CLIMBTALK radio show on KVCU 1190 AM
guests: Peter Beal & Jamie Emerson
edited and transcribed by Dave McAllister
Michael Francis Brooks:
It’s almost 9:00 [pm] here in Boulder, Colorado, and you are
listening to ClimbTalk on Radio 1190. My name is Michael Francis Brooks.
Dave McAllister from pumpfactoryroad.com
is the co-host, as usual. Dave, what’s happening?
Dave McAllister: Hey, Mike, how’s it going?
MB: Good. So, you’re just back from your vacation…again.
Where’d you go, what can you tell us about it, what did you
DM: Well…I didn’t really send anything
of import, but I was in Bishop for three weeks. Tenth trip there.
I got my cast off my leg two days before I left. So, I was climbing
on a little spindly, toothpick of a leg the whole time. But it was
good. It’s tough coming back from that. As a matter of fact,
I was just bouldering in Castlewood [Canyon] on Sunday and I haven’t
climbed since because I tried to heel hook and blew my hamstring to
smithereens, because I haven’t used it at all. I’m writing
this year off to injury.
MB: Okay. So, we have climbers Peter Beal and Jamie
Emerson here in the Radio 1190 studio. Gentlemen, thank you for joining
us on ClimbTalk.
Peter Beal: Hey, Mike.
Jamie Emerson: Thank you for having us.
DM: So, what have you guys been up to? Jamie, you’re
in school now. Peter’s in school, too, in a different fashion
[Peter is a college art history and humanities professor]. But, you
are in classes.
JE: I’m just taking classes, studying mathematics
right now. It’s really exciting. It’s awesome to have
something that opposes my climbing in a very dramatic way. I really
appreciate that. It makes climbing seem more interesting, because
I throw myself into something really mentally challenging and then
I switch…climbing’s still mentally challenging, but in
a very different way. It’s something I haven’t experienced
in a long time.
DM: Has anybody given you crap because people call
you “The Sherriff” and you talk about grades all the time
and that you’re only taking mathematics to crunch the numbers
better? Or am I the first?
JE: You’re the first. [laughter]
DM: How’s school and climbing going? You finding
JE: I do not climb as much as I used to. I find myself
climbing in the gym a lot more, which has its ups and downs. I’ve
met a lot more interesting people. Normally I’d be out there
with two or three friends in Wyoming, like we’ve talked about
before, developing boulders or doing something like that. Now I find
myself in the gym talking to all kinds of people who I didn’t
associate with before. Not because I didn’t like them but just
because I was doing something different.
It’s nice to explore the gym as a “climbing area.”
As a culture. That’s something that I’ve kind of embraced.
That’s always been my mode of operation; whatever I’m
doing I’m going to embrace it and go after it. So, I’ve
been climbing in the gym and I’ve been sport climbing a lot.
And I’m going to sport climb this summer.
JE: Dirty word, I know.
MB: You mentioned Lander earlier before we got into
the studio. Are you going to be sport climbing there or bouldering?
JE: I’m going to be doing both. There’re
some great sport routes in Lander and I’ve tried a few of them
and I want to do all the ones I’ve tried. It’s important
in my own climbing to experience as many different kinds of rock and
as many different styles as possible. Lander is a really unique style
and I like it. The town is awesome; it’s really pretty. I’m
really excited to go there. I’m really excited to go to Utah
and see some of the new things out there. I’m excited to go
to Rifle, which I haven’t been to. The Monastery is incredible.
That’s a place I am shocked that doesn’t get more attention.
The routes are stunning; they’re beautiful.
MB: Can I change the subject so early in the game,
here? We had ClimbTalk
the Road Show at the Boulder Outlook Hotel about a week ago. We
had Dave Graham and Chad Greedy [on] and one of the points that Dave
made was talking about chipping. He said chipping is acceptable in
Rifle but nowhere else on the Front Range. Anyone want to voice an
opinion on that?
PB: He’s not really right about Rifle, although
it depends on how you define “chipping.” But it’s
definitely not acceptable anywhere else. I have to say, I haven’t
seen or heard of a deliberately chipped route or boulder problem,
that I know of, anywhere on the Front Range. It’s definitely
not cool. There are debates as to what constitutes chipping, so that’s
a separate topic.
DM: Yeah, that was the object of [Graham’s]
topic, I think: What constitutes chipping, what is cleaning, and what
JE: This is interesting that we’re bringing
this up because I had a discussion with some friends the other day
and we were talking about how generally, if the rock was so poor that
you would have to glue it or chip it – like they justify in
Rifle – that boulderers wouldn’t climb on it. They would
be like, “This is choss. We don’t want to climb on this.”
But, for whatever reason, because there’s rock and because,
“Oh, if I glue a hold on or I chip a hold here or there, we
can climb this 80 foot section of rock,” and it becomes a sport
climbing area and its fine and that becomes acceptable. I think it’s
interesting how people do turn the other cheek. It’s okay, it’s
accepted in Rifle, that people can chip routes. Dave has given me
a hard time about not calling people out for chipping routes in Rifle.
MB: And how did you defend yourself on that concept
of not calling people out for chipping?
JE: I’ve never even been to Rifle. I don’t
know if it’s appropriate [laughter and everyone talking drowns
out the end of his sentence].
PB: I have a little more experience in Rifle than
Jamie does. The classic instance in Rifle is a long endurance route
that sits in this .13d/.14a range called Living in Fear. That was
probably the first and most notorious example in Rifle where pretty
much every hold or every other hold…a substantial amount of
the route was enhanced, basically. There were a lot of these little
corner insets, sloping edges so that whoever it was – I can’t
remember if it was Scott Frye, I know that he actually did the route
– worked with the features.
Another notorious example is John Dunne, with his (I think) Bride
of Frankenstein. That was pretty much wholly manufactured out of choss.
It’s just a really steep cave. It’s one of those popular,
sort of soft .13d’s; some people call it .13c. Those are probably
the two most egregious ones that I can think of there.
A lot of the other stuff is either reinforced or pretty much let alone.
