About Me

My photo

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


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tribal Law

I like and respect Jeff Achey as a person and as a climber.

But his recent Access Fund Blog Post "Expanding the Tribe" is just wrong.


Let's look at a few of Jeff's contentions;

"Access to many older areas has become easier and more secure."

Jeff has apparently never been to Franklin, WV, a sport crag developed on private land by some of the biggest names of the early New River Gorge era, a popular crag where hundreds of AF members climbed for a decade without giving a thought to securing access or organizing an Adopt-A-Crag.
Despite having a Regional Access Cordinator just over the hill in Seneca Rocks, Franklin climbers still have no resolution on access and the ownership question is murkier than ever. Same goes for Nelson Rocks, an iconic crag of hard climbs now owned by a church group, and Champe Rocks, off limits to climbers for over two decades, a situation that is unlikely to change when  it is the local Fund members and employees of the Regional AF Coordinator who routinely "sneak" onto private land to access this crag.

Business isn't booming around here, either, no matter what is happening around New River. There are fewer stores or shops in any of the towns around Seneca Rocks, which has been a climbing destination since the 80s; Franklin, Petersburg, Upper Tract and Cabins all have more "For Sale" signs than ever, despite being deluged with climbers and other outdoorsmen every year.

Climbers are cheapskates, Jeff, period. That's why everything that isn't online is going out of business, and people who earn 100k/yr wait for year end sales to buy a $50 helmet. Kemper's Store sits directly on the road that leads to the crag, and went out of business because people who gfly to Thailand and Mexico said it looked "too sketchy". I was in Slade, KY and spent plenty of time in Fayetteville, WV back in the day, and Kemper's never looked any shadier than the businesses I saw there, thronging with climbers.

As for the contention that we didn't have dogs because they were a sign of conformity: bollocks. We didn't have dogs at the crag because they tend to relieve themselves without much concern for human proximity or trail etiquette, they dig holes in belay areas, chase wildlife and invade packs not their own, and they bark, making communication difficult in a sport where communication is literally life-or-death.

The Dawn Wall was a non-issue for me because it was so hugely popular, like Duck Dynasty and American Idol, and about as devoid of content.

My problem with this non-event was that, in the midst of the Dawn Wall media frenzy, the issue of the amazing climbing destinations of Queen Creek, Apache Leap and Oak Flat Campground being given to a foreign mining company was completely lost.

This was what we call a precedent; the single biggest loss of Public Lands in U.S. history, and no one was talking about it, including advocates who should have been screaming to the high heavens, all because two professional athletes were tweeting from a big wall in Yosemite.

The Dawn Wall wasn't going anywhere; Apache Leap and Queen Creek stand a good chance of disappearing as climbing destinations in the next administration, now that precedent has been set without meaningful contest.

Opinions vary, but I was not the only one who felt this issue had been punted around for most of a decade, left on the back burner by the advocates who were courting major corporate dollars.

So, to recap; the President whom Jeff rationalizes stroking for his favor was sitting back after having given away 2400 acres of Public Lands, land considered sacred to the Apache, on which the largest outdoor bouldering contest in the world had been held for two decades, an area specifically protected from mining and development, set aside by Presidential order 50 years before Obama saw the White House.

Incidentally, there is 9 BILLION dollars worth of copper ore and countless other mineral resources buried thousands of feet under that land, but the United States will not see a penny of that money.
The economic health of the country directly affects climbing, Jeff... wouldn't that money be better in American pockets?

Getting those riches out will devastate the environment of the entire region; drawing down all the water in a riparian habitat and burying a beautiful view shed in millions of tons of overburden.

The company benefitting from this giveaway specializes in automation of mining techniques, so any jobs promised will likely evaporate long before the project begins, and those that remain will likely be taken by out-of-state workers, brought in by the mines.

Knowing the entire story, potential impacts and history of the land, this President signed the land swap into effect anyway, four years to the day after issuing an apology to Native Americans for the theft of their sacred lands by the United States Government..

That's the President we were stroking, instead of launching another lawsuit against his administration and/or protesting into a showdown.

Remember that the Access Fund, for whom Jeff is writing, was a key player in the compromise that let this generations-old heritage slip through our fingers.

It is also an interesting study in conflict of interest that Jeff is part-owner of a company that wells bolting gear, specifically rap bolting gear, much of it to a new generation of climbers with little or no respect or use for the founders in whose footsteps they refuse to admit following, making this blog post a sort of sales pitch, in point of fact.

Self-serving, much?

Climbing will change, that is true.

Blindly accepting and condoning all aspects of that change for profit is a spreading disease among advocates and climbers seeking to make a living from the sport.

Tribes exist out of a mutual consent of the members to observe certain constraints on their freedom, when with the tribe.

Our continued access to public lands with the freedom to roam and develop crags depends on the individual members of the climbing tribe giving up a bit of their individuality, conforming to a certain standard, respecting certain precedents, and adhering to established principles even when NOT with the rest of the tribe.

Members should always remember that the sum is greater than the parts.

You are not climbing, I am not climbing, neither is Jeff, or any one person.

Don't make yourself bigger than something centuries old with an almost limitless future.

You get back the respect you give to the sport, and the crags.

The concept that you can just talk to people and positively change or affect their behavior is a theory unfortunately ground to dust under the heels of decades of experience trying to do just that; a fellow climber approaching a group of newcomers and offering to share knowledge regarding the crag sounds like a great idea that should work almost effortlessly among rational people.

Unfortunately, we’re primates, which means that nine times out of ten, when we are in a pack or a pair and are approached by another primate we perceive to be threatening our territory (saying/doing anything to indicate that our actions are not correct), we generally scream and throw fecal matter rather than settling into reasonable discourse.

I’ve tried humor, diplomacy, humble apologies for disturbing someone’s day, and friendly banter, and the results are almost always the same; unless you are taking time out from cruising a 5.12+ or V15 to explain the situation, to the person or the group that you are attempting to educate, you are just another nobody authoritarian asshole trying to ruin their day.

And I do believe that this reaction, in part, also goes back to a gym culture in which boundaries and rules are clearly defined and simplified to the greatest extent possible for mass consumption. You don’t have to be a steward of the gym; there’s no need to be aware of private property or sensitive species or work on the trails there, and if you can master pulling on plastic on a plywood wall, following taped tick marks, you are a god, no matter what your behavior in the outside world.

Extremely good gym climbers come to the outside world with a sense of entitlement and an almost universal ignorance of crag ethics and environmental impact. There is intellectual knowledge, oh yes indeed, but having a bumper sticker or memorizing the tenets of LNT does not, in most cases, translate into actions mirroring the ethics of the organizations whose T-shirts and bumper stickers climbers so proudly display.

Small wonder, when in most cases those organizational ethics are little more than fundraiser talking points to coax donations and membership fees out of climbers while the advocates and activist organizations partner with corporations whose interests diverge sharply with those of the climbing community when one reaches the bottom line.

Thus you wind up with a culture of climbers who see no contradiction between corporate and environmental interests, who take for granted the convenience of climbing within walking distance of cafes and bistros and bathrooms, who have little or no experience with the natural crags beyond a few Spring Break top ropes, and whose heroes have no connection to the outside world (sorry, but while there are thousands of photos of famous climbers doing a number of amazing things, building trail isn’t one of them).

To put three decades of experience in a nutshell; many of even the best gym climbers come out and have no idea how or where to shit in the woods. With, in some cases, years of climbing experience behind them, they are rarely amenable to advice from strangers who interrupt them in the midst of hanging hammocks in the middle of the trail and are crass enough to point out that their dog is digging a hole in the belay area; even if they passed you working on the trails and cleaning up trash, offered advice is usually ignored or received with sarcastic gratitude and promptly forgotten.

Along with a handful of experienced outdoor adventures scattered across the bureaucracy, these are the people upon whom we are depending for intelligent policy decisions?

I don’t know if you’ve paid much attention to the nominations since the elections and this blog post, but given the way things seem to be going with the new administration, most of the EPA and DEP employees who are truly care about the planet are currently looking for new jobs, and filling large prescriptions for Prozac and medical cannabis.

If you think anyone from the Tribe is going to have any effect on the juggernaut egos at the top of this administration, you obviously filled your scrips earlier in the week.

And I'm as much a part of the problem as the solution; I've published a guide and increased traffic tenfold, trying to raise funds and awareness to support trail work, replace aging hardware, increase interaction between climbers and local businesses, and in any other way I can think of, to counter the region's slide into obscurity.

I've seen red-tagged projects stolen from the people who put weeks and months of time into them, along with hundreds of dollars of hardware, seen trails decimated by uncaring Spring Break groups just looking for the next place to trash and post on FB, and watched as the beta I put together is copied, stolen, and given away by people who do nothing to support the efforts of local NFS stewards.

Don't tell me I have to accept that these people are the new face of The Tribe. I've spent most of my life so far cleaning up after the waves which would each be 'the future of climbing'; trying to reach out and change their perspectives, and then just trying to limit the amount of fallout from their indifference.

My advice would be that these new folk had better start showing some respect for and paying attention to the old school, those of us who inherited responsibility for these lands directly from the founders of that tribe. We are still very much a part of the climbing world, and there is a great big boot attached to our regard, one that can swing with no respect for persons, if that is what it takes to get the newcomers' attention and correct their misapprehension of their own importance.

Just one old man's opinion, after four decades putting up new lines and building trail, putting far more money and effort into climbing than I have gotten back in bankable dollars, because that was never my reason for being here in the first place.

Climb on.


No comments:

Post a Comment

While I appreciate and welcome commentary related to my posts, any spammers or trolls will be hunted to the farthest corners of the Internet, where I will get medieval on the offending poster with pliers and a blowtorch.