Climbing - A Useless Sport?

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Climbing - A Useless Sport?
Created On: Nov 21, 2007
Last Edited On: Nov 23, 2007

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.



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Viewing: 21-40 of 54

AJones - Nov 23, 2007 10:07 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice

Thanks Fred - your sentence about "how we deal with each other truly defines our character" is exactly what I was trying to get at. And at the core, let's always keep in mind that we're only climbing up rock/ice.


rickford - Nov 23, 2007 9:34 am - Voted 10/10

A'men brother!

A Jones, you hit the nail on the head with this article! Climbers, particularly exceptional climbers, take themselves wayyyy too seriously. In the end, its all about fun. And the means to this end is irrelevent- whether it be bouldering or extreme alpine free soloing. And in regards to this point, I love the photo selection of this article- indoor bouldering! This reinforces your point wonderfully. It is very refreshing to read these words from such an experienced mountaineer/crag fag. ;-)


AJones - Nov 23, 2007 10:11 am - Hasn't voted

Re: A'men brother!

"Wayyy too seriously" - exactly!!!

I picked this photo because it's of my daughter climbing, and young kids are not burdened by egos - they climb strictly for the fun and joy of the movement. We need to remember why we first started to climb; not for first ascents, not to stamp our name on a cliff, not to prove how couragous we are - but rather because we loved the feeling we get from climbing.


baloodh2000 - Nov 24, 2007 12:29 am - Voted 10/10

Good Comments

The 1st thing that bugs me is a rack of brand spanking new quick draws and a trash talking gym rat who's first trip outside is filled with comparisons to his/her ability inside the gym. All the while spending more time at the base of a climb rated .3 to .5 less than any of the claims. Its hard not to cop an attitude when some arrogant prick decides to join the outside. I love sport climbing. I love trad climbing. I love gym climbing. I suck at all of them. Hardest pitch in the gym was a 5.10a. You won't ever hear me say a thing about that outside! Maybe this aggression and protectiveness about the outdoors stems from keeping dick head climbers off the areas. We have a few names in our group for people like that. And i swear if I hear one more thing about where I got my dog bones, the weight of them, and what brand they are, from some punk who doesn't have a scratch on his 10 new carabiners hanging from his brand new harness I will scream.

That being said. Respect outdoors. Respect the people who are in front of you. Respect the people that are behind you. Keep your trap shut if your gonna blab about the gym outside unless you are merely making friendly conversation about a comparable climb in the gym, and you sent the one outside. Pay Respect to the Author of this article for a truly amazing subject. Don't chop bolts, skip them.



AJones - Nov 24, 2007 11:49 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Good Comments

I've seen all the attitudes out there; from new gym climbers to old trad climbers; we all have egos, the trick is trying to get along. I could tell you stories for hours (and hours) about the various "attitudes" I've seen over the years. Some our friggin hilarious; some are friggin scary. But, I'm a strong believer in treating people how you would like to be treated - if we do that things tend to work out better.


baloodh2000 - Nov 24, 2007 1:52 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Good Comments

You know that is true. A great perspective. I know my comment was more of a rant than anything. I hope by this article people will start respecting other climbers a lot more. The top is great, but think about the struggle of getting there. That is what we really take home. Maybe attitudes stem from people climbing too far inside there boundary and not close enough to the edge?


mccombs07 - Nov 24, 2007 2:34 pm - Hasn't voted

Yes and no

I think the amazing thing about climbing is...ethics. To have ethical debates about the "sport" sets it appart from alot of activities. People care that much about it.


AJones - Nov 24, 2007 10:27 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Yes and no

Yes I agree" as I wrote in the article "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"


MtnLdr - Nov 24, 2007 7:20 pm - Voted 10/10


I can write anything that wouldn't be completely redundant. Excellent article, and excellent comments as well to all. One thing that jumps out is how you, AJones, take the time to respond to nearly all the comments posted here. I like that. You're the type of guy I'm always looking to run into when my partner bails and I decide to hit the local crag solo. Bravo!!!


AJones - Nov 24, 2007 10:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Ditto

Thanks - you meet the best people that way (going solo)!


Eleutheros - Nov 25, 2007 10:03 pm - Voted 10/10


Well said. As a novice climber I found attitudes and egos made it more difficult for me to get into the sport in the first place.



AJones - Nov 26, 2007 12:24 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Amen

I can see how that would happen; not much you can do but persevere.