A great example is Zulu. There’s a big jug you jump to that’s
basically remodeled or reconstructed with a bunch of sika or epoxy
or whatever. Rifle is such a choss pile in spots that it’s really
hard to figure out sometimes what is “original” once you
clean out all the loose rock and the spider webs and the stuff that’s
JE: You know, my argument is that it would always
be better if it wasn’t chipped or glued. We’ve talked
about these fine lines about what constitutes cleaning, what constitutes
acceptable practice on rock, but I will always stand by the argument
that it’s better if it’s not. If you left it alone and
didn’t climb it – didn’t chip it and didn’t
glue it – I think that might be better.
PB: I would definitely concur. Of course, Rifle has
a funny thing. For instance, in the Arsenal, having entire sections
of the cliff fall down. So, again, it’s a very fluid and dynamic
surface that people will glue… I remember this on The Seven
P.M. Show, grabbing a block that was kind of quasi-glued around the
perimeter of it. I’ve still never really gotten used to pulling
on the thing because I just imagine it coming off in my lap. The stories
just go on and on of random blocks falling off trade routes. It’s
that kind of a place.
JE: People often use the argument, and conversely,
that, “Well, if I glue a hold on, there’s an 80 foot roof
to climb and everyone has fun on it.” But if you take that argument
farther I think you come to, “Then why don’t we just bolt
holds on, because it’s fun.” Why don’t we just bolt
a slide on or something and you can slide down. That would be fun,
I think there needs to be some kind of ethic…that’s why
we need to have some kind of rule or ethic about what constitutes
proper cleaning and all that kind of stuff. I’ve never been
to Rifle. I’d like to go and experience as much of it as I could.
That’d be awesome. And then I’d have a more informed opinion.
MB: Who should decide and where should these ethics
JE: I think if you have a very sound argument, then
it doesn’t matter who decides, because the argument would be
hard to argue against. It’s not one person with a gigantic ego
who says, “I was here first and this is the ethic that I determined.”
The argument is so flawless that it supersedes everything and you
can always defer to the argument.
PB: Except when you don’t. You read the piece
by Bill Ramsey justifying chipping?
JE: I did.
PB: I think that his argument was kind of forced
and weak but it did actually point out some pragmatic aspects of rock
climbing, where alteration of the rock is tolerated for reasons like
there might be a huge, loose block on it, which all of a sudden reveals
a massive hold. Or, alternately, the block forms a massive hold that
the first ascensionist doesn’t want, which was the case with
Scarface at Smith Rocks. And the list goes on and on. So, there’re
a lot of grey areas. I think, on the whole, Jamie’s absolutely
right, that you are always better off leaving it alone. If you find
yourself compelled, I guess, to make those kinds of alterations, you’re
probably doing the wrong thing in the wrong place.
DM: Since we’re talking of chipping, we [Jamie]
sat here in this studio and talked about that for forty minutes. It
was really interesting…the 14th time. Let’s move past
it and talk about something else that you wrote on your blog. You
wrote about private property, bouldering and climbing on private property…
MB: What was your motivation for that piece, Jamie?
JE: My motivation was that we were driving to a new
climbing area in the vicinity of the Ripper Traverse, which is really
private property. We drove by it to look at it. It’s down in
Pueblo, a John Gill classic problem. I think it was on the cover of
Climbing Magazine, a photo of John
Long. It was one of the first bouldering photos that was published
and kind of became one of those iconic photos. It was iconic for me,
looking at bouldering and thinking this is something I don’t
understand, but it embodied some vision of climbing that I appreciated.
The climb, in that sense, became important to me.
What if we went and did it? We drove by and didn’t climb it…but
what if we went and did it and posted about it? There’s a video
of Fred Nicole climbing on it, online. Is it okay? Is it okay if no
one gets hurt? All the questions that we talked about – all
the questions that I brought up in my post – what are the ramifications
for climbers and the acts that come about and our perception to the
public, how does that play out? If we just sneak on and do it, is
it really that big of a deal or not? I don’t know.
I’m in a different position, too, I think, because people are
looking for something to get me. They want to come at me. So, if I
did something like that they’d jump all over me and, “You
hypocrite!” But if I was no one, in terms of the public realm,
then I could just sneak on and it’d be fine.
DM: Am I a simpleton when I say that this issue is
so cut and dry that it’s just ridiculous? You just don’t
trespass without talking to the landowner first. Can’t you just
boil it down to that?
PB: It’s actually a much, much more compelling
issue than just, say, the Ripper Traverse, way off down in Pueblo.
There are a lot of major bouldering areas in the northeast that are
on private property and the negotiations between land owners in places
like that are really complicated, and these are central areas. It
would be sort of like having Flagstaff or Horsetooth being owned essentially
by a single place. In fact, I was working with the Access Fund on
some discussions about the boulders in the west side of Eldorado Canyon,
exactly where things fit, property lines there. So, it’s closer
to home than you might think, but it’s not as cut and dry as
you might think.
JE: Right. And I just argued we should have cut and
dry rules about chipping. And I agree; there should be cut and dry
rules about private property. But, if you look at a place like Horse
Pens 40, it’s on private property. The guy allows it. There’s
also the issue of, if you have private property and you ask…
Let’s say you and I go down to try the Ripper Traverse and we
ask the land owner and the land owner says, “Yeah, it’s
fine.” And then I even write about it on the internet or go
to the gym and say, “Hey, we went and did this cool traverse.
It’s historic; we went there and asked the land owner.”
Then it brings into the collective conscious that people are going
and climbing on private property. Then someone’s like, “Well,
I don’t want to bother with the land owner.”
DM: By the way, Peter, I fully understand the nuances
of large areas. I’m kind of talking about more: you drive out
to Sedalia, you see a group of boulders on a hillside a mile away
from a house. That’s a little bit more of what I’m talking
[Jamie], you were almost justifying someone saying “I don’t
want to bother with [the landowner].” Yeah, but…it’s
just wrong. You have to bother with it. I think it’s so, so
cut and dry when we’re talking about these little issues.
