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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It is too cliché.

The old climber, full of wrath, a caricature of faded dreams and failed ambitions, railing against the failings of the younger generation and those who have made a more fortunate way in this life, alienating friends and wreaking havoc.

A loner with no social skills thundering judgments upon the social networking sites and climbing forums in which he is not only a member but an administrator.

Dramatic exit, cue the violins and isn’t that just the teensiest whiff of sanctimonious BS trailing in the wake of the tattered knight as he rides (predictably) into the setting sun.

Paulo Coelho says that every Warrior will at some time in the Journey, doubt, fail, betray, fall into the Abyss, lose faith and question the dream of his own Legend.

I have many times sought a way to impart the Vision that drives me to bend down and touch the earth and stones of the crags where I climb and enjoy so many days of my life. And I have many times lost patience and momentum to squabble and snarl like a junkyard dog with packs of fools and people just as opinionated as myself, imparting nothing but invective, leaving nothing but a bad impression.

I am only human, as I must so often remind myself. I have a dream, but nothing of grand and sweeping scope, nothing to change forever the lives of my fellow humans. It is in the end a simple proposition. We must be stewards to the lands and crags upon which we travel because if we are not, then we are some of the most destructive idiots on the planet. We do not come to harvest fruit or game, but in our passing we create massive impact. Our disruption of the biosphere stretches from the common ground, if you will, of the horizontal world up the perpendicular faces where few of the other users of the forest venture.

In other words, our IMPACT is twice that of our fellow users.

And all of this to climb up a piece of stone.

But me no buts about climbers being more environmentally conscious or active. I’ve been in this game for three decades now, and I’ve mangled the rules a few times myself. Climbers have good intentions and poor application. They carry reuseable hemp shopping bags to big “organic” grocery stores and shop fair trade goods from Indonesia and Zaire in the giant chain stores in the metroplexes where they live. They buy their gas (or the electricity for their hybrid) from huge corporations, then come to West Virginia and throw their trash away. They send their yearly check to the Access Fund and the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders which are all wonderful organizations but few if any of them have a maintained, dependable impact on the communities near where 90% of the people in the United States climb. Yes, the Access Fund does sponsor Adopt-A-Crag. Yes, they do stay involved in the fight to secure and preserve access to climbing areas everywhere. Yes, a lot of influential people believe very strongly in their mission. And yes, they are introducing a lot of new people to the art of climbing every single day... and thus increasing impact, and the likelihood of access issues for them to resolve in the future.

It's called job security.

When was the last time you read or heard of the Access Fund, Climbing Magazine, Rock and Ice or anyone else sponsoring a sit-in or demonstration to stop mountaintop removal, or organizing a hands-on seminar on trail building and impact management, at a crag near you? And it’s that last bit that’s important, boys and girls, oh yes indeed. If you don’t get that beta a lot closer to home than the Regional Conference on Impact Management and Resource Conservation in Reno, then your shiny gathering of experts and celebrities amounts to little more than a headline, some filler, and a photo op for fundraising.

These mountains belong to all of us and they are being destroyed by greedy corporations and despoiled by irresponsible visitors and narrow-minded locals. The fight to save public lands is not a hobby, it is a war. And environmental activism is not accomplished with a checkbook or a regional conference.

Every day is trail day.

And every day is trash clean-up day.

If you find a fresh dump of trash in your local crag’s parking area, don’t just leave it. You can get free trash bags and gloves from most local Department of Highways garages any day of the week and they are often open on Saturdays. If you bag it and tell them where it is, they will come pick it up on any state road.

We are already altering the native environment forever, no matter how sensitive we are to that change, or how active, informed and involved we may be globally. We pay no fees, buy no permits, and bring the largest groups, by far, of any sport. I have seen fifty people crammed into a three-acre crag, with a half-dozen dogs and several children included in that count. At the end of the day, the trails and the underbrush surrounding them, not to mention the areas along the top of the cliffs, looked as though cattle had stampeded through the forest. I saw at least a dozen Access Fund or environmental organization stickers on bumpers and helmets that day, and on most other occasions that I’ve been to a crag with devastating impact and erosion.

I do not decry the dreams and ambitions of the next generation. I have always known you would come. Welcome to it.

But remember that honor is a gift a person gives to himself or herself. Honor the tradition that we, the few, have tried to pass down to you, one of both good routes up the cliff and good routes to the cliff. Harder numbers are nothing that will bring you great joy in the long run, believe me. You will eventually derive as much love and satisfaction from a well-crafted 5.8 as ever you felt cranking up some steep crimpfest. And if you make of the crag and trails a thing of function and beauty, as in balance with nature and the heartbeat that speaks with a thousand voices from the world all around you as any work of Mankind can ever be, you will honor yourself.

If we only take, and do not give as an act of selfless love towards the places that give us so much, then we are no better than the most selfish users of the forest. If we do not lead by belief and example, then our voices and our causes mean no more than any other in the decisions and fates of our public lands. By good stewardship we empower ourselves and the generations of climbers and adventurers to come.

So join what organizations you will. Head out to Adopt-A-Crag and National Trails Day and even those ridiculous Mid-Atlantic Climbers Coalition cleanups of car pullouts on the Skyline Drive. Do what you want.

But the next time you are speeding up the trail to hit that project or start your weekend, take time to stop, bend down, and replace that kicked-out border stone. Take a few minutes to slip off your pack, breathe some morning air, and fix that wobbly step. And speak up when you see someone else trampling the underbrush or crosscutting the trails.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to stop, take a deep breath, and control the urge to scream at basically good people who just don’t get it. I’ll be trying to mend some fences with former friends who’ve felt the razor edge of my sarcasm and wit. Not with much hope, but the only thing a man can do when passion leads him astray is to admit he has misspoken and bow deep in humble contrition.

And again, I have preached to this small choir, beating a dead horse, wasting space and the fleeting moments of my elderly life.

I thank you all for your patience with a crusty old man.

It is a narrow difference, the dividing line between caricature and ideal. I came to West Virginia over two decades ago, filled with youthful dreams and ideals. I traveled far and lost a number of both, then came back to find them waiting for me in those mysterious green hills and lost crags. I have tried and, to some degree, succeeded in changing a number of things in the places I have lived and climbed. I have also had some notable and spectacular failures. I lost a number of my illusions and found the love of my life.

It is my story, my personal Legend, and if it is trite, or banal, or cliché, well… I guess I’m okay with that.

1 comment:

  1. i love this post. you have such great points mike. can't wait to see you guys again soon.


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