Friday, April 10, 2020

Better Stop Exploring

Like everyone else, well almost everyone, I have a fair amount of time that I once spent climbing that I can now dedicate to browsing the interweb/social medias. Few companies spend as much money shipping their "athletes" to far-flung destinations (which are a thing under discussion in analyzing the pandemic) as The North Face and for no particular reason, I thought about the company motto "Never Stop Exploring." TNF was so worried about exploring they posted this last year:

Well climate change is still a thing as everybody knows, but what is actually helping slow down climate change thanks to COVID-19 is (ironically enough) people staying put. CO2 emissions have been down drastically in areas under lockdown and of course everyone has seen this fun photo or something like it from Llandudno in North Wales. The goats (a non-native species) typically live on the Great Orme, a limestone headland (and climbing area) near town. Sadly the dolphins swimming in the Grand Canal in Venice turned out to be fake.
Goats Move Into Welsh Town Empty Due To Coronavirus

The natural world, it seems, is exploring us in some interesting ways. Which is cool. Except when its a potentially lethal virus. Which humans are in a way too, so there's that. But anyway, what is more interesting is a consideration of whether climbing in "exotic" locales is, or has been, contributing in some small way to the release of dangerous organisms into wider human populations. The bats that carried COVID-19 lived deep in limestone caves in China. As it happens, climbers like limestone caves too. It doesn't take a genius to consider how easily something might transfer to a broader population from a climber hiking into an area and "cleaning" (i.e. disrupting an active biome and releasing heaven knows what into the air) a route in such a place, climbing it, then flying out with their gear (covered in heaven knows what) back to "civilization" to make a video about it and encouraging others to visit too. Those others bring yet more people encouraging further disruption and encroachment on wild habitats. These zoonotic transmissions are more and more likely as globalism continues to extend its economic and cultural influence.

I just read in about the establishment of climbing in Suriname, a country on the Atlantic coast in South America. It has extensive natural rainforest areas and apparently some potential for climbing. Yet is climbing good for the wildlife there? And maybe as importantly is climbing there good for us? A New York Times Travel section article blandly describes the market in the capital city of Parimaribo as follows: "Maroons and Arawaks, one of the country’s indigenous tribes, sell nearly everything under the sun from the country’s interior at the Freedom Market — from bush meat to live monkeys and bottles of casiri, a brew made from cassava." Street markets selling "bush meat" sounded so, well, exotic, in 2011. Today, we know that its equivalent in the "wet markets" of Wuhan and elsewhere launched the global pandemic that everything and everyone afterwards will remember 2020 for.

In other words is there a point at which we really would be better off not exploring? When do we finally say enough is enough? Disturbing sensitive ecological areas for fun and profit needs to be looked at quite a bit more carefully going forward, especially in profoundly biologically diverse regions where the human/biological interface is especially porous and potentially hazardous. Climbers like to consider themselves somehow exempt from the laws of nature as they "adventure" around the world in climates and environments that would be better left untouched. When you consider the possibility that one pried-off flake or the disturbed bat nesting area behind it could unleash a pandemic that could kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people and bring the global economy to its knees, maybe, just maybe, it's not worth it?

Note: for a compelling account of the ideological origins of this pandemic, please read "COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital" in which I saw the phrase "the frontiers of capital production," a phrase which perfectly echoes both the terrain and theoretical premise of the outdoor industry and which helped inspire this post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 (and Mountain Project), Why Are You Still Allowing Climbers to Publicly Post Climbs?

This one is going to be short. Virtually every climbing area in Europe or North America is located in a jurisdiction under "shelter-in-place" at this point. There are various interpretations of this but the emphasis on staying local and avoiding crowds is universal. Rural communities where most climbing sectors are found are pleading for visitors to stay away from them. Climbing organizations are echoing the same theme. Yet every day I see fresh ascents logged in these days and posted on the 8a website and elsewhere for all to see. This is not appropriate for too many reasons to count.

So I am asking these websites to look again at their actions and make changes. It's very easy to put the message out there that public posting of climbs is not helpful at this time. It's also easy to change the settings on the website to make such posting impossible for the time being. For guidance on this, check out UKC's proactive attitude. They locked down their logbooks March 18.

Here are the two primary sources for such posts.

REI owns Mountain Project. No more publicly available ticks of routes please. please just stop. We get that Sweden, for now, is more relaxed about restrictions. How much longer?

