Irresponsible, rude, pillaging climbers – We made them, so we ought to change them.

When the first climbing video for Simply Adventure went live on DPMclimbing.com, it was only a matter of time before I had my first encounter with a troll. Basically, this hateful dude filled up the comment feed on the video spewing all sorts of negative nancy-isms, which were tolerable until he switched from hating on me as a climber to hating on my desire to promote and inspire conservation within the climbing community.

Here’s what he said: 

“Just a thought, if the purpose is conservation, a better angle may be to work on limiting people that use an area rather than making it wide open to all. This way impact is limited rather than multiplied. Sure, you won’t get props for not allowing full access, but the area may be truly conserved instead of pillaged by any Tom, Dick, or Harry that wants to go climbing.”

It took me a moment to recover from reeling over what I had just read. Is this the best solution we can come up with for the issues of overuse and poor values of outdoor responsibility? Are we really willing to stop climbing at certain crags just because a few folks don’t know the do’s and don’ts of outdoor etiquette? Even worse – are we really willing to become elitist enough to say “we can come climb here, but you can’t”?

Here’s what I said back to him:

“I’d rather educate climbers into appreciating good land stewardship values than discourage climbing in any way. Areas getting pillaged by Tom, Dick, and Harry is exactly what we want to change, but instead of telling them not to enjoy the sport with us, shouldn’t we just teach them to be responsible instead?”

To me, it seems like a very common sense solution. There is no denying that the exploding popularity of climbing has brought some negative consequences on the outdoor community – but isn’t it our responsibility to change that? As climbers who “know better,” aren’t we obligated to pass on our wisdom and experiences to ensure that the ‘traditions’ of proper land stewardship, leave no trace, and giving back to the crags?   Irresponsible, rude, pillaging climbers   We made them, so we ought to change them.

I absolutely share this guy’s clear disdain for climbers who roll up to the crag and break every rule of responsible land use. No one likes a litter bug, no one appreciates someone’s dog pissing on your rope, no one likes to hear drunk kids hollering all through the boulder field. But changing their perspective on the outdoor climbing experience seems like a much more sustainable resolution than kicking them out of a destination. You can tell Tom, Dick, and Harry that they can’t climb at your crag – but aren’t they just going to move onto the next spot, and continue to pillage just like before?

Niko and I are driven by this idea of spreading the good tidings of being responsible, healthy climbers (and when I say healthy, I mean healthy to the land). While it may seem like a no-brainer to some of us, some new climbers may have never even considered that peeing under an overhang is really terrible for the soil and won’t get washed away by the rain. They may not understand why leaving crappy gear up on a route isn’t cool. They don’t know how big of a difference it makes to fill up just one plastic bag with some of the trash littering the base of a climb.

And it’s our fault if they never learn.

We as a collective climbing community are responsible for the rudest, loudest, messiest dude at the crag. Those climbers we are so quick to judge are purely a product of our unwillingness to say, “Hey man, don’t forget to pick up your tuna packet.”

And we’re all guilty of ignoring the issue.

 Irresponsible, rude, pillaging climbers   We made them, so we ought to change them.

Graffiti at Sandrock in Alabama – should we be responsible for cleaning it up?

I can’t sit here and toot my horn of positive climbing ambassadorship; I’m guilty of the elitist attitude just as much as anyone else. It’s all too easy to just turn to your partner and say “Dude, that guy is such a jackass,” instead of actually fixing the issue. Why are we so willing to slap judgment instead of realizing that we are all part of the same community. That dude building an illegal fire pit under your project is just as much a part of the climbing community as you are.

There is one example that still bothers me to this day: During a fall climbing trip to Stone Fort in Tennessee a few years ago, I joined a big group of climbers from the FSU Climbing Club for a weekend of boulder crushin’ adventure. We were sitting under the Super Mario boulder, and one girl found a spider crawling on a log. She swooped in to squash it (for absolutely no reason) – and thankfully missed. Then, I proceeded to silently watch her in horror as she terrorized the poor bug for five minutes until it finally got caught under her fingers and met a totally senseless death. She instantly lost all my respect – and then I realized that I was just as guilty for the spider’s death; why didn’t I say something?

Beginning now, enduring throughout our yearlong Simply Adventure trip, and lasting for the rest of our lives as climbers, Niko and I are committing ourselves to this idea of educating people. Not about how to tie knots, not about placing cams – about the importance of respecting the outdoors, caring for our crags, and undertaking our duty as a climbers to continue spreading the message.

If we don’t spread the word, who will?

