ve also been thinking about how mobile phones and other technology could be used for climbing, especially as guidebooks. Flashed is selling guides to some areas for the iPod. Mountain Project has a nicely optimized site for the iPhone. There’s also a couple climbing related iPhone apps now.

Each is a great idea, but relies on the premise that you’re willing to take your device out with you climbing.

When I look at my large collection of tattered and dirty climbing guide books, I can see that I’m perfectly happy to throw them on the ground and generally handle them with little care while out climbing. I’m not sure I’m willing to do that with an expensive electronic device.

With the relatively recent demise (and subsequent potential rebirth) of Alpinist and the launch of Dead Point Magazine (completely available online), where is climbing media headed?

Climbing guidebook services like SuperTopo and Dr Topo appear to have had some success with the PDF ebook model, but how many of you actually use them? And if you do, don’t you eventually just print them out to take climbing anyway?

Print media is not going to disappear anytime soon, but what will the future look like? Will print publications grow or should we begin to embrace the emerging digital formats? I’ll explore my thoughts on this question in part 2, but what are your opinions?

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