Mountaineers Books 60th Anniversary

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we reflect on the incredible 60-year history of Mountaineers Books. From the publication of seminal mountaineering literature to key conservation titles, we are proud to bring you stories that change lives and landscapes.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
July 25, 2020

Over the past sixty years, Mountaineers Books has built something incredible. Beginning with a single book, written and produced by volunteers, we have grown into a world-leading outdoors publisher with over 650 titles in print and nearly 17 million books sold since 1960. Today we sell books in print, online, and on-demand, around the world and in a dozen languages. Mountaineers Books are nearly as well traveled as Mountaineers members.

As the organization has grown in scale and reach, Mountaineers Books has kept the spirit of those original volunteers, a spirit which extends from our authors to our staff, from the lifelong members who treasure our books to the new readers who are just getting acquainted with The Mountaineers. With that spirit, I look forward to guiding Mountaineers Books into the next era and continuing to inspire our readers with adventure narratives, guidebooks, and stories intrinsically of the Northwest.

Our audience is broad. Just as the Northwest contains a lifetime of lands and waters to explore and enjoy, it also contains an abundance of independent bookstores and a grassroots community of readers and writers. As one of the few independent publishers and distributors in the region, Mountaineers Books is a key part of that literary ecosystem. This environment is increasingly rare and precious, and we are committed to protecting it, contributing to it, and being a good partner to authors, booksellers, and our distribution clients such as Green Trails Maps and Colorado Mountain Club.

As we build relationships with individuals and organizations who share our goals, we will also work to develop ways to support our publishing program beyond book sales. Not every book that is loved deeply is sold widely. And in the case of our Braided River conservation titles, the stories that most urgently need to be told can often be the stories that people least want to hear. As a nonprofit publisher, our job is to tell the stories that are hard to sell.

There is much to do and so many stories to tell. So let’s get started.
-Tom Helleberg, Publisher 

Brief History 

In 2020, Mountaineers Books celebrates 60 years of nonprofit publishing and award-winning books. In that time, Mountaineers Books has grown from a handful of volunteers committed to sharing their climbing expertise to the nation’s leading independent publisher of outdoor recreation, sustainable lifestyle, and conservation books. Mountaineers Books, together with imprints Skipstone and Braided River, provide the knowledge, skills, and inspiration to get people outdoors and build a community of advocates for wild places.

In the spring of 1960, five thousand copies of the first edition of
Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, written by volunteer members, arrived at The Mountaineers Seattle clubhouse and with it the first stirrings of a new independent press. Now, more than 750,000 copies, nine editions, eight translations, and 60 years later, Freedom has seen Mountaineers Books become the respected outdoor authority that it is today. With more than 650 titles currently in print, ranging from National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Heather Anderson’s memoir Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home to internationally renowned author David Guterson’s Turn Around Time: A Walking Poem for the Pacific Northwest to three editions of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by former director of the Utah Avalanche Center Bruce Tremper to the groundbreaking equity work of James Edward Mills in The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors, Mountaineers Books presents a diverse list continues to inspire and empower outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists.

“50 Hikes in Mt. Rainier, 101 Hikes in the North Cascades and 102 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes were my introduction to hiking over 40 years ago and continue today to be my best guide for my hiking and planning ideas. My hiking dreams begin here.”

–Richard Weaver, member 

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“I’m proud to be published by Mountaineers Books. Their standards elevate me as an author and I loved working with them so much for my first two books that I returned for my third. Seattle is fortunate to be home to a publisher that stays connected and rooted to the essence of the Pacific Northwest while being willing to push the bar every year.” 
–Nicole Tsong, former Seattle Times columnist and author of Yoga for Hikers, Yoga for Climbers, and 24 Ways to Move More

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to see our "Life of a Book" roadmap in full size, visit PAGEs 26-27 of the digital version of Mountaineer.

The Braided River Story: Activating Conservation Impact for Public Lands 

Credit-Florian Schulz-144dpi.jpgPhoto by Florian Schulz.

Since its earliest years, Mountaineers Books titles like The North Cascades (1964) and The Alpine Lakes (1971) have influenced the creation of national parks and protected wilderness areas through images and stories. But in 2003, something incredible happened.

Our book Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life
and Land was held up on the Senate floor in a historic vote
(52-48) to save the Arctic Refuge (ANWR) from energy
development. Senators who only knew of this place as lines
on a map could see the vibrant life captured in all seasons
of the year, and not the “blank white nothingness” espoused
by drilling proponents. The book was credited with influencing
the vote. In this moment, Mountaineers Books realized its
publishing program had the potential to be a powerful vehicle
for supporting critical conservation issues on a national scale.

