In the beginning, there was El Portrero Chico, and in Portrero Chico there was once the longest sport climb in the world. And one autumn day in 1999, Shanec Ohly and Adrian Berry made an early ascent of the 15 pitch, F7b+, El Sendero Luminoso. However, that wasn’t the news that October, because it was there amongst the limestone walls of northern Mexico that the seed of planetFear was sown.
Left: El Sendero Luminoso; the route follows the obvious finger of rock between Adrian and Shane
During that month Adrian, a freelance climbing writer, photographer and member of the British climbing team, and Shane, a prolific climber and marketing manager at HB, came up with the idea of a website for climbers. They wanted a site that would provide magazine quality content and share information about places like the Potrero, as well as running coaching holidays to some of the world’s best climbing destinations. It was to be a mixture of inspiration and good, solid information; a resource that climbers around the world could return to time and again.
At the beginning of 2000, the dot com bubble was swollen and there was big money ready to invest in oldrope.com. Shane quit his job at HB and with Adrian, started Narrowcast Media Ltd, hoping that one day the unique formula of quality web content, inspiration and hands-on advice might be expanded to cover all manner of adventure sports.
First step on the path to web domination began in London, so Adrian and Shane began to siege The City in the summer of 2000. It was a hot year and so the pair went lightweight: a laptop, and shorts and t-shirts. Although unconventional, the approach was eminently pragmatic, even if it did lead to surreal board rooms scenes with pinstriped investment bankers and venture capitalists. Their crowning glory, however, was being turfed from the Institute of Directors on grounds of inappropriate dress, and then forced to conduct their meeting, laptop and graphs in hand, on the steps.
Above: Scenes from the BBC2 documentary series 'Tribes', following some of Britain's subcultures...
Sadly for climbers everywhere, the internet bubble finally burst and planetFear’s £6 million launch price suddenly seemed like a giddy hallucination. Realising they weren't about to get rich quick and travel the world on well funded ‘research’ trips, Shane and Adrian returned to Sheffield and decided to give it a go anyway. And there in their bedrooms in a large S7 house, they set to work.
Built up from a basis of Adrian’s re-published articles on the planetFear precursor ClimbingMedia.com, the site grew rapidly, as did the range of contributors providing the features and photographs that had always been a scarcity on the web. They were joined by Matt Heason, who had previously edited ClimbUK, and now edits the climbing news for planetFear. Next Neil Gresham jumped aboard with his industry expertise and training articles, and content began to flow from people like Tim Glasby and Carl Ryan, plus a host of others who wanted to see the site succeed.
To fund the growing mass of climbing content, the planetFear shop was launched and began to grow steadily. Then High Mountain and On The Edge magazines came on board to provide an ongoing stream of top quality new content, plus two years of back features. With such a huge range of information now available, planetFear quickly became the premier online climbing magazine. Visitors to the site soared. Next, the ever popular coaching holidays were introduced to bring climbers from all over the world together to learn from professional coaches on some of the world's most spectacular crags. Slowly but surely, planetFear was assuming the incarnation you now know.
By November 2003, planetFear had outgrown Shane and Adrian’s bedrooms, outgrown the spare rooms and, eventually, outgrown the house. A dedicated office was found next to the Edge Climbing Centre in Sheffield, and with more space they were able to invest more money in stock, providing an ever improving shop for the growing band of faithful readers. Tommy Chamings then joined the team to help with the growing orders and before a year had passed, the pile of kit on the hastily built office shelves was getting unmanageable. But so too was the old website. Recognising the need for a new, slicker website that would be quicker to update with the avalanche of content being added each day, plans for planetFear version 2.0 were hatched, and a launch party was planned.
The new, easier to use site was launched in what has to have been one of the largest climbers’ parties ever thrown in Sheffield. Climbing legend and DJ Paul Twomey (more about Paul here) turned up to spin the decks, people drank and danced… and then the police rolled up. Someone, it seemed, had been keen on finishing the party with a drugs bust.
Above: The planetFear version 2.0 launch party!
But when the hangovers faded and people returned to their computers, there on the screen was not just the spectacularly updated climbing website and shop, but another channel dedicated to adventure racing and mountain marathons. Finally, the original dream of a multi-channel website for outdoor sports was being realised.
With the adventure racing channel now edited by Anna McCormack, the UK’s best known adventure racer, and with the climbing channel continuing to flourish with fresh news and features added each day, the planetFear site continues to grow. Orienteer Jenny Whitehead and climber Brian McAlinden have been brought on board to make sure the customer service remains up to scratch, and an ever expanding selection of products has meant the shop has been moved to a nearby warehouse. The growth that has characterised the past looks set to run on into the future, so you can expect more channels, more products and more of the best adventure writing and photography on the web.
Following financial difficulties, planetFear ceased trading. For a time the site was hosted by Quba New Media, with a minimal amount of new content being put on to keep the site going.
Following the purchase of planetFear by Ultimate Outdoors Ltd, the regular flow of top quality content began again. Regular contributor Dave Pickford became Editor-in-Chief, and began the task of persuading people to come back to the site.
planetFear is set for considerable investment over the next 12 months. The shop will be back online by the end of May, and a completely new version of the site will be launched over the summer, allowing better access to the current content and a whole range of new features.
We hope you enjoy this site, and will continue to do so. Please don't hesitate to tell us what you think – whether good or bad – as well as let us know of any ideas or features you may have. We’re always open to your suggestions.
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