Then and Now | with Heidi Knapp

Then and Now | with Heidi Knapp

Posted by Holly Yu Tung Chen on 4th Oct 2023

Meet Heidi Knapp, the woman behind the Women of Climbing calendar for over 20 years.

Heidi took the simple concept and made it a work of art—soliciting images from around the globe. Sharp End Publishing was a small husband-and-wife business with only a few guides of which the calendars became a big part.

Back in the dial-up modem era of 1997, photos came in slides, which Heidi meticulously pored over, and then drum-scanned. She befriended all the photographers and communicated in-depth on why a photo was accepted or rejected. The process took months but resulted in a curated collection of some of the most beautiful and inspirational climbing images.

In the calendar’s heyday, before the internet explosion and Google Calendars, sales exceeded 6,000 copies a year. Calendars then served as calendars, for making appointments, scribbling reminders, and maybe even jotting down important sends. Heidi herself has filled every calendar up with things like “Kiara’s birthday party,” and “Fred Dentist 3:45pm.”

As demand grew, so did submissions from photographers around the world. Heidi took the same care with each selection when there were 20 submissions as she did when there were over 200. She made sure there was a balance of renowned photographers like Jim Thornburg with those who were new to the game. Photography careers were launched on this calendar.

Our first 1998 calendar inspired a drastic increase of women climbers in media. In the year that followed, Climbing and Rock and Ice more than doubled the number of photos of women. The calendar evolved over the years, and Heidi worked diligently to keep current with trends, the climbing community, and the artists.

The calendars were loved by folks of all ages. “Beautiful calendar,” wrote one customer, “I’m 85 years old so I no longer climb but having this calendar on my fridge makes me feel like I'm still a part of the climbing community.”

“My daughters love these calendars,” wrote a father, “what a great way to represent strength.”

Heidi took pride in this work.

Google Calendar and other digital calendar tools slowly diminished demand over time, and Heidi moved from inspiring climbers to finding fulfillment as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Sarah Nicholson took over in the mid-2010s and Holly Yu Tung Chen took over for 2021-2022.

While Heidi reduced her involvement over the last several years, she always made herself available to support the calendar. The photographers knew her, and was used to the hands-on approach Heidi took. In the 2010s while studying to become a therapist, Heidi made videos to sent to photographers when she couldn't call them personally. This calendar is still her legacy and we are proud to keep it alive for 25.

This 25th edition may be the swan song. It seems fitting to celebrate the achievements of women climbers over the three decades spanned by the calendar. The images and climbers in these pages merely represent some of the most iconic achievements and careers, but so many have been left out. Thirteen images make a small net to capture a movement.

The 2024 calendar is about looking back as much as it is about looking forward. Let's do that together.