PB: I think you got to be on a scale there. One of
the interesting things that other, more civilized countries than the
United States, there’s what’s known as “the right
to roam,” which is really popular in Scandinavia and in parts
of the U.K., in fact most of the U.K., where you’re allowed
essentially to traverse somebody’s land as long as you’re
staying away from their – I forget what the specific numbers
are – but away from their main place of habitation, you don’t
put up any permanent structures, make any type of permanent alterations.
I think you’re actually even allowed one night’s stay
on that land. It’s a very different culture. We’re coming
from the United States culture, where you have this right, essentially,
to run people off with a shotgun and that kind of thing. I agree with
you. Technically – legally, anyway – the private property
thing is significant. And I say in my book you should always check
around and make sure before you move in. Like you said, you see boulders
and you see a house. There’s not necessarily a connection between
that house but it’s probably good to do the right thing on that
The other thing that Jamie seemed to be pointing to, if you’re
that property owner…and the classic example would be the Kingpin
boulder in Poudre Canyon. So, let’s just say you did give permission
to one group and then the next weekend another group shows up. And
then another group shows up. And then they are partying and they’re
making a big racket and it’s just turning into a big, fat pain.
JE: That is basically what happened. Kingpin, people
asked to climb on that problem and the landowner said, “Yeah,
it’s fine, I don’t mind.” Then a few people go and
it’s fine. Then Chris Sharma shows up and then it becomes Kingpin
that was put up by Chris Sharma and then everyone wants to go do it.
All of sudden there are people driving up his driveway and it turns
into a total mess. I don’t think it’s been clearly defined
whether or not he even owns the boulder. The property line’s
really close. But, it just turns into chaos. It might have been better
had no one – it’s hard to say “better” –
but it might have been less of an issue had no one asked.
DM: The waters are getting muddy now…
JE: Yes…[the flashing light of a studio telephone
call makes us all lose our concentration]
DM: Pick ‘er up, man! [to Mike]
PB: Jamie’s done it now…
MB: Hello, Radio 1190. [Mike whispering ever so softly,
which cracks the whole studio up]
DM: The svelte baritone of Mike Brooks…
JE: To continue on this Kingpin topic, it’s
a good example because people did ask and it really opened the flood
gates for more people to go and we know the result. The boulder got
destroyed by the landowner and it ruined the whole thing. We can speculate
as to what might have happened had no one said anything. It’s
possible that nothing could have happened and people could still sneak
over and climb on it and the boulder would still be there. I would
prefer that the boulder would be there as opposed to being destroyed.
I would prefer the boulder to be there but I don’t know that
I would prefer that people were trespassing, so that’s a really,
really sticky issue.
DM: I remember when the boulder did get closed down,
Daniel Woods did sneak in and he sent it. But…then there was
a blog post about it.
PB: That’s not cool.
JE: That changes things.
PB: Yeah, it really does.
JE: It makes what happens in one small moment, in
one person’s life, public to everyone. That didn’t happen
ten years ago, at all, ever.
DM: I’m gonna write a blog post about that…
JE: You should.
PB: Emergency blog post. [laughter]
JE: I see a big list of questions there. What else
you got, McAllister?
DM: Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks
DM: Recently, Peter has…engendered…some
feedback across the climbing spectrum for, I’d say, three blog
posts in a row; the fourth was called, “Is There Hope After
All.” The first was “Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There an Alternative?”
The second was, “Sell, Sell, Sell: A Response to the Responses.”
The third was, “Ends and Means.” This can be found on
and I think it really behooves you to check it out, and Rock and Ice’s
retorts, as well. So, “Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There an Alternative?”,
I’m sure a lot of people listening have not read it. Those people
in the caves who don’t know anything about the climbing world!
Tell us both about the genesis of the blog post and the content.
PB: Well, I started off this year with a post that
basically [talked about] the value of dissent. I think there is, in
the climbing community – somewhat, I think it’s admirable
in some ways – a kind of repetitive, positive, kind of “we’re
all in this together, we’re all doing the same thing, we’re
all supporting each other.” I’m just here to suggest that
there are going to be some things on which we probably should have
a serious discussion. It’s a little bit like what Jamie’s
trying to do when he puts these things out there, like how do we treat
boulder problems on private property or what’s the deal with
women, for instance, not, in a sense, fully participating…
DM: We’re going to talk about that later.
PB: Yeah, exactly. That kind of thing. I’m
trying to reach a little bit out beyond the immediate circle or issues
of bouldering and think in bigger terms about the ways in which the
sport affects people from a social and political and economic standpoint.
News is no longer interesting, except for sort of being read in that
frame of mind or viewed through that lens.
Basically, things started off in earnest with the “Sell, Sell,
Sell” thing when I was reading way too many posts about people
sending things in Spain and going on endless road trips and all this
type of stuff. It’s clearly pitched for creating some kind of
image that was going to be more attractive to sponsors, more than
anything else. And so I said, “What’s up with this?”
Actually, [my] most popular post was the one about the CitiBank ad,
where people were falling over themselves in praise of it. I was like,
“This is the most transparent effort to pitch climbing as something
that had some kind of transcendent value,” that was being launched
by one of the most notorious players in the recent bank failure.
Anyways, I started thinking a little bit about that and decided to
write this because I was getting a little tired of climbing culture
constantly being pitched in a commercial direction. There should be
an alternative to that. What happened pretty quickly is that I got
something like 50+ comments, which for me is pretty rare. And then
Rock and Ice jumped all over it. In the end I never really saw anything
that conclusively said, “No, no no…you’re wrong.”
I heard a lot of stuff, like this has always been happening or it’s
not as bad as you think or whatever. When I heard from actual editors
in the industry, that was a different story. I can’t share those
conversations, but let’s just say there’s definitely some
concern about these kinds of issues. When I saw the Rock and Ice responses
I replied to those and it went on and on and Duane Raleigh and I had
a little bit of an exchange about this kind of thing – not in
a caustic or critical way, but “Oh, this is interesting…”
I know a fair number of these people anyway; I was actually pretty
psyched about that and the response that it got. I got a fair amount
of hate mail, too, but that comes with the territory. [laughter]
DM: You gotta have thick skin if you’re going
to write this stuff.
