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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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News

Dec 28, 2018

The Outdoor Journal’s Biggest Stories of 2018.

From harassment within the climbing industry to deaths and environmental degradation in India. Furthering conversation on deep-rooted problems within the wider outdoor community, to Outdoor Moms, and explaining an unexplained tragedy.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

The Outdoor Journal endeavours to bring you thoughtful journalism from around the world. We always do our best to take a step back, to take a little more time, and present considered content that always acknowledges both sides of a story.

The response to this approach is always strong and is reflected in the stories that we present below, as the most read articles on OutdoorJournal.com in 2018.

THE JOE KINDER STORY

The first big story of 2018 rocked the Outdoor industry and called many things into question. The initial event was well covered across many media outlets, and we were particularly grateful to Courtney Sanders who provided us with a unique perspective and insight from within the professional climbing community.

However as the dust began to settle, The Outdoor Journal encouraged our community to use this story as a catalyst to look inwards, at themselves. As Apoorva Prasad, The Outdoor Journal Editor-in-Chief explained at the time;

“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 an 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 a 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.”

Elsewhere, we also published Chris Kalman’s perspective entitled The Joe Kinder Lynch Mob: Business as Usual. In the article, Chris asked himself how the community can be “so morally righteous”, and “incongruent with our response, or lack thereof, to other issues.”

“We push hard to preserve our right to climb on sacred indigenous sites such as Devil’s Tower, routinely disregarding the innocuous one-month voluntary ban that we squeezed out of local tribes who would have preferred no climbing on the monument at all. We’ve pursued, accepted, and justified the sexual objectification (not to mention marginalization) of women in the sport’s media. We have a long-standing history of working against public land managers rather than with them (and if you saw Valley Uprising, you know we’re damn proud of it, too). We pump industry dollars and massive amounts of attention into climbing and guiding on Everest, even though every year Sherpas either die or risk their lives for minimal pay, while most of the money for those climbs goes not into Sherpa pockets, but into the pockets of the guides, and the owners of those guide companies.”

MASS TREKING IN INDIA – THE ADVENTURE INDUSTRY PUSHES BACK

Statistics say that the outdoors is now nearly 70% of all leisure, vacation based travel, globally. This has massive ramifications in a country like India – where guidelines are available, but actual regulation, monitoring and implementation are abysmal.

During the summer of 2018, Vaibhav Kala reached out to the Outdoor Journal with his concerns. Vaibhav is the committeee chairman of Adventure Tour Operators Association of India and Founder of Aquaterra Adventures, ranked as one of the world’s best adventure travel companies by National Geographic.

Vaibhav’s subsequent article, entitled Mass Trekking in India: A Disease For Which We’ll All Suffer put the India Adventure Tourism Industry in the dock and spoke of everything from unreported deaths, to unsustainable human activity and environmental degradation.

This article was very shortly followed by news of litigation against mass trekking operations. It led to a ban on nearly all mountain tourism in Uttarakhand, leaving 100,000 jobless and industry without a future. However, it didn’t solve the problem or punish those responsible. The Outdoor Journal took the time to look at the numbers and present a considered story in Adventure Tourism in India Leading to Deaths and Massive Environmental Degradation.

New companies pushing mass trekking in India are highly unsustainable and leaving a massive environmental impact.

Of course, the adventure industry reacted, and The Outdoor Journal invited contributions from those who know the mountains and the community better than anybody.  Dr. Sunil Kainthola, Director of the Mountain Shepherds Initiative, said that  “The same online companies as mentioned in [TOJ’s] article are now offering redesigned trek itineraries some of which include an altitude gain of 1000 meters in a single day in a hypoxic mountain environment. So while the spirit of the High Court order will be honored, the lives of trekkers will be definitely at risk.” All of the reactions can be read in Uttarakhand Trekking Ban: The Adventure Tourism Industry Reacts.

NINE CLIMBERS DIE AT GURJA BASE CAMP, BUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

In October, nine climbers died at Gurja Base Camp during a snowstorm. Many media outlets from around the world have offered explanations. But there has been confusion and a serious lack of understanding on what really happened to the nine climbers on Friday morning.

The Dhaulagiri Range, home to Gurja Photo: Miteshstha

At first, The Outdoor Journal didn’t try to theorise about what might have happened, and just reported on the variety of narratives that could be found around the world – The confusion and lack of understanding were evident. The subsequent article was a result of contributions from experts from around the world, as we tried to make sense of the tragedy.

With contributions courtesy of Global Rescue, the first to arrive on the scene, Simon Trautman from the National Avalanche Center, Dr. Karl Birkeland, of the Director of the Forest Service National Avalanche Center, Bruce Raup, a Senior Associate Scientist at the NSIDC and Richard Armstrong, a Senior Research Scientist at the NSIDC a theory began to take shape. A remarkable theory, that told a tragic story and can be read in full in Nine Climbers Die at Gurja Base Camp. What Really Happened? The Experts’ Opinion

OUTDOOR MOMS – EMILY LUSSIN AND HILAREE NELSON

Outdoor sports and adventure have a history of male dominance. It is less common for women to be successful, and even less common for a successful woman to be a mother. As such, The Outdoor Journal were delighted to launch a new series entitled Outdoor Moms.

Family time on Telluride Via Ferrata.

Whitewater kayaking is no exception to expectations. Despite the challenges, Emily Lussin is one such whitewater mom breaking the stereotype, and featured as the first in the series. Our second Outdoor Mom was the 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Hilaree Nelson, Ski descent of the Lhotse Couloir, ski descent of Papsura, first woman to summit two 8,000m peaks in 24 hours… mother of two. Brooke Hess’ interview with Hilaree, that shows a superhuman woman in a whole new light, can be found in Hilaree Nelson – Mother of Two, Mountaineering Hero to All.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

As a final footnote to 2018, we leave you with “Today, I’m Thankful For…” the Privilege to Suffer”. Originally posted on Thanksgiving, but an article that all adventure sports enthusiasts should read.

Next year, we look forward to bringing you more true stories from adventurers and travellers all over the world, with news from unreported regions and stories not told. Adventures, and expeditions to places that still have room for first descents and ascents. We’re delighted to have you with us.

The World is your playground!

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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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