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

- Henry David Thoreau

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Climbers

May 24, 2018

The Joe Kinder Lynch Mob: Business as Usual

Ever since the Joe Kinder and Sasha DiGulian thing blew up, I've been feeling like there's something missing in the global climbing community’s response, particularly among American climbers.

WRITTEN BY

Chris Kalman

It’s not that I think Joe Kinder is in the right, or that I think Sasha Digiulian is in the wrong. It actually has nothing to do with either of them. It has to do with us.

The thing that irks me is the lynch mob that has followed this event. I find it frustrating that we, as a community, are suddenly so morally righteous. I find it incongruent with our response, or lack thereof, to other issues. Here in the States, climbers have plenty to feel pretty chagrined about. For example…

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.

The very concept behind paying exceptionally skilled climbers to climb is the notion that somehow the stoke and inspiration they generate by holding onto rocks will make the world a better place. And yet, when it comes to conservation, it’s well documented that it won’t.

To be fair, there are certainly climbers and prominent community members out there pushing to make things better. Alex Honnold, Sasha Digiulian, and others are lobbying congress in defense of public lands. Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy, Georgie Abel, and Katie Ives of Alpinist Magazine are reenvisioning climbing media through a feminist lens. Len Necefer of Natives Outdoors is trying to find common ground between the outdoor industry and Native Americans. So there is change in the air.

But something about the response to Joe Kinder’s boneheaded bullying feels less like change, and more like a lynch mob. After all, Sasha is not the only female climber who has ever endured bullying. Where was BD, Sportiva, and the rest of our community when Georgie Abel was getting literal threats of violence for telling the truth about sexism in climbing? Could it be that part of this has to do with the size of Sasha’s instagram following (which is more than half as big as BD’s, and larger than La Sportiva NA’s)?

On a community level, if we were really concerned with bullying, wouldn’t we have done something about the public forums on Mountain Project by now? The vitriolic spew you see there regularly reaches (maybe even surpasses) the intensity of the bullying Kinder perpetrated against DiGiulian. We’ve had ample opportunities to take a stand against that bullying, but aside from the rare individual on the forum (who always gets shot down anyway), we haven’t. MP itself could have, but it hasn’t. The magazines that advertise on MP could have, but they haven’t. Sasha could have (not saying she SHOULD have, but she COULD have), but she didn’t. Joe’s ex-sponsor Black Diamond (who partners with MP) could have, but they didn’t.

A recent Rawk Tawk (which is a climbing instagram account that is pretty bad as far as bullying is concerned) post used the hashtag #cunnies. Is that ok? Do brands only have an opinion about bullying when one of their athletes gets outed as one?

But wait – you might say – if climbing’s past is so sordid, doesn’t that mean it’s time to change? And isn’t holding Joe Kinder accountable for using his white male privilege to bully innocent women a perfect way to do that?

Yeah, sure. But only if that’s what’s actually going on. Maybe it is. I hope it is. But I don’t buy it.

Neither, apparently, does Courtney Sanders. I found myself nodding along with her recent statement in an article for The Outdoor Journal, “I believe that major industry companies such as Black Diamond and La Sportiva acted in their own best interests, which likely includes preserving company image and morality, when deciding to end relations with Joe. Personally, I think that there is room for improvement on all sides, and the potential for those companies to address bullying and harassment with the help of Joe could have been a huge learning experience. Perhaps a larger and more constructive conversation could be started by working together, rather than terminating the athlete and ending the dialogue.”

I’ll be interested to see if anything truly productive follows this. But if it doesn’t – indeed, if nothing but venting and ranting does – then the response to this incident is far less the trumpet of social change, and far more business as usual.

Chris Kalman. Credit Miranda Oakley.

In the meantime, if you (like me) are waiting for the times to change, there’s always the option of looking in the mirror. We might not all be guilty of bullying, but we’re all guilty of something. I have a feeling the next generation will look upon our obsession with rocks during these years with something between disbelief and mortification. Can you imagine telling your child that you were too busy climbing on public lands to protect them? Too busy sending the gnar to get out the vote? Too busy driving gas-guzzling vans and flying in airplanes to rocks all over the world to boycott or protest oil and gas drilling in the ANWR?

It’s on all of us to do better. As long as the gaze is turned outward, not inward, it’s easy to forget that. That’s what bothers me about all of this; it’s that it feels like we’re all patting ourselves on the back for thoroughly excoriating (dare I say…bullying?) Joe, in the aftermath of his mistakes. But what are we doing to be better ourselves?

I would have been way more impressed if rather than dumping Joe and wiping their hands of him (as if their hands were clean), his sponsors had made a plan to pour time, money, and energy into working with him to actually do something about the issue at hand; if rather than the public muckraking that followed, climbers en masse had used their cumulative energy to drive at the root of the problem.

Not because he deserves it (though I think he does). But because we, as a community, deserve it. We owe it to ourselves.

Now that I’ve spent 1000+ words telling all of you what I wish you would do, lest I be (rightfully) accused of sanctimony, let me turn the lens inward, myself.

