(quick note: this post was originally supposed to be for my climber friends on Facebook, but has gotten much more exposure than that. I’m leaving it in it’s original form for historical reasons, but keep in mind–the sarcasm is heavy. The hyperbole is there to make a point. I hope it starts and continues a good discussion. Enjoy!)
This last weekend at the New River Gorge, I had one incredibly frustrating day.
I went with some newer climbers, so we chose a popular wall for beginners: Orange Oswald at Summersville Lake. It was the weekend of the Craggin’ Classic, so I expected the place to be crowded and full of newbies (as is normal), but it exceeded my expectations. I’ll briefly describe the three things that happened:
1) The “Facebook Climbers”
The first thing I saw when I arrived was a large group at the base of some popular 5.9s, with hammocks set up and gear strewn about. Not uncommon, and I was not surprised. We proceeded to warm up, with plans of hopping on these 5.9s afterwards. After three warm up climbs (Hippie Dreams, the 5.6 corner and Fabulous Groupies), the group hadn’t moved, and didn’t seem to be in any hurry to do so. We asked them how long they’d be, but they never gave much of an answer, apparently content to hog that section of the cliff all day.
Not only were they slowly letting all 8 people in their group on each climb, but this was happening:
One dude thought it would be cool if he set up his hammock ON THE WALL. It took him about 30 minutes to set up, taking up two routes, with apparently no thought of other people wanting to get on these incredibly popular routes. The best part was, he kept saying “Does this look cool??” and “Oh man I wish we could take a picture from above, that would be so much better!”. A few adjacent parties cheered him on, most shook their heads.
On top of this, multiples times, one guy would go up one rope with a camera and take staged, “bad-ass” shots of another dude…on toprope. They would proceed to pretend one guy was reallllly reaching out for….a jug, or throwing some unnecessary heel hook, all while wearing a backwards hat and those sunglasses with some obnoxious neon-colored ear pieces. The presence of multiple sports-bra-laden lady friends did not discourage this behavior.
This group I dub The “Facebook Climbers”, as the apparent goal of the trip was to look cool and to take pictures. It was apparently many of the group’s first time climbing outside, although they had spent plenty of time in the gym.
2) The Rock Throwers
This same group had migrated to the lake front, where some swam across the river in the path of many speeding boats, some simply lay in the sun, and a number of them started to throw large rocks into the water. Fine by me for a couple minutes, but it went on for an hour.
College age kids throwing rocks is not uncommon or wrong, so I thought nothing of it. The problem was, there was a visiting group from (what I remember was) a Pennsylvania rock climbing gym, complete with children down to age ~10. The group was comprised of climbing team members and their parents. They were not newbies (one little girl was apparently 4th in the nation), but they apparently had little experience with being outside, and acted like it. The children joined in with the rock throwing, and not much later, one had bashed another in the head. One of the parents luckily had a first aid kit, and wrapped the kid’s head in bandages, which quickly bled through. He ended up with 2 staples in his head, we later heard.
These kids are dubbed The Rock Throwers, for obvious reasons. The little girl that threw the rock was really sweet and very upset when she realized what happened, so I do not blame her. I blame the ones who started throwing the rocks, and the parents who said nothing.
3) The “Global Warming Kid”
I thought, “Surely, this must be the end of this craziness”, but there was one final act that enraged me.
At one point in the middle of the day, a parent was lowering her kid off a route after the kid had cleaned it. I’m pretty mindful of these things, so we asked her if she was lowering through the rings. She, oblivious, said she was and asked why. A brief, civil lesson was taught, and we thought we had educated one more group. Rejoice!
Once again, this was not the end. A couple hours later, post-hammock and -rock-assault, the same thing happened–a kid was being lowered after cleaning. I once again asked if they were lowering through the rings, and got another baffled question was to why. Apparently, the kid didn’t even KNOW HOW to rappel, much less know that you SHOULD.
At this point, I was pretty upset. I said some things along the lines of “How do you not know this?” and “How can you think that is okay?”, hopefully driving home the seriousness of their negligence. Only to be rebutted by this kid:
Get this–he proceeded to tell me why you should lower through the rings, saying things like “they’re easy to replace” and “they replace them more than you think”. He was almost avoiding my eye contact as he was speaking, seemingly instantly shameful of what he was saying. I was pretty shocked. After telling him how they’re supposed to last 30 years, I basically walked away.
I would venture to guess that this kid does not come out and replace the bolts himself, nor does he even have a loose understanding of what that kind of work takes. Nor does he know that the majority of this work is done by volunteers who have full time jobs and kids, and that they wouldn’t have to do it as often if every climber would take 30 extra seconds and pull the ropes up and rappel instead of lowering (post-script: not to mention the fact that it’s dangerous to have an extra person in the system like this http://www.rockandice.com/lates-news/take-down-climber-falls-70-feet).
I would guess that, being a member of the climbing team at whatever gym it was, where his Mom pays for his membership and he doesn’t have a job, he doesn’t know the value of a hard day’s work. Maybe that’s why it was such a little deal to him. But, he couldn’t be reasoned with. After all, he was busy LOUDLY talking about how “damn hard Apollo is”…
His reasoning that “it doesn’t affect me” and “someone else will deal with it” gives him his name, the “Global Warming Kid”. He’s the kind of person who litters and doesn’t care about global warming, because he’ll be dead by the time it matters.
What Can We Learn From This?
It’s too easy for people to go to their local climbing gym, buy their own gear, hangdog up a 5.9 and decide they’re ready to go outside. Even worse, if they are young enough and jobless enough to climb 5.12+ in the gym within a couple years, they probably think they are better than everyone else and the rules don’t apply to them. Not every gym climber does this stuff, but that climbers who “grow up” exclusively in the gym tend to be less considerate/aware.
I’d love to see all the major climbing gyms starting to host “How Outside Climbing is Different Than the Gym” classes. It would take 30 minutes to go over rock throwing, not setting up your hammock on the wall, not staying on a single route all day at a really popular crag, and–at the very least–respect for the maintenance of our crags. For the climbing teams, it should be mandatory, since those kids have the worst case of entitlement.
Completion of this class (possibly followed by a written exam) would win you a card, like the badges CIA agents use to get into secure locations. All crags would have locking gates, and access would only be allowed if you showed your card and beeped your way past the gate. I understand the extra work this would require, and I hereby volunteer myself for the task.
Just once I want to go to a popular crag and not have to deal with some BS. After Roadside at the Red was closed down and more news about reckless climbers coming out all the time, isn’t it time to start some kind of education or enforcement plan?
Anyways, that’s my two cents. I encourage you to leave a comment here or reach out to me at my Facebook or Twitter pages if you’d like to express your opinion. Keep your eye out for a sweet post about how to train for next season (with excel doc to track progress) coming soon…(edit: that post is here and the training doc is here!)
Thanks for reading.
Post-edit: Since writing this post a couple years ago, I’ve changed my mind a bit on the lowering thing, especially since learning that it’s encouraged at the New by the locals. Nonetheless, the debate inspired me to write a post (and try to shed some light) on the lowering vs rappelling thing. It’s here if you’d like to check it out: Rappelling vs Lowering: A Semi-Scientific Study, Summarized.