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.

1 comment:

Die Fledermaus said...

Good thoughts.
Your page sidebar had this:

In times of hardship, fanatics will always find means to their ends.
Reminds me of Rene Daumal's "Mount Analogue," where the visitor to the legendary mountaineer's residence was prevented from entering via the normal doorway; instead, one had to launch a round-about ascent to an upper story window, and traversing across a precarious roof, would be bombarded by potatoes thrown by the occupant, "to simulate Alpine conditions."
I'm also reminded of the late Warren Harding's passion, and commitment, to make climbing appear as disreputable and socially unredeeming as possible, in order to discourage all but the most ardent and dedicated from pursuing the effort. His tales, and personal life of debauchery, were cultivated as living proof, with the belief that as a finite resource, the vertical playground could not withstand an onslaught from the ordinary hordes.
Or, as Noel Childs(once the terror of runout S. Platte testpieces) put it, "What's bad for climbing is good for climbing."
After the pandemic passes, we will certainly see a great shrinkage, in all economic areas, but largely first-world recreational hobbies and indulgences will be the hardest hit. The hard core will emerge, and figure out new ways to barely eke out an existence between bold ventures, but their sponsorships and funding won't be there.
I feel for the spanking new Evo gym that may never open, but the last ten years have been artificially rosy.
Eric ^!!^