Here is a note to self. This is where I’d like to see change in my own behaviors. This is what I’d like to adopt as a personal climbing ethos… A Climbing Manifesto

***
Dear Chris,

Don’t tell me how hard you climb. Tell me how you plan to change the world.

How can you use climbing as a tool to be a better human?

How can you take the minimalism of “fast and light” and apply it to your own consumptive life?

When you travel to climb, how will you make it worth the carbon footprint?

When you write about a place, how can you protect it from exploitation?

What can you do to improve the lives of others less fortunate?

How can you fight to protect the public lands where you recreate?

How can you fight to honor and vindicate the indigenous peoples those public lands were stolen from?

When you buy climbing equipment, don’t buy from anyone that engages in business practices that don’t align with your values. Your money is your mouthpiece. It’s your vote. Don’t shop deals. Shop values. Buy what sells you peace of mind.

When you consume climbing media, don’t consume anything that doesn’t align with your values. Clicks are dollars. Your attention is your pocketbook. If you think it is stupid, counter-productive, infantile, distracting, or simply banal, Do Not Click. Read something by an author that speaks to you. Educate yourself about something important. Sign a petition you care about. Donate to a charity you believe in. Don’t work on a climb. Work on learning to maximize your time.

When you go climbing, do it for pure reasons. Don’t spray. Don’t humble brag. Don’t overshare. Don’t hashtag because you’re starved for attention. Don’t play it cool. Don’t self-aggrandize. Don’t talk about numbers, period. Quit worrying about the size of your gut. Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t be a cynic. Don’t hate. Don’t be someone else. Don’t even measure up against someone else. Just be yourself. Be proud but not prideful. Try hard but don’t cuss. Be brave, not stupid. Be who your mom and dad taught you to be. Don’t be an ambassador of a brand, be an ambassador of humanity. Be respectful of the land.

Don’t stop climbing, just because it’s pointless. Don’t quit trying, just because it doesn’t matter. Everything matters. Cultivate passion. Work on your work ethic. Play because you can. Laugh. Smile. Smile more. Bring the smile home.

Keep your priorities straight.

Slowing down climate change is a necessity. Racial/gender/sexual equality is a necessity. Fighting fascism, corporate greed, xenophobia, oligarchy, fake news, death of ecosystems, and the longterm destruction of the world in favor of short term financial gains is a necessity.

Climbing is not a necessity.

Climbing is a coping mechanism. Climbing is fuel. Climbing is nourishment. Climbing is a tool.

Hone that tool. But don’t forget what it’s for in the first place.

Bring more equity, tolerance, compassion, and respect into the world.

Leave the world a better place.

Chris Kalman is a climber, and author based in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can learn about his new book, or follow his other work, at www.chriskalman.com.

 

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Adventure Travel

Jul 04, 2018

Become the Bear! Tackling Middle Aged Life the Bear Grylls Way.

This story originally featured in a print issue of the Outdoor Journal.

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WRITTEN BY

Jamie East

You can subscribe here.

Bear Grylls is probably one of the most famous adventure celebrities in the world. Aside from all his adventures, Bear also shares his survival skills with anyone ready to pay for it. One such chap was our middle-aged writer Jamie East, who usually preferred watching other people take risks from the safe distance of his television. Until he decided to go out there himself and get dirty.

Well, there’s something liberating about jumping into a freezing, fast-flowing river with all your clothes on. It’s the kind of thing that, as a child, you told yourself you’d do all the time once you were big enough and your parents couldn’t tell you off. Yet staying on the precipice at age 39, all I can think of is, “Is this jumper dry-clean only?”

This is what life does to you. It sucks the adventure from you quicker than a Dyson in a bag of sawdust. Before you know it, you’d rather sleep than live, drive than hike, sink into the sofa than swim.

I suppose this could be classified as bare survival. You exist but don’t live, and I’ve decided enough is enough. What would the 12-year-old Jamie, who got sent home from school for falling down a ravine he thought he could clear in one leap, say to me if he could see the 39-year-old me? “Man up!” probably. “Your clothes are stupid?” most definitely.

Bear Grylls is the man we all aspire to be. Hard as nails on a mountain ledge, soft as grease at home with his kids. The fire in his heart burns brighter than Krypton being destroyed, and he’s harder than a 60-foot working model of optimus Prime made from diamonds. He also embraces the outlook on life we all wish we had time for had those damned IsAs, smart phones and creamy pasta sauces not gotten in the way. Thankfully for those of us with a terminal case of lazy-itis, we can see how the other half live over at the Bear Grylls survival Academy from the bleak Scottish Highlands or the luscious surrey forests in England. Run by Grylls and his team of ex-paratroopers, the survival Academy is an ideal introduction into a world of skills and endurance we think we’ll never need. Be honest; how many of us truly believe that there will come a time when we will be skewering a rat for dinner or navigating a 23,000-acre highland with only the stars to help? But these are skills that used to be second nature to us humans. If there weren’t people like Grylls to show us the way, there are a lot of people around the world who wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale of the time their car broke down in the Australian outback, or when they had to make a snow cave that provided those few vital hours of warmth on a mountaintop. Whether we like it or not, the knowledge could prove life-saving.

