Impact Giving | Homegrown Expertise and Values-Based Publishing

Ian Nicholson is a talented climber and passionate teacher. Learn more about how Mountaineers Books strives to elevate the expertise of members and recreationists like Ian and the role you can play in helping lead innovation in outdoor education.
Mckenzie Campbell Davies Mckenzie Campbell Davies
Annual Giving Manager
July 29, 2023
Impact Giving | Homegrown Expertise and Values-Based Publishing
Photo by Ian Nicholson.

As an independent nonprofit publisher, one of the goals of Mountaineers Books is to amplify the values of Mountaineers members. The editorial team has a finger on the pulse of our outdoor community and chooses projects that help bring readers to the frontlines of outdoor education.

So when Mountaineers Books Editor in Chief, Kate Rogers, was exploring what kind of technical guide the climbing world needed next, she reached out to Ian Nicholson.

Ian loves climbing. Ever since he first touched rock as a teenager, he has enjoyed exploring and developing routes in the Cascades and beyond. Like many Pacific Northwesterners, he delights in the variety of terrains and technical challenges that the region has to offer.

And, with almost twenty years of IFMGA-certified guiding under his harness, Ian’s truest passion is teaching. He feels lucky to have found a career where he can coach and collaborate with climbers of all levels. He has assisted with half a dozen high-angle rescue situations, and serves on the technical committee of the AMGA, where he interfaces with top guides in the industry using the latest in technology and research.

Having seen his sport transformed by growth and innovation over the decades, Ian was excited to suggest the next climbing self-rescue guide.

“For some trips and techniques, such as glacier travel, you practice most of the skills every time,” Ian explains. “But rock rescue is one of those things that you never know when you’re going to need it. You can probably sketch your way through problems, but if you know and practice the techniques, it can be quick and easy. It’s like a riddle: once you know the answer, it’s obvious.”

Ian had recently volunteered to train Mountaineers climbing trip leaders on problem-solving techniques. Attendees loved the session, but wondered how they were supposed to remember everything. As a climbing instructor and student myself, I feel this need deeply. The sport gives us high stakes situations, extreme limitations on gear, and myriad real-world factors that can send our vertical excursions sideways. The need to study and practice for split-second decisions is of paramount importance.

With the support of Mountaineers Books, Ian began working on the guidebook of his dreams, including rich, step-by-step photo illustrations. His goal isn’t just to create the definitive text on self-rescue. He wants to infuse the climbing community with a renewed sense of collaboration and imaginative problem-solving.

“A lot of people learn to climb from a class or a friend, and they never get the chance to check in with what everyone else is doing. Maybe they took their intermediate course a decade ago and have been climbing with the same people since. It’s not like what they’re doing is wrong, but this book is a way for people to check back in to see if there are ways to make it easier or safer.”

Leading through the written word

By writing this book, Ian is stepping into a legacy of leadership that has always been part of our Mountaineers ethos. Take, for example, Mary and Lloyd Anderson, founders of REI. They were among the first graduates of The Mountaineers Climbing Course in 1936 and took copious notes during course activities and their subsequent explorations of the PNW. Before long, their Climber’s Notebook was compiled into a replicable handbook for climbing course students. It toured the fundamentals, from packing lists to piton placement to mountain photography.

“This Climbing Course Outline is an attempt to present mountaineering knowledge in an orderly manner to large numbers of people,” begins the 1940 hand-bound edition. “It represents the effort and accumulated experience of members too numerous to list. It is our hope that it will prove of value to others.” This handbook eventually evolved into Mountaineers Books premiere publication, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills.

It’s been almost 90 years since Mary and Lloyd started scribbling their climbers’ notes, and the spirit of the publishing program has remained true to the trail they broke. Building on their legacy, Mountaineers Books continues to produce new titles by homegrown experts on topics that matter most to me, including urban cycling, wilderness navigation, plant-based backpacking food, and, soon, the latest in climbing self-rescue technique.

Community-supported publishing invests in our future

Leading innovation in outdoor education is broader than documenting knowledge. It’s about preserving the vision of early volunteers like the Andersons. It’s about producing books that emerge from the interests and expertise of our community; books that serve as guides to the natural treasures of our region; and books that help all members become experts in their own right. These are the values that have driven our publishing for the past 63 years and will drive us for another 60 and beyond.

“If Mountaineers Books doesn’t publish these books, who will?” Ian pondered. “Half of the how-to books wouldn’t exist. Climbing has grown a ton, but it’s not totally mainstream. It’s still not baseball.” Throughout the creative process, Ian has felt that he and the publishing team have had the same guiding light: to create a useful resource for climbers. “They’ve never told me ‘Ian, it needs to be less than 200 pages’ or ‘to sell it for this price we need half as many pictures.’ Instead it’s ‘we know you know what to do.’ There’s no script. It’s nice.”

Like any venture grounded in community and place, this kind of publishing requires support. I personally support Mountaineers Books for the same reasons I invest in local farms: I’m supporting a better system. Local farmers use sustainable methods, pay their growers fairly, minimize carbon footprints, and enrich our local landscapes. Because of community-supported agriculture and other local food resources like farmers markets, more people have access to seasonal, healthy produce, and we reduce our dependence on national food chains. By enjoying a hearty share of our local harvest, I also get to enjoy giving back.

In the same way, when I support Mountaineers Books, I know that the team has cultivated titles that meet the needs and reflect the values of our outdoor community. I can trust that the creators have been compensated fairly for sharing their hard-earned knowledge in their own voice. I know that when I crack open the latest title, it will not be written to a cookie-cutter template, but authentic with best practices and a local flavor that can’t be beat.

Ian Nicholson’s forthcoming book, Climbing Self-Rescue: Essential Skills, Technical Tips & Improvised Solutions, is scheduled to hit bookshelves, classrooms, and crag bags on January 1, 2024.


As an independent nonprofit publisher, Mountaineers Books supports local experts and creators like Ian Nicholson at every stage of a project: ideation, outlining, editing, graphic design, photo selection, print production, promotional events, and distribution to readers and retailers around the world.

Donations to The Mountaineers and Mountaineers Books allow us to rise to our mission potential, lead with our values, and choose projects that matter most to our community. Mountaineers Books publications help more people enjoy the natural world safely and sustainably. For more information, or to make a donation, visit our Mountaineers Books website.

This article originally appeared in our summer 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive