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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville


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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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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 19, 2018

Outdoor Moms: Hilaree Nelson – Mother of Two, Mountaineering Hero to All

2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, ski descent of the Lhotse Couloir, ski descent of Papsura, first woman to summit two 8,000m peaks in 24 hours… mother of two.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

‘Outdoor Moms’ is a new series, profiling mothers pursuing their sport, all while taking care of family. You can read the first article on world-famous kayaker, Emily Lussin, here.

“You know just when you have that skin crawl on the back of your neck. Like, we are not in a good place. We need to move.”

One week ago, Hilaree Nelson was in Nepal completing one of the biggest expeditions of her 20 year ski mountaineering career. Today, she is sitting at home in Telluride, Colorado, just having finished the hectic morning routine of packing lunches and getting her two kids to school on time.

She is telling me the story of when her crew got stuck in a storm between Camp 1 and Camp 2. Instead of pushing on through the whiteout, they decided to set up an interim camp and wait it out. “We were all huddled in this little single-wall, three-person tent. It was storming out pretty good and we started hearing avalanches coming down… One avalanche was a little too loud and a little too close, so we left the tent standing and we got out and started trying to navigate in the whiteout.” Once the weather cleared, the team safely made their way to Camp 2. Two days later, Nelson and her climbing partner, Jim Morrison, returned to the interim camp to gather the gear they had left behind. What they found was the remains of a massive avalanche that had ripped across the camp, scattering gear everywhere and throwing it into crevasses. “It was a little crazy. We were kinda like, ‘oh wow I am really glad we didn’t stay there’.”

Photo by Nick Kalisz Courtesy of The North Face

Less than two weeks later, Nelson and Morrison found themselves atop the summit of Mt. Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. Four hours after that, they both arrived back at Camp 2, having just completed the first ever ski descent of the Lhotse Couloir.

Skiing a 50 degree slope for 7,000 feet would be an impossible task for some of the most dedicated skiers out there. Add in the fact that they did it at 8,000 meters elevation after spending the previous 14 hours on a summit push, and the feat becomes unimaginable.

Read about Hilaree’s Lhotse Expedition here.

Photo by Nick Kalisz Courtesy of The North Face

For Nelson, who has previously skied both Cho Oyu in Tibet and Papsura in India, this achievement is one of the highlights of her career.
But her career as a ski mountaineer is only half of her life.

Nelson’s two sons, Graydon and Quinn, are the other half.

Summit of Wilson Peak, Telluride, CO. Graydon and Quinn’s second 14’er.

“I got home (from Nepal) Sunday night, and Monday morning I was freaking out making kids’ lunches and trying to get the kids to school on time”

“I have two boys. They are 9 and 11. Graydon is the younger one and Quinn is the older one. They are crazy little boys… They are really into skiing, they are both alpine racing, they are currently in mountain biking camp after school, they go to climbing club after school, and they are really obsessed with lacrosse. And they both really like math too!” Between expeditions, working as The North Face team captain, and being a mother of two, it is a wonder Hilaree is able to juggle it all. And from what it sounds like, both her kids are on a path towards being just as busy as she is!

Instead of letting the busy schedules stress her out, Nelson embraces it.
“I got home (from Nepal) Sunday night, and Monday morning I was freaking out making kids’ lunches and trying to get the kids to school on time. It just doesn’t miss a beat… It’s fun to be a mother.”

As Nelson talks about motherhood, her face lights up with pride. “I like how unpredictable it is. I’ve always been a bit terrified of every day being the same, and kids are a sure-fire way to make every day different and an unknown adventure.” Nelson describes the unpredictability of her children as one of her favorite parts of being a mom. As she recounts the chaos of motherhood, I can’t help but think how this mirrors the other half of life. Weather forecasts, snowpack predictions, snowpack stability, and even personal mental and physical strength are all factors that can be unpredictable during a ski mountaineering expedition, much like children can be unpredictable during motherhood.

Nelson climbs Skyline Arete with younger son, Graydon.

“It is not that I put being a mother away, but I do have to compartmentalize it a little bit”

Taking on two very different roles as both mother and mountain athlete requires a unique mindset that Nelson has adapted over the past 11 years. “The emotional roller coaster I ride is sometimes very difficult on my kids. I am so stressed to leave them before I go on a trip, and then I turn into that climber person. It is not that I put being a mother away, but I do have to compartmentalize it a little bit so I can focus on what I am climbing. Then when I come home, it is really hard to switch back into mother. You know, I am full mother when I am home. I am in the classroom, I am picking them up from sports, I am taking them to ski races, cooking them dinner, making them lunch. I am just mom, like what moms do. It is almost like I am two different people living in one body.”