What do you think? Is it your responsibility to educate climbers you see at the crag who are exhibiting the kind of behavior that gets an area’s access revoked? Should you feel obligated to pick up their tuna packets after they abandon them at the base of a climb? Are you an asshole for asking them to stop carving their initials in the trunk of a tree – or are you doing the right thing?

Comments

  1. says

    I agree with you 100%. The troll is what I refer to as an Eco-Nazi. While he may not be directly involved with such a place (like the Sierra Club or CBD), his ideas are the same — closing off land to public use… whether it’s a climbing area, an OHV area, snowmobile area, etc.

    Personal responsibility is the key, and it’s what has been missing for decades. You’re right.. we as a society have created this idiots, and we as a society (those few of us left who still possess the skill) must find a way to educate these people to get out of their apathetic state of mind and realize that it’s not all about them… that there are other people around, and it’s not okay to say, “to hell with them, I’ll do what I want.”

    I’m so tired of these types of people. They’re evident everywhere, even on the roads. It’s the people who won’t move out of the left lane come Hell or high water. It’s the same people who will then do anything they can to prevent you from passing them. Or the people who stand in the middle of the aisle at the store, talking with others, oblivious to those trying to get around them.

    With luck, over the next few years, things will start to change for the better. I suspect we will see a resurgence of personal responsibility. At least I sure hope so!

    • says

      I think a lot of what you’re talking about ties into this really ugly sense of entitlement that seems to be plaguing society lately. We all (yeah, even you and me to some extent) think we’re better than someone, deserve something more than someone, etc. There needs to be a big shift back towards the community spirit, everyone contributing and looking out for each other. Definitely goes way beyond climbing.

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation! :)

  2. says

    So first off – trolls exist everywhere. Sad fact of the matter is that the guy who made that comment is probably some idiotic slob who can’t even correctly climb a 5.3 and throws Bud Light cans out car windows. I work as a community manager for a forum and I’ve learnt that trolls always portray themselves to be the EXACT opposite of what they truly are. So take a little comfort in that.

    But I totally agree with you. I spent all winter constantly talking to snowboarders about showing a little respect, and now in the climbing world I try to do the same whenever I can. I’ve definitely had my moments of standing silent when I shouldn’t have, but I do my best to be pro-active. If we don’t say something, who will? If we don’t say something, they’re going to think no one cares and it’s okay to be that way.

    And I think you’ll like NH when you visit. We seem to be really on top of the “Leave No Trace” idea. I’ve never seen a state with more random people just grabbing trash when they see it.

    • says

      It seems to me that one of the reasons we tend not to speak up is because we don’t want to sound like assholes – “Hey man, pick up your tuna packet” is a touchy thing to approach, no one likes to feel like they’ve messed up, and no one likes to be the one to make someone feel like an idiot. It’s a delicate balance that we all need to figure out!

      And lady, I am SO excited to get up to NH – and pick up some trash with you New Englanders, haha.

  3. says

    Nice response back, I completely agree with your statement. Just because you limit the amount of climbers, doesn’t mean you would limit the negative impact, you’re still letting in the people who ruin crags. So dumb.

    BUT I have to say that some people just don’t listen because they just don’t care. These are the types who will let their dogs piss in the belay area (personal experience), throw crackers into the river at Smith Rock (personal experience), smoke & throw the butts on the ground, play music at the crag, etc etc etc. I think you make a good point for the climber that is just plain unaware…it’s our responsibility as climbers in the community to educate but what about those assholes that don’t want to listen? They are the ones that are ruining what we have, because they feel like, fuck it I’m here now, and I don’t care what anyone thinks. As for myself, I’ll pick up garbage that I find on the trail that I can stash in a pocket or the pack, no big deal. Telling someone to stop, that’s a fine line. It’s tough to be “that” guy/girl but maybe we as a community need to say, hey we’re here and we want to continue climbing and we’re not going to lose that opportunity based on a few bad seeds.

    • says

      I agree with you, Steve – and it’s been one of the hardest issues for me to figure out how to address. Because let’s face it, some people are just assholes, and there’s not much anyone can do to get through to them. So how are we as a climbing community supposed to step in? Do we ban certain people? Do we start a blacklist of sorts? How are we supposed to fix it?

      It almost seems like an impossible thing to fix. New, uneducated climbers are easier to mold. Stubborn jerks, not so much.

  4. says

    Thoughtful piece, Katie. Thank you.

    You’re right. Being a member of a community means you are also responsible for it. Even, at some level, for those you wish were not members.

