Being published - how climbers learned about climbing BITD


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 12, 2017 - 09:25am PT
In the depths of the past, we're talking the 1990s here, the way climbers learned about the happenings of what went on in climbing were through published accounts. The nature of printed publications is that they have limited resources to devote to each issue, dominated by page count and balancing the area available to climbing content with that for advertisements.

And then the subscription rate which balances the bottom line.

As such only limited numbers of authors and correspondents appeared, unlike SuperTopo Forum (for example) where anyone ( and that includes those with multiple personalities showing up as avatars) can post anything in any thread. The antithesis of publishing.

Advertisement is still with us, and it is the answer to the mid-1990s (and into the 2000s) to the question: "how are you going to make money on the web?" It is hard to imagine this was still a question into the mid 2000s, when it wasn't at all clear how Google and others could make money.

But all that said, the enduring quality of paper (we can still read Egyptian papyrus from the age of the pharaohs) have preserved a lot of what was published, even the ephemera which was not thought to have any value beyond the limited purpose of advertising a sale...

Every once and a while I dig deep into the magazines I've go on my bookshelves looking for some piece of information from way back when. And often I find something that I'm not looking for...

What is amazing is that some of that stuff, from 20 years ago, looks remarkably like the stuff that still gets written here, perhaps this will embarrass the participants, but hey, why wait for the anthropologists and sociologists 200 years from now trying to puzzle out just what it all means to have irreverent fun at the expense of those participants?

From that delicious column that informed us as to just who really were the important people in climbing...

Climbing 154, pp178-179
August 1-September 15, 1995


Tami Knight
She was the first woman to climb Astroman (she had mono at the time, so she "only led the easier pitches"), and has a string of one-day ascents of Grade V and VI alpine routes all over the Northwest and the Canadian Rockies.

"So what?" you ask. "My nine year-old brother leads 13b."

'Well, John Sherman says, "Tami Knight and Mark Twight are the funniest people writing about climbing today." "As funny as Twight? NO WAY!" Have I finally got your attention?

So who is this woman? The facts are simple enough. She grew up on the slopes of the mountains north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Her parents, keen hikers and skiers, enrolled her in a gymnastics class when she was four (1964, for those of you who want to count backwards and figure out if she's too old or too young to really understand your climbing scene) and for the next 14 years gymnastics was her life. She competed regularly in Europe in the mid-'70s, and if it weren't for a car accident in 1978 would probably have gone on to a wholesome life of gold medals, sports commentating, and breakfast cereal endorsement ŗ la Mary Lou Retton.

While she was recovering from that relatively minor accident she met a young climber named Peter Croft who was having trouble finding a partner who could keep up with him. Knight didn't know much about climbing, but she was fit and strong.

Her conversion to climbing was instant and total. For the next decade she lived the climbing life to the max, groveling in Yosemite's Camp 4 in the spring and fall, bivying under boulders at Squamish in the summer. In the winter she squatted in a one-room shack in the mountains and worked in a run-down ski resort cafeteria, busting her ass in tree-planting camps when she grew desperate for money. And she chronicled it all - the good times and the bad, all the craziness that is climbing - in cartoons.

In the early days, she was published - when she was published at all - in obscure Canadian climbing-club newsletters, and then in the Canadian Alpine Journal. In 1988 she self-published a collection of cartoons. When that sold out, she followed it with two more. Through direct cosmic intervention (how else would you explain a limited-edition western-Canadian climbing book turning up in Birmingham, Alabama?) one of these books was seen by Menasha Ridge Press, which has now published two more books, with worldwide distribution. One night last winter, after her children - Isaac, 5, and Dominique, 3 - were asleep, we snugged down in front of the woodstove with a quart of her husband's homemade plum brandy to talk about the cartoons and about climbing writing in general.

So where did it all start?

"I loved Sheridan Anderson's cartoons in Basic Rockcraft, and Beryl Knauth's illustrations in Downward Bound, and sh#t, man, the scene at Squamish was every bit as loony as anything that was going on in Camp 4, so I just started drawin' to document that.

"Daryl Hatton was kind of a preface to a lot of my cartoons. His attitude and his way were very extreme. And then people like Perry Beckham, Scott Flavelle, Peter Croft, Dick Mitten, Carl Austrom, yourself; and also people from the previous generation - Piro, Sutton, Burton - all those people from the Squamish Hardcore; and even from the generation before that - Paul Starr, Fred Douglas, Dick Culbert. There was a rainbow of people over many years that I've boiled down into my characters. But Daryl was the start of it all and he's one of the few people I've ever directly cartooned."

