What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

- Henry David Thoreau



May 09, 2018

The Case of Joe Kinder

The Joe Kinder story continues to develop. The climbing industry has had their say, here’s a selection of opinions that have been shared since the news broke.


The Outdoor Journal

If you missed The Outdoor Journal‘s initial coverage of this incident, then you can find it here. Joe Kinder, a professional climber, has been removed from the Black Diamond and La Sportiva teams, for violating their zero tolerance policy towards bullying. Another climber, Courtney Sanders, who was kind enough to speak with The Outdoor Journal, has also come forward with an IG post stating that he made fun of her physical appearance as well, through his fake Instagram profile.

This is what Sanders posted on May 3: 

Joe Kinder aka @joekinder and I have known each other for almost 8 years through my ex and the climbing community. Generally our time in person has been fun, light, and great. We actually have a similar dark since of humor. However, for whatever reason this past year I get a message from his fake Instagram “jetskijoyrider” making fun of my forehead size. Literally saying “you got a big forehead yo” in response to one of my photos. Tbh I tried to not let it bother me, but it did. Everyone has insecurities. I definitely do. I literally messaged every friend of mine afterwards asking if I should get bangs to hide it after that. Then this morning you mocked another photo. After Sasha publicly called you out I wrote a comment on your ‘apology’ and you deleted and blocked me. You and people alike need to learn that people have real feelings behind their Instagram name. I’ve always loved your style and actually thought you were hilarious, but today I’m standing up for myself and my friends. Let’s be honest you’re not the only one who talks shit and it’s a bummer you’re the one being made an example of, but so many women struggle with eating disorders and insecurities bc men are constantly telling them they’re not pretty enough, strong enough, smart enough, or cool enough. I thought you would apologize after reading my comment since you were owning up to your remarks but instead you deleted it to save face. That makes me question your genuineness. I’m no angel. I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes in my life so I’m not here to judge, but I hope that you and your friends learn a lesson here and start treating people with more love and respect. (I know you’re not a bad human) and in general I hope the climbing community can one day be less negative, bc at the root of sarcasm is cowardice. Sad as an outsider looking in to think people have to be self conscious of who they are. Probably discourages a lot of young climbers from trying hard because it’s cooler to make fun of it.

A post shared by Courtney Sanders ♡ (@courtneyasanders) on

Georgie Abel, a writer and a climber, wrote a piece on Medium titled, “Sasha Digiulian, Joe Kinder, and the Reframing of Normal – How a male professional climber created a fake Instagram in order to bully at least two young women, and felt supported in doing so”. 

Excerpt from Abel’s piece: Sasha and Courtney felt that being bullied was not normal and decided to do something about it. Black Diamond and La Sportiva helped shift our idea of normal with their decision to drop Joe. We need more of this. We need climbing companies to take a hard look at who they sponsor, because by giving a harmful person access to resources, gear, and media, brands are actively supporting harm. We need white men to loudly denounce harassment and other forms of oppression in their public and private lives. We need media makers to start representing people who are not able-bodied white men. We need women of color in positions of power. We need women to be able to set routes in gyms without being harassed by their coworkers. We need women’s stories to be taken seriously. And when I say women, I am not just talking about prominent white women. Women who are not well known, women of color, and women from other marginalized groups need to feel like they too can safely come forward and have their words be taken seriously.

Click here to read the full Medium post. 

Caroline Gleich, a professional ski mountaineer, has been very vocal on this issue, supporting Sasha through this entire ordeal. On Sasha’s original IG post, she commented, “Sasha- thanks for speaking up about this. I know it isn’t easy. I admire your strength and bravery. Only once we begin to bring these examples to light can we address them as a community. We have a duty to make the internet a more compassionate place for future generations. Let me know if I can do anything to help. You have my support.” 