    Restricting access to public lands is a very difficult question. We all own these resources and are responsible for their care. Remember that every citizen has the right to vote and has a voice in how our public lands are managed. The majority of Americans live in cities and have very limited exposure to or experience in the back country. Yet their vote counts the same as we outdoors folk. How can someone learn to love and care for our public lands if they’ve never seen them? That’s why I think anything we can do to get more people outdoors is a good thing. Restricting access is moving in the wrong direction.

    There are exceptions, but as a general policy, more access is good. Less access is bad.
    More access means more eyes in the back country. More eyes means more stewardship.

    Recently a popular climbing area near Lake Tahoe suffered from the illegal removal of some Native American cultural artifacts. Climbers reported suspicious activity, alerted the authorities, and the artifacts were recovered. The investigation continues and we hope a suspect will be charged with the crime.

    If the area were closed to public access the crime still would have occurred but no one would have been around to witness it.

    Story here: http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/article/20120926/NEWS/120929899

    cheers,
    -J.

    • says

      Excellent response from a non-climber, thanks for chiming in, J! I really love that story that shows the good that can come from climbers having access.

      I love this quote: “I think, especially, boulderers respect the area and that’s why we turned this guy in,” Perry said.

  5. says

    You’re a rock star and I think you hit it spot on. Obviously, I don’t climb, but I know that similar stuff happens with trails for hiking and mountain biking. I try to do some volunteer trail building at least once or twice a year to make up for some of the human impact/damage. Your response was awesome darlin’ :)

  6. says

    Regarding the assholes that just don’t care.. I can’t help but say that vigilante justice is justified in some cases. AkA, blanket party.

    But since that usually ends up in the wrong people getting in trouble, then we as the community, who are likely already equipped with electronic surveillance equipment (e.g. helmet cams, smartphones, etc) should document this, including the license plates of said offenders, and then press local authorities to act. THEN if they refuse to act, the blanket party comes into play. :)

  7. says

    “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
    – Greek proverb

    Brilliant post Katie!

    I would say to your deriding commentator:

    Conservation does not imply reducing or restricting the use of our climbing areas and the surrounding environments (that is called “preservation”), it means reducing our destructive impact, it means practicing proper stewartship.
    It is clear that simply packing out what you pack in, avoiding damage to local plants/animals, and limiting erosion is simply not enough, this is just the baseline…Because we know free-riding jerks will not meet this basic ethical standard at our crags, boulder fields, and wilderness areas, as responsible climbers the burden falls on us to mitigate their destructive behavior.
    You make the case perfectly, what we need to do is individually dedicate time to cleaning up and maintaining our climbing areas. Through action and dialogue (like this post) we can change the collective paradigm and maintain the ecological, cultural, and intrinsic integrity of the places we escape to for climbing or otherwise.

    • says

      Sweet heavens, that was so perfect. I don’t even have a proper response, you hit every nail right on the head. Beautiful words, Kendal. Thank you for contributing to the conversation in such a meaningful and eloquent way.

  8. theinspiredclimb says

    This is an important post Katie and a great dialog. Thank you for starting the conversation here. There are many people much smarter than me that can discuss this topic in great detail so I won’t re-hash what’s already been said, however, I will bring a different perspective into it. I’m a dad who with my son only got into climbing last year. We learned to climb outdoors and fostered that passion outdoors. I’ve always gone out of my way to not only encourage him to keep climbing but also practice the “leave no trace” concept. I desperately want him to be able to enjoy our crags for a long time and in order to do that, he needs to be responsible for them and take ownership. Our local crag, Quincy Quarries, is an incredible climbing area but it’s also a big mess. It’s a public area that is a known drinking area for the local kids. This means lots of graffiti and broken bottles near the starts of many routes. The good news is, many of the local climbers spend time cleaning the area but it seems like a losing battle. Jack and I always try and do our part. We started bringing a trash bag with us when we go and we do a small cleanup around the area of our routes just before we climb. I don’t think it will make much of a dent in the problem but I’m hoping it sets not only a good example for my son but also other climbers that might be watching.

    Thanks for this post Katie!

    • says

      Andy, I love that you are teaching your son positive climbing values and pitching in to make a difference at your local crag! We have the same issue at Sandrock in Alabama (where that ‘smoke more pot’ image in this post is from), and it’s frustrating to feel like you aren’t making a difference, but you ARE. Keep it up buddy, you’re fighting the good fight!

  9. tender branson says

    With climbers or hikers or even bowlers, you have a handful of people that “get it” and a boatload that don’t. Ultimately those that don’t move on to their next pursuit while we who do pick up all the pro-pel wrappers and stuff. Nothing new. Cost of doing business.

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