These days, we could all use a little more balance in life. But even for those few lucky ones that have made their passion their work, the road to living “the life” is often a longer, less clear, and more wandering path. For climber-photographer-videographer-producer-model, and all around powerhouse, Colette McInerney, this has very much been the case.
Being the chameleon she is, over the years she has found herself immersed in a multitude of different jobs, countries, cultures, and ways of life. From copywriting and waitressing to becoming a sponsored pro climber (she’s sent 5.14’s, no biggy), professional traveler, vanlifer, and even working at a high fashion modeling agency, she has had a life full of adventure. But she didn't always know where it was taking her—she'll easily admit there was a lot of doubt and wondering that accompanied the wandering.
Though through it all she always knew she loved climbing, traveling, and documenting above the rest. When she combined all three, she finally knew that was her niche. And now, after more than a decade of commitment to her passions, she's become a partner in a women's media collaborative called Never Not Collective, which recently wrapped funding for the collective’s first endeavor together—“Pretty Strong,” an all women’s full-length climbing movie.
To learn more about about the Nashville native turned transient (she’s currently living in Sweden) climber, how it all began and where she’s headed next, we recently caught up with McInerney over the phone. The following are the highlights.
How did you originally get into climbing? Was it love at first sight or did it grow on you over time?
I went climbing for the first time at a gym in Stanford Connecticut called GO Vertical! with two of my college roommates, Meghan Macdonald and Amy Jo Rock. I have to say I was pretty immediately hooked. I really loved all the physical aspects the sport. I took gymnastics when I was little (never very seriously) but it was the first thing that even compared to that for me, so I was hooked.
I don’t think I ever really considered it an obsession—the total commitment to climbing has definitely been more of a gradual progression. I’ve had many times in my life where I questioned what I should be doing outside of climbing, but I always just ended up coming back to the sport.
When did you start shooting photos and what sparked your interest? How did you transition into shooting more video projects?
I started shooting photos when I started a blog in 2008/2009, after I quit my first real desk job at Backcountry.com. I wanted a way to keep up with writing. Around that time I started traveling a lot more and got a hold of a point and shoot type camera (Canon G9) that shot pretty good quality photos and started posting pictures with my [written] posts. It was mainly travel photography; cool Euro streets or old doors and window (I still love shooting that stuff!).
Eventually I started shooting more climbing from a rope when my boyfriend at the time was a sponsored climber, and I got the chance to sell media to climbing magazines and some online video sites. At first the video felt a little bit like a chore and I wasn’t doing the editing. But eventually I really grew to like it more and more and all those things kind of came together.
What are your thoughts on social media in the climbing world?
I dunno. We’re all kind of this test population for social media, you know. Over all there isn’t as much celebrity-ism in climbing as mainstream media or some other sports, so that keeps climbing pretty modest. But that is slowly changing too.
Tell us about Never Not Collective, the female media production company you recently co-founded.
Having a collective was something I had been thinking about for some time, but the reality was I didn’t think I was ready and didn't have the foresight to really make it happen.
Shelma Jun, the creator of Flash Foxy and the Women’s Climbing Festival, approached me the year after we met and proposed creating a production team. I was really hesitant because I already felt over worked. It felt ambitious and basically kind of scary. She met Julie Ellison, the former editor of Climbing Magazine, and they had a similar talk and Julie was definitely not scared about the idea. Shelma came back to me and asked again. Basically I just couldn’t say no twice. With that Julie brought Leslie Hittmeire, former online marketing manager at Teton Gravity Research, on board, and that was that.
It’s been really, really cool having people to bounce ideas off of. All these women are extremely talented so we can all learn so much from each other. It’s amazing. Plus they are all really good at the things I’m terrible at! Which is great.
What projects are you working on now?
We recently launched a Kickstarter for our first big initiative "Pretty Strong,” an all women's climbing film. This is a passion project I've had in mind for a few years now and when I teamed up with these others women they were really stoked to jump on board and make it a reality. It's been really excited to see excitement from the climbing community.
I think people really want to see this film happen. The support we've had so far is just crazy. I'm really blown away and totally humbled. Its very exciting.
We have some other projects in the works as well, but we're not really at liberty to talk about them too much yet. That's production life I guess!
The climbing media world is pretty male dominated. Have you experienced many challenges as a woman in this field or are things progressing?
I haven’t fully had something negative happen in climbing media because of being a woman, like I haven’t had anyone not work with me because I’m a woman, or not hire me. It’s more the bigger statements that are made in society that you are dealing with.
I’ve had a client say something like “so ALL the footage is yours?” after watching a rough draft of a climbing short. It was obvious he was questioning whether I had shot the technical climbing footage. The guy wasn’t a climber so he was kind of clueless, but I definitely wanted to respond sarcastically like “no my boyfriend shot that part of the film.”
After spending so much time immersed in different climbing cultures, what are your tips for blending into the local scene?
Don't wear your chalk bag on carabiner!! Haha. This is kind of a joke, but seems to be the typical style of a very new climber.
Also, don’t size people up and get competitive. This usually means you’ve been climbing long enough to get “good” but not long enough to know that if you’re “lifer” that shit really doesn’t matter.
Own a brush and USE IT. New climbers out there don’t seem to brush holds when they are climbing or after climbing, and with more traffic at the crags that stuff takes it’s toll. It’s basic crag ethics that everyone should follow, along with Leave No Trace. Nobody is too cool to get cliffs closed down.
Where are your favorite places in the world to climb?
Definitely Spain is on the top of my list. Not only because it has some of the best and highest concentration of amazing climbing in the world, but I love the way of life and the mentality of the people and climbers there. Plus I’ve made some of my greatest friends there over the years.
But still, nothing compares to the American West, and one of my favorite places ever will always be Southern Utah. That desert really has such a special energy like no other.
Any parting words of wisdom?
I think some younger people—men and women—get discouraged if they haven’t made it or know exactly what they want when they are still so young!
I remember my 25th birthday. I was waiting tables in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on the strip. I remember feeling so old and having no idea what I wanted to do and feeling really down on myself because of it. But life just doesn't happen like that, you know.
I’ve been climbing for 15 years, in the industry for 13 years, and shooting now for almost 10. So I guess I’d just say cool projects and things like this don't happen overnight.