Where's the climbing love?

Posted on: February 27, 2008


I've always considered one of the finest aspects of climbing to be meeting diverse people and sharing a common bond—a common disposition. This is not to say that all climbers think alike. In fact, climbers are mostly independent thinkers and usually avoid "group mentality" because this lifestyle attracts the autonomous, or at least forces autonomy on you. Yet many of us are gregarious, not in the traditional "flock" sense, but in our willingness to socialize with, and aid, the fellow climber. Climbing is full of great contradictions—the brute savagery and delicate finesse required for ice climbing, for example. This is certainly one of them. Even though he might be roped together with another person, the climber meticulously placing RP's up the headwall of El Cap is alone, confined to the walls of his skull. But something dormant inside him is lurking, waiting to compel him later when he is done with his objective. He seeks community. He desperately needs to socialize with someone who can understand him and relate to his madness.

What I find obnoxious is local-centricity. Pride in one's area is nothing new. It has been the impetus for many stupid squabbles in the past, which make climbers, in the public eye, look like misbehaved children who need government intervention to settle disputes. I understand that most areas have a rich, unique history with an ideal, appropriate, set of ethics. The characteristics of areas are what make them destinations. What I do not understand is how so many climbers have become completely detached of any notion of community. Are they insular? Do they not travel? What's certain is they don't exhibit the form of generalized reciprocity that exists among primitive cultures—or among dirtbags. There is little effort to help the out-of-town climber. Or, has climbing evolved, much like the rest of the world entranced in consumerism, to the point that services aren't rendered without money?

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Recently, I was in an expensive, albeit nice, climbing gym, four hours from where I live. The girl behind the counter was seemingly absorbed in her charge as the sentry of the gym. After I had paid the admission, which was sixteen dollars, I returned later to inquire about leading. In addition to the admission, I needed to pay a five-dollar surcharge to become lead belay "certified." A certification I have yet to receive. I realize many of us would like to profit from the sport—after all, it is just a sport once it is in consumerism's grips—but doesn't it seem as though the line that once defined community has clearly been crossed when the sport's dirtbags are being squeezed for their money? I worked at a climbing gym for a time, but we focused on the community rather than money. Maybe that is the reason our gym is defunct now. Though we never lost money; we just never made money either—but we had a good time. We asked questions to understand the level of experience a customer might have, and depending on their responses, we would disregard some of the formalities and give discounts. Full price is what the Boy Scouts are for. We did not abide slavishly to the guidelines. However, we were not remiss about watching over the gym to ensure that it was a safe environment. It just took more effort from the staff.

More and more I am questioning the pros and cons of climbing gyms. Fads and cliques are now governing a lifestyle that once resembled anarchy. The gym is commercialized and has a positive feedback (positive in this use does not contain a value judgment). It simply means that the gym mentality fosters more commercialization. Climbing seems to be going the way of other popular sports like snowboarding. The lifestyle itself has become a fad. I'm embarrassed to be a climber.

Now that you've wasted five minutes reading about some cheap climber lamenting over paying too much at a climbing gym, flame away.



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