On Kinder’s apology post, Gleich commented, “Thanks for taking responsibility and for sharing this. I think it brings up an important conversation about men’s role in women’s and other movements for social justice. You may think movements like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter have nothing to do with you. I would argue that you have an incredibly important role to play- to be an ally and supporter to women and people of color. To call out injustice, bias and harassment. Women already work harder to make as much money as men. We don’t always have the time and energy to fight these battles. You say you want to be a better human. I ask you, what are you doing to make climbing culture more inclusive? How can you be an ally as a white man? You have a huge opportunity to spin this around. I hope we can continue this conversation and that you will begin to utilize your platform as an athlete to do good for people and the planet. And at the very least, to do no harm.”

On May 6th, Gleich posted this statement on her IG:


View this post on Instagram


For too long, we have ignored men’s role in the quest to create a more inclusive society. We need men, especially those in positions of power, as allies and supporters. This isn’t a battle of the sexes. It’s about making society more free so people can be the best versions of themselves. Men can help by holding themselves accountable for their actions and calling out injustice or systems of exclusion when they see it. Bystander intervention can be as simple as saying, hey that’s inappropriate. Or telling someone to stop when they say stop and respecting a persons boundaries. On a broader level, it can be pointing out when a situation is dominated by men and suggesting to add more diversity to the mix. Diversity is the spice of life. Just like soil dies in a monoculture, diversity in society offers a more sustainable future. The reality is, I don’t want to exist in a women’s only, gender segregated world. I love the men in my life and I know how supportive and encouraging they can be. To all the guys out there, don’t ever hesitate to ask how you can support women or people from other marginalized groups. We will love you even more for it. ❤️❤️❤️ Photo: @acpictures

A post shared by Caroline Gleich (@carolinegleich) on

Kati Hetrick, a climber and film producer commented on Sasha’s original IG post, “@joekinder I gotta say I’m pretty disappointed to see this man. You have such a platform to do a lot of good and help pioneer the way for future generations in climbing. I know this was on your private platform but the things we joke about and say in private are often a reflection of our true intentions and feelings, even when they’re said in jest. We’ve all been in this community for decades and have the potential to support and respect each other as climbing evolves, regardless of the different approaches we have all taken in our careers. We’ve all made mistakes and I’m certainly not excused from saying and doing the wrong thing publicly in my own life. However, this hits a sensitive and painful place in today’s climate, especially for women, and I would hope to see more from you and the other men in climbing moving forward.”

Andrew Bisharat, a National Geographic writer, replied to Joe’s apology, “You’re a brother to me. You make fun of me all the time and that’s one of the qualities of our friendship I value most because so few people in my life are able to do that because they’re afraid to push any boundaries. The thing about pushing boundaries is sometimes we go too far and that’s when our friends take the time to let us know that we’ve gone too far. I hope I am not only judged by those few times I’ve gone too far myself, and that people know and see all the other shit. I know that at heart the Kind Kid is actually one of the most kind people I know. Thanks for being upfront and taking ownership and agree with @emilyaharrington let’s give a little more love now.”

On Sasha’s original post, pro climber and The North Face athlete Emily Harrington responded: This is a really valuable conversation to have right now. And respect to you sasha for having the courage to bring it up under some pretty personal and hurtful circumstances. Not many of us would have the courage or know where to begin. Respect. I’m sorry it came to such a painful place though and I sincerely hope good can come from this. That everyone can be better and kinder humans as a result. Big love to you and especially to your fam right now. Mountaineer and TNF athlete Conrad Anker responded: It takes strength to speak out. Thanks Sasha for being a beacon of positivity. May our community learn and make steps towards integrity, compassion, empathy, forgiveness and humility. Be good, be kind, be happy.

