There’s a certain type of climber who likes to bash anyone who lacks the same skill or experience level that they have. A common refrain from such climbers is that the new generations are bringing a gym-bred lack of climbing knowledge and ethics to already-overcrowded crags. With the throngs of gumby-headed neophytes–the most oblivious horsemen of the climbing apocalypse–come ills ranging from accidents to annoyance, from faux pas to soil erosion.
Judging from the Internet, Not At My Crag climbers constitute either a rather large group, or just a small group with very large mouths—something that’s easily confused in the Wild West of online forums and comments sections. NAMC climbers particularly enjoy posting in discussions about the increasing popularity of climbing due to competitions (especially the Olympics), the rise of the modern climbing gym, and depictions of climbing in the media.
Of course, even the most vocal of NAMCers were almost certainly at one point in their careers the very same type of climber they critique. Now that they’ve made it through the precarious early years of climberdom, they apparently have earned a sort of immunity, a la Survivor. Instead of mere members of the swelling crowds, they have ascended to the status of “locals,” sole and rightful stewards of the places they climb. All others should bow and kiss their swollen, chalky knuckles before deigning to tie in.
But believe it our not, bagging on others on the Internet with an air of seasoned superiority is not the most effective means of making change.
This weekend, the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and the American Alpine Club hosted a Craggin’ Classic event in the Salt Lake area. This climbing festival took place at the Alta Peruvian Lodge, in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Despite menacing pockets of storm in the area, a bunch of climbers showed up to take clinics in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, lead by a guiding concession called Mountain Education & Development. Clinic topics ranged from Top Rope basics to Trad Leading and Multi-Pitch Belay Changeovers. There was even a stewardship event that involved trail building, weeding, and such.
I stopped in on the Trad Leading clinic and was happy to see a young but knowledgable instructor patiently showing climbers, from a wide range of age and experience groups, how to place pro, build anchors, and generally think like a climber. The clinic was only four hours long, and so just a small first step in the lifelong learning process that something as complex and potentially dangerous as climbing requires. But still, it was a step—an example of just one of the many ways that new climbers can become more knowledgable and more knowledgable climbers can help raise the average level of know-how at the crags.
One of the things that NAMC climbers most lament is the death of the “mentor” system in climbing, in which a veteran climber takes a n00b under his wing and edumacates him in The Way. It is the hallowed master/apprentice relationship still practiced in some vocations, particularly in Europe and Asia. While these types of relationships are certainly valuable, it is also worth remembering that, in the anarchic craft of climbing, a mentor can be anything from a true sage to a crusty character armed with little more than strong opinions, a lot of misinformation, and a burning urge to be in charge.
I guess what I’m saying is that we all should strive to be better examples and good mentors… and at the same times we all should probably admit that we have something, maybe a lot, left to learn. Events like the Craggin’ Classic are one way to be a part of this change. Coming to the crag with a dose of humility and empathy for those newcomers who probably look at lot like you did once upon a time is another.