A feature article by Rock and Ice editor-at-large Jeff Jackson was selected for inclusion in The Best American Sports Writing 2019, part of the renowned Best American series.
Jackson is a former editor at Rock and Ice, and a climber who grew up in Texas. He became captivated by the idea of rock climbing in sixth grade, after writing a book report on Scottish mountaineer Dougal Haston’s memoir In High Places as punishment for disassembling a urinal and using its pieces to play hockey in the school bathroom.
He is a prolific writer: in addition to regular freelance writing, he is currently working on his third screenplay for production company Chockstone Pictures with his writing partner and fellow climber John Long, as well as a young adult novel about an alpine adventure in Peru.
Throughout his life, Jackson has worked as a yoga and climbing instructor, and has developed climbs across the United States. In Hawaii, where he is now based, he estimates that he has developed around 100 sport climbs, and an even greater number of boulder problems. He thinks of climbing as a creative outlet, much in the same line as his writing. “I’ve always been into first ascents and developing areas, because when I started climbing there was no real developed climbing any closer than five hours away,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons that it’s remained so captivating to me: the newness and the pioneering aspect of it. If I was just going out a couple of days a week and climbing somebody else’s routes, I don’t know if I would’ve stayed as interested in it.”
The article, “Paradox of Paradise,” was published in Ascent 2018, Rock and Ice’s annual publication of the best climbing writing and photography of the year. Ascent was one of the world’s first climbing publications, established in 1967 by Steve Roper and Allen Steck in its original incarnation, as the Sierra Club’s mountaineering journal.
In the piece, Jackson describes his ruminations on climbing and on life during, and in the wake of, the false ballistic missile alert issued to Hawaii—where he was at home with his two children—in January 2018. It opens, “At about 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, January 13, I was standing in my kitchen in Makawao, Hawaii, eating a pancake and working on a haiku. I was teaching haibun—linked prose and verse—and wanted to try to write a haibun about a climb. The 17th-century Japanese master poet Matsuo Basho had written his classic travel sketches as haibun, and what is a climb if not a journey?”
Jackson said that he was “super stoked” to find out about the recognition. “I was really surprised that anybody had weeded through all the sports writing that was out there and had come up with something that was about climbing, from a climbing magazine,” he said. “I’ve read that collection before just for inspiration, and sort of considered it to be as big of an honor as a sports writer could get.”
The Best American Sports Writing is curated to showcase the greatest sports journalism each year: “The only shared traits among all these diverse styles, voices, and stories are the extraordinarily high caliber of writing, and the pure passion they tap into that can only come from sports.”
The anthology, compiled by guest editor Charles P. Pierce and series editor Glenn Stout, is scheduled for release on October 1, 2019, and is currently available for pre-order online.