Joe Kinder, Sasha DiGulian, and Courtney Sanders are all products of climbing culture. From this, we can see that there are some positive things about this community but that there is a structure in place that supports the oppression of certain people. This cannot be normal anymore. This must change. We need to envision something new, something better for all of us. – Georgie Abel

The Outdoor Journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Apoorva Prasad, commented on a relevant issue in the industry, “The overall lack of diversity, gender gap, and lack of a level playing field in outdoor activities and sports is symptomatic of a much larger gender gap in the US than in the rest of the developed world. For example, it would simply be unthinkable in Europe for major sporting events to have skimpily-clad women performing on the sidelines for the purpose of “cheering on” the athletes and beer-drinking audiences. But wait, there’s more! Why is every mountaineering or climbing story from America fundamentally about white people going somewhere (most often Asia) to climb mountains? Are we living in the 19th century? As a Indian-origin climber who’s lived and climbed in America and Europe from the early 2000s onwards, I’ve often been the only non-white person in any given crag, mountain or wilderness area. While I personally have not felt discriminated against, there is indeed a gigantic, larger problem, where a lack of overall diversity in outdoor pursuits enables and engenders a certain kind of environment, as reflection of a bigger societal gap. However, as a society, we’ve finally started a serious conversation on the subject, and we’re beginning to address egregious offenders when and where we see them. This is the only way forward.”

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Oct 01, 2018

The Forbidden Zone: Mongols, to Your Horses

The rolling green hills, rocky passes, flower-laden meadows and clear streams of Gorkhi Terelj National Park in northern Mongolia is the birthplace of the Mongols. The Outdoor Journal spent a week on horseback with Stone Horse Expeditions in the heart of this country’s vast wilderness.



Apoorva Prasad

Tdrihe Khan Khentii mountains stretched before us, from one end of the azure sky to the other. Tegri, the Great Sky God, watched us with his infinite panorama. From here, I could see miles and miles into the distance. This was the “Forbidden Zone”, that unknown wilderness where Genghis Khan was born. As a child and then again much later on, he hunted here, his true home, on a horse, sheltered in a ger or under the blue sky. When he was a boy, exiled with his family into the cold and harsh wilderness of the northern Mongolian hills, his only friends were what these lands contained. After he built an empire and died, it became a sacred and taboo zone, left to the deer and wolves. For decades the area had been closed off. The Soviets enforced it as a Highly Restricted Area to allow them to do what they wished with it – from logging and military exercises, to also countering any potential rise of Mongolian nationalism around the great Khan. Despite those years, the Area remained wild.

No wonder the Mongols worshipped it.

A day before, we had crossed fresh bear tracks. There were no signs of human presence apart from our train of horses and riders. And now, this vista lay in front of us, green and yellow grassy hills, long valleys, meadows of flowers stretching to higher mountains all the way to Siberia, some still snow-dusted despite the summer sun. Burkhan Khaldun stood further behind higher peaks. And that incredible sky. No wonder the Mongols worshipped it. We all lived once under this blue infinity. As we’d ridden northwards away from Ulan Bator, the city’s pollution had faded away long ago, the gray curse had lifted and my eyes had once again accustomed themselves to what they had evolved to do – see long distances, look for hares, deer, bears, navigate passes and ford streams, climb rocks, and watch falcons circle on thermals above. And over the last few days, we had done all these things.

The weary horseriders arrive in the ger to refresh themselves.

We had left our last camp around mid-morning, some hours ago. One half of the party broke away to ride into another valley out west, while Keith and I wanted to ride up and to the pass in the range of hills that separated the Gorkhi Terelj from the Khan Khentii. We skirted the granite mounds which punctuated the ends of this valley, forded a marshy grassland below the campsite, fought off the bloodsucking horseflies that made our horses’ lives miserable for a little while, eventually entering a tall forest of larch and birch. The ground began to rise as we entered a narrow rocky trail that started to wind uphill. Jerry, my sturdy, stubborn little Mongolian horse plodded on. This easy gait was infinitely more comfortable than the long trots of our previous days in the saddle. Keith Swenson, a taciturn, the 64 year-old owner of Stone Horse Expeditions along with his wife Sabine Schmidt, showed none of the wear I felt – my skin of my thighs were quite literally raw after 50 kilometers of riding and trotting in the wilderness. After a few days Keith opened up with wisecracks. “People ask what do you do, and I say I’m a rider”, says Keith, punning on his American accent. “They think I mean ‘writer’, “and they ask, what have you written?” “So I say, Blackie, Brownie, Ol Dirty Face…”, naming his horses.