Climbers, if you really think that going climbing is okay right now, I can't alter that attitude but I will ask you to stop posting about your sick sends on social media and elsewhere and I can guarantee that if you are sponsored, others are taking note of your lack of awareness, including athlete and brand managers. Times for climbing brands are going to be very tough going forward and failure to grasp the need for everyone to get on board with true social distancing will have consequences.

Thank you.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Climbing Hits the Wall

The world is reeling from the pandemic Covid-19 and fortunately it's no longer still being debated whether it's appropriate to go outside climbing. Ugh. My answer is, right now, definitely not, unless (maybe)  you are free soloing, where, in the event of a mishap, you will likely not strain local medical resources. The thought of bouldering has me on edge (hold-sharing with Broseph and his buds ewww) but pictures of dozens of climbers in close proximity lapping up the Front Range's crowded cragging scene makes me a little freaked out. Meanwhile locals in places such as Moab are pleading with would-be visitors to stay away. (Update: Moab, like Hueco, Yosemite Red Rock Smith Rock, etc. closed) They aren't pleading In Europe, since the authorities are simply quarantining EVERYTHING. Will Instagram will develop a conscience about this issue of #vanlife and outdoor recreation in the time of coronavirus? We’ll see.

But speaking of free solo, the bigger picture (see what I did there), setting to one side the extraordinary catastrophe this is handing to the world's physical and economic health (and hopefully very swiftly setting aside in November the catastrophe's enabler here in the States), this pandemic came along just as climbing was hitting the big time and will be dealing a very hard blow to that surge in popularity.

This is for a number of reasons:

1. Climbing gyms are closing down and it could be a while. This really sucks and not just because I work part-time at one locally. In Boulder and many other locales climbing gyms are an integral part of the climbing scene. They are the place where beginners often get started and where veterans (myself included haha) are able to stay on top of new developments. They support strong climbers through employment as setters and coaches. They host competitions and other community-building events. Though there are downsides to gyms, they remain real anchors for local climbers and sources of community and communication. But their vulnerability to communicable diseases (nobody quite knows how long Covid-19 will stick around) is certainly going to cause both investors and the public to rethink the business model and a few months (very likely scenario) with minimal revenue is going to wipe out more than a few of them. New gyms (and we were maybe hitting peak gym as it was) are going to be facing strong headwinds since the investing climate just tanked. And of course many members or would-be members may find themselves unable to afford paying gym memberships. And you don't want to be a hold manufacturer right now. Nossirr. NO. Which sucks because they provide the cool stuff we climb on.

Pro tip: If you can afford it, PLEASE do not freeze or cancel your gym membership. Nobody else will be open anyway and if you don't support your gym now, it won't be there when you can come back.

2. Goodbye Olympics. Everybody (well maybe not everybody- thanks a lot, speed climbing) thought the arrival of climbing at the Olympics meant its future was assured. And now the chances of the Olympics happening in Tokyo are slim to none, as numerous news stories are predicting. In Italy, a person is dying roughly every 5 minutes. France, Spain, and Germany are locked down as is the EU generally speaking. The UK just woke up to the seriousness of the situation. We’re next. The Olympics are not happening and that's a fact. Only a lunatic would convene tens, probably hundreds of thousands of people in a tightly crowded city hot on the heels, let alone in the middle of, a global pandemic. Repeat. OLYMPICS. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. (OK that just got confirmed)  And worse, climbing is not going to get a second chance at them because...

3. This pandemic is getting scary. I read things every day that scare me the way watching Free Solo on IMAX never did. Only lunatics enjoy scaring themselves for fun climbing rocks in an already scary world. We used to call such people climbers before sport climbing and gyms made climbing welcoming to more balanced people. Now the world is ultra crazy-real scary and the thought of picking up or even spectating one more risky activity has most of the population reaching for a cozy evening of Netflix and chill. Normalizing death and dismemberment has long been an Achilles' heel of this sport especially given the past year or so's casualty list. Even the North Face "Team" has hired a therapist to deal with managing the trauma that is caused by risking one's life in the mountains with the goal of "testing" gear that mostly ends up traversing college campuses and pub crawls. Also people won't have much money, see above.