Nelson’s somewhat double identity life is what defines her. But it didn’t come easy. She describes her comeback from childbirth as the single most difficult challenge she has had to overcome. “Getting back to being an athlete after having babies was about the hardest thing I have ever done. In fact, it was so difficult that it almost makes climbing and expeditions look easy.” Her first son was born via a relatively “easy” c-section. Her second… not so easy. Hours of surgery for both mother and son, combined with blood loss and blood poisoning resulted in Nelson taking an entire year off from athletics.

By the time she returned to training and to the mountains, her mental strength had taken a huge hit. “I pushed hard to get back in it, but it was really difficult. It was really challenging on my confidence.”

All challenges aside, getting back into it was worth it. Having just completed one of the most iconic ski descents in history, Nelson was eager to show her boys some media from the Lhotse expedition. Nelson’s recount of their response made me giggle. “They looked at some video stuff of it yesterday and some photos… I mean, they are hard to impress, my kids.” With notable ski descents around the world, as well as being the first woman to climb two 8,000 meter peaks in 24 hours (Everest and Lhotse), and being named a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, I am actually not surprised her sons are so hard to impress. She has set the bar pretty high!

Nelson says the boys are finally at an age where they are starting to become aware of what her career means. One of the most challenging aspects of it – long stretches away from home. Recently having gone through a difficult divorce, the challenge of leaving her kids for long periods of time becomes even more apparent. When she is in Nepal, the kids stay with their father. With the recent addition of 3G internet access to Everest Base Camp, it has been easier for her to stay in touch with her kids. However, a month is still a month, and time spent away isn’t easy. Nelson says she used to feel guilt when she left her kids, but now she has learned to view her career as a positive influence in their lives. “It has taken a long time for me to realize that having my job and being a mother has been beneficial to my kids for them to see me be a person, individually, and trust in that. It was a struggle for me for a long time that I was hurting my kids by continuing my profession. But I see now their joy and their support for what I do, and we can have rational conversations about it. I see that they are proud of me. I see that they appreciate what I do, and see me as a person. So I think it has all been worth it, but it wasn’t without a lot of tears and a lot of difficult times.”

“I don’t think they fully appreciate the dangers of it, but I also think they understand that it is dangerous”

Another challenge of her career – the danger. Ski mountaineering is one of the most risky sports any mountain athlete can partake in. At ages 9 and 11, Nelson’s kids are just beginning to understand the danger associated with it. “Skiing and mountain climbing to them, it has always just been a part of their lives as long as they can remember. I don’t think they fully appreciate the dangers of it, but I also think they understand that it is dangerous. I don’t know if they are okay with it, but it’s just what I do, and they love what I do.”

The first time Graydon and Quinn skied in the rain. “Being from Washington State, I grew up skiing in the rain and it was fun to see my kids reaction to the adverse weather. Of course, they thought we were crazy…”

“Then they want to come to the Himalayas.”

Danger and challenges aside, Graydon and Quinn look up to their mom with the utmost admiration. The boys support her career, and are proud of her accomplishments. Between their mom’s career, as well as their own personal experiences, the boys have started viewing mountain sports less as hobbies, and instead, a way of life. “Both my boys consider skiing not even a sport for them. They learned it as soon as they learned how to walk. It’s just a way of life. It’s how they play.” Nelson says she isn’t going to push the boys into climbing and mountaineering. However, despite her lack of effort, both boys have already made a list of the mountains they hope to summit. “First they are going to climb Mt. Baker, and then Rainier, and then they want to climb Denali. Then they want to come to the Himalayas.”

Both boys have already been to Makalu base camp, as well as summited several 14,000ft peaks in Colorado. When they were ages four and six, they made it most of the way up Kilimanjaro, but in Nelson’s words, they were “a little bit little” to make it to the top.

Family time on Telluride Via Ferrata.

As much as the boys idolize her, Nelson is reminded every day that they are still kids. They go to school, they play tag at recess, they wrestle, fight, cry, laugh, and most of the time are completely unconcerned with Nelson’s career as a world-renowned ski mountaineer.

“The best thing in the world is going on these expeditions that mean so much to me, but then coming home and having kids that in some ways are oblivious to what I do and are just kids… It’s awesome. It’s just a great thing to have in my life.”

Photo by Nick Kalisz Courtesy of The North Face

Cover Photo by Nick Kalisz Courtesy of The North Face

 

Read about Hilaree Nelson’s ascent and ski descent of Papsura, The Peak of Evil here.

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