These lands, however remote, are important.

Halfway up the trail was a shaman’s totem, poles placed on the ground to make a conical structure, wrapped with bits of fabric and ribbons. But at the base, and near a tree, we also found broken shards of glass, vodka bottles drunk and thrown by unknown travelers who no longer respected their old ways. We’d been riding for an hour or so and we stopped for a short break in the little opening in the forest. It was quite warm in the strong sun, perhaps 30C like every day of the summer, but cold at nights, often dipping below freezing.

These Mongolian horses play a huge role in making a trip across the steppe easy and fun for riders. Each horse has a unique personality. Big Dirty Face pictured here loves coffee and will drink it straight from your cup if you let him.

The Mongols invented the modern world*

The old ways are important. These lands, however remote, are important. The Mongols invented the modern world*. When, at the age of 55, Genghis Khan rode out into Asia and Europe, he created the largest empire known to humanity, as well as its first international postal system, and the largest free-flowing network of ideas, trade and culture. But today, Mongolia feels relatively isolated and far away, landlocked in the Eurasian continent. And getting there turned out to be a greater adventure than we’d expected. Instead of flying, we took the famous Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Ulan Bator. At 11pm, the train pulled into the last station on the China-Mongolia border to change the undercarriage (the railway gauge is different in Mongolia). Three hours later we got back on the train and waited patiently for the Chinese guards to hand us all our passports back. Our intern’s passport was returned ripped from its cover. Before anyone could make a move, the train entered Mongolia… where the Mongolian border guard insisted that the 18-year old girl get off the train because she wasn’t allowed to enter on an invalid passport. Twenty minutes of arguing later, at nearly three am, we got off and watched the train leave without us.

Mongolian cuisine is typically meat and dairy products. Vegans beware.

Fifteen hours later, after many phone calls and emails to various embassies and important officials, she was finally allowed to enter the country. The Trans-Mongolian having long gone, we finagled an eight-hour taxi ride across the great steppes (on a second-hand car coming off a goods train) for $45. Welcome to Mongolia.


I did not have much riding experience, but I usually don’t let a little thing like that deter me from a trip. Keith, once also a climber, agreed that anyone up for adventure would be perfectly fine on a Mongolian horse. They were sturdy and forgiving. We all gathered at their staging camp an hour’s drive from Ulan Bator – a Singaporean couple on their second trip with Stone Horse, their friend from Hong Kong, a French diplomat from Swaziland, our team of three, Keith, Sabine and their crew – Nyamaa, Buyana and Jackson, the American intern. Soon, our team of 16 horses and Stinky the Mongolian Dog, a most genuine companion if there ever was one, were off towards the north. Day one went reasonably well, with a short four hour ride to our first campsite inside the Gorkhi Terelj National Park. The other experienced riders asked me various questions about how I felt and whether my horse had cantered or galloped, and I said I didn’t know, but the horse seemed to know what it was doing. Apparently, they have many gaits.

Nomads Yadmaa and Tavaasurn inside their summer ger, just outside Gorkhi Terelj.

I learned what that meant the next day.

