Matt Niswonger

The online climber’s community known as the SuperTopo Forum is pulling the plug. For climbers, it’s the end of an era. Years before Facebook existed, the spirited banter and sense of community made SuperTopo an indispensible resource for climbers. Noted Yosemite climber Chris McNamara and longtime business partner Randy “RJ” Spurrier launched SuperTopo over eighteen years ago.

SuperTopo founders Randy “RJ” Spurrier and Chris McNamara.

“For climbers, the SuperTopo Forum has been the virtual Degnan’s Deli. Located in the center of Yosemite Valley, the Deli brought climbers together to share stories, toss a few cold ones back and build community. Though the Deli scene died off long ago, the SuperTopo Forum has been alive and well. New friendships have been formed through the “Taco,” plus it’s been a great place for climbing news. It will be missed,” said ASJ climbing editor and Yosemite regular Chris Van Leuven.

Although SuperTopo will continue to exist as an archive, the online Forum will no longer accept new posts after June 1st, 2019. Last week thousands of SuperTopo members were shocked and saddened to see the following message from SuperTopo cofounder Chris McNamara:

“It is with a sad heart that I announce that normal operation of the SuperTopo Climber’s Forum will cease June 1st. The Forum has been an amazing digital campfire, with more than 2 million posts over the last 18 years. It has reconnected many climbers with old friends and helped many climbers make new friends. And, there have been many amazing and compelling posts on the site, especially those on climbing-related topics that have been enjoyed by millions of people.

I have received a ton from this community and feel lucky to have been a part of it. I’ve met a lot of my heroes on this forum and made many great connections. I give warmest thanks to you all. The forum was a big wild experiment with many highs and lows. But mostly highs.”

We reached out to Chris McNamara in Tahoe to see if we could get more details. I asked him about some of the highlights, especially when climbing legends like Royal Robbins joined the online discussion. “Having Royal and other legends join SuperTopo was a dream. Unlike a poster signing where you might just shake hands and say “good to meet you”, on the Forum you could engage with your heroes. That and the memorial tributes were my favorite parts.”

We also reached out to Royal’s daughter Tamara, a long time Forum member who remembers her time on SuperTopo fondly.

“It is with a sense of nostalgic sadness that I think about the end of the SuperTopo Forum. I joined in 2009, and was immediately touched by the names, intellectual discourse, good fun, and especially by the connection it provided to people and stories related to our family. Without SuperTopo, Dad’s memorial would have had half the attendance it did, and the gratitude for that extends well beyond just the Robbins family.

Credit goes to Chris McNamara and RJ for the vision they had to create a much needed online community of climbers. SuperTopo not only rekindled old relationships, it also created so many new ones. I would likely not have started climbing last year were it not for the encouragement and gracious sharing of time by many who were there for me.

Royal Robbins and his daughter Tamara. Photo by John Cleare.

SuperTopo was also a place where Dad [Royal Robbins] and I shared a unique part of our relationship–bantering together in threads as he learned the ropes of social media and I learned about “ropes” in a fashion. It will be missed, and my love for this online community will endure.”

Tamara was kind enough share Royal’s first post on SuperTopo. On August 16th, 2009, Royal Robbins wrote this:

“Hi everybody. I am kinda new at the “social media,” but I am willing to learn. First of all, many thanks to my defenders, especially my daughter, Tamara, who is even more beautiful now then she was in that picture taken so many years ago.”

Another climbing legend who left his mark on SuperTopo was Doug Robinson. I was able to reach him for comment near Mammoth, where he has been skiing every day to take advantage of good conditions and late season snowfall. Over the phone, Doug had this to say, “You don’t know what you had ‘till it’s gone. SuperTopo was an incredible resource, because it was crowd-sourced, and drew us in, especially the old guys who were there, making the history. Royal Robbins shared, Ritchie Goldstone, Peter Haan, Don Lauria, Guido…I can’t begin to do justice to them all. Fortunately, the words will be archived, if not the photos. Thank you, Chris McNamara, for a great run.”

Doug Robinson bouldering in the Buttermilk. Photo by Chris Noble.

While interviewing people for this story it was emphasized that SuperTopo was sometimes rough and tumble. At times the banter could be less than friendly—or even downright hostile—and some of the members did not suffer fools lightly. Even so, it was always a valuable resource for climbers on the hunt for information. In climbing, the right information can make the difference between life and death, and going to SuperTopo during the research phase of any route was a smart move.

Above all SuperTopo was a way to crowd-source granular details about climbing routes by asking questions in real time. As a resource for climbers, it was way ahead of its time. There were older digital climbing communities (rec.climbing comes to mind) but SuperTopo was (and remains) the best searchable database for specific climbing information. Chris McNamara is always quick to credit his business partner RJ as the computer genius behind SuperTopo.

Later in his final post, McNamara made the following statement, leading to more questions than answers for some:

“As I noted last week, the SuperTopo Climber’s Forum has never been a profitable business venture. It costs us a significant amount of time and money each year to operate the Forum, and we have done so as a service for the climbing community for 18 years. But, the prospect of having to bear increased potential costs in the future, both in time and legal costs, due to litigation related to inappropriate posts by a minority of forum members has changed the math. I am sorry to say this, but we no longer feel we can justify continued operation of the Forum.”

Now that the demise of the SuperTopo Forum is official, I asked Chris McNamara what’s next.

“While the Forum is shutting down, the other parts of remain as do the guidebooks. Our main work focus is OutdoorGearLab and TechGearLab, which continue to be super engaging and fun. Outside of work, I am helping to build a true downtown in Lake Tahoe, as well as the first single track day-hikable and bike-able trail around Tahoe. In addition, we are working on the first day-hikable and bike-able trail down the length of the Sierra.”

RIP SuperTopo Forum. You will be missed.

By Matt Niswonger