Head out to any crag these days, and you’re as likely—maybe more likely—to see people scrolling through Mountain Project on their smartphones as you are to see them leafing through traditional guidebooks. Mountain Project—familiarly known as MP, MoPro, the Proj—with its area guides and colorful and contentious forum threads is as much a part of climbing culture these days (at least in North America), as the climbing mags were back in the 1990s. And Mountain Project has some big news: Nick Wilder, one of the original founders of Mountain Project, announced last Monday that the site and its sister Adventure Projects sites are ending their five-year partnership with REI. At the same time, he also announced that he will be returning to the helm of Adventure Projects, and hinted at a new partnership to come.
Wilder started Mountain Project back in 2005 with Andy Laakmann. In 2013, 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 Mountain Project merged with these other Projects.
The Adventure Project platforms, available in website and app form, see a couple million visitors a month, Wilder told Rock and Ice via email. This is four times as many people as before REI acquired the sites in 2015. Mountain Project traffic alone has gone up around 80 percent, wrote Wilder. But this isn’t even the most popular project—hiking and MTB have grown fast and are now bigger than Mountain Project, he wrote.
In his announcement on the MP forum, Wilder wrote, “Hi folks, I’m psyched to announce that I’m back at the helm of Mountain Project (and the other Project sites). As you probably know, REI has owned MP and Adventure Projects since 2015. While they continue to believe in these properties, they recently made some prioritization decisions to ensure the co-op’s continued success.”
Wilder’s current role in Adventure Projects is designing and building the products and doing all the web programming. Alongside him are two content managers, two app developers, Mike Ahnemann—who helps develop the products and oversees the systems that handle the flood of new information constantly being added to the site—and 150 regional admins who have volunteered to help manage climbing routes and areas.
The split with REI was “very mutual,” Wilder told Rock and Ice. “REI cares about the products and communities and wants to make sure they continue.” Wilder now owns Adventure Projects along with Mike Ahnemann and a few former employees of both Adventure Projects and REI.
This change is one of many prompted by the Coronavirus, which caused REI to close all its stores for two months.
“As we made this difficult decision, we also learned the original founder of Adventure Projects had a strong interest to reengage,” wrote REI in a statement. “We are so pleased he has taken the resources over and will foster these outdoor communities into the future.”
When REI acquired the program, “they gave all the Adventure projects staff real jobs with good benefits, a nice office, and a workable budget,” Wilder wrote in his email. “That was a first for us and of course when we work better, the site gets better!”
With REI’s help, Adventure Projects went from code that was challenging to maintain to new features that make the data better, such as climbing area maps, page improvements, approach trails, and more.
“There will be a big partnership announcement in the next few weeks related to this transition—one which I think will be very good for all climbers,” Wilder wrote in his initial announcement.
While REI will not be directly involved in the new partnership, they helped facilitate it, wrote Wilder in an email.
Adventure Projects will not change much in the short term as a result of the new partnership, but, said Wilder, “I think we’ll be able to help people enjoy their time outdoors more than ever. We have some good things to announce in the next few weeks.”
In terms of Wilder’s hopes for the sites, “I want to build products that help people find the best trails for them, find new areas to explore, discover trails they didn’t know, and generally get the most from their time outside.”