Cult, kult, n. A system of belief and worship; a subject of devoted study.
After nearly nine months on the road I’ve come to realize that the climbing community does closely fit the description of a “cult”. We have our own dogma complete with a unique set of ethics. We currently have a messiah named Chris. Prior to Chris, we had Lynn. There are the disciples of our faith who show us the way; Dave, Daniel, Tommy, Sasha, Uli, Ashima, Steve, Sonnie, Jimmy, Joe, Jon, Jonathan, Alex, Adam, Colin, Conrad, Fred, Sean, Kevin, Ethan, Liv, Alissee and Martina to name a few. Fortunately, our cult is not limited to only twelve.
Climbing has different sects within the cult; Trad-ies, Sport-doggers, Pebble-wrestlers, Ice-hackers, Dry-toolers, Alpine-sloggers, Gym-apes, Deep Water-plungers, Aiding-gear-grabbers and death defying Free-handing-soloists are the most prominent. Each has its own set of unique rules to play by and often intermarry without threat of being ostracized. That makes us unique among religions and it speaks volumes for the open minded nature of our faith. Love the neighbor as thyself. Even if they carry a big stick-clip, are carrying a huge crash-pad or have sharp pointy things attached to their extremities.
We like others to view our faith as fringe and think that we have a small following. The reality appears to be quite the opposite. There are now enough climbing parishioners that we’ve become mainstream. Not quite Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, yet, but we have our own version of the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca. We have Boulder, Salt Lake and Chattanooga.
The truth is, our religion has become popular and it’s easy to understand why. Unlike other mainstream religions, our cult is incredibly fun. We recognize the need to live our own version of Heaven now. Dessert first since the future is uncertain. Our perception of Hell would be a heavy “work” schedule, injury or being stuck on tarmac due to plane malfunction while in route to Spain, Kalymnos or France. The best thing about our cult is that we are not limited to Sunday-only dedicated worship. Our version of hymnals would be an off key sing-along with Bob Marley, Jonny Cash or the Wu Tang.
There are now so many faithful followers of the ONE true faith of climbing that we have achieved recognition and acceptance from others not of our following. I read somewhere recently that there are now more than two million “climbers” in the United States alone. Below are a few recent examples Maggie and I have experienced, during our metaphysical climbing journey, in support of my contention that climbing has achieved possible mainstream recognition. I’ll leave it up to you to be the judge…
A couple of weeks ago, Maggie and I packed up Alexander Superscamp, loaded the dogs into the Element and made our way to the BLM land south of Hurricane to establish a new camp closer to the Hurricave. As we approached the town of Hurricane we noticed a tremendous dust cloud blotting out the southern horizon. When we reached the gate marking the start of BLM land the road was blocked by a couple of members of the local fire department wearing bright green vests with shiny badges prominently displayed. They explained that there was a massive off-road race taking place on the BLM land and that access was closed until 5pm. I responded that it was lucky that we weren’t already camped in the area or we would have been screwed! Okay, I was a little peeved… perhaps? The patient firefighter asked us where our hometown was. Maggie responded by letting him know we were from Ogden (Utah) originally, but we were now retired and traveling full time to rock climb. His expression lit up as he quickly informed us of a nearby climbing area called Dutchman’s Draw (which is where the Will of Phalanx is located). Then, with a somewhat sad face, he added that we couldn’t go there today since the trail to it was part of today’s off-road course. With difficulty, I internalized my thoughts… so much for f’ng up the remote desert wilderness. I continued by visualizing the vast numbers of tarantulas, scorpions, Painted Desert tortoises and exotic vegetation that would all perish before today’s end, crushed by hundreds, perhaps thousands of ATV and motorcycle wheels. It’s indeed a testament to the popularity of climbing when a firefighter supporting off-road racers and totally lacking in climber physique (mentioning he’d once tried rappelling) can recommend a remote climbing area for us to consider visiting.
My second testament happened while catching up on emails in a nearby coffee shop. I had some climbing pics up on the laptop screen, and the nice elderly woman sitting next to us with her large multigenerational family caught a glimpse. She mentioned that she was from Florida, which is flatter than a Denny’s grand slam pancake, but was here visiting family members living in the St. George area for a few days. She said that her family had recently hired a local guide service to teach the entire clan how to rock climb. She elaborated that even though she was quite old and just visiting the area, it seemed to her that the kin folks were very excited about pursuing the climbing thing.
A couple more recent examples of our transcendence to prominence…
While standing in line at the post office
to pick up forwarded mail, a nice man in line behind us recognized the Petzl logo on the back of Maggie’s t-shirt and assumed we were outdoorsy types. While sitting in another coffee shop on the opposite side of St. George, a very heavy-set gentleman wearing a Tap-Out t-shirt and commando style camo pants saw us sipping our hot java while punching away at our keyboards. With a polite grin he mentioned we looked like a couple of “dirtbag” climbers. I could site many more examples of similar encounters throughout our journey of how the climber cult is growing and becoming more recognizable.