PB: Exactly. The people who were like, “This
is capitalism, we live in a capitalist country, and we’re here
to sell,” I still didn’t find those arguments very convincing
in the end. I never saw a conclusive, “Here’s what you
JE: Do you have a problem, Peter, with someone like
Joe Kinder, who makes a living climbing and works hard?
DM: And producing content for sponsors.
JE: Right. Do you have a problem with that?
PB: I wouldn’t say I have a problem with it,
but it seems to me there are going to be more and more people looking
at Joe as, “That’s what I have to be to be a climber.
I have to put myself out there. I have to have a very public persona
and I have to put myself in the public eye and not take it away in
order to make it as a climber.”
JE: And that stands in stark contrast to someone
Bachar or John Gill who were out there…
PB: Well, John Bachar was actually one of the first
to actually publicize himself in the public eye. John Gill, definitely.
JE: But they weren’t making a living…
PB: No, no, no. They weren’t able to, that’s
for sure. John Bachar much more so. John Gill was a math professor,
so he didn’t have to worry about it.
To a certain extent, that’s the rule of the game. That’s
how the industry, in a sense, is pitching itself; you need that kind
of public profile. I’m just not convinced that in the end that’s
the right approach for everybody. When you have a bunch of up-and-coming
climbers who want to get themselves in the public eye and everybody’s
trying to do that…
This is my bottom line, sort of like the chipping thing, but more
important in my view. It starts affecting the environment. It starts
affecting the way that the bouldering or climbing areas are treated.
It starts showing up in the attitudes that people have toward a climbing
area as kind of an arena for display, for scoring points, for making
impact as a kind of personality rather than respecting the environment
that they’re operating in. I think that is something we should
have a discussion about.
MB: You don’t think that’s inevitable?
PB: No, I don’t think it’s inevitable.
I think it’s a deliberate choice. It’s a choice that you
make when you say that climbing is commodified or commodifiable. In
other words, you translate a rock, which is a unique – and to
my mind – amazing product of heaven-knows-what infinitely complex
forces, and you transform it into something, to take any number of
problems in Hueco Tanks, with a vulgar name and a V grade attached
to it. And people will go onto 8a.nu or a video… I mean, how
many videos have you guys seen of all of the standard V11/V12/V13
problems at Hueco Tanks?
DM: How many have you seen, Mike?
PB: [to MB] Yeah, you probably don’t watch
these things… [laughter and some random making fun of Mike,
which to his great credit he shrugs off] You know, Hueco Tanks is
not just like a basketball court. I think it’s starting to look
a little bit more like that to the public.
JE: Do you think that this is a generational thing
or do you think someone of an older generation would look at the way
you did things and think, “Oh man, he’s putting bolts
on the Primo Wall! It’s horrible. He’s degrading. He’s
not respecting the environment,” and you’re just seeing
the same thing happen again? Or, do you think this is something different?
PB: Well, I think there’s a quantitative difference
in terms of these – we’ll just loosely call them –
media productions. There’s a quantitative difference. It’s
gotten to the point where it’s a qualitative difference. There’s
just a critical mass of video after video after video.
Take the example of Primo Wall. Nobody paid the faintest bit of attention
to the climbs that I did there until Joe Kinder came along and repeated
Shine. Now we not only have the first ascent, we have the first famous
ascent. And with the first famous ascent then people actually start
climbing on the thing. To me that’s actually pretty significant.
In other words, it takes a kind of media stamp of approval to make
a route important. And then with that, just like you said with Kingpin,
Chris Sharma does it and all of a sudden the vultures come down and
pluck the last aura out of the route.
DM: I feel like that’s always been the way.
Like, John Gill’s standards…The Thimble was not famous
PB: It was famous but nobody would get on it. And
it didn’t have video.
DM: Yeah, of course.
PB: It’s very, very different.
MB: I got on The Thimble. I thought it was kinda
[Silence…and then…”WHOA-KAY!” and rabble-rabble-rabble
and laughter from everyone in the studio]
PB: I’ve heard that. But, the main thing is
that The Thimble is not a very commodifiable experience compared to
a problem, say, in Rocky Mountain National Park or Hueco Tanks where
you can get a group of seven or eight people and eight or nine pads
and all of a sudden you’ve got something going on. Whereas The
Thimble…it’s going to take a lot more than the crowd to
keep you going on that one, at some point.
I don’t think it’s the same-old, same-old. I think that
anybody who says it is – like I said in Rock and Ice’s
response – I think that’s being disingenuous.
DM: Duane Raleigh, the [Publisher/Editor-in-Chief]
of Rock and Ice, kind of took a “Chicken Little” stance.
“The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” The sport is
crumbling apart at its roots. We’re losing our heart. It’s
becoming commodified. And he disagreed with [that], of course.
PB: Right, exactly. I didn’t find his response
convincing and the reason why is that there’s a great deal of
interest on the part of climbing media…
People have accused me of somehow generating hits, like I like the
controversy. And it’s true, I like arguing, but I don’t
make a dime, basically, off that website. I don’t have any advertising
that I get any money from. I tend not to take free gear from anybody
or anything like that, especially at this point. It’s totally
non-commercial. So, I didn’t find the response convincing. I
could not hear a single, clear, like, “Everything’s okay.”
DM: He made one point, “Climbing doesn’t
have a soul. People do.” I thought that was a nice line.
PB: It didn’t make any sense to me at all.
DM: To me it makes perfect sense.
PB: It’s like Jeff Jackson, and I thought that
he worded it very beautifully; he talked about the transcendent experience
of climbing. You know, you’re out there alone on the rock face.
Okay, fine. We’ve all had that. But, to get there…there’s
a lot going on. I just argue that we need to look under the hood of
climbing. In other words, see what’s actually happening. To
take an example of manufacturers trying to be responsible about that,
Patagonia – really good – at least trying to get initiatives
started in terms of looking at what they do and how they do it. I’d
like to see more on the part of the other manufacturers.
JE: Do you feel like when you see this mass of videos
and you’re assaulted by all these things…
PB: I’m watching them freely. No one’s
holding a gun to my head.
