Thursday, July 24, 2014

Climbers...the taming of the shrewd

John Redhead makes a statement bouldering in Nant Gwynant. N Wales:JR Collection

My old friend Harold Drasdo once told me an interesting story. He was in a climbing hut with a certain well known climber where the conversation had veered onto dangerous ground. That is, the gathered throng were excitedly engaged in a passionate debate about....well... I can’t remember actually whether it was politics, the arts or some current cultural hot topic? Whatever it was, they weren’t talking about climbing. After several minutes of banter our celebrated climber learns forward and bangs the table. Declaring...'enough of this...let’s get back to talking about climbing!’

As someone who is engaged passionately with climbing and the whole culture surrounding mountain activities, I’m only too happy to communicate with fellow climbers on the subject. However, like many in the field, I’m also very interested in a whole range of subjects, from the arts to politics. To be honest, as I write I’m more concerned about the 700 + Palestinians who have been murdered by the Israeli state in Gaza than I am about Joe Bloggs establishing some V9 boulder problem in the Peak. In my experience, it’s true to say that the most interesting climbers I have met have been those for whom climbing is but one element within a rainbow of interests. Poets, artists, writers, philosophers, environmentalists, political activists etc. By the same token, the most boring and one dimensional climbers I have come across are those like our aforementioned anonymous friend for whom climbing is all the be all and end all of what on the surface at least,appears to be a pretty limited perspective on what really matters in life.

The social network is full of ‘names’ in the climbing world whose tweets or status updates are inevitably concerned with some banal aspect of their training regime or latest project...’managed an extra circuit of the wall tonight #feelingstrong’ ...’working until late on ‘the move’ which should unlock the project; #inthebag’. To make matters worse, there is always an audience of sycophantic hangers on who offer ‘ Nice one Dude’.... ‘Brill stuff Big Man..buzzing for you’...... Stop it !!!

It appears that as the UK, Europe and the US has become more self centred and conservative in the post Thatcher/Reagan era, In this regard, the superficiality of ' the me generation' is reflected in the outdoor media. Certainly, the old school of left wing, socially aware climbing writers who had an outlet in the magazines of the 70’s and 80’s are now a fading memory. Today, the climbing/mountaineering media is generally mindless pap aimed at satisfying advertisers and it’s apolitical readership.

Ed Drummond who was something of a genuine climbing renaissance man once commented on this constituency and observed their ‘juvenile obsession with big numbers’. Dearest Ed is now approaching the end and when he’s gone then that will be another nail in the coffin of the old school of politically aware climbing activists who saw the world outside the narrow paradigm which defines climbing culture in the 21st century.

As traditional climbing declines in the face of the irresistible rise and rise of sports climbing, bouldering, road and mountain biking and other activities which offer more of an instant fix than trad climbing can deliver. So we also see the decline in the number of outspoken climbing writers who are unafraid to lend their voice to progressive causes. Ironic that as the world becomes more fractured and threatened with environmental, political and religious crimes, the outdoor world continues to retreat into it’s safe little glossy bubble. A world of fashion, gadgets, travel tips and who is the latest cock of the walk. Held together by the most sterile and soul less photographic imagery you could ever imagine. The mags have become catalogues for flicking through. Devoid of substance but high on advertorials.

As Edward Abbey wrote...'It is not the writer's task to answer questions but to question answers. To be impertinent, insolent and if necessary..subversive.'

Any climbing subversives still out there?

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