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Alumnus climbs into a journalism career

Chris Parker is still climbing. The only difference is now he gets paid for it.

As a reporter, writer, columnist, and online editor at the venerable sport-climbing magazine Rock & Ice, Parker (English, '11) is busy. "As editor, there are two sections of the magazine that I have to make happen every issue,” he says. “I conduct interviews with well-known climbers, and the other can be anything from a destination piece or a journal from a road trip-type piece. And online, that's kind of my baby. I am in charge of much of the content on the site.”

Yet, busy as he his, Parker still gets out climbing. A lot. On trips ranging from quick hits to long jaunts, and both nearby and far away. He has to: It's his job.

That's a good kind of busy. But it took some climbing for Parker to get to where he is, where lifestyle and making a living have managed to merge. And Fort Lewis College played a central role in that journey.

“I didn't know about FLC until I was 21,” Parker says. By that point, he had already spent some time at a large university in his home state of Mississippi, and had moved to Colorado. Parker landed in the historic mining town of Ouray, in the San Juan Mountains, where he first learned about climbing. Then, seeking a bigger town, he moved to Durango for its lively arts and music scene.

Once settled in downtown Durango, he found out about Fort Lewis College, situated on a mesa 600 feet above his neighborhood. “My roommates would walk up to campus for class. And I was kind of jealous that they were just walking up to class,” Parker laughs. “It seemed so cool. Eventually I went up there and talked to the admissions people.”

Soon, Parker himself started climbing the Nature Trail connecting town and campus every day. And he loved it. Because at FLC he kept climbing, both literally and figuratively. As a student, Parker was working at Outdoor Pursuits and using the Student Life Center's climbing wall most days between classes. Other times, he was hitting the many bouldering spots around town as often as he could.

And in class, as an English major focusing on communications, he found climbing to be the key to his post-college career.

“The communications courses were cool at FLC because you learned how to tell a story in a lot of different ways. I was a climber and was into shooting videos, so I was able to make a climbing documentary and tell that story in my way.”

It was a course in magazine writing, though, that showed Parker the route to a career after college. In this class, the instructor required students to go through all the steps of submitting one of their class assignments to a magazine.

“I took it really seriously,” Parker says. “And the end result was, I actually did end up getting a piece published with Rock & Ice. And that was the start to everything for my career.”

Actually, Parker's story didn't sell on his first try. But he worked on it with his professor until the magazine wanted it. And that spirit of craft led to his becoming an intern at Rock & Ice upon graduating, after which he was hired onto the staff -- where he now makes a living by doing what he loves.

“I owe my professor everything for that. She was so helpful, believing in me and encouraging me,” Parker says. He adds, “I had some pretty cool professors there. I think that's because they're people who are very like-minded with their students. I had a connection with this place, and I think that the professors are there for the same reason.”

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