JE: …do you think that negatively affects your
PB: Honestly, no. I don’t really have a problem
with that. I don’t feel, for instance, that it’s removing
the mystery of these boulder problems. The thing that does negatively
affect, not just mine but other climbers’ experiences, is a
horde of people that are attracted to one particular problem because
they saw it last week in a video. Sometimes, frankly, the problem
isn’t really that good and it’ll be the boulder problem
of the week on the Front Range or whatever.
JE: Right, we’ve seen that before.
PB: Totally. Like every month.
JE: Black Ice.
JE: Black Ice was really one of the first. I don’t
know how much that was driven by the media, but it was driven by your
[Mike] website, frontrangebouldering.com. [FRB, though now not a focus
of Mike’s, was one of the original climbing websites that generated
a ton of traffic in the new online climbing media of the early 2000s]
DM: Mike, you’re a peddler of smut. [To Peter]
Do you think the American zeitgeist of celebrity worship/brand worship
in the mainstream culture…we know all about it, the Kardashians
PB: I was tempted to say right there, “Who?”
But go ahead…
DM: Yeah, right.
PB: I don’t want to be that much of an old
DM: The vibe I get from you is that younger climbers
are going to be drawn to the most popular climbs, of course, that
have gained notoriety on the interwebs – from a host of videos
– and they want to become sponsored because it will get them
a higher profile inside the sport. Do you think that’s a function
of the higher American zeitgeist right now? Or, is it particular to
PB: I don’t think it’s particular to
climbing. Climbing’s always been behind the curve for a long,
long time with regard to other sports. So, in a sense, climbers are
waking up to the marketability, even though I would argue on many
levels that that marketability is limited by a bunch of factors. There
is a degree to which a generation – we’ll say right now
between about 15 and 25 – has latched onto that as a way of
validating themselves. Fine, so be it. Honestly, I don’t care
that much, especially in the gym. It’s only when it starts to
affect the outdoor environment and the outdoor experience that it
really starts turning into a problem, in my view.
DM: Hmm. That’s a good point to make because
I didn’t get that point as much, and I read your blogs numerous
times. I think that’s an important distinction to make, that
you don’t have a problem with it so much as it’s happening,
but rather when it’s affecting…
PB: To me that’s the bottom line. I don’t
think that mode of climbing is going to yield much, ultimately, in
the way of insights or any kind of real progress in the sport. There
might be “harder” climbs or something like that. The real
issue, to me, is when you start treating the outdoor environment and
the surroundings as a kind of giant playroom, where what you write
and what you do or however you act out in that playroom is the only
thing that matters. That’s not, to me, the way that we should
look at the outside world. We shouldn’t look at the environment
that we live in in those kinds of terms.
DM: As a conduit to your higher profile.
PB: Right. Which, in a sense, is doomed to ephemerality
anyway. I’ve lived in Boulder now – moved here in 1994
– close to two decades, and I’ve seen multiple phases
of climbers come and go. I can speak from personal experience: very
few climbers have any kind of profile of any kind – even if
you’re world-class – for more than a few years. Dave Graham
is exemplary in terms of sustaining that pace for so long. It’s
very, very rare to see people go more than 2-3 years as a “professional.”
DM: Emerson, your time’s almost out. Can I
switch gears? You guys, I’m sure, will both have plenty to say
about this. [To JE] You recently broached a subject that you’ve
talked about numerous times on your website. Women and developing,
of routes or boulder problems, and how there’s a stark difference
between the number of women and the number of men developing. Talk
a little bit about your blog post.
MB: Why did you tackle that, Jamie?
JE: I think it’s interesting. I want to challenge
the way that people think. I want people to question what they’re
doing because I question what I’m doing and I think they can
learn a lot from that. If I can offer questions… People have
told me, “We read your post and we sat around the fire and talked
about it for two hours.” For me, that’s the highest compliment,
that somewhere else out there, there was discussion generated and
people were thinking about what’s going on. That’s really
Peter alluded to this earlier where he said that climbing tends to
be this super-supportive, we’re all friends, there’s no
voice of dissent, there’s no voice of criticism…and it’s
not that I’m coming from a negative standpoint – that
I want to cut people down – but I just want to say, “Hey,
let’s ask some questions about what we’re doing.”
For me, climbing is not just, “I am hanging out in the woods
and climbing on rocks.” It’s far, far more complex than
that. It is my life and it is the way that I’ve chosen to live
my life and it’s not a separate thing. It’s not [that]
I live my life and there are social issues or environmental issues
or gender issues going on and then I go climbing and those issues
go away. They still exist when I go climbing and I see how they exist.
I want to try to bring it up and say, “There’s more to
Sometimes I feel like a girl does a hard route and we just pat her
on the back. I’m very critical of men. A lot of times the girls
get mad at me, “You just go after the girls!” I have been
extremely critical of men. I think it’s okay that I’m
critical of women, too. I don’t think I shouldn’t be critical
because there’s some stigma that I should hold the door open
and hold their hand. I’m willing to take the heat…I know
people are going to say whatever. I want to say, let’s look
at it as objectively as possible. I’m open to the idea of presenting
DM: And your question is, in the blog post, why aren’t
more women developing and what are the precursors to this lack of
JE: Right. Certainly, some women think that I’m
attacking them and I’m assigning blame to them. That’s
not the case, at all. I’m interested and I want to know why
and I want to understand. There’s a pattern that I’ve
noticed and I want to understand why. It could be as simple as there’re
just not as many women who climb. When we see more women climbers
we’ll see more development from them. Or maybe it’s just
some genetic thing – I don’t know the answer.
It’s like grades. I don’t have the answer if it’s
V10 or V9. It’s subjective and it’s really hard to pinpoint,
but we can try to talk about it.
DM: You have the answer, Sherriff.
PB: He has AN answer.
DM: I’m not trying to be obsequious or deferential,
at all, but if somebody gleans that you’re attacking women out
of the most recent blog post, they’re seriously confused. All
you’re doing is trying to mine an answer or start a discussion.
But…I’m curious about what you believe causes those discordant
JE: There’re so many different factors that
go into that. Sometimes I’m inclined to think that there’s
a social expectation or something…I don’t know. I talked
to a good friend of mine and she said, “I just don’t want
to get dirty and it’s a lot of work and I don’t want to
do it. I’d rather just do something else.” And that’s
fine. A lot of guys think that, too.
