Don’t Tell me Not to Climb

COVID-19 Climbing

“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” Noam Chomsky spoke these words in the interview series Imperial Ambitions in 2005. Today, social media has given all of us the power to shame each other publicly, including climbers.  Recent posts on social media, during the COVID-19 pandemic, chastise others for climbing — unaware of their skill, contextual situation, and state mandate — is, in my opinion, detrimental to climbing’s counter-culture heritage.  In this counter-culture activity, climbers have yielded to the authority they once rebelled against.  An ironic death when personal choice becomes a monument ready to be graffitied, protested & destroyed by ones whose lives we once protected, as we sincerely spoke those ritual words, “Climb on.”

Climbing became popularized in the 1950’s after WWII brought a lifestyle of security and lack of risk to American culture. With Yin there is always Yang. Climbing became the counter-culture risk taking activity that youths needed to exercise their adventurous spirits.  Squashed by an upbringing of frugality, excessive security and what would become, in some historians’ opinions, the beginning of consumerism.

Do you believe those at the vanguard of what was to become a major hobby & profession in the 20th & 21st century were met with open arms? Do you think all their parents supported this dangerous risky activity for their children? Do you believe their friends said, “Yea man, go climb that 100 ft wall with a rope tied around your waist, I heard leaders don’t fall, you’re good.” Do you believe the park services, not just in California at Yosemite, but across the United States didn’t believe these “crazy” kids were a menace to the placid good ol’ American folk trying to enjoy the parks after the rancor of World War II? With any revolution, with any counter-culture movement you often find comradery with those few souls brave enough to walk uncharted territory together.  How have you supported your fellow climbers during the last month in person and/or on social media?

I believe we have a greater responsibility today to one another. To honor the heritage which created the activity we love.  To pay tribute to the likes of Royal Robbins, Warren Harding, John Long, Lynn Hill and many others for their courage to defy the norm, by thinking for ourselves.  Warren Harding & Dean Caldwell’s infamous ascent up the Dawn Wall drew enough concern that a rescue was initiated.  Mr. Harding famously scribbled a note inside a tuna can that read, “A rescue is unwarranted, unwanted and will not be accepted.” Now that’s the spirit!  Is that the same spirit you witness on social media?  I’m not telling you to climb or not to climb. I’m not encouraging you to engage in illegal or illicit activity. I am advocating that the next time you see a post, rather than dishonoring the heritage that allows you to engage in the climbing that you love, you state those ritual words, “Climb on”.