Category Archives: WTF

Scandalous! Conservatism, Contradiction, and Conflict in the Climbing World

lightning_clean_up

Recently, climbing has experienced quite a few scandals, some more serious than others. From Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk’s bolt purge on the infamous Maestri Compressor Route, to the most recent Everest debacle, the climbing community has been swirling with opinions like a money booth full of phony 20-dollar bills.

But even seemingly minor scandals have generated heretofore unprecedented and widespread levels of outcry, backlash, and threat-making.

For example, James Lucas and his decision to erase the hand-drawn lightning bolt from the famous Yosemite boulder problem Midnight Lightning. The late John Bachar sketched the bolt in climbing chalk around the time of the problem’s first ascent in 1978, and it has persisted in one form or another since then. Lucas not only brushed away the pseudo-historical pictogram, but also wrote a blog about it, garnering loads of attention, mostly critical.

Then there’s the Gunks chipping scandal. The sin of physically and permanently altering a rock climb to “bring it down to one’s level” was only part of the story here. The other part was that a still-anonymous set of individuals created a hidden-camera video that clearly showed a well-known local with decades of first ascents to his name going to town with masonry tools on some established but unclimbed roof project. Further, the video was released onto the World Wide Web via the Dead Point Magazine website, whose editors reaped the rewards (and frustrations) attending any scandalous media scoop.

So what can we take from all this?
First, we can see that everyone loves them some scandal pie, and in the Internet age it’s an all-you-can eat buffet. Thanks to social media, blogs, and Web forums, everyone from n00bs to crusty veterans can spray their opinions across the globe with push-button ease, adding their two special cents, piling opinion on top of opinion and misunderstanding atop misinformation, until the whole climbing world is, at least briefly, afroth.

But if you’re reading this or any blog, you already knew that…

Perhaps more surprisingly, we can also take that climbers, as free-spirited as we might fancy ourselves, are all about rules, and many of us are downright conservative in our opinions. What is valid or invalid, cool or lame, ethical or un- is of great personal import to us, despite the fact that our “rules” are usually little more than rough amalgams of personal opinion, loosely supported by logic and a vague sense of the collective judgement, prone to change with time and geographic context…

What was once commonplace (siege tactics or pounding pitons up immaculate granite cracks) is now taboo. What’s kosher in some regions (rap bolting with power drills and painting route names at the base of climbs) is verboten in others. What was once considered cheating (hangdogging or training specifically for a climb) is now the norm.

But even within a narrow geographic space and timeframe, the “rules” are a lot less clear and simple than we, ever our brother’s keepers, would like them to be.

Rebels vs. conservatives
For example in the Midnight Lightning scandal, let us consider some simple propositions seemingly at odds with each other, all held to be true:

  • Leaving tick marks = Bad
  • Drawing a big chalk lightning bolt on a boulder just because you climbed it = Good
  • Erasing others’ tick marks and graffiti = Good
  • Erasing a big chalk lightning bolt on a boulder = Bad

No one could give Bachar the “right” to draw on the Columbia Boulder; he claimed it, egotistically and likely never guessing the bolt would remain as long as it has. After a while, the bolt magically morphed from a fleeting, rebellious yalp of youthful exuberance into a symbol of historic importance, at which point the conservative tendency to fear and resent change kicked in.

“You were totally out of your element in removing such a historical symbol that has endured over 30 years in Camp 4,” wrote one commenter on Lucas’ post about erasing the lightning bolt. “You were wrong to assume that it is your right to remove such a beloved visual artifact from the climbing community,” wrote another. Sadly, commenters didn’t stop at criticism — several threatened to physically assault James or slash his tires. Others claimed their children were devastated by his act.

We can see the same appeal to the significance of “historic” artifacts with the bolt removal on Cerro Torre. One commenter on Kennedy and Kruk’s statement on alpinist.com, echoing a common sentiment, wrote, “No one can erase history. You simply had no right to remove these pieces of metal because you climbed a free line nearby.” But unlike Lucas’ act of chalk removal, Kruk and Kennedy’s de-bolting was also seen by many as an act of idealism, perfectly in keeping with the spirit of modern alpinism.

Who is to say what’s right in these cases? Not me certainly. Perhaps it would be best to put it to a vote, as several web citizens suggested. But only local climbers can vote. Or only ones who’ve been climbing 10 years or more… Or only folks who can redpoint 5.13 or harder are allowed on this ride. Sure, now we’re getting somewhere.

Chipping and the ultimate sin
Even on the topic of chipping, the most clearcut of ethical issues, there is also internal contradiction in the generally accepted “rules.” For example:

  • Chipping or drilling for the purpose of making a climb easier = Super bad
  • Gluing broken holds back on to keep a climb from getting harder = Pretty much cool
  • Pry-baring loose blocks and de-vegetating the hell out of cracks and landing zones during route development = All good
  • Drilling holes for the purpose of inserting bolts for protection = Good (depending on local ethics and laws)

Bill Ramsey, a professor of philosophy at UNLV and exceptionally strong climber in his own right has made probably the most intelligent defenses of chipping over the years. In a comment on climbingnarc.com post about the Gunks chipping scandal, he highlighted the logical inconsistency of climbing’s internal rule system by saying, “I find it bizarre that many climbers strongly condemn [chipping] and yet often actually praise [altering rock and vegetation during new-route development], all the while insisting on a strong commitment to environmentalism.”

