The life of a sponsored climber is one to envy. Unlike other professional athletes who are beholden to such duties as playing for teams, showing up to practices and winning games, the sponsored climber floats along from one country to the next, posting selfies along the way. He answers to no one or nothing, least of all the alarm clock. He wakes up and wonders, “Which rocks in what forest shall I spend my day brushing?”

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While it’s true that companies actually pay people to live like this, in reality, going climbing is only one part of the equation. And I think that’s where people get tripped up. They think that they need to reach a certain level in their climbing in order to get their climbing trips or goals funded. “If only I can climb 5.14d, then maybe I can some free shoes and a trip to Ceuse!”

The fact is, I know a few 5.14+ climbers who don’t have any sponsors, and a few very well sponsored climbers who could barely swing across a set of monkey bars. In other words, how hard you climb may or may not have anything to do with it; it’s just one part of the equation.

Nina Caprez slapping the shit out of this 5.14 in 4 tries, verdon gorge

There’s a lot of money out there to support climbers of all abilities, yet only a few people seem to be willing to actually try and get some of it. The American Alpine Club, for example, gives over $100,000 in grant money to climbers each and every year! There are such grants as the Mountaineering Fellowship Grant for budding alpine climbers 25 years old and under, or the Zach Martin Breaking Barriers grant that gives money to teams looking to complete a humanitarian objective first and a mountaineering-based one second.

“There have been some perceptions that the same professional climbers receive the grants every year,”says Paul Gagner of the Lyman Spitzer Award committee. “While at times there has been some truth to this, it is only because of a thin candidate pool. There are lots of non-professional climbers and women doing amazing things out there. We need to encourage them to apply!”

Enter the AAC Live Your Dream grant. Erik Lambert, the Information and Marketing Director of the AAC, explains:

“The AAC is a club for all climbers. We realized a few years ago that our grants did a fantastic job of pushing the boundaries of climbing in the great mountain ranges of the world. While inspirational to everyone, these grants were only available to elite climbers—so we created the Live Your Dream Grant to encourage everyday climbers to pursue their dreams, too. We’ve provided seed money for about 100 climbers to live out their climbing dreams, no matter how big or small, and hopefully given them the confidence and opportunity to gain skills that will allow them to dream even bigger next time.”

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Already the LYD grant has helped a team of climbers from Arizona put up a new big-wall route in the tepuis of Venezuela. The grant also sent two women from Utah to the Bugaboos for their first taste of alpine rock climbing. And it’s even sending a gym climber to Squamish to learn how to climb outdoors.

In all cases, however, media plays a significant role in terms of getting your dream trip funded. One important part about getting paid to climb is being able to share your experience in an inspiring way using all of today’s multimedia storytelling tools: from the written word, to motion pictures, photographs, blogging, and social media.

Whitney climbing in Sicily. Photo: Andrew Burr

Whitney climbing in Sicily. Photo: Andrew Burr

Simply put, the AAC wants to pay you to go climbing, and what they want in return is exposure.

Putting together all of that media, and making it high quality, really separates those who get sponsored or win grants, and those who don’t. So in that sense, the old truism that there’s no such thing as a free lunch rings true here, too. But if you’re a savvy person with a knack for storytelling, it is possible to work the system and get your dream climbing trip funded.

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Dream something up. Think about all the ways you can tell your story creatively. Then apply for the American Alpine Club Live Your Dream Grant. The application period is now open through March 1. Do it!

Grant-writing tips are found here.

And once you get that grant, don’t be afraid to use that grant as leverage to approach companies with further sponsorship opportunities—whether that’s just additional gear or, if you’re lucky, actual cold, hard cash. Once companies see that the AAC recognized you, you have your ticket, and you’re actually going, they will pay attention. Shoot for the moon, too. You stand only to gain.

After all, someone has to live the dream. Why not you?

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  • Anson

    Thanks for the motivation. I’m doing it!

  • …if you have Chris Sharma’s good looks.

  • Zv3r

    I think you just need to be accompanied by a good photographer and do it all the time, travel… You could get sponsored even for low grade climbs.

  • Francesco Chris Guerra

    Is there something for European people like that?

  • Ben L

    Good that you get this info out there…
    Yet, some people may find themselves realising that what made climbing so great in the first place was that they weren’t doing it while having anyone else’s interests on their mind.
    It may not be true for everyone, but at least I prefer to keep climbing compromise free and just do it for myself. I’d rather sell my services in an area that I am less passionate about, because, for me, once other’s interests enter the scheme, it changes. And I like climbing the way it is.

    -b

  • Trivik

    Is this only for Americans? The website says “Climbers from so and so region can apply here…”.
    Thanks for putting this info out there, by the way.

  • Guest

    Small caveat to the last paragraph – the AAC won’t take financially sponsored climbers – you can have in-kind (gear) as long as you disclose, but not actual money.

    “Projects involving climbers who are supported financially by corporate sponsors will not be considered.However, proposals from “amateur” climbers who have received financial or in-kind (e.g., gear) corporate support for the proposed project will be considered, but support levels must be disclosed.”

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  • Ishani Sawant

    Gr8 article. Thanks for sharing. Aspiring to be an alpinist in a country like India is a tough task for me, being a woman all the more.. This post inspired me to keep climbing and sharing stories…