DM: I know plenty of guys who think the same way.
JE: Oh, yeah. I wrote that. I think I said there’re
thousands of men who do nothing in terms of developing. But, I do
think there’s an expectation that Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra
and Daniel Woods and Dave Graham are putting up new…people want
to see what’s the new thing that Dave’s doing. What’s
the new thing that Daniel’s doing? What’s the new V15?
That expectation is not there for women. I think it’d be awesome
if it was there. What if we heard about Alex Puccio going and doing
a V13 first ascent? That would be amazing. I would be inspired by
that. I think what I’m speaking to is I want to feel inspired.
Not saying that you guys aren’t good climbers because you’re
not doing it but there’s a way you could inspire me and I’d
like to be inspired. So, it’d be cool if you did it. I think
that it’d be interesting to see the differences.
DM: You ask a question, so I got to quote this: “Are
men (because they are the majority in our sport) fostering this gap,
by ‘oppressing’ women?”
JE: Quote/unquote, “oppressing women,”
because that’s kind of the cliché, that in general men
are saying, “I’m going to do it and you are not. I’m
the developer. I’m going to take charge.” And then the
women say, “Well, okay. Go ahead, take charge.” I was
asking, do you guys think that’s what’s going on? Do I
think that’s what’s going on?
MB: Honestly, Jamie… [laughter]
PB: Get the spotlight.
JE: I think that, yes. If you’re going to make
a generalization, I think that there are a lot of men that are saying,
“I’m going to do this. I’m going to take over.”
And in general, women say, “Okay, fine. Be a man and do what
PB: Yeah, I would agree.
DM: Doesn’t development happen in the shadows
a lot, though? Aren’t people developing in areas that not many
people know about and you got this cadre of dudes and they’re
PB: That’s exactly it.
JE: Yeah, that’s part of it. I’m sorry…I
don’t understand your question.
DM: I don’t feel like men are beating their
chests, like, “Women! Go do the FFAs! I will take care of the
FAs!” I definitely do not see that.
PB: It’s never going to be that explicit.
DM: Underlying currents?
PB: The way that the information gets passed around,
the way that these kinds of things are handled, it’s usually
going to be a small cadre of people that find a certain place or have
a hunch about a certain place and they actually spend time looking
for places like that. The deeper question that I think Jamie’s
driving at…we don’t want to be essentialists, is there
something basic about women that isn’t the case with men. Although,
as a father of a five-year-old girl, I can see some differences emerging
really quickly between girls and boys. But, there is a set of social
Putting up a first ascent is not simply walking up to a boulder and
saying, “Oh, I’m going to do that.” Especially on
the Front Range, where if there’s a really choice boulder with
really good semi-hard lines, there are probably two dozen people within
five minutes’ drive that could do that in a few tries. Whereas,
for women, there are hardly any women that would be able to do that
within a few tries. Quality new lines like that are kind of a scarce
commodity. If it got out, say a woman did find a boulder that was
really, really good, she would have to keep it under very tight wraps
or there would have to be a very strong “gentlemen’s agreement”
to stay off it.
A classic example would be when Luke Parady was gunning for the No
More Greener Grasses first ascent. He knew that the window was closing
in on that one, and he’s a very strong climber. But would a
woman, who’s just breaking into V12, and that was sitting there
in one of the most spectacular alpine bouldering areas in Colorado,
and she found it and she cleaned it, how many people would honor an
agreement to stay off that thing for a year or two years?
JE: I think one of the interesting things is that
climbers align towards peer groups. Women who climb V12 don’t
climb with men who climb V12, generally. They climb with the men who
climb V14 or V15. The strongest women climb with the strongest men.
Then you have this situation where if they all go out climbing together,
then you have the V15 guys climbing with the V12 girls and the V15
guys are going to do the boulders, usually, before the V12 girls do.
So… I don’t have the answer, I really don’t know
what I think. Which is uncommon because I usually know exactly what
I think! I don’t know enough about gender, I don’t know
enough about social issues; it’s so complex.
DM: This [conversation] would also greatly benefit
from having a couple female climbers in this room right now.
JE: I wrote on my blog, I said, “Please, I
want to hear what you have to say.” I talked to friends of mine,
too. That maybe isn’t seen on the website. I go to the gym and
[ask] girls who climb 5.14, “What do you think about this? Why
are you going to Rifle trying to do a 5.14 and not trying to put up
MB: And what do they say?
JE: They said, “I don’t want to get dirty.”
I mean, that’s the answer that I hear.
DM: Those are your friends?
JE: That’s what I’ve heard, yes.
DM: Alright. Let’s take it back to “Sell,
Sell, Sell.” “Climbing as a counter-culture is healthy
and thriving.” [I said “thriving,” but this is Rock
and Ice editor Jeff Jackson’s quote and he said “growing.”]
JE: It’s not a counter-culture for the vast
majority of people. If you go to places – Red River Gorge –
you’re going to find the average income, if you talk to the
people who know the demographics at climbing magazines, the demographic
is white, male, with an income typically running between $50,000 and
$125,000. Somewhere in there.
MB: Can you believe that, Dave?
DM: Well, if that’s the culture, my bank account…I’m
definitely counter-culture. [laughter]
PB: Right, but there are counter cultures within
climbing, but the vast majority of practitioners are going to come
from a white, middle to upper-middle-class background. You can see
it in the cars parked at Rifle, to take the sport climbing example.
Or the amount of gear that’s required to climb a big wall in
Yosemite. The people going up Everest, when it costs 10, 20, 30 thousand
dollars just to get your foot in the door, so to speak. Then you’ve
got the gear and you’ve got to be able to take off a couple
months without having to account for yourself. It’s clearly
a sport, and always pretty much has been a sport, for white males
from a certain background.
I mean, the fact that we’re having a discussion in 2012 about
women is kind of ridiculous when you consider the inroads that women
made in professional sports in roughly the same period, whether it’s
tennis, golf, etc. I’m not saying they’re at a par, but
there’s kind of an understood place for women in a way that
I think climbing is still working its way around.
