Thursday, April 30, 2015

Developing an ego

Around 4 years ago, I became immersed in the world of climbing development. I’m not completely certain of when I first decided I was going to become a climbing developer, but I’ve always found myself staring up at a wall or boulder and thinking, has anyone tried to climb this?

Since I began climbing, I've been constantly inspired by the hard work and effort invested by the pioneers of our sport. Developers at the forefront of the the sport climbing movement such as Gary Gibson, who’s impressive list of first ascents resonate throughout almost every guidebook in the UK is one of my all time heroes. Worldly Adventurer Fred Becky, who’s impressive resumé of bold first ascents in the high mountains of north america is another.

Though these are two of the better known climbing developers, there are thousands of people across the globe who are contributing towards our growing sport. Many of these people are on the cutting edge of climbing progress and are stereotypically forward thinkers, conscientious of their impact and predominantly developing with good intentions.

These people also have a tendency to be our community ambassadors, the people that everyone knows at the gym and the “go to” person when seeking climbing advice. You’ll regularly find them at the community meetings and clean up events, selflessly giving their time in the hope that the area they love can continue to improve. This is the beauty of the climbing community, the side that is caring and united through our love for rock fondling. The same one which I am proud to be a part of and talk about to my friends when I’m outside of the climbing bubble.

I wish this was the only side of the community, but the truth is, it’s not…

A bag of bolts for a big wall!
Credit: Matthew Parent
There is another side to the climbing development community, a dark side if you will. This is the side that few are accustomed to seeing let alone understanding. Here, speculation is rife, insults are thrown, passive aggressive threats sent and turf wars laid out. This is the side you rarely hear about, but it is there and unfortunately, it’s quite a problem. 

One of the most infamous cases of this behavior is the “Wings of Steel” incident in which climbers went as far as to sabotage the developers ropes, risking their lives for the sake of a rumor and ultimately, a piece of rock. 

To the climbers involved in this immoral unfolding of events, they now look back with shame on their actions, and understandably so. Is it really worth harming someones life over something so irrelevant in the bigger picture? 

To me, this is one of the single most embarrassing and shameful stories that i’ve encountered in our sport and it is loaded with lessons to be learnt on all sides. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident and I myself have personally experienced threats, warnings and hate mail from other developers who stake claim to an area and attempt become the self appointed gate keepers to a piece of rock, deciding which people can climb or not. 

This malicious behavior has unfortunately kept me awake on many a night, frustrated and deep in thought of why certain people would go out of their way to be so hateful to another person for reasons I can only deduce is from either a damaged ego or selfishness. 

Putting up a new line in Chihuahua
Credit: Matthew Parent
It was on one of these nights, after hearing that a fellow developer was writing a hate article about me, I came to the realization that there are two kinds of climbing developers out there: 

The Lovers who develop for the love of the sport and the fun.


The Haters who develop for their ego and for a claim.

The Lovers
The Lovers develop climbing for the pure and simple pleasure of contributing to the climbing community. These are the people who bolt the 5.6 routes at the crag that everyone learns to climb on, the same people that clean up the trash regardless who dropped it simply because they love the area. They are the people who share their day belaying friends and strangers alike because they enjoy sharing their passion with others.

In my mind, these are climbings true ambassadors, the corner stone of the local climbing community and those who control the most influence within their community.

The Haters 
The haters on the other hand, develop for their ego, to state a claim that it was them who achieved a goal first.The haters think they are superior to others because they often climb harder than the average climber, claim areas as their own (even when its public land) and have an elitist attitude towards their community members(obviously forgetting that they too once struggled up a 5.7).

They try to intimidate others away from "their" area and often create rumors and lies to protect their damaged ego’s from what they see as competition. These are the people who are damaging the community spirit that so many of us are proud to be a part of. I’m sure if you take a moment to think, you’ll know a person like this…

I am personally a lover, I get a huge joy out of putting up routes or boulders of any grade so that I can share them with others and I believe that most developers are the same, but the longer i’m active as a developer, and the more places I travel, the more haters I come across.

