It's been about a month since I last wrote anything and it's been great. My primary reason is that my time has been spent either working (something that no one else I read about on the Internet actually has to do), family stuff, climbing, or learning guitar. The last activity has actually been really helpful in refocusing my mind away from the ceaseless flow of non-events in the climbing world, reaching its logical culmination in the news from the Red River Gorge, news that is truly non-news. Please, no more reports of ascents of Southern Smoke, even if your dog climbed it. And the same goes for all boulders in Switzerland, South Africa, as well as speed ascents of anything anywhere. If you became an "athlete" on a "team," nobody cares. If you actually care about climbing being in the Olympics, you are part of the problem. I am wondering what something actually original and interesting will look like in the world of climbing
My other pursuit, which I file under work, is coaching climbing. Not 11 year-olds who climb 14c but people who want to do the best they can under the strictures of age and real schedules. This has proven to be a really valuable experience for me, pressing me to get to the essence of what it means to be a better climber. For me this consists of understanding yourself and what you really want to do. And the more smoke and mirrors imagery that is pumped out by the publicity machine (harnesses that are also shorts? No wonder Jakob Schubert looks so unhappy) the more confused everyone is about climbing well. In short, you don't need to train on a Beastmaker or a Moon Board or whatever gadget of the week is just out. You need to to think clearly about what you are doing. Maybe you need to buy a guitar and an amp. It's OK to have a life with purpose outside of climbing. In fact it helps. You certainly don't need to watch the latest sponsored video of 20-something climbers on permanent vacation.
If you want to do something productive climbing-wise, you might sit down for a few minutes and ponder the questions that my friend Brady Robinson is raising in a TEDx talk he gave in Boulder. The essence of his thesis is the need for conservation groups to engage with outdoor recreation groups, especially those with younger participants.
While I agree with the basic drift of the argument, I am increasingly concerned that climbing has become an extractive industry with companies and individual entrepreneurs focused on mining the "outdoor space" mostly in a figurative sense, with negative consequences down the road primarily for the environment. While I agree that climbing is not as blatantly destructive as say ATV riding or building a new ski lift, the shift towards a consumerist approach to the sport is a defining feature of the past decade. I am especially struck by the lack of concern expressed by climbers about this trend. As Brady points out, there was once a strong undercurrent of resistance to societal and economic norms in the earlier vision of the sport. Now climbers enthusiastically accept marketing and a entrepreneurial approach to the sport, proving that capital can co-opt and colonize just about anything that has perceived value.
My primary concern in all this is that climbers have begun to fundamentally lose sight of the deeper environment in which they move, perceiving instead a kind of artificial theater in which they act, separated from any real consequences, organic or personal, a theater defined by symbols and imagery that are increasingly the product of capital. While in the short term, this approach can seem to promote an interest in the outdoors, in the long term, unless a deeper understanding of the environment emerges, it can reverse the equation, making the human element seem more important and shifting the balance towards convenience and well, access. We see this in the use of perma-draws and pad-stashing for example, as well as a constant push for "development" of new crags without any regard for the ambient environment.
If I gave a TED talk, which I never will, I would urge climbers, and humans in general, to pull back a bit more, to give the landscape some room to breathe, to recover. In time we would see the bolts rust away, the trails grow over, the chalk wash away and the cliff renew itself and become real again, not just a screen for ephemeral human desires. Given the horrendous impact that humans are placing on the environment in general, this may be misplaced idealism. I don't care about that so much. If we depend on a natural environment to give our sport meaning (and I am not sure how climbers today really believe that) we may have to give up access to some parts of that environment, letting it alone to be as natural as it can be in an increasingly unnatural time.
UPDATE: BAM!! Adam Ondra Flashes Southern Smoke Direct. Should have seen that coming! :)