I also think that the counter-culture thing is less convincing in
the way that so many places have been mapped out. Indian Creek used
to be a place for desert rats, but now it’s maybe not so much.
The Valley, clearly, has been massively changed. Now we have people
on supertopo.com quarreling about the placement of campgrounds or
whether there should be so many pull-outs on the road…whether
there should be certain trails in El Cap meadows. Everything is spoken
for. I just feel like the counter-culture vibe, for instance, that
I grew up with but never really was part of because I was too young,
[is] not really viable anymore. Basically, for the most part, it’s
a much more mainstream activity and the activities of people outside
of climbing tend to reflect that. That’s just my take on it.
JE: I went to Switzerland a few years ago and we
stayed in an apartment and we had a really nice rental car and it
was the antithesis of the dirtbag, living out of your truck…
PB: The Swiss won’t let you do it anyway.
JE: I loved it. It was awesome. That’s a much
better climbing trip than wallowing in the dirt.
PB: Yeah, I would agree.
JE: It was amazing, going to Switzerland and having
all the amenities.
MB: What’s your opinion on that, Dave, I’m
DM: I was looking at you to voice an opinion on that!
PB: Where did you stay in Bishop?
DM: In the Pit, man. I definitely am a dirtbag.
PB: We were camped next to an RV that ran its generator
24/7, so we moved down to one of the other campgrounds.
DM: Yeah, I’ve stayed at the Buttermilks before,
I mean, I’ve been there ten times. I’ve stayed everywhere
you can stay, except for Mill Creek [meant to say Mill Pond]. I don’t
feel like it’s counter-culture or I’m counter-culture
at all, but I’m a dirtbag. 100 percent.
JE: I go to Switzerland and I want to climb as hard
as I possibly can and I’m not going to climb hard if I’m
sleeping in a tent.
DM: That is not true.
PB: No, it’s totally true.
JE: I’ve done both, so… I’ve lived
on the road; I’ve slept in my truck. I could never say to myself
that I sleep as well in a truck as I do…
DM: So hard climbing is contingent upon…
JE: A good night’s rest.
DM: Well, of course a good night’s rest! But
having all the amenities is what you’re saying.
PB: I think it really helps.
DM: It helps. It’s not contingent upon that,
PB: The thing is, Bishop. So, you’re going
there in, say, mid-winter, when the conditions are prime. The sun
sets at 3:30, basically. It doesn’t rise again until close to
8, and the temperature in the Pit goes down to pretty darn close to
zero. Good, strong wind and all of a sudden you’re like, “I’m
DM: That’s what happens, I totally agree with
PB: So, you crawl out of the back of the truck or
the tent or whatever, barely getting warm at 9:30, and you creak your
way out of the camp and finally to the boulders, and all of a sudden
it’s 2:30 and the sun’s setting again. Much better to
roll out of the hotel. [laughter]
DM: I can’t possibly argue that the hotel’s
going to be more comfortable. Of course it is.
JE: Don’t get me wrong, if I know that it’s
not going to rain out I’ll always sleep under the stars. I love
being outside. Sometimes I like that experience. But, if I’m
going to be doing it for a month then I’m going to want a nice
place to sleep because I think I’ll climb better.
DM: Alright… [laughter]
JE: I think that’s why people climb harder,
generally, in their home areas, because they’re sleeping in
their comfortable bed.
DM: Yeah, maybe. If your whole goal is to climb as
hard as you can and that’s the entire goal of your trip, then
I would agree that you should get a hotel. But if your goal is also
to experience the lifestyle and meet the people in the campground…that’s
my opinion. I’m not a world-class climber, so I can’t
really talk about climbing hard.
PB: I was just going to say: so, you’re hanging
out in the Pit with a bunch of people who do pallet fires all night
long and they’re playing hacky sack and they’re doing
the bongos and they’re talking blah.
DM: You’re describing my campsite…
PB: I’m just saying, been there, done that.
That’s all I have to say.
DM: Yeah, the Pit at Spring Break is a pretty rough
place to be. But, I choose the Pit because I like to observe the culture
of the Pit. It’s fascinating.
PB: If you want real dirtbag climbing, try the pull-out
by the Cedar Pocket on I-15, right down by the Virgin River Gorge.
It’s sketchy, the camp hangout by the Gorilla Cliffs, where
we heard from one of the locals that somebody was gut-shot by the
DM: For the love of baby Jesus, you’re probably
not going to get a very good night’s sleep…
PB: If you want some counter-culture, check that
DM: I just mean the culture. I just feel like observing
people and meeting new people, even if they’re these terrible,
20-year-old freaks who are playing the bongos and wearing their neon
sunglasses and tight jeans. That’s still really, really interesting
and super-important to me.
JE: I’m way above that. [laughter and some
ancillary bullshit talking] Mike, how do you feel about how the internet’s
PB: Yeah, since you’re responsible for it!
You were the first one up.
JE: You’ve been climbing longer than any of
DM: And you were responsible for one of the first
websites, solely based on bouldering, in the nation.
MB: It’s a sticky wicket. I think one of you
gentlemen made the point earlier, it’s all about us addressing
the issues and, maybe being the hundredth monkey, making a difference.
[silence] How’d I do, Dave?
DM: That can’t possibly be your thesis. [laughter]
Mike’s cracking himself up over on his golden throne behind
Peter, I definitely think that you called out climbing media a bit
and climbing media came back and they were a bit snarky. I don’t
feel like it was contentious, but I feel like there were some good
jabs going on. You noted six different topics that you’d like
to see covered, not necessarily controversial, but asking some questions
that you deem important.
This is one of them, and it was number one on your list: “I
would argue that as climbing seeks to “explore” new areas
of the earth that the ethics of exploration be given a serious look
and the question be asked whether the resultant impacts on the local
social and natural environment are worth the ephemeral and at this
point mostly imaginary rewards of discovery.” When I saw the
“imaginary” I wanted to ask, why are the rewards of discovery
PB: One of the issues – and I don’t mean
to get too academic about this, but I kind of can’t help it
– is the way in which climbing has been set up to reflect a
bunch of values that historically go back to the 18th century. There’s
a mode, essentially, of looking at the world or knowledge of the world
that is progressive in the sense of accumulating data points about
it. The summit of Mont Blanc is a data point and people would take
the temperature up there, or barometric readings, and start naming
and collecting a kind of history of these things which would then
add up to more knowledge. That sort of blended with a romantic sensibility
about discovering individual potential.