This disappointing realization leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a reluctancy to continue developing. However, what keeps me going when developing politics are in turmoil is the reminder that the majority of our community are incredibly positive people, psyched to have new rock to wrestle and thankful for each and every contributor.

I hope that by bringing a spotlight to this issue and not allowing it to remain hidden in the shadows any long; climbers, developers and community members alike can asess their true motivation for developing and become lovers instead of haters. 

Besides, if you develop for the love, you get enjoy your hard work vicariously time and time again, each time someone clips the bolts.

Deciding which line to choose?
Credit: Matthew Parent

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Life for Adventure

Finishing up a new route I equipped on Independencia, Parque La Huasteca.
Name Undecided,  5.12d, 13 pitches, 350m,.
Credit: Matthew Parent

Adventure, It’s a word that sparks excitement and imagination. The thought of adventure often delivers a cocktail of emotions including fear, giddiness and bliss in a single shot. Sweetened only by our natural human curiosity, these feelings are what spurred climbers to the summit of Everest and man to the moon. But what an defines adventure? 

For some, the word bestows vivid thoughts of scaling snow capped peaks or venturing into the deepest, most unexplored parts of the world in search of the unknown, much like the stories you hear as a child about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his polar exploits. For others, an adventure can be as simple as short road trip or buying exotic groceries without the knowledge on how to prepare them. Quite simply put, its a step or a leap, into the unknown. 

One of my fondest memories is of an impromptu adventure to Mexico after hearing rumors that there was a canyon abundant with virgin rock. Hitting the road with a fellow climber and friend, we playfully switched up driving and DJ duties on our 2 day journey south from Colorado. As we transitioned from the familiar language and landscapes of the USA into the exciting unknowns of Mexico, we quickly realized that this was not going to be like any of our previous escapades. Sporadic police and military check points lined the highway to Monterrey and bathroom breaks became restricted to roadside “pop-n-squats”.

We ran a gauntlet of the traffic through the city of Monterrey, arriving victorious on the other side where we made a bee line for Parque La Huasteca, our final destination. Crossing through the thick barred gates into the the park, we were greeted by its signature view of the towering Pico Independencia. We were speechless! The build up of fear, apprehension and nervousness that we had struggled with on our way down seemed to simply dissipate and we relished in the breathtaking views that surrounded us. 

When the asphalt ended, we continued along the gravel road as it meandered over rivers and bridges, driving deep into the parks winding canyons which the native Huichol people believe lead to the centre of the universe. All around us, blade like formations of limestone shot thousands of feet into the air and and giant succulent plants as large as a car littered the mountain sides.

La Bestia Cave, Parque La Huasteca, Mexico
Credit: Gaz Leah
After hours of exploring, the day gave way to night and we retreated from the canyon back to the glowing aurora of the city lights. At the hostel that evening, we discussed the dream like idea of returning to Monterrey in the near future to contribute and nurture the growing community of climbers that called Huasteca home. During the 20 hour drive back to the states, I reminisced on our time in Mexico. The rock, the food and the culture had all become imprinted on my mind and I began to ponder if a future adventure would indeed be possible.

As it turned out, I returned later that year for a six month endeavor titled “Project Wall-E” to develop new routes, write a guidebook and help kids in marginalized areas of the city. An experience which has re-shaped my perception of the world. 

Climbing in Virgincita, a cave at the entrance to Parque La Huasteca.
Credit: Matthew Parent

Understandably, not every adventure has such profound effects on people, but they do build character and help us push our perceived barrier between what is possible and impossible. My personal belief is that the desire that urged me to travel to Mexico and to step outside of my comfort zone is built into all of us. Like the explorers of past times, who dared to cross oceans and continents not knowing what they would find, that same hunger for adventure that existed then is alive in all of us today. 

So whether your making a meal or sailing an ocean, don’t allow yourself to be limited by your fears and live life to its fullest by seizing the adventure that is awaiting you in every day!