I think everyone can agree that the ideal* is to limit our alteration of the rock to an absolute minimum, but the response to the climber caught on the Gunks Chipping Cam™ was so vitriolic not because of practical concerns like environmental or access issues, but because we love to express righteous indignation towards a rule breaker. Maybe it makes our own transgressions feel smaller or farther away — glass houses and all that…

The way things should be
In the end, the lightning bolt was re-drawn by someone else who probably had no particular right to do so and the Gunks chipping scandal faded into the background noise. The community publicly shamed, berated, and even threatened a few climbers for breaking the rules… and then went back to their projects that someone else rap bolted and aggressively scrubbed and comfortized, replete with chipped and glued holds or heavily landscaped landing zones, speckled with tick marks and chalk spots, and so forth.

And all was right with the world.

–––––

*while we’re talking about idealism: surely we can do better than turning on each other like pitchfork wielding mobs. While the Internet doesn’t seem to encourage civility, moderation, or empathy, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for those things. 

 

Toe Shoes: A Solution

Web

Much venom has been spewed about the “toe-shoe” since its début almost a decade ago. With separate pockets for each toe, they take on the shape of the human foot… or perhaps more accurately the shape of a large, brightly colored hobbit’s foot.

In a world full of shoes with unified toe boxes, the toe shoe is disconcerting, vaguely nauseating for reasons difficult to pin down. As such, the millions of disembodied voices of the Internet have leveled their collective judgement on toe shoes, mocking and berating them as a fashion faux pas, eyesores, and indicators of shoddy character, lackluster intelligence, or worse.

Of course, those who wear toe shoes vehemently disagree. They point to the fact that evolution sculpted the foot to carry us ably and comfortably wherever we might go. Our toes were never meant to be bound up and treated as a single unit, they cry, but as individuals, strong and spirited and each with its own job to do!

Perhaps you’ve heard of The Barefoot Running Book or Born to Run? Unless you make your bed beneath a boulder (and maybe even if you do), you’ve read about the various benefits of “minimalist” running and the attending footwear sub-industry that has sprung up around it. It is doubtful that millions of toe-shoe acolytes are entirely wrong…

Whether you’re for or against toe shoes is a matter of personal preference, but what’s not up for debate is the pain and suffering they can cause the friends, families, and significant others of those who wear and love them.

A trip to the store takes on a darker cast when you feel the judgment of your fellow patrons burning a hole in your Vibram Five Fingers. A night at the movies starts off on the wrong toe when your date looks down and thinks, “Oh god, does he have to wear them tonight?” Your teenage son cancels those plans for a jog the day after you show off your new, reptile-green Fila Skeletoes.

There is a certain irony that a shoe designed to maximize comfort could be the source of such friction. Marriages have crumbled over less.

Luckily, there’s a solution to the toe-shoe problem. Built on the modern spat platform, the Toe BeGone toe shoe cover slides over the top of your foot and and secures with a handy velcro strap under the bottom. The upper, available in a variety of water-resistant colors and designs (from sporty sneaker to casual loafer), creates the illusion that you’re wearing a “normal” shoe, while allowing you the toe-tal comfort and freedom of movement of a toe shoe.

Never have to explain your footwear again. With the Toe BeGone, you can have the best of both worlds.

Kickstarter coming soon.

Happy Leap Day!

It is impossible to deny that Leap Day is the greatest of all holidays. For one thing, it happens only once every four years, making it much rarer and more valuable than other yearly holidays, like the so-called “President’s Day,” Labor Day, or even Halloween. Also, due to its quadrennial nature, Leap Day throws a wrench in the idea of age. Indeed, those born on Leap Days age at one fourth the normal rate! To attain drinking age, a Leap Day baby will have to wait until they’ve passed eighty-four normal human years! Thus, leap day is an excellent example of Einstein’s relativity theory, as time goes relatively slower for Leap Day babies than for the rest of us. (It’s science; it’s a fact.) And, of course, Leap Day is also the day we celebrate the amazing tale of Leap Day Williams (see video above). Case closed.

PS – Don’t forget to wear your blue and yellow!

Leap Day Williams lives

Bullshit Lowball Choss: Climbing Irony from East to West

You Did a Rock Climb - A Decision Tree from Bass For Your Face

You Did a Rock Climb – A Decision Tree from the funny East Coast jerks at Bass For Your Face

This is a post about a blog called Bass For Your Face. But before I say anything about this blog, which strikes a perfect, zine-like balance between awesome and stupid, I have a question for you: If you’ve climbed in both the Eastern and Western United States, you might have noticed that many climbers in the West are lacking something. Do you know what it is?

