Mountain Project, the online platform that is the largest resource of user-contributed climbing-route information in the world, has been acquired—along with its sister Project sites, collectively known as Adventure Project—by onX, a digital navigation company well-established in the hunting community.
The acquisition is the latest development in the history of the 15-year-old site, which, though an REI property for several years, has remained a free resource throughout its lifespan. The news of the merger with onX prompted many Mountain Project (MP) users to express concern that the site might become a pay-to-play service in the future, but Mountain Project Co-Founder and CEO Nick Wilder confirmed to Rock and Ice that this is not the case.
“onX will continue to operate Mountain Project for free without a paywall,” Wilder wrote in an email. “It was built by thousands of contributors and serves millions of climbers. It is not trivial or cheap to operate, and this is a hell of a service to our community. So having a solid, long-term home is the biggest benefit. It’s also pretty awesome that onX has really deep talent developing technology for outdoor recreation. I don’t know where that will lead, but it’s exciting to dream about.”
Wilder broke the news of MP’s new chapter in a thread on the site’s own forum a week ago.
“I’m excited to announce that Adventure Projects has joined onX, a pioneer in outdoor digital navigation based in Montana,” Wilder wrote. “Similar to Mountain Project, onX’s mission is to awaken the adventurer in everyone. The company has a history of protecting public lands and promoting access to the outdoor landscapes we all enjoy. Millions of recreationists rely on onX to get off the beaten path and do so confidently and safely.”
With over 237,000 routes, 5,000,000 recorded ticks of said routes, and 5,000,000 climbers per year who use the site, Mountain Project has become a juggernaut in the 15 years since its inception. The website was born in 2005 when Wilder and partner Andy Laakmann iterated upon the idea of a prior site called climbingboulder.com. In 2012, Wilder and Mike Ahnemann co-founded Adventure Projects—MTB, hiking, backcountry skiing, trail running, and a trail guide for the national parks—and in 2015, REI purchased the Adventure Project sites, overhauling them from bottom to top. Last year REI bowed out and Wilder returned to the helm.
In the acquisition announcement, Wilder went on to explain that onX’s expertise and resources—including a team of over 200—offer new and exciting opportunities for growth and development for Mountain Project, largely related to the navigational software that onX has developed.
Following on Wilder’s post, Chris Hamilton, the VP of Product Management at onX, chimed in with a welcome message to the Mountain Project community and more hints at what it could expect with the new partnership.
“In the future, onX may decide to update and improve the Mountain Project app user experience. That investment will require engineering expertise, customer service support, and numerous other resources. Those new app features and functionality may require a membership to access,” Hamilton wrote at the end of the message—the nugget that started waves of worry among MP users that their beloved online route guide and virtual town square might require membership fees.
Wilder provided more details to Rock and Ice, explaining that the website itself will remain free, and that Hamilton was only talking about the mobile app. “onX has made it clear that website will remain free,” Wilder said. “onX believes in getting people into the outdoors, and that won’t change. Some day it might be time to rebuild the mobile apps from scratch, and if that happens, it might be time to charge for the app (but not the site) in order to maintain that investment.”
Another question at the forefront of many MP users’ minds is the fate of the forums, particularly in light of the shuttering of SuperTopo forum in 2019.
Asked whether the forums would remain a core part of MP moving forward, Wilder said, “Most likely, but it’s a constant battle with spam and trolls. The good massively outweighs the bad: it’s responsible for so many lifelong friends, partners, recovered gear, and knowledge shared. But managing it gets old… really old.”
While Wilder will remain on board building new features and coding, he will be “transferring a lot of responsibilities” to the onX team (“including forum management!” he noted gleefully).
In addition to its navigational technologies that onX can use to improve MP, the company’s emphasis and commitment to protecting public lands aligns well with the the values of most climbers who use MP. “As a company, we also invest in land access initiatives to expand and protect open spaces,” wrote Hamilton. “And we believe that the more people who experience their own off-the-beaten-path awakening, the more likely they are to join us in protecting these spaces for the future.”