Thus, Braided River was formed– a unique nonprofit model
merging publishing with education and advocacy, supported
by philanthropy and book sales. Powerful visual storytelling
can transport people to places they might otherwise never see; what we know and come to love, we will protect. Through
Braided River books and programs, and working with
photographers and authors, donors, and grassroots groups,
Mountaineers Books achieves conservation wins like no other
publisher in the country.

We Are Puget Sound: a campaign to save our Salish Sea

The Mountaineers are proud to call Puget Sound home – with
a shared mission to be diligent stewards of our backyard, from
the mountains to the sea. The stunning waters of Puget Sound
are home to two critically endangered and codependent
species: salmon and the southern resident orca whale. The
health of these iconic Northwest species is jeopardized by a
host of environmental issues, from pollution to tanker traffic.

Our 2019 book We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and
Recovering the Salish Sea brought together a powerful
coalition to help address this crisis. Regional Indigenous
tribes, grassroots groups, businesses, and individuals have
joined this campaign to energize and connect citizens with
true solutions as to how they can help protect our ailing Salish Sea. From planting native plants, addressing storm water runoff, to meeting with legislators in Olympia, there are
many ways people can make a difference for our region’s
health. No one action or group can preserve our beautiful
waters – it takes everyone working together.

Created in partnership with Washington Environmental
Council People for Puget Sound, the ambitious work defined
by this book and campaign will go on for years to come, long
after the initial publication and media attention. We Are
Puget Sound supports citizen education, engagement, and
advocacy work through live events, media, and later this year,
in a photo exhibit hosted at the Seattle Aquarium. Together,
We Are Puget Sound can help restore and protect salmon and
orca habitat in the Salish Sea for future generations.

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Protecting America’s Arctic: from 2003 to today

Home to primordial caribou migrations, Arctic foxes, snowy
owls, and polar bears, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
is one of the wildest places on planet Earth, and is public
land that every American owns. Since its founding, Braided
River has connected the American public to the remote
nesting and calving grounds of the Arctic Refuge’s coastal
plain through images and books like Alaska National Wildlife
Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land and We are the Arctic — and
supported impact campaigns around films like the IMAX®
production To the Arctic. Our photographer’s images of
wild caribou and polar bears have been featured in the New
York Times, CNN, and in hundreds of other national and
international outlets, as well as on the floor of the Senate
and natural history museum exhibits across the country.

In 2020, Braided River hasn’t slowed down, and will see
the themes in our books supporting an IMAX® film due
out in the spring of 2021 and a television documentary this
summer featuring the videography work of Florian Schulz, a
Braided River photographer and National Geographic fellow.
The film will follow his multi-year adventure documenting
the wildlife of the refuge, even bringing his two young sons
and wife along to experience the magic of wild places. The
films are produced by the long-time Braided River supporter
Campion Advocacy Fund and Terra Mater. The two films
and impact campaign will introduce new audiences to the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and drive support for its
long-term protection. With the Arctic Refuge under greater
threat than ever and energy lease sales expected this year,
the timing for these impactful films and multimedia impact
campaign is a significant opportunity.

Building relationships that drive key conservation wins

The fight to save our last remaining wild places grows
more urgent every day. Our decades-long relationships
with strategic grassroots organizations is the Braided River
super power. When critical public land is endangered, we
know who to call for strategic guidance, and can act as a
key ally to bring the beauty and importance of these places
to the public.

Braided River’s partnerships with the Alaska Wilderness
League, American Bird Conservancy, Washington
Environmental Council, Audubon, Conservation Northwest,
Woods Hole Research Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and many other distinguished conservation organizations
enable us to have the information we need to be powerful
convening agents in the conservation landscape.

Braided River’s images and stories have influenced desired
conservation outcomes, reaching millions of Americans
during the past 15 years through books, media, educational
events, museum exhibits, grass-roots outreach, companion
films, and more. These books have played a role in protecting
tens of millions of acres of public land, building community,
and reaching broader audiences beyond the conservation
community to preserve wilderness for all to enjoy.

Updated - Life of a Book.jpgto see our "Life of a Book" roadmap in full size, visit PAGE 30 of the digital version of Mountaineer.


This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

LEAD IMAGE by David Moskowitz.