blog · climbing · equipment · fun · Guest Post · nature

Don’t Fall Out of the Trees (Guest Post)

by Elan Paulson

I have blogged previously about group exercise adventures–winter hikes, fun runs, wall climbs, etc.–so it was only a matter of time until we ended up at an aerial adventure park. Set at a western Ontario ski hill forest, this treetop adventure has courses of increasing height and challenge in which participants climb ladders, cross wood and net bridges, and zip line from tree platform to platform.

Through some Wikipedia surfing I learned that aerial adventure courses were borne from military training-style ropes courses and alternative adventure education. However, most of today’s adventure parks are touristy fun that Wikipedia describes as requiring “neither climbing techniques nor special/specific physical fitness experience.”

Judging by our next-day muscle soreness and little bruises, there is at least some physical fitness required. But more than exercise, it was thrilling to hop across wobbly bridges, and stand high in the trees without falling out of them. The course didn’t require teamwork to complete obstacles, but we encouraged and cheered each other a lot.

Among my GoPro pictures, I found one of my handheld carabiners that the trainer had described as “our hands” while we were out on the course. This meant that we were to latch one or both carabiners onto within-reach “lifeline” cables throughout the entire course.

Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment
Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment.

Using a self-belay system in a tree top adventure was a little scary because we were responsible for our own safety. We received some initial supervised practice on a training course, but in the park it was up to us to keep ourselves attached to the steel cables.

Looking at the photo afterwards, I realized that being responsible for my own safety had given my mind something to pay attention to in the trees and on the ladders. Each step was a reminder–in order to move forward I literally had to put one latch in front of the other. The carabiners kept my brain focused on a safety system that wouldn’t allow me to fall, and the constant latching also distracted me from thinking too much about falling.

The above photo also made me realize that I have not always put “safety first” and foremost in my brain when I go to exercise. This is especially true with activities that I perceive as less risky, or when I feel I am more familiar with the risks. But, on the treetop adventure, it was precisely because I was forced to put my safety first in a potentially dangerous situation that I confidently enjoyed the activity all the more (or, I suppose, experienced paralyzing fear all the less).

There is always risk in exercise, which is not an inherently bad thing. But, no matter how strange or familiar the activity may be, we are our own self-safety systems. Safety can create fun. In the future, I think that reminding myself of that fact when I go to exercise will be a good thing.

Elan with helmet, harness, and belay
Elan with helmet, harness, belay, and smile.

climbing · fitness · link round up

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Friday Link Round Up #102, the Everest edition

Do you have a thing you’re weirdly fascinated by even though you have zero desire to do it yourself? The desire to climb Mt Everest is a bit like that for me. I don’t get it on many levels. The high cost, the role of sherpas, and the environmental impact are all things that worry me. But I especially don’t get it this year, during a global pandemic. I do understand how the loss of income affects Nepal and those who make their living on the mountain. What I don’t get is the desire of climbers to go now.

Here are some links for those interested in reading about Everest and those who climb it:

Why do climbers die on Everest?

“With those caveats in mind, here are some stats. In 2008, a team led by anesthesiologist Paul Firth published an analysis in the British Medical Journal of 192 deaths among more than 14,000 Everest climbers and Sherpas between 1921 and 2