The morning begins easily and we move along a gentle valley. At a stream, the horses bend to drink. They’re herd animals, comfortable only in their own numbers. Suddenly, there’s a commotion as one of the pack horses spooks and bolts. We’re unprepared, and good old Jerry decides to follow the bolting horse too, suddenly turning 180 degrees and galloping wildly. I have to pull firmly on the reins to stop him, while the teamsters have to get the other fella back. He’s bucking around wildly, his unshod feet stamping, his grass-eating brain telling him that that bee sting he felt on his hind was a wolf’s nip. Stinky ignores the commotion, running ahead happily back in his favorite hunting grounds, chasing ground squirrels to their holes. We continue, entering a forest and then riding uphill to a pass. On the other side, a wide open valley, and our first real gallop. Now I feel the sensation, riding with the animal as one, gently cycling my feet in the stirrups and gripping with my knees, all of it coming naturally to me and I urge Jerry on, on, on. Chhoo, Jerry, Chhoo! We stop at a babbling brook in the valley below where we wash our faces. Are we in paradise?

And then the long trot begins. For a horse, it’s the most comfortable way to move. But it’s bouncy. I try to “post” like all the real riders. Watching me grimace in agony, Keith smiled and said, “real men trot,” as he rode along comfortably with that rolling ankle movement to compensate for the horse’s bumpy ride. “Trotting is how the Mongols moved such vast distances. If you make him gallop, you won’t get very far, you’ll kill the horse”.

a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities

But Mongolia changed the course of human history since long before the great Khan and his riders, the ultimate, self-sufficient soldiers. Apart from the Mongols, it is also the original homeland of the Huns and the Turks. It is a melting pot of humanity and ethnicities, where thousands of years ago two language families met and separated – the Indo-Europeans and the Altaics – and possibly where the wild horse was first tamed, thereby changing the course of history. When men on horses first raced out of Central Asia, first ancient Mesopotamia, then Egypt fell. Europe’s original ‘mother culture’ and India’s Harappan civilization disappeared. Humans, moving incredible distances on horses, spread across Asia, from the western end of Europe to Korea, all the way down to Arabia and India, creating nearly all the cultures we know today. Some of the languages they spoke evolved today into English, and others evolved into Japanese, but some of their words have become so intermingled that it’s hard to distinguish which came from which. Hindi is an Indo-European language, but today the common Hindi word for “home” is “ghar” (from the Sanskrit “grhá”) which is nearly identical to the Altaic Mongolian’s word for home, ger.

When the Hunnu (“Huns”) fought the Chinese Hans, the clans that lost fled towards Europe, creating Hungary, as well as leading to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. Centuries later, the Turkics originally from the Mongolian steppes came hurtling into Constantinople, wiping out the Eastern Roman Empire.

We ride through rocky hills and rock formations, up and down defiles, over passes and across shallow streams, through meadows of flowers and knee-high grass. We ride all day, and every evening set up our traveling camp like the Mongols of old. We sleep in modern-day lightweight tents, under trees or under the stars, breathing cold clear air, drinking from fresh rain-fed streams, eating atop rocks while falcons circle above and the horses graze.

The Stone Horse team from left to right – Jackson, Keith, Buyana, Nyamaa and Sabine.

The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

One day we stretched out the ride to reach a farther campsite, a Hunnu gravesite. We set up our tents atop 2000-year old graves, low mounds of stones marking the places where men, women, children and horses were laid to rest. “I believe that these people would have loved us to be here, living like they did,” said Keith. When they hear our horses, they’ll feel alive”. The next morning, I pulled my horse off to a side and to a vantage point to shoot the group riding further down the valley. Jerry stomped and neighed angrily as the herd passed him by, but I held him back. When the group disappeared into the distance, I quickly packed my camera gear back into the saddlebags. Then jumping back on, I let the horse fly as he wished, back to his herd. Jerry, the funny but tough little horse, galloped madly a mile north over the gently rising slope. Our hooves rang out in the valley, as two large round mounds, Hun graves, emerged in front on the mountainside. Neither Jerry nor I needed to veer, and we galloped directly over the centre of the mounds, the sound of our hoofbeats gladdening passed Hunnu souls. Their ancestors, our ancestors, had once tamed wild horses, and together changed the world. The world has continued to change, but horses and men will forever ride together.

Images by Madhuri chowdhury.


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