With the knowledge that we are approaching mainstream acceptance, I believe it’s important that we act as good ambassadors for our cause. With others watching us closely, knowingly, it could go a long way to help us as climbers to maintain, and possibly acquire new, precious and often precarious public/private land access for the pursuit of climbing. As the world becomes more populated the impact becomes greater to the limited amount of space available which makes preservation of our remaining public areas a great deal more challenging.
Here are a few of the things we like to do as missionaries for our faith…
- Show the patience of Job by being nice to others who are sharing the same land resources. Not just others within the climber faith. It’s important to be polite to local ranchers whose cows are often grazing in the area of your BLM camp. If you give a friendly wave to fast moving ATVs or motorcycles (any off-roaders) they will sometimes slow down in your presence to keep you from eating their dust, or mud, depending on conditions. Smile and say hello to hikers and mountain bikers (some are fellow climbers, after all). One of the most difficult situations involves interaction and tolerance for gun enthusiasts. Quite frankly, they are shooting the shit out of our once wilder places. Nearly every BLM sign, road sign, rock face, barrel cactus and bush has been wounded. Shot-up tin cans, bottles, old TV sets, toilets, car batteries, furniture, clay-pigeon pieces and spent shells lay strewn across the desert southwest. It’s both sad and difficult to see since it lies in stark contrast of the natural surrounding beauty.
- I prefer to take the Buddhist approach when we encounter groups like the ATV-ers and NRA-ers. I try to replace any animosity, like the fun thought of stringing a dark colored climbing rope at neck level to someone sitting on a dirt-bike with the following thought, “Those poor folks, they don’t know what they are missing when they travel so quickly, or loudly, through this beautiful environment.”
Contribute by paying your tithing to the Access Fund. This will help insure that we will have access to our houses of devoted worship i.e., caves, walls, road-cuts, canyons, over-hangs, mountains, valleys, etc. for eons to come.
- Keep our faith fun. A wise climbing friend once explained it simply, yet eloquently, by saying that climbing is not rocket surgery. It’s just a matter of moving the left hand up followed by the right hand and occasionally throwing in two lefts in a row to mix things up. Keeping it fun will also help check your ego. Allowing ego to get in the way has done more damage to the cult of climbing than Donald Trump has done, and will continue to do, to the Republican Party.
- Feel free to pick up after others and have polite discussions with those you see who are unaware that they are f’ing things up for the masses when they do blasphemous things to our holy outdoor temples.
- Buy a box of bolts and hangers and give them to a local route developer who has been laboriously putting up routes in areas where you like to climb. At the very least, genuflect in his/her presence and with clasped hands give praise and a kind thanks.
- Stop dirt-bagging. Get a job, earn some money and pay for your shower, camping and guidebook to the area you are climbing in. Others see when dirt-baggers are diving in dumpsters, stealing campsites in the public campground and taking from society in general. It sets a bad precedent, often leading to closures to our climbing and camping privileges.
- Help maintain climber access trails by staying on them and/or fixing them when others (including Mother Nature) mess them up.
- Be humble. Speak softly and carry a big stick clip!
After two months of pebble wrestling, Maggie and I have are now worshiping in the temple of Hurricave. We hope to be here for the next couple of months re-learning the ropes. We have a quick side trip planned to attend the Red Rock Rendezvous held at Spring Mountain Ranch, NV the first weekend in April. I’ll be rigging for the photo clinic at Cannibal Rock in the Calico Basin on Friday and Saturday. Maggie will be hanging out at the venue, teaching yoga classes throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. We’re paying back Petzl, FiveTen, CimbTech and Goal Zero for their loyal support over the past few years!
As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the sound of ATV-ers who have strangely moved into our campsite in the vastly empty wilderness surrounding. Seriously, there are hundreds of square miles of surrounding BLM land and they have chosen to camp within 30’ of us. It must be a combination of our magnetic personalities and human nature for other humans wanting to be in close proximity. Fascinating, to say the least. Hopefully our new neighbors will be leaving us tonight since its Saturday and their faith requires their presence in a house of worship on Sunday. We can only hope…
A couple things: 1. Although we’re not professional photographers, the pictures we take and use are, well, ours. Friends and readers are welcome to repost them on Facebook or other personal social media accounts, but please ask if your intention is to use them for any sort of business or product promotion outside of our established relationships. 2. The ads below show up because we’re too frugal to pay enough to make them go away. They’re not usually for anything we endorse or support.