Friday, October 25, 2013
Today, I read an article online about how the talented young climber Joe Kinder had removed two juniper saplings in the course of putting up a new route. That some concerned observer had taken a picture of the saplings after removal and posted the pics, event, and Joe’s cell phone number on the Internet, provoking an avalanche of feedback and criticism.
I know… hard to believe, right?
Joe apologized to the outraged public, paid a fine and went above and beyond to show his remorse. I truly believe the guy genuinely regretted the action, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Is Joe in fact sorry because he is now convinced that it was somehow wrong to be more concerned about the safety of his fellow humans than the uncertain fate of two junipers growing in a crack? Or is he in fact simply pissed at himself for doing this without hiding the evidence and then having to take so much grief and humiliation from a huge community of hypocrites?
Alpinist magazine congratulated itself on having an article about vertical gardening while nodding sagely at the wisdom and importance of environmental sensitivity when establishing new routes, and the nobility of Joe’s admission of error and efforts at restitution.
But is it all, in truth, just so much self-congratulatory delusion?
Don’t get me wrong- I have built and repaired a LOT of trail in the last 34 years; stopped erosion and cross-cutting and landslides in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia and back here in West Virginia, at my own home crags, under lines I did and did not develop.
And I have cut saplings and cleaned moss and loose soil out of cracks and pockets to produce new first ascents and climbing routes.
I wrestle with this. I have hiked to interesting outcrops with fun looking lines and decided against development or even sharing their locations, based on the dense profusion of life and the variety of micro-cultures thriving there.
I have spent every day since the placement of my first bolt and the lead of my first trad FA practicing and preaching stewardship; the concept that the route developer is responsible for the trails and impact of the crag.
But while I am shouting into silence, the Access Fund and its corporate partners, the climbing equipment companies, are creating climbers by the hundreds with huge social events, Learn to Climb clinics, and promo tours, all of which, BTW, have a gigantic impact on the climbing venues in which they are held.
(Sorry, but you can’t put upwards of three thousand people anywhere outdoors without a lot of water bottle tops, tape, rope ends, human waste and trampled vegetation. I cleaned up after three Phoenix Climbing Comps. End of story.)
To round out the picture, membership in the Access Fund will now get you a discount on one of the finest 4 wheel drive vehicles in America, to allow you to go anywhere you like off-road to practice your LNT views and hone your shiny new skills with a drill, as you righteously retro-bolt classic run-outs into safe sport routes.
Which is perfect, because we need to go back to that crowd calling for young Joe Kinder’s blood over the desecration of two junipers; the online experts and forum ninjas, the cyber judges of unknown and unproven provenance, the members of the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund and the faceless, vocal hordes of entitled climbers of middling experience and skill: The Climbing Community.
This is a unique culture with a number of people across a wide range of ages and origins, genders and physical challenges, doing truly incredible and impressive things, some of them even admirable as human beings.
But, increasingly, they are technocrats of suburbia; living in apartments and condos and houses built on what was often open farmland or second-growth forest, structures that are only “green” by definition, requiring just as many resource consuming, impact-creating humans as ever to assemble and complete, and producing just about as much waste in transportation and construction, if not manufacture.
The new environmentalists come and go from these idealistic illusions of home driving vehicles that no matter how environmentally conscious are still made of thousands of pounds of refined substances that do not simply melt away in the sun at the end of the vehicle’s life. It has been this author’s experience that most of them are SUVs that typically arrive at their destination carrying one or, rarely, two people and, more often, up to five dogs, where they will park on vegetation as necessary to get to the Scene happening around the latest Destination Crag, no matter how many cars and vans and hybrids are already lining the roads.
Once they have trampled all the tiny new growths on the trail, texting all the while on their improved 4G network or shooting footage on their GoPro while their unleashed companion chases deer and squirrels and kills the occasional wood mouse or chipmunk out of sheer fright, they will invariably stop somewhere near the center of the trail adjacent on of the more popular lines, usually the one with the biggest crowd, where they will ignore the traffic jam they are creating as they break out a pack full of aluminum and nylon, two of the most high-impact substances ever created. The second substance will also comprise most of their apparel in some form or another, although not one in one thousand will have any idea of the means or methods and impact of recycling either product, short of weaving a rope rug or putting biners in the corners of your truck bed.
