This is how it is.
My climbing partner, Doctor Goodwack, would say that I'm wasting my time. He might be right. He'd say that you're all worthless and weak, and that the ones of you that aren't are either too comfortable, too old and beat down, or too young and stupid to waste time or rope on.
Hell, truth is, since I wrote this little piece the first time, I’ve grown an awful lot of hard bark myself. Some days, I doubt climbing, and certainly the mountains and forests, the wild places in which the finest climbs live, will survive in any recognizable form.
Because I want you to know that I feel you out there; sitting on a bus, or a train, or in some airport lobby or library, at your desk or table or in your car, where ever, picking idly at your skinned knees or gobied hands while you read this, feeling the aches, or the Hunger, when there are no wounds, no aches.
Unimaginable as it may seem, I was one of you once, before all these miles and memories, these scars, all these years... all this hard bark.
I know that, even with this tide of pushing for high numbers and press attention, trying to milk bucks or swag or just a moment in the sun out of this fickle, pointless, incredible obsession, there are dreamers out there, dreamers who dream not with their eyes shut, in their beds, but with them open, in the deep woods, on the big stone, or some tiny, unknown little chunk of rock lost deep in the forest. I think about you, sometimes, while I’m hanging there on hooks, gingerly pulling up the drill while flakes fall away, or working through some demanding sequence between clips, or laying hundreds of feet of trail for hours, piling stone and moving dirt, cutting and placing logs, marking the way.
I believe in you, from all these many years down the road beyond my own folly, when the convenience of sheer numbers makes it easy to forget being young and proud, headstrong and reckless, hungry and open.
Even with all the blah, blah, blah that makes up most of the magazines, ezines and forum space these days, I can feel you there, just the other side of the page, dreaming of long, clean lines, of hard, steep moves, or of just clipping that next bolt, someday.
You hear the green song while everyone else is racing down the trail, hell-bent for leather to be first.
You know the peace of being last on the trail, and the serenity of that first moment, alone at a new belay, with a new climb behind you still ringing in your soul; a rope's length above your partner and the world and light-years from all the crap that clogs the gears and weighs you down.
And you're doing incredible things. You climb sooner, faster, stronger, and better than we ever did, and you genuinely seem to be trying to rediscover (or at least reinvent) community and true love for each other. You're pushing into the big hills and the hard numbers routinely, and that's one of the things that stir me to the keyboard. For all my hard bark, and despite the likelihood that few of you will give enough of a shit about what an old climber thinks about anything to give this a second‘s glance.
So enough preamble, I guess we're gonna dance or fight, one of the two, so we might as well get it on.
You're fallin' down on the job. You crank hard and you dress really cool but you're sloppy and careless and self-centered to a fault even in this narcissistic sport.
(And no, this is not that "When I was your age we walked ten miles to school through burning hail, uphill both ways, and when we got home they beat us and killed us," crap... this is me, talking to you. Thanks for your time... I won't keep you much longer, I swear...)
Facts is facts, and the fact is that we did (and still do) put up the new routes, keep what few animals we ever had about in close check, and manage to not only build but routinely maintain the trail system at several crags, for years. Decades, even...
All while holding down jobs requiring at least forty hours per week (in those days I averaged sixty-plus) and commuting at least an hour each way (in my case two and a half), and tending to all the sundry crap that life will try to tack on you in the years between your age and mine.
You buy crap guidebooks. Too many members of the climbing press have been printing minimal information and sending the masses hither and yon for years now, creating impact and land issues and cutting and pasting the same mealy-mouthed obligatory crap from rip-off to rip-off. Leave no trace... unless it's on a crag located on delicate access land that no one bothers to mention. Respect the earth, but not the climbers whose work they are stealing to make money we never see a dime of.
Ask the people at the crag who put up the lines. If they can't tell you, find someone who can.
Any guidebook that doesn't list first ascentionists is crap.
You want a mini-guide, call it that... but don't leave out the history of the routes and crag to avoid admitting that you stole the info instead of meeting the people and finding out their stories.
It's your history... and you're letting it slip away. People like me (and even a few nice ones, as well) are out there putting up lines, building trails, carving out crags you'll never hear about. Because they've seen what happens.
At Franklin. At Hidden Rocks. At Muir Valley and Joe’s Boulders, Oak Creek Overlook, Paradise Forks, Jack's, the Supes.
The word goes out and people come, regardless of how many cars are there when they arrive, because they just gotta be on the scene. Gear left on projects gets stolen, and projects get worked with the red tags still dangling.
And those who came for something that they cannot name pack their gear and move on to the next lost corner, in search of something that exists in moments of fear and wonder, a song that speaks in silence and the sound of the river, a calligraphy of shadows and stone.
We're mostly working class citizens who spend hundreds of hours and thousands of hard-earned bucks (yes, thousands... priced a new rack, rope, battery drill, aid gear, and health insurance policy lately?) over the course of decades.
We put time and love, sweat and blood into the routes that climbing shop hard persons routinely talk crap on, downgrade, and misname. Which is like having one of your relatives repeatedly call you by the wrong name at a family picnic... after a while, that crap kinda gets on your nerves.
That is why I'm here, trying to keep a little of the beta stream unpolluted and complete, and potentially wasting an hour I’ll never get back to make a fool of myself, given my long and checkered past of internet feuds and hostilities, shouting at an invisible audience scattered miles and years away from me in time and space.
So what? I’ve wasted more time on lines that didn’t go and partners that didn’t show. To hell with it… let me toss out a few tips.
Get involved. Ask questions. Introduce yourself to climbers you don't know... who knows, you might meet someone who put up the routes that you love. Respect the locals, and their right to ask you not to climb on their land. Donate to bake sales and fundraisers and food pantries, because in most of the places where we climb, so many have so little while we enjoy so much.
Go to Park Service meetings and Access Fund Rendezvous, and do more while you are there than get autographs and beta to the latest super-secret, cutting edge destination. Find out what they are fighting, where, how they are organizing, what is a real issue and what works in resolving those issues. They are your crags, and your responsibility.
Dig into and keep track of the stories you aren’t hearing or reading about in your advocates' news letters. If your dollars support the big organizations, your voice needs to one of those to direct its course. If they won't listen, stop giving them your money, or demand new leaders and policies.
We've left you a legacy... the same one the generation just before left to us. We haven’t done the best by you, by any means, and out government has done less for all of us, to an even greater degree.
Of course, the last generation doesn’t collect a tax from every dime you earn, but your dear Uncle Sam does, without fail. Now is your time to prove yourselves worthy, to claim your birthright. Ask hard questions, and accept no easy answers from the people and agencies that run your public lands, the people who lease away your old growth forests and whose quest for insuring gigantic corporate profits have trumped their mission to preserve our unique ecology and irreplaceable history, as well as their responsibility to local communities and their economies.
Find the many good souls out there in that incredible juggernaut of a system and do what you can to sidestep the bureaucracy and incompetence to make things happen.
Before you get together over latte’s and congratulate each other for saving an acre of grid-bolted sport climbing or gruesomely overhanging boulders back here in the east, remember that multinational corporations in the Dripping Springs Mountains of Arizona have unblinkingly confirmed their plans for the eventual, inevitable destruction of Apache Leap, the bouldering heaven of Oak Flats and sport mecca of Queen Creek, the incredible spires and walls of Devil’s Canyon, and the long-term vitality and economy of nearby towns.
Isn’t it time for the government to reclaim it from foreign corporations with no goal of preservation in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in America?
The destruction predicted is based on mining practices that would be illegal for an American corporation operating on American soil. They are quite simply the most destructive way possible to mine the region. The land swap and freeway development (meaning even further ecological mayhem and denied access), are both intended to mask the extent of the destruction, are supported by several state and Congressional representatives, all invoking the sacred cows of jobs and economic development (aka more taxes to play with during their careers.)
This is huge, folks. Don’t just post this on Facebook or send a check. Contact Congress, kick some doors at the Access Fund, scream at the Sierra Club and the American Alpine Club, then get out, picket, chain yourself to some equipment or a gate, get arrested, whatever it takes to drawn the public’s attention and get involved in the fight.
They are our crags and our lands. Our heritage and legacy.
It starts with the little things.
If you move two stones on the trail and pick up two pieces of trash every time you go climbing, and if all your friends do too, you'll be amazed at what you can do in just a month.
Don't just seek to empower climbers, but widen your focus; support and reach out to the people in the communities surrounding the climbing areas, as well. Aren't they as worthy of your compassion and support as any war or drought or storm refugee in another land?
If you climb the less popular lines, you learn to find the beauty in every line, and enjoy the absence of crowds. As you go on, you'll learn that climbing is so much less about simply moving over stone, and so much more about finding that place inside of you, anywhere, anytime.
And then they really will be "your" crags, because you're not just visiting, anymore... you're making all of it a part of you, and becoming part of it all.
Christ, I'm tired, my shoulders are cramped and my neck feels broken from bending over this thing and there are probably a dozen things I forgot to mention... but the clock shows 11:27 and my internal alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. and if I don't want to sleep in the truck then I had better get into that tent I mentioned about an hour ago.
But I want to thank you for your time, and your love of the sport I also love so much.
Be strong, stand proud, question everything, try everything, give lots of hugs, take lots of pictures, keep a journal, pull hard and don't ever be afraid to fall down, in life or on the stone.
Only by learning to fall without fear can we reach the skies.