I think my favorite character is your ice climber.

"Ice climbing has got to be the weirdest thing. It really does. Dragging your bones up a piece of frozen water ..."

Well your ice climber can't be modeled on anything human, so how did you come up with him?

"But he is. You know how Blanchard says about hard ice climbing, that it's about as weird as it gets and being good at it doesn't mean you're good at anything else in life? Well, I think that he's talkin' about this particular guy. I just don't wanna say his name cuz you got the tape running. I really don't. He's so scary. He walks into a room and the paint peels. Sooooo scary ... I mean the eyes don't focus. And people who have gone rock climbing with him say the guy can't place pro. He can't. It's just gotta be that all-out 'Yeaurrhgg! Whack! Yeaurrhgg! Whack! Yeaurrhgg!' ice-climbing thing."

Skewering ice climbers is pretty easy, but you skewer everybody. Sherman says that he's really jealous of you because you can say stuff that he could never say ... A good example would be your Sally Bustyerface character. If Sherman - or any man - tried to poke fun at a caricature dyke like you do with her he'd never get published.

"It a voice-appropriation thing. It's like that white sportscaster who made some comment about a bunch of black guys - some 'fried chicken and watermelon' thing - and got crucified; whereas, a couple of months before, a black sportscaster had made the identical comment and nobody blinked. With respect to jokes about women; well I am a woman, so I can get away with it. And I'm also a master at sliding around political incorrectness."

You are not. I've known you for almost 20 years and you are the most politically incorrect person in the universe ...

"Yeah, well, I just go ahead and do it. And if I offend somebody, if they cant take it, then they can put it down. I know Climbing Mag has got some hate letters - particularly from the right-wing, Christian crowd - but I haven't had any hate mail come to the house, I've only had fan mail."

Marc Twight generates a fair amount of hate mail whenever one of the climbing magazines publishes him. What do you think of his stuff?

"Dr. Doom! I'd die for him. Look at this article [she waves "Fragments," from Climbing No. 150 in my face]. I creamed my jeans on this one. It's delicious. It's like eatin' choklit. Listen to this. This is such a great line: 'I wanted to vomit all day long on the Reality Bath.' I mean, really, what was he doing? Eating raw chicken the day before?

"And I like 'Greg Child, Investigative Reporter.' You know, the Tomo Cesen controversy on Lhotse and the Lydia Bradey thing."

Hmmm. I like Greg's writing, but I had a problem with both of those articles because he never offered an opinion of his own.

"I think he did the right thing. I like the way he delineated it all so clinically. You can be really swayed by an opinion from someone with a big name, and in climbing, Greg has a big name. But he just served it up and didn't garnish it."

What would you say is wrong with climbing writing today?

"It's the same old sh#t rehashed again and again and again and again ... I've been involved in the climbing scene for almost 20 years, and people are still puttin' the same stuff into their barf bags as they were when I started. It's the same chunks. It's the same spew. Same curds, same whey, and I think that's the fault of the publishers."

So what would you like to see?

"Less of the Great Big Man climbing the Great Big Mountain. That's what really disappointed me at the Banff Festival."

You mean there was too much expedition-related ...

"Not so much expeditions, but exhibitions. That's what pissed me off about Ad Burgess. 'Like yeah, well, heh, heh, yeah, we got drunk an we climbed the f*#kin' mountain and we came down, an, heh heh heh, me brother got laid you know, an then I did too, an heh heh it turned out to be the same woman, heh heh heh.' F*#k that. Shut up. Heard it. Been there. And the same pictures of the prayer flags fluttering in front of 'the Fishtail, Machapuchare' or whatever they call it."

Well part of the problem with trying to do books or shows or films about expeditions is that wherever climbers go now, CNN was there last year ...

"True. So let's do something different."

Like what?

"Joe Simpson has done it. Touching the Void exploded beyond climbing. The book was great because it described the adventure and it was so visceral. And his slide show was tremendous. Greg Child, too. He hit the nail on the head with the lecture he did in Banff last year and he didn't show a picture of a mountain. All he showed was pictures of snakes. Or at least the ones that burned into my memory were snakes. And his story about being bitten by the king cobra was very metaphorical and it was very compelling.