A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.
A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.

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The Academy offers several options tailored to your needs. You can opt for a 24-hour experience in Surrey either alone or with a family member older than 10. Although only 10 minutes from the motorway, such is the Surrey countryside that you could be in Montana for all you’d know. The dense forest makes for a real wilderness experience. The deep rivers you’ll be crossing, the rabbits you’ll be gutting, the trees you’ll be stripping to make shelter, and the ravines you’ll be shimmying across really do give you a feeling of being alive. A 20-minute run is considered a “big thing” in my house, so spending days in the real outdoors felt invigorating. I felt alive!

I’m not an all-rounder though. I found some of the requisite skills completely beyond me, navigating by starlight was one. My brain is just not wired to untangle that kind of data.

I used to think I could point out the north star in a heartbeat. Nope. The north star isn’t the brightest one. Nuts.

“The North Star is, in fact, the one perpendicular to blah de blah de blah babble babble wibble waffle.” That’s how that sentence sounded coming from the instructor’s mouth: just a stream of nonsense about ploughs and bears. It doesn’t look like a plough. If it looked like a plough, I’m pretty sure even I could find it. But it doesn’t. It looks like a slightly wavy line of stars that is buried among 200 billion other stars. It makes finding a needle in a haystack look like finding an elephant in an eggcup, so if I’m stuck anywhere in the world (and I mean anywhere: La Rinconanda, the Kerguelen Islands or just past the BP garage near my house) without Google maps or a TomTom, you may as well kiss this writer’s sorry ass goodbye, because I’ll wither away in a puddle of my own dehydrated tears.

Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.
Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.

But there are things that must have been festering in my subconscious all these years, like a coiled snake ready to unleash, on an unsuspecting world. For instance, I could light a fire that is neither at the end of a cigarette nor underneath a pile of half-frozen burgers. I mean a real fire created by nothing but flint and dried bark. It’s a panic-inducing task, and I’m not ashamed to say it took me nearly 40 minutes. As my instructor, Scott, told me, it’s all in the timing. Put on too much too soon and you’re buggered. Too little too late and, yup, you’re buggered.

Instructions for making a fire without matches or anything a sane human would have within arm’s reach
You need the slightest feathers of bark piled up like Candyfoss. You need your spark. Mine was from the flint on my Rambo knife. The very second that spark takes hold of one of your bark feathers, blow very gently. If all goes well, that will turn into a largish smoldering lump of smoke. If it doesn’t, go back to the beginning. You now need to start throwing on more feathers of bark, a fraction larger than the one before, before moving onto dried-out twigs no thicker than a hair on a baby’s ear. Eight hours later, you have a fire that could singe your eyebrows from 183 m. Well done!
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse - a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse – a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.

So, if ever I do go missing near the BP garage by my house, just look for the massive fire right next to the petrol station. Well, I may need to think that through a bit more.

The Scottish Highlands course that is offered is similar to this, apart from a few key points. It goes on for five days and takes place in one of the most remote places in Britain. It’ll probably pour down with ice-cold rain for the entire trip, and you’ll have to eat rat and cross a river in your underpants. Apart from that, exactly the same.

Spending time with this team baked common sense into my brain. The lessons easily transform into mundane, everyday life. The buzz phrase of the trip is “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” out in the highlands, this means, “If you don’t prepare well, you will likely starve and die.” At home, this translates to, “Use a tape measure, or your shelf won’t be even.” The sentiment is still the same. Don’t judge me.

You should know what you’re getting into, of course. This is a Bear Grylls branded experience, after all (and all the equipment says as much). You won’t be expected to drink your own body fluids, squeeze drops of moisture out of elephant dung, or decapitate a rattlesnake with the sole of your boot, but you will feel as though you could if you were the last man on Earth. I did eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river, set traps and eat rabbit I skinned with my own bare hands. And do you know what?

I’ve never felt more alive or more connected with the world I selfishly pillage on a daily basis. I’m not alone, either.

People the world over have sought out the Grylls way of life. Upon his return to the US, my fellow survivor Caleb said “my hands are shredded, my nose is stuffed, my throat is raspy and my body is tanked, but I am alive now more than ever. It was everything I hoped for: an empowering learning experience.

Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.
Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. After the aching had subsided, and the clothes were washed, the niggling feeling that I was approximately 3 percent more of a man than I was before I began, just wouldn’t leave me. It still hasn’t.

I didn’t imagine that sleeping rough, eating worms and swimming in rivers could possibly have this much of an effect on my psyche, but it really has. I’m not saying I could rescue someone hanging off a cliff, or survive in the jungle for more than a couple of hours. But if you get the chance, breathe in the air, sharpen that stick and venture out into the big, wide world. Just remember to take a compass with you. I swear those stars are out to get you.

Photos by Discovery Channel, Jamie East & The Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

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