There are a lot of stories grafted onto the experience of climbing.
That’s been pretty much effective, I think, for propelling climbing
“forward.” Probably, the first real crack in the façade
is going to show up – I’m not sure enough work has been
done on this – on the Dawn Wall, Escapade, around 1970, where
Warren Harding puts in a bunch of bolts in El Cap and Royal Robbins
comes along and says, “I’m going to erase this route.”
There were a lot of things happening right around 1970. That’s
when Cerro Torre is being done up and a lot of the standard discourses
about climbing start to contradict themselves and start to not make
Another thing, ironically, to start sabotaging it is bouldering, because
bouldering comes from exactly the opposite angle and goes on the micro
level and says there are all kinds of ways of looking at this stuff
that aren’t bound by all the conventional apparatus. Fast forward
to now and what you start thinking about is can you think of anything
that can’t be climbed that matters? I mean, ice climbing, it’s
done. We saw the thing that Will Gadd did at Helmcken Falls, like,
overhanging ice blobs. So, ice climbing’s done. Mixed climbing
is getting pretty close to being done – it will just be more
of the same. Hard free climbing; it’s just more of the same.
Bouldering…I hate to hold out something special for bouldering.
I think bouldering still has all kinds of interesting potential for
exploration, but not necessarily in an objective sense. Like, first
ascents or all these kinds of things.
What I’m proposing is that as more and more people seek out
the last preserves of unspoiled nature we should ask ourselves why
are we doing that? What are the motivations? Is the damage that’s
resultant – because a lot of these things cost a lot of money
and they’re sponsored by companies [that] expect a return on
their investment – is that commercial interest and the potential
environmental damage worth what I would describe as imaginary reward
of a first ascent? That’s where I’m coming from.
JE: I think there are benefits to commercializing
things in some sense because you take an area like Horse Pens 40 that
wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t commercialized. That area
exists because it’s been commercialized and I wouldn’t
have climbed there had it not been. I’m fine paying money to
go there and climb there and I think that’s great. That’s
an example of something that’s been commercialized for the better,
PB: Let me just interject. It’s been commercialized
at a very low-level way. A proper American style of commercializing
would have miniature golf and pony rides. Climbers might not want
that but somebody could have bought that who did want that and said,
“I could triple my income.” But, I agree. I’m not
saying that commercialization and what Jamie describes is completely
counter-productive, at all.
DM: I wonder if this would fit into what we’re
talking about. I remember, we had [on the show] Cory Richards who
was speaking to this a little bit, about how The North Face and the
money that they offer allows athletes to do some pretty amazing things
in some pretty amazing places. For him, specifically, it was the first
American winter ascent of Gasherbrum II.
PB: Let’s just take that really quickly as
an example. So, more and more ascents are contingent in that way,
“It’s the first female, African American ascent of Everest”
kind of thing. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that,
but we keep on looking – just the same way as people switch
from doing peaks to ridges to doing faces – for ways to slice
and repackage the experience. I’m just arguing that it’s
become a sort of simulacrum, a kind of appearance of something. I’m
not entirely convinced that there’s anything necessarily real
at the back of a first ascent.
JE: If you take a sport that’s been played
for hundreds of years, or a game like chess…it’s the end.
Chess has reached its end.
PB: Chess doesn’t have a history. Climbing’s
tried to create a history for itself. What I’m saying is that
history is kind of wrapping up unless there’s a very different
mindset about how it’s practiced.
JE: Well, there are other sports like running; people
have been running for thousands and thousands of years, competitively.
PB: Sure, and running has experienced some of the
same issues in terms of world records. There’s a sense of infinite
effort to gain infinitely small gains, in terms of running.
JE: So, you would prefer not to hear about those
PB: I’m just saying that they don’t matter
as much as people might imagine them to, that’s all. Once you
take the long view, you start seeing…
JE: What does matter?
PB: That’s a good question. What I’m
arguing, again, is from the point of view [of] local ecologies, local
economies, local social practices and things like that, where climbers
have spent a lot of time kind of moving into places. Everest base
camp is a classic place. There’s a great little piece on Outside,
a little oral history of Everest base camp. It’s not clear to
me that anything particularly positive has been brought about in the
world through Everest base camp. I think a lot of people have been
there. The gist of what I was getting from the oral history, it wasn’t
DM: What would you say to people who would say, “That
is important to me”? And frankly, I think everybody is sometimes
sick of seeing the next great V-whatever ascent…
PB: Honestly, I like that. I’m just saying
we should think about it differently. That’s all. Personally,
I’m not saying, “We should all sit in the woods and gaze
at our navels.” Although, that probably wouldn’t hurt,
a little bit more of that.
JE: Can you post a video of that?
DM: A bunch of emo boulderers gazing at our shoes…
Mike, do we gotta wrap this puppy up?
MB: And that was ClimbTalk here on Radio 1190!
DM: You can check out Peter Beal’s thoughts
on what we discussed today on mountainsandwater.com.
I think it really behooves you to check it out. He brings up some
great discussions and topics that, if nothing else, get good conversation
started in our community. So, we thank him for that. Jamie Emerson,
he doesn’t have a blog, I’ve never heard of him before.
PB: Who let him in?
DM: I’m not sure. The guy came in with a tie
and was like, “Can I talk?” Jamie, are you still setting
at Movement [Climbing and Fitness], as well?
JE: I’m still setting at Movement.
DM: Okay. You can check out his routes at Movement
here in Boulder and you can check out his thoughts, most recently
about trespassing on private property and women developing in the
climbing world, at B3bouldering.com.
You can check out Mike Brooks at ILoveTubeSocks.com (Dave's idea of
a joke). He’ll be blogging there about two times a day. My name
is Dave McAllister, you’ve been listening to ClimbTalk. Audio
archived at CLIMBTALK-4-27-2012.
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