"And one thing I wouldn't mind seeing is a coffee-table book combining humor and climbing. There's a distinct lack of humor these days I really would like to see a compilation of climbing humor. You'd have to do a lot of research, but there's lots out there. Just look at the Vulgarian Digest, for example ..."

And there's David Dornian.

"He's my favorite! He's the best! That CMC Journal is just joyous to read. It's hilarious. He sets the tone. I'm not easily impressed by writing - I'm very critical of people's writing, especially humor - and, boy, I can't find anything bad to say. Clean. Tight. He hits all the shapes. The guy gets a 10 ..."

So why are the editors of
Climbing and Rock & Ice not clamoring to get Dornian into their magazines?

"F*#ked if I know. Cuz they're dolts?"

By this time the jar was empty and talk drifted to the relationship between growing competition pumpkins and ice climbing ... For more insight into what Knight is like, check out a few snapshots in my "Fifteen Years of Climbing With Tami" album:

Snapshot #1

This one is from a long time ago. It shows five young climbers on a ledge, with a tight rope running diagonally up from them, out of the frame. Tami is the one in front - the one who is laughing so hard at something that has just happened to the guy at the other end of the rope that she looks like she might either pee her pants or tumble off the ledge.

She was laughing at my expression of total terror.

The five on the ledge were some of the most experienced and talented climbers anywhere, a combination of wall rats, extreme free climbers, and mountaineers who could be relied on in any situation. They'd set up a bombproof belay, plus triply redundant protection at the high point, and then let out a measured 30 feet of slack so that when I faked my fall I'd plummet spectacularly toward the camera - far enough to make it look good in the commercial, but not really all that far.

But as the milliseconds of the fall stretched out longer and longer, the rock kept flying upward past me. Forty feet. Fifty feet ...

Then TWANG, and I was hanging almost on top of the terrified cameraman, looking across at my "friend" on the ledge, knowing from her crazed laughter that it had been her idea to give me the extra 20 feet of slack.

Hee, hee. Another day on the rocks with Tami. What a giggle.

Snapshot #2

It's a bit hard to see what's going on in this one. There's a lot of snow blowing around, and the background has the amorphous look of an alpine face that has been completely plastered with rime and is being blasted by a Force 8 gale. The climber in the photo is soloing, halfway up a steep mixed step - but she's in a strange, contorted position, hanging by one tool with her right foot pulled up almost to her face, trying to do something to her crampon without losing her mittens or her goggles or her other tool.

It's the middle of winter and she's completely cocooned against the storm, but she's pulled her goggles up and her scarf down so that she can see and swear, and if you look closely you can see that it's the same woman who was laughing so hard in the previous shot. She's older now, and this time the joke is on her and there's no rope to keep the humor in the punchline. But she's still laughing.

Snapshot #3

It's snowing in this one, too, and the steam rising from the outdoor hot tub into the two-in-the-morning blackness of a winter night in the Canadian Rockies is obscuring things a bit, but there's no question about who's in the picture. It's Tami again, dead drunk and stark naked, flying high above the trampoline, water spraying from her body, howling with demented laughter at the way the snow flies up when she lands.

Our hostess looks at Tami, then lowers herself back into the hot tub and whispers, "Is she always like this?" But all I can do is grab the whiskey bottle that's floating around beside me, pour a shot, and shrug my shoulders, as another shriek echoes through the sleeping neighborhood:

"Woooeeee! This is almost as much fun as climbing."

 David Harris
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Oct 12, 2017 - 09:39am PT
Yay. The world need more like Tami Knight and more of Tami Knight.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Oct 12, 2017 - 09:40am PT
This is great Ed. Thanks for posting, just what we need now.


Tiptoeing through the chilly waters of life
Oct 12, 2017 - 09:43am PT
Thanks Ed. Loved reading this.

Keep 'em coming, please.
John M

Oct 12, 2017 - 09:51am PT
Full on love it !!!! Tami's joie de virve comes through in that article. Thats what I love about you Tami. I can feel your laughter. Puts a smile on my face.

Thanks for posting this Ed. I love where your mind goes.

