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Five Questions: Mountain Project Founder Nick Wilder

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The founder of Mountain Project opens up on finding unsung gems, the end of sandbagging and his guidebook-killing app.

With information on more than 19,000 climbing areas and 112,000 routes worldwide, the Mountain Project App is the essential mobile guidebook for climbers and mountaineers. Thanks to a partnership between Black Diamond and Mountain Project, the Mountain Project App is now available as a free download.

Click here to download

With Mountain Project hosting descriptions to more than 19,000 areas, where do you climb?

You know, I’m just an average intermediate climber. I like the classic moderates: 5.8-5.10. My favorite routes are the multi-pitch routes in Eldo. For somebody at my level, it’s a big advantage to be able to spend the entire day on famous routes so close to home. Living in Boulder, we have tons and tons of sport climbing right up Boulder canyon, I go to Rocky Mountain National Park a fair amount in summer, climb the alpine routes and the long trad routes. So I guess I’m a generalist, I’m not particularly good at anything but I like it all.

Has Mountain Project changed your approach to climbing?

It’s made me pretty methodical in finding the best routes wherever I am. I don’t get stuck doing the same routes very often, unless they’re real favorites. I’m always using Mountain Project to find the gems that I don’t know about, or maybe ones the guidebook doesn’t give very many stars but turn out to have a consensus on Mountain Project as a high-quality route.

It’s also really easy to make a great to-do list for yourself. I used to spend a ton of time going through guidebooks, writing out lists of climbs, and then struggling to find where they are. You can set that all up on Mountain Project if you’re going on a trip.

So do you think Mountain Project has killed the sandbagged epic?

I feel like I did one yesterday! I did this route—the standard route up The Maiden, in Boulder. And it’s 5.6, but it’s 5.6 with overhanging, unprotected moves with hundreds of feet of air below you. I kind of knew about that, but I didn’t give it serious consideration because, hell, it’s 5.6. So I brought, like, a third of my rack, I went late in the day, without much water—and pretty much sandbagged myself.

If I had paid attention to Mountain Project, I would have seen the two dozen comments saying ‘this is the scariest 5.6 I’ve ever done’ and ‘be sure to bring a #4 Camalot.’ So, yes, it can cut out some of the sandbagging—but only if you read it all. If you just want to use Mountain Project to find highly rated climbs in your range and not read a word about it, you can do that. But I think most people want more information.

Mountain Project is best known for its route info, but what other feature do climbers use a lot?

The Route Finder. It’s something that guidebooks can’t do, where you fill out a form telling it where you want to climb—and it can be a big area, like the whole state of Utah, or a small area like Little Cottonwood Canyon—and you tell it how many pitches you want, or what difficulty, or ‘I only want topropes,’ and it will show you all the topropes, in that location, sorted however you want—by star rating, or area, etc. That’s a really powerful feature, and it gets used a lot.

What’s the future of Mountain Project?

We started in 2002, so we have a lot of information that pre-dates cell phones with GPS. And that holds us back from doing some of the really cool features that we’d like to do, like finding areas that are near you, or giving precise directions to a crag. We’ve all walked around areas like the Wonderland in Joshua Tree for hours, looking for a particular rock. Those days are ending.

The other thing is, until this month, once an area or climb was described in Mountain Project, it was essentially fixed. People could add comments, but the actual description didn’t improve over time. We’re changing that to make it more like Wikipedia: other members of Mountain Project will be able to improve descriptions, so the data will continue to improve. We’re in this for the long haul, and it’s just going to get better and better.

Download the Mountain Project App here