No?

OK, I’ll tell you.

It’s a sense of irony. In other words, a deep love of sarcasm. A shit-talking streak that will make you feel like a total moron while at the same time letting you know that, even though you probably are a moron, your climbing buddies love you anyway. Having lived in Ohio, New York, Colorado, and now Utah, I’ve gotten a good sense of this difference. Often, when talking to a climber from the Western states, I’ll make a snarky East Coast comment, like shouting “Dab!” as a climber enters the crux of a climb. Or suggesting we go climb choss at Little Cottonwood Canyon. “What? I didn’t dab!” They’ll say, totally missing the point. Or, “LCC isn’t chossy! It’s, like, bullet granite, dude!” C’mon, son!

I don’t know what it is about New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the rest of those frozen, Blair Witch-looking little states packed together in the Northeastern corner of the country, but the people out there just have an edgy, self-deprecating sense of humor that the people in the West tend to lack. Maybe it’s because the population density in the East is so much higher, or the weather is so much more hateful. Or maybe the vast, open spaces of the West just make the human brain go slack.

And maybe it’s related, but Western climbers also tend to take their exploits on the rocks more seriously. In the East, you can’t even start to spray about your accomplishments without getting smacked down by your “friends”. It’s like the scene in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where big paddles shoot up out of the earth and whack the protagonists in the face every time they have an idea. In the East, you’ll just have to learn how to turn off your ego and have fun. In the West, when some dude throws a wobbler because he fell of his project again, his girlfriend and two other dudes will run over and start rubbing his back and telling him how strong he looked. Jet fuel for the narcissistic ego fire.

B4YFers climbing rad boulders

B4YFers climbing rad East Coast boulders

Now before you go getting your sarcasmically challenged panties in a bunch, Westerners, I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. And I know there are plenty of insufferable tool bags on the East Coast, too. But it’s something I’ve noticed and I just felt the need to finally get it out.

Ahhh… much better.

Back on track: If you’d like a taste of the New York climbing vibe, raw and uncut, I recommend checking out bassforyourface.com. In the “About” section of their site you’ll find this little tiddlybit of language: “Not satisfied with Louder Than Eleven (inches)? Bass For Your Face will make you cry for FIFTEEN.” This gives a pretty good sense of the kind of content contained therein. B4YF is run by a hyper-ironic band of rowdy hipster rock climbers constantly working to put up (or just repeat, as the case may be) new boulder problems in the Gunks. In a climbing area widely regarded to be picked cleaner than a turkey carcass at Joey Chestnut’s Thanksgiving dinner, the B4YF crew, along with Ivan Greene and some other enterprising bloc-jockeys, have been adding instant classics left and right. For example check out all the V4+ goodness in this professionally shot and edited YouTube masterwork:

Finally, if you want to see an East Coast, off-topic snarkfest to end all snarkfests, don’t miss out on boldering.com, a message board centered on the depraved lives of Internet nerds who climb up little rocks for fun. This board was starting by at least one East Coaster so intensely sarcastic he’s almost impossible to talk to. You keep asking yourself, “Is he being serious, or is he making fun of me?” (Or at least, I do.)

On this post, as will all my posts, if you don’t like what I write, you can tell me to STFU in the comments.

Today Is Not President’s Day

George Washington Portrait

George "G-UNIT" Washington

Just in case you were wondering, today is the celebration of George Washington’s birthday, not a celebration of all America’s illustrious presidents. At least on a Federal level. Oh, and Washington wasn’t born on the twentieth but the twenty-second of February.

This lengthy and somewhat confusing snopes.com article lays out the particulars of the designation of the third Monday in February as a Federal holiday referred to as Washington’s Birthday. Technically, Federal holidays apply only to Federal employees, but most states and private businesses follow the Federal government’s example.

Here at my office, we’re working today. But I think the day off got scooted down to December, so people could take longer trips. Something like that.

In closing, I leave you with a fun fact about George Washington, since it’s his birthday on Wednesday. According to this site, which may or may not contain facts, “At his inauguration, Washington had only one tooth. At various times he wore dentures made of human teeth, animal teeth, ivory or even lead.”

WTF: Fitness Equipment and Hostess Sale

At the friendly neighborhood Target

What is America’s Problem? Oh, it’s a Loaded Question, I know. To admit that we have a Problem, well, that’s tantamount to admitting you’re a communist. Of course, to deny we have a Problem is about like admitting you’ve had a prefrontal lobotomy. So let’s just say obesity isn’t a Problem but a God-given right that we Americans exercise whenever we feel like it. And all these wonderful businesses out there, like Target, as the case may be, are doing their darndest to help us exercise our bodies (who doesn’t want a six pack…of abs?!) and also our rights when it comes to buying high-calorie, low-nutritional value, chemically preserved food-like objects at bargain-basement prices. You know, they’re just helping grease the wheels of Freedom (and our gastrointestinal tracts) with all that transfat. Well, God bless ‘em, we sure do appreciate it. Until next time…