Great writing David..
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Oct 12, 2017 - 10:01am PT
We were young once, and stupid! ;) So we couldn't get a word in edge-wise. That's why we relied on Tami and Ghost to show us the way... :)

But now.... hahahaha, everyone's got an opinion and they all stink.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Oct 12, 2017 - 10:28am PT
Great....Tamiís the best, but Twight funny.....hmmmm.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Oct 12, 2017 - 10:37am PT
"Look at that little monkey send!"--some white sportcaster

A long way from where I started
Oct 12, 2017 - 11:02am PT
Thanks Ed.

That was a fun piece to write. Unfortunately, Michael K didn't understand the importance of our in-depth discussion of the relationship between growing competition pumpkins and ice climbing. Something about there only being one page available...

But, wonder of wonders, while digging through the years of accumulated trash in the midden known as "my basement" this summer, I FOUND THE TAPE.

Once I retire, maybe I'll transcribe it and let the Supertopo clan in on the competition-pumpkin-growing vs ice-climbing question.



Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Oct 12, 2017 - 12:58pm PT
One of the most enjoyable things I've read here in while! Thanks for serving it up.

I started climbing with ropes just a short time before that, but mostly didn't read the magazines or care about who was who and what they were doing in the climbing world. I just liked to go out and trick my friends into trusting that I knew what I was doing.

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Oct 12, 2017 - 01:05pm PT
Tami's books are REALLY good too (they're published, on paper, between covers).
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 01:31pm PT
Try not to say or do something that Tami finds funny...


Credit: Tami


Social climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 02:00pm PT
< tries to skulk away >
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 02:19pm PT
Lou Reed once said, "you get less time for stealing a car" when one of his songs was played in a bar he was at.

Social climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 02:27pm PT
<buttit doesn't work>

Snicker. Thanks be to David for all his work on the original comic books. And thanks for the repost Ed.

Interesting to read that now .
And David has found the tape ?
I'm screwed.


Curious to read my words from 20 years ago. Kids were , what, 3 & 4 in the piece & now they're late 20's and flown the coop.

Those people I talked about in the piece are all still there in my life. Yay. And, yah, I still think Mark Twight was funny. He phoned me up one night about 20 years ago . It was late; around 11pm. I picked up the receiver and sorta mumbled a hullo. "YO, TAMI !!! THIS IS THE REAL ROGER" said Marc/k/q channeling my character "Roger, hyperconshiss master of the extreem" that was so obviously based on him. I have no memory of the conversation but still giggle at his salutation.

A shout-out to Michael Kennedy for believing in my work 30 years ago. If it wasn't for him & Chic Scott, the toonz would have prolly remained contained on the Coast here.

As I age, I realize that I was very lucky meeting the fellows I met when I did. They were very supportive of my rather odd body of work. I don't know that it would happen today; we have become a much more intolerant & nasty society. There is precious little humour in climbing writing and yet, when we sit around the camp fire we tell stories that make us laugh.

I don't get out much any more but I still get to part company with ideas onto paper and breathe life into the silly sides of this activity of climbing.


Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Oct 12, 2017 - 02:30pm PT

Social climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 02:30pm PT
Oh, and, thanks for the kind words above.

I still have books fer sale. Three titles
 Tami Knight returns
 climbing Tales of terror
 Everest; The Ultimate Hump

All long outta print. Just boxes of the damn things in my attic. I know the email button doesn't work for stupor topo so.........

<deleted> If you wish to buy books from me, please bump the thread. :-) how to reach me. I'll prolly delete that when this slides off the front pg.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 03:06pm PT
Some times when I escape from work and take a seat at some random lunch counter, I get to be the laughing fool no one understands.

It's all because of that animated Humping Dog Cafe neon sign sketch you did !

Super funny !


Trad climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 04:24pm PT
My bookshelf contains a lot of musings that include those from Long, Child, Pritchard, Sherman, to name a few. Those books have a lot of thumb marks on them for sure and helped shaped my vision and style in climbing and the lesson of not taking yourself too seriously. One cartoon that always sticks out is by Tami in the Long book "Close Calls" where there is some educational narrative and the cartoon has some dude with a hole in his head and you can see a pile of sh$t in there. Obvious the intention. And often when I do something really stupid the image of that drawing comes to mind.



Trad climber
Oct 12, 2017 - 04:50pm PT
Tami I would love to see the cartoon you did about Sharon Wood for her 40th birthday.
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