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Climbing - A Useless Sport?

Climbing - A Useless Sport?

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Climbing - A Useless Sport?

Page Type: Article

Object Title: Climbing - A Useless Sport?


Page By: AJones

Created/Edited: Nov 21, 2007 / Nov 23, 2007

Object ID: 358740

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Climbing - A Useless Sport?

First of all, I have to say that I eat, live, and breathe climbing. I love to climb – whether it is sport climbing, ice climbing, trad climbing or alpine walls – I love it all. I think we can all agree that climbing brings joy, happiness, and for some, even meaning, into our lives, but I can’t help but think that sometimes we tend to take climbing (and ourselves) far too seriously. I mean, really, what we’re doing is climbing up some rock or ice, to get to the top; and far more often than not, you don’t even get to the actual top of anything; just some arbitrary definition of the top.

Climbing, you could argue, unlike some other sports, isn’t even that entertaining. You’re never going to have millions of people tuned in on Sunday to watch climbing. At its route (no, pun intended), climbing is a very personal and somewhat selfish sport. And of course, that’s what the attraction is for many of us. Climbing allows us to feel a bond with nature; it allows us to be introspective; it allows us to remain fit and agile; it defines our friendships; and sometimes, it even defines who we are. But at the core, it's still only about climbing up something.

The reason I like to point this out from time to time, is because climbers as a whole sometimes need to lighten up a little. It always make me shake my head when I see in some climbing magazine that someone has taken the time to write to the editor to point out it was actually he (yes, almost exclusively male) who had made the first ascent of some route in some climbing area (there are many variations of the same type of letter). I mean, who really cares, and in the whole scheme of things, what does it matter? Personally, I’ve come back to climb limestone routes where I’d done the first ascent on crappy gear, to find them bolted. I didn’t write any letters, chop any bolts, or even feel insulted. I simply clipped the bolts. If I had of felt strongly enough (which I didn’t), I could have chosen not to clip the bolts (nobody’s making you clip them).

And then there are actually people (climbers) who have threatened or carried out physical violence against another person (a climber) over a disagreement about climbing. Yes, there are people out there whose persona is so wrapped up in climbing that they are willing to do all sorts of bizarre things in the name of their sport. Here’s a short list of some things that have actually taken place (feel free to add to the list):

1. Bolts and/or anchors on established routes are chopped (fisticuffs sometimes ensue). Sometimes the chopping results in more unsightly damage than the bolts did.
2. Grease put on holds to stop other climbers from doing a route first
3. Holds chipped or drilled to make an otherwise un-climbable climb (for the chipper), climbable.
4. Letters to editors from one climber publicly attacking the other.

This is not to say that I don’t think ethical debate within the climbing community is important; it is - I’m just saying that when we’re having this debate, let’s keep in mind that what we’re talking about is climbing (it’s not world peace). Yes we can be passionate, but let’s be respectful too.

One of the things I see fairly commonly these days is the posturing between trad climbers and sport climbers – and to be truthful, in my experience it is mainly the trad climber disrespecting the sport climber (although I’m sure it happens the other way around as well). I recently met an older climber (which sounds funny because I’m 45) and was talking to him (proudly) about a sport climbing area my friend and I were developing. He said, and I quote, “you’re not one of those crag fags, are you?” I resisted the temptation to tell him that I had likely climbed more (and harder) alpine and trad routes than he ever had. I told him that “yes, I was a crag fag” and changed the subject to ice climbing. It’s sad to say this isn’t an isolated example. If you can’t climb 5.13 sport (and I can’t), it’s far easier to put that person down (just a bolt clipper), then it is to respect the athletic ability and drive that person has.