Pete Castricone

Pete Castricone - Nov 26, 2007 12:52 am - Hasn't voted


Today, a friend and I tried a climbing gym for the 1st time. We had a blast, although my fingers are killing me right now. We didn't really know what we were doing, so we were trying to help each other. I have little doubt that this is how we all get started in something, whether it's climbing, trout fishing, or algebra. I'm a little disturbed by elitism, as well as certain attitudes of people who think they are "better" than someone else. We are all in this world together. It only makes sense to help one another at every opportunity. Climbing, like many other things in life, is a fantastic challenge that we strive to overcome. It is not selfish when you give yourself entirely to the chasm between sustained contentment and self-fulfillment. In spirit, we all share those moments of grasping the optimistic void.


ran504 - Nov 26, 2007 11:18 am - Hasn't voted

Right On

Your article speaks to the heart of climbing, or any human endeaver for that matter. Ego tends to get in the way and ruins a perfectly wonderful experience. Thank you for sharing your enlightened thoughts and reminding us about what is really important.


Yeti - Nov 26, 2007 12:12 pm - Hasn't voted


Speaking of elitism, I'll point out your strategic placement of a 5 year old pulling moves that I can't anymore (fatherhood being the culprit, actually). Way to put me in my place! :)
This is an outstanding bit of writing, I'm happy to see it posted prominently on the front page.

Condescension is something like climbing is rather pathetic. One can only assume that the people who berate those of lesser skill do so because that it the ONLY thing that they are good at, so all of lifes satisfaction must come from climbing. Kind of sad, really, ones peak acheivements being something that any primate could do. There is a difference, though: A chimp can eat with his feet, can we? :)

eric b

eric b - Nov 26, 2007 2:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Good article

Some people do need to lighten up and I do it by climbing. I dont get caught up in the I'm better than you type mentality-I get enough of that in the real world I dont need to bring it into the place that I try to escape that stuff. As for the guy who stole the gear. Karma will sort that out, probably in the form of a hold breaking and him falling to his death. Its not a shame to die doing what you love and if you dont want to die climbing -don't climb. If you dont want to die, than tough crap you are gonna anyway-may as well have fun before it happens!

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Nov 26, 2007 4:48 pm - Voted 10/10

Good article

I like two points in particular-- the one about climbers needing some perspective and needing to take themselves less seriously (you're new here, but stick around a bit and you'll come across some here who direly need to learn those lessons), and the one about parenthood affecting things. That second one in particular rings true with me. I do little climbing on a rope-- no reliable partner and too much hassle to do alone-- but I do get out to my local crag and free solo a lot of things up to 5.4 and a couple things up to 5.6 (just single-pitch routes of only up to about 60', though), and in the mountains, I'm usually game for anything Class 3 to easy 5. But since becoming a father, I've noticed that exposure bothers me far more than it used to, and I've passed on some things, especially at the local crags, that I would have tried before. As you said, it's just a rock, just a climb, not something worth getting killed over. So thank you for voicing that sentiment; even though our personal climbing tastes and abilities differ, it's good to see someone else having similar thoughts.

The only small point of contention I would make concerns the sport vs. trad issue. It's not always about style or purity or difficulty. I dislike sport climbing and bolting simply because they, in my view, deface the rock and the scenery. No one who goes into the outdoors truly leaves no trace, but I think some impacts are greater than others. I feel the same way when I'm hiking some trail and find steps or handrails in sections; it just kills the beauty for me.

That's just my two cents, and I respect that you want to avoid the ethical debates here. I just wanted to point out that not all of the controversy is about ego or style but about aesthetics as well, and I intend no character judgments of anyone who sees it differently.

But thank you for posting this article, which makes many fine points. And thank you for the other nice contributions you've been making to the site since joining.


AJones - Nov 26, 2007 7:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good article

Great comments! Thanks. Your point (around disliking bolting) is well taken. As I said, I was really trying to avoid advocating one position or another, just pointing out that we need to keep things in perspective while having the debate. I can also certainly understand how things get passionate around the topic of sport climbing.


chel3178 - May 31, 2008 11:07 pm - Voted 8/10

Leave No Trace

I'm just a beginner so that is why I didn't comment on this issue too much (I said as long as the sport climbers aren't hurting anything....) but I did already express to my climbing partner my concern for bolting areas and the damage that might cause. So, I just wasn't sure yet what regulations might be in place in regards to this, etc. However that would definitely be a concern of mine. I find the "Leave No Trace" guideline/policy to be a huge deal. I just love nature and want to explore it in it's natural beauty as much as possible.


breagen - Dec 8, 2007 10:54 pm - Voted 10/10


I just gotta say that this was a great read. Coming myself from a somewhat different perspective than many on this site probably (Midwest climber who started 4 years ago) I gotta say that sometimes it makes me really happy to have such a small climbing community. Many things could be added along with what you said, such as the issues of people bouldering, those who say its stupid and those who are super elitist about it. In the end its just another way to climb and enjoy nature. Anyways, you have basically summed up a lot of my feelings so props. As a younger and newer member of a small, midwest climbing community I can only hope that we can bring some more respect for each other back into the sport.

Viewing: 21-40 of 54

Climbing - A Useless Sport?

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