While half a dozen of the chosen top-rope the same handful of moderate lines on which they have been falling at the same crux for most of their outdoor climbing careers (usually a period measured in days, not years), other groups not of their local tribe will pass hopefully back and forth, since the lines now under siege will inevitably be the only routes in that grade at the crag, and the ropes draped upon them will remain until the last light fades from the sky and all the chalk bags run dry.
Meanwhile, the dogs of these paragons of environmental activism and sensitivity will carry on with their program: digging comfy holes in the middle of belay areas, running off to the parking lot to pee on other people’s tires and get bitten by copperheads or rattlers, chasing deer and crossing property boundaries and, in between all of this, pooping out interesting piles and logs of artificial color and ingredients along the trails.
As evening falls and even the strongest cell phone batteries begin to fade, the tribe will all waltz off, in separate cars of course, to meet in some trendy bistro with a carbon footprint the size of Rhode island, there to update their Facebook status and upload to their blogs and spurt their GoPro onto You Tube, none of which has any environmental impact or carbon footprint because the Internet is maintained by a mystical force without physical location that runs on Tesla Zero-point generators that create power from nothing in a parallel dimension.
It’s true… I read it on the Internet.
As the worthies of the Fund and the Conservation teams drive away to their just reward and adulation, behind them, just out of sight across the horizon, carefully avoided and never mentioned (save during valuable sound bites on Earth Day) are the hundred acre parcels of national forest and BLM land being clear-cut of all timber, their micro climates and biodiversity destroyed as heavy diesel machinery pushes logs and waste across the forest floor, leaking hydraulic fluid and fuel and oil, choking streams, burying rock outcrops and cliff lines, all at a tidy profit for the Federal government (yes, the same government that fined Joe) and for the timber companies, who pay as little as $1 apiece for one hundred year old trees…
… while climbers cheer as they sit on Ikea in their green homes and watch “Chainsaw Wars” on cable-fed big screen TVs, which also has no environmental impact, because we just push satellites into space with big sling shots, like on the Road Runner, and big screens are made of sugar so they just dissolve in hot water when you need to recycle them.
While climbers are exchanging email addresses and blog sites at the next Rendezvous, there are toxic chemicals seeping and men dying in the coal mines of southwest West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, communities poisoned and buried by the mountaintop removal that has destroyed well over two hundred mountains of the Appalachians and Alleghenies in the quest for cheaper methods of “extraction”, a process that more resembles war than mining. The coal extracted goes most often to produce the electricity that in fact powers most of the cities in which these climbers live and in which their advocacy groups make their homes.
In Arizona, the Resolution Land Swap has failed again, but corporations, like dragons, only slumber, and meanwhile mining rigs drill night and day, their lights and machine noise now despoiling the silent desert stars of Apache Leap, a 200-foot tall escarpment of historical importance that could be destroyed if plans to mine just behind go forward. Led astray by groupthink and corporate spokesmen once revered as rebels, climbers have done an amazing job of turning their backs on Queen Creek, Oak Flat and Devils Canyon, places that for over a decade were the center of bouldering and outdoor climbing competition in the desert southwest.
But climbers have more important things to worry about these days.
After all, there were these two trees in a crack not one person in a thousand could ever climb…
We do need to be environmentally conscious when producing lines, when climbing them, and when travelling to and from the crag. But we need, as well, to maintain a sense of perspective, because the sum total of the impact created by climbers is a pale echo of the massive corporate destruction being carried out on our public lands, activities from which our government makes millions, and big timber and coal make billions, while sacrificing lives and communities. We need to hold our advocacy groups accountable for making deals with these companies, and for failing to speak out to this government.
Otherwise, mission statements and oaths to Leave No Trace are at best a demonstration of ignorance, at worst nothing less than denial and hypocrisy.
It is not popular to criticize the Access Fund or cast aspersions on revered publications like Alpinist.
But truth is the only exception to the rule that things that do not change, die.
Mister Kinder, I’m not a numbers climber, not a V12 boulderer, no big shakes on the Scene… but I would probably have done the same thing in cleaning a new line.
I have before, I will again, and even the critics just seem to keep climbing my lines… and that is a truth all its own, in the end.