4. Governments are going to close down public lands for a while, maybe quite a while. The "dirtbag" #vanlifer roadtrippers are going to be considered as potential disease vectors and invited to quarantine themselves for a couple of weeks in their vans at locations all around the world which won’t be much fun for anyone and a wake-up call to more than a few. The rest of us are going to buy a sh*t ton of hangboards which will wind up on Craigslist next year as everyone realizes how boring and difficult using a hangboard actually is. Watch one of the 5000 videos that have popped up on Youtube recently and see for yourself. And I love hangboarding! Some of us will build home walls but most of them will suck and, well, see hangboard comments above. Long story short, soon there will be an abundance of opportunities for climbers to pick up amazing deals on "intro" level shoes, harnesses, ropes "no falls, only used a few times" and cheap ATC-style belay devices. Climbing gear manufacturers might be having an excess inventory problem very very soon. Also people won't have much money, see above.

So climbing is in a bad way right now. Big time. Along with a lot of things.

If you have any idea how climbing is going to hit the big time now, I would love to hear it. I'll be at Summer OR (seriously, that probably will not be held this summer) or maybe CWA (are you KIDDING ME? UPDATE CWA was cancelled) or more likely glued to social media and the news watching as the world burns and hoping to somewhat save my skin and that of my family. The sick sends will have to take a back seat for quite some time.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Misogyny in the Rocks

Posted this up on Facebook today regarding this piece on Medium:

"Great essay, thoughtful and thorough. Route names in areas that have associations with native culture and traditions, especially spiritual ones, and most especially obnoxious names like the one under discussion, reek of old-school imperialism and colonialism, just under a modern adventure sport guise. The least that climbers can do is honor both the natural setting and native culture in creating and naming them. This goes triple for visiting climbers.
Here in the USA, the most egregious example I can think of are the numerous obscene names for boulder problems at Hueco Tanks, most of which have strong misogynistic contexts, and have no place in a sacred area for Native Americans, not to mention a place with its own natural beauty. Thanks to Fred Nicole for beginning to turn around that tendency with both his amazing FAs and their evocative names. I wonder if/how the new edition of the guidebook will handle this problematic legacy."

Jeff Achey at Wolverine Publishing was quick to follow up with this comment:
We all discussed it back and forth quite a bit, and none of us had exactly the same opinion on what to do... In the first edition of the Wolverine book, Matt and Dave retained all of those names. At this point they are part of the historical record, in a way, maybe best serving modern and future climbers as an example. Jason Kehl in particular was against "censorship," and I'm sympathetic to that point of view. Also, the sophomoric misogyny seems a bit pathetic at this point, with women boulderers absolutely crushing in Hueco. Females are so well established in the elite bouldering community there that sexist putdowns lose much of their punch. It makes the misogynist simply look like a fool. But still. It's an unfortunate, weird situation. We did put a note in the intro about obscene names, and did a bit of judicious new abbreviation, but maybe not enough. I'd love to hear more people's comments on this issue and how we guidebook scribes should deal with it! Fortunately most books we deal with don't have this problem in anywhere near the degree as Hueco!"

Thanks Jeff!

My view on this is that certain aspects of "climbing history" and their preservation are very open to debate, especially route names that later climbers find offensive, and that the "rights" of first ascensionists to preserve those names are basically non-existent. The whole FA culture that has developed in climbing (rooted in a quasi-colonialist worldview) itself is a topic for review in another and much lengthier post.

I remain amazed that TPWD has not moved to modify or eliminate its use of any of the route and area names from the 80s and 90s when such names were much more common. I guess we'll see how that works out.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Starting Up This Time For Sure

So yeah I spend way more time than I should on social media (anyone remember when that wasn't even a thing?) fiddling while Rome burns. But in between that and working I definitely still climb haha. A new thing in the past couple of years has been semi-speed laps on the Second Flatiron behind town. It's a very basic template for running. 15 minutes to the base, 15 minutes up the climb 15 minutes descending. My fastest time is about 38 minutes, the slowest, well a lot longer. Speed climbing isn't really my thing but the Second is pretty much the perfect arena for a steady but mixed diet of aerobic conditioning. It certainly beats easy autobelay laps in the gym!

You might recognize this climber! We did the Second recently as a fun run.
Anyway, this post marks a revival of this blog (as obnoxious as that word is) and I will be updating at least weekly on topics of general climbing interest as well as my own specific activities.