With so many iconic outdoors magazines having been sent to the permanent shredder in recent years—Backpacker (2022), Surfer (2020), Transworld Snowboarding (2019), to name a few—it's too easy to be pessimistic about the state of adventure storytelling. "Print is dead!" media harbingers continue to yell. But not everyone is listening, including journalist Michael Levy, who as of today is the editor of Summit Journal, a new biannual print magazine born on the shoulders of legendary climbing rag Summit, which ceased printing in 1996.
The latest in a growing cadre of outdoors editors to revive a once-shuttered but long-beloved title (a la Mountain Gazette), Levy is no stranger to shuttered rags. He worked for several years as an editor at Rock and Ice until Outside Inc. merged it with Climbing in 2021—and then killed it completely in 2022. But where some hear a death knell, Levy sees an opportunity.
With his recent acquisition of the copyrights and trademarks for Summit, a magazine about climbing and mountaineering that ran from 1955 to 1996, he's now the one making the tough decisions. First of all was bringing it back to life as Summit Journal, which will come out twice a year beginning in 2024 as large-format, archival-quality books that will only be available via subscription. Below, we talk with Levy about what else to expect from the new publication, and why he's reviving it.
As a climber, Levy has worked as a guide in Southeast Asia, scaled technical peaks in Alaska and South America, and helped develop routes in Africa. "I’ve been through every stage—gym rat, sport climber, aspiring big wall climber, alpinist," he says. All will be reflected in the ink-covered pages of Summit Journal, which will be available only to subscribers as a twice yearly, large-format, archival-quality book.
The first issue of the new Summit Journal won't hit mailboxes until 2024, but subscriptions are now available (we're already signed up!). In the meantime, we reached out to Levy to find out what else the climbing community can expect from the iconic publication, now reborn. Read on below for our Q&A with Summit Journal Editor Michael Levy.
How did you come to be acquainted with Summit?
I’d seen covers and old issues over the years, but never really had a sense of what it was or its broader place in climbing history. But then a few years ago I read this great essay by Katie Ives, the former editor of Alpinist, that really laid out the legacy. Summit was founded in 1955 by two women, Jean Crenshaw, and Helen Kilness, and it was truly the climbing mag of its day. It was the only one for a long time!
Royal Robbins was an editor. Yvon Chouinard wrote for them. It was a who’s who of climbing legends. But there were also articles about regular families going out climbing or backpacking. It had this very egalitarian ethos.
What made you want to relaunch it?
I think of all adventure sports, climbing has this particularly cool history. With epic figures and stories. And being able to draw a direct line—straight from those legendary people and their stories—to today, just seems so cool to me. Not that I want to be stuck in the past—this is very much a new magazine for a new era. But carrying on the legacy, taking this institution, dusting it off, and sprucing it up for a new era, just feels special in a different way than starting a title from scratch.
Do you have a favorite story from the Summit archive?
There’s one essay by Royal Robbins called “Toward a Climbing Ethic,” that just blew me away when I first read it. The philosophy and ideas about climbing that he was wrestling with back then in the '60s, it’s amazing how prescient he was. He really did essentially write the rules of the game all modern climbers are playing; obviously, some things have changed, some things have evolved, and that evolution will continue. But he was really forward-thinking about where this sport, this climbing lifestyle, was headed.
What should readers who are familiar with the old Summit Magazine expect from the resurrected Summit Journal?
I mean let’s be honest, there probably aren’t many people who are familiar with the old Summit. Its heyday was a long time ago. But it certainly will be vastly different from the original. The original was kind of your traditional magazine: it had a lot of shorter departments, how-to kind of stuff, that sort of thing. But the new Summit Journal is all about long-form storytelling. There’s no point in putting a gear review or a how-to article in print, in my opinion. Expect really long narrative stories—of new climbs, tragedies, historical moments, whatever—with stellar photography. That’s what Summit Journal is all about.
Will any new Summit Journal content be available online?
Print ain’t dead! Niche print publications are having a mini-renaissance, and we’re extremely proud to be a part of it. No articles that appear in Summit Journal will ever appear online. Part of that is to preserve the value of subscribing to the print publication itself, but also, there’s something special about thumbing the pages and smelling the ink. Unplugging and sitting down with a physical book and a beer or a cup of coffee—that’s transportive in a way that reading something online just can’t be, I think.
What's the roster of future contributors look like so far?
Oh man, we’ve got some great people lined up. Some of the best climbing journalists in the game, from Jeff Jackson to Chris Kalman to Mailee Hung. A few big-name athletes, like Tommy Caldwell, Margo Hayes, and Conrad Anker. We’ve got some great photogs on the hook, too—guys like Keith Ladzinksi of NatGeo. But I’ve kept space open, too, for cold submissions. I want people to pitch us! I don’t want it to just be famous climbers or established writers in Summit Journal. I want that egalitarian ethos of the original to continue on.
Can you give us a tease of an upcoming story?
God, that’s tough. Trying to decide which one I’m most excited about, it’s tough! We’ve got one big feature in the works about all-arounders, and how that’s a bit of a dying art, being able to do it all exceptionally well from bouldering to big walling to alpine climbing. That piece is still early stages, but what with the climbers who are going to be covered in it, I think it’s going to be a knockout.
Subscribe to Summit Journal for $60/year.