Most journalists develop a specialty or two, accumulating knowledge of particular topics through their reporting and cultivating of expert sources. At Texas Monthly, for instance, executive editor Mike Hall, a law school dropout and rock-and-roll singer and guitarist who plays weekend gigs in Austin, writes often about both criminal justice and music. Executive editor Courtney Bond enthusiastically covers food and drink as well as Texas travel. But few writers anywhere display the range of senior editor Forrest Wilder, the author of this month’s cover story on the fast-growing sport of rock climbing.
Forrest has closely followed Texas politics for decades, both as a writer and an editor. He knows the character of the state’s gerrymandered federal and state legislative districts and the personalities who shape our electoral campaigns and legislative wrangling. But unlike the many reporters who focus on the who’s-up-and-who’s-down aspects of politics, Forrest has for years dived deeply into complex issues ranging from public-school finance and property tax appraisals to water policy and immigration enforcement. He writes about those topics clearly and vividly, traveling from Fort Davis to Brackettville to Colony Ridge and profiling the individuals and communities that are affected by actions taken in Austin. Then, for a change of pace, he writes about fly-fishing for carp on the Pecos River or kayaking on Armand Bayou.
Born in Victoria, Forrest spent his first dozen years in nearby Yorktown before his family moved to Wimberley, in the Hill Country, where he graduated from high school. His parents were artisan potters until his dad started a roofing business. Forrest worked with him at that arduous trade during one hot Texas summer and decided he’d better get a good education. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in cultural anthropology, which he found useful as he sought to “understand exotic worlds” such as the state legislature. Before joining Texas Monthly, in early 2019, Forrest worked as editor in chief of the Texas Observer.
Forrest had long been a passionate outdoorsman but got interested in rock climbing only when he discovered a large and well-equipped specialty gym called the Bouldering Project. One location isn’t far from the East Austin home he shares with his partner, Katherine, and their two-year-old daughter, Winona, who likes to play on the slide in the gym while her dad scales the walls. Forrest finds that climbing is “a great way to stay fit without going on some crazy diet.” He has dropped fifteen pounds since taking up the sport but says an even bigger benefit is perspective—the difficulty of climbing makes the challenges of everyday life seem “not as big a deal.”
When Forrest isn’t interviewing politicians or hanging from cliffs, he and his family enjoy growing tomatoes from seed and tending to their egg-laying chickens, as well as a pair of pet goats.
Writing about rock climbing, Forrest says, “proved more challenging than I expected.” While it’s increasingly popular, the sport remains somewhat niche and requires a strength-to-weight ratio that few of our readers will care to achieve. “The challenge is writing about climbing for an audience of mostly nonclimbers,” Forrest observes. “Nobody but the fanatics cares about the technical stuff. But you have to give the reader enough of that so they can picture clearly what’s happening and see how interesting it is.”
Forrest credits executive editors Kathy Blackwell and Jeff Salamon with helping him to, in the words of Albert Einstein, make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. I hope you enjoy the cover story and the rest of this issue of Texas Monthly.
This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Our Climber at Large.” Subscribe today.