Another thing I’d like to touch on is the selfish aspect of our sport. I’ve thought about this more, because I have two young children (yep, started late). Whether we like to admit this to ourselves or not, climbing is inherently dangerous, and some types of climbing more than others. Every time we rope up there is a chance we could be seriously injured or killed. I ice climb (which I consider more dangerous then rock climbing) all winter and since having kids my thought process around risk has changed considerably. I know this isn’t news – most every climber out there who has children has likely gone through this same thinking. But very few of us have stopped climbing altogether. Why; because the satisfaction that climbing brings to our lives isn’t something that is easily given up (nor should it be). We all have to individually make the decision about how much risk we’re willing to take – and for me anyway, the fact that I have two little lives to look after, affects my decisions. I think that if I died climbing, I wouldn’t be very happy about that at all – I wouldn’t want someone to say “he died doing what he loved”. I would want someone to say “he fucked up” – because that’s what I would have done. I don’t want to be the guy that left two little kids fatherless because I was trying to get up to the top of some obscure ice or rock climb. I’d rather be killed by a drunk driver, than die climbing –at least I’d know it wasn’t my fault.

Finally, I wanted to say something about elitism. I know it’s a touchy subject, but it’s something that’s out there. It doesn’t just occur at the top end of our sport (the truly elite athletes) – one can see this attitude commonly at local crags. How many of us know climbers that will bolt 5.7/5.8 sport routes and put the bolts 10-15 feet apart – but when the same climber bolts a 5.11/5.12 route, the bolts are 6-8 feet apart. That’s elitism – “5.8 is easy for me, so the bolts can be far apart”. Never mind that for a 5.8 climber, these climbs can be terrifying and dangerous. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the subject of elitism. Here’s another example. A friend of mine, was climbing a 10b climb in Squamish, and lowered off the crux move, leaving all of his gear in (7-8 pieces plus quickdraws). He pulled his rope, walked to the top of the climb, set up a rappel, rapped down, only to find all of his gear stolen. A local climber (well known – featured in magazines), who was climbing nearby had soloed up and stolen all his gear in the 10 minutes it took him and his wife to walk to the top of the pitch. When this climber was later confronted (my friend’s gear was etched with his initials) he first tried to deny he stole the gear, then told my friend he had no right being on that climb because it was too hard for him (and this justified his stealing the gear). It’s just one example, but unfortunately, this sort of elitism plays out in our sport at all levels. I do think its root cause is that people loose sight of the fact that this sport is only about climbing up things – maybe not entirely useless, but not exactly something to fight about.

So the point of this short essay was just to get people thinking a little. I really don’t think climbing is useless – something that brings that much joy and fulfilment into our lives, can’t be useless. But it also isn’t the most important thing in the world. And I don’t think it should define you as a person – I’d rather be defined by my character and actions, than as simply “a climber”.

PS - I chose the picture of my 5 year old climbing to remind us of why we all started to climb in the first place; because it was fun.


My 5 year old -climbing


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Viewing: 41-54 of 54 « PREV 1 2 3 NEXT »

AJonesRe: Excellent


Hasn't voted

Thanks for the comments - they're well said, and capture exactly the point I was trying to make. Climbing should be about fun and adventure (whatever the definition of adventure is to you) - we should respect one another's point of view and try to keep the egos out of the way. Nice pics on your site by the way. Cheers!
Posted Dec 9, 2007 3:39 pm

chel3178It's like going back to highschool....


Voted 8/10

I've been climbing for less than a year and began indoors but I can say I have already seen examples of this. I was actually picked on but not in an extremely rude fashion for climbing indoors. But, my main reasons for climbing indoors were that I was a beginner so it was just easier to learn in a controlled environment and it was winter. I considered learning ice climbing but just didn't have the money. I personally think it's silly when someone tells me they absolutely won't EVER climb on plastic. I just think that on occassion they might find it helpful and convenient. I suppose it is really just as it is with most anything else. I have much more respect for people who are open minded and just accept people for their choices. If someone chooses to do sport over trad then as long as it is not hurting anything or anybody what does it matter? I can understand getting a little irritated when someone climbing in any style is acting like they are more elite than others. That is irritating but we probably can't do much to change those people. Those people just remind me of the bullies and the "snobs" in high school. The same ones I guess we have to deal with in a variety of settings in society and unfortunately within the climbing community than also. I will just steer clear of those people! So, far most of the people I have met are very friendly and love the outdoors as much as I do. Generally people that climb out doors seem more friendly but I still wouldn't want to pigeon hole people. There were plenty of people at the gym that were encouraging to me when I first began bouldering by myself indoors. Anyway, you seem like a very cool guy and this was a great article!
Posted May 31, 2008 11:02 pm

AJonesRe: It's like going back to highschool....


Hasn't voted

Thanks for the comments. Sorry so late in the reply. I've got an injury and am unable to climb, so my motivation for checking my site (and reading about climbing) is lagging. I'm glad the article struck a cord with you; my intent was to put some of my feelings in writing about some of the elitism and ego games that have real started to come into climbing in the last decade. My point was that as climbers we really need to be more tolerant and supportive of all types of climbers.
Posted Jul 4, 2008 10:18 pm

AJonesRe: Insecurity?


Hasn't voted

Yes, I agree entirely - that was more or less what I was trying to say - climbers tend to take themselves too seriously.
Posted Mar 28, 2009 12:52 pm

rpcgreat read!


Voted 10/10

Spot on for me! Expresses the feelings I've had & what Shirley & I have talked about many times. One thing we've noticed is that we have a hard time maintaining friendships with other climbers -- almost invariably it deteriorates into a di*k measuring contest of some sort (yes - some of it we're to blame for). Then it's over -- I don't feel like wasting my (priceless) free time by spending it with someone who whishes that I fail on a climb etc. (& admittedly - if I dig deep, I'll have to admit I've done the same).

We used to actively seek out hanging out with other climbers figuring we'd "click" with them & have some company when going to the crags. Don't really do that anymore. I've come to realize that many (MANY) traits that climbers share are not something to be admired: pettiness, egotism, narrow-mindedness, ...a general loss of perspective (those things seem to have been a part of climbing for some generations I think). For the elite few (and I mean ELITE not the elitist MAJORITY that SP & other sites have), I can sort of understand. For the vast majority, I think it's dumb (like retards fighting over crumbs). Anyway, I'm rambling. Great article - thanks for posting up! Esp nice to see coming from someone with credentials.
Posted Mar 27, 2009 2:13 pm

AJonesRe: great read!


Hasn't voted

I know what you mean about climbing friendships. What I've found is that I get the most pleasure out of climbing with people who are new to the sport. We open our home two night a week to people (anyone who is interested) who want to climb because we have a big climbing wall in our basement - I love to see people who are new to the sport, start climbing and then get better, and then become hooked. That's a really joy. The other thing I do (as you do) is that I only climb with people whose company I enjoy - and one of my main measuring sticks is how seriosly someone takes themselves. My favourite climbing partners, like my friend Greg or Mirek, do not take themselves too seriously, know they are not great, admit they get scared, laugh at themselves, and never ever make you feel bad for wanting to turn around. Yes, we all have egos, but the measure of the man (or woman) in my opinion is how we treat climbers who are not as good or experienced as us. Do we belittle them or do we encourage and help them? Anyway, now I'm ranting...
Posted Mar 28, 2009 1:03 pm

Dow Williamsditto...

Dow Williams

Voted 10/10

just now caught this AJ, I don't normally get around to the non-beta stuff on the site...drawn to Radek's "great read" and concur with him on the article....no question we have selfish endeavors...I have always said that, but I did wait to get fully immersed until my children were older....thanks for sharing....have to say I am shocked about the dude stealing the gear...that has to be the exception, particularly in Canada I would hope...that is beyond rude, that is ruthless! Peter Valchev and I were climbing up the west direct route on Monkey Face only to come across all this great, brand new trad gear left in....a party had come in from the other side and started above us...the 2nd simply had no idea he was suppose to clean the gear....by the time they rappelled back on top of us, we had a decent little rack going....needless to say I felt sorry for both of them...can just imagine the look on the leaders face when the 2nd crested into little cave belay....just last week, two young men were waiting on the summit of Castleton after doing the North Chimney route....we climbed the north face, topped out and had pleasant conversation with them...as we waited for them to clear a rap or two, we walked over to the summit rap chains only to notice an entire rack....and I mean crossing the $1000 threshold, brand new rack....only one other parties en route to the summit at that point...and the young men relayed to us they were so thankful (over some beers of course) because when they asked the other team to help them out...they really felt the other team gave them the opinion that if they found the gear on the summit, it was theirs....I still think they were just being teased...needless to say, they were damn glad to see us bring it down. Still can't believe your story, never heard of anyone being that much of an ass. Cheers.
Posted Mar 27, 2009 2:57 pm

AJonesRe: ditto...


Hasn't voted

The good karma you gained from returning gear is bound to pay dividends. I remember climbing in Squamish (again) in the mid 80s and my partner and I left a belay anchor at the top of a climb (couple of Friends, etc.). We didn't even know we had left it there until an American named Bob was going up to poeple in the Smoke Bluffs parking lot and asking if anyone had left the gear. We then realized what we had done. He gave it back to us right away. He told us he was secretly hoping no one would claim it since he had just had his car broken into and his wallet stolen. How nice is that? He's had is wallet stolen and he's still trying to find the owner of the gear. So for every jerk climber, I'm sure there is 100 nice ones. Needless to say, we befriended him and ended up climbing with him for the rest of our trip.

The other story related in my article also happened in Squamish. Interestingly enough, I was present when my friend found his gear - we were climbing in Skaha and (believe it or not) he recognized the guy's dog (as the dog had been over sniffing around their dog on the day of the theft). I was there when my friend confronted this guy and heard first hand what this guy said. I (I'm sad to say) was ready to throttle the guy, but my buddy was actually the calmer (and wiser) of the two or us, and calmer heads prevailed. It was kind of funny, because this confrontation was going on when the theif was leading a climb. Dug (my friend) went through his gear while the other guy was climbing and found most of his stuff - we had to wait until the guy finsihed the climb to get the rest of his stuff because he was actually using it. The other funny thing - if I told you who this guy was; you would likely recognize his name.

Anyway, I'm rambling again.....
Posted Mar 28, 2009 1:15 pm

jrjonesyGreat Read Again.


Voted 10/10

Just read your article again and enjoyed it just as much as I did a year and 1/2 ago. It's the type of read that should be taken in every year or so, just as a reminder to all of us. I also like your take on "we do this because it's fun"...i.e enjoy the journey, don't get stuck on the destination. Applies to a few other sports we do too.
Posted Apr 2, 2009 4:20 pm

AJonesRe: Great Read Again.


Hasn't voted

Posted Apr 2, 2009 8:51 pm

Vitaliy M.Beautiful!

Vitaliy M.

Voted 10/10

Very worth reading. Loved it.
Posted Oct 18, 2013 6:07 pm

Matt LemkeAwesome article

Matt Lemke

Voted 10/10

I think about this stuff all the time. Thanks for posting
Posted Oct 18, 2013 7:51 pm

CClaudethanks for the article


Voted 10/10

having been sidelined with a mountain bike accident that should have killed me(broken neck, 4 bones 7 fractures), I've had time to think. You are absolutely right. The only value this all has is what it does for you and the places it brings you, and hopefully, the respect for people and the environment it instills in you. The vast major of the world could care less, no less understand what we do.

Myself, am a single father of a 6 yr old and a 4 yr old, and in a relationship in which I hope to acquire an 11yr old and a 7yr old. To me I'd rather see them develop a passion in what they are doing, and respect in other people, rather than what they do. Being the best doesn't matter. but how you treat others does... goes with kids but we adults sometime forget to remember this.

I agree that too much is placed on ego, on FAs, etc. I've enjoyed bagging the second ascents of various climbs 5-15yrs before the FA, since in the end, does it matter. Really what matters is wha does a climb do to you, your mind and your soul.

If you need to put a label on me, do so as a father or a scientist. Yes, I've climbed for 4 decades now, and hopefully for another 3-4 decades to come, but people of all walks of life are more important.
Posted Oct 19, 2013 12:57 am

whatdoIknowha ha.


Hasn't voted

Fun article.

If you think climbing is not a spectator sport, try subjecting your family to watching you do an ironman. They can spend all day waiting and seeing you for a few seconds. Not to mention that you were away training most of the weekends for many month before that.

On the bright side, I believe, being active teaches our children that there is more to life than hanging out at a mall.
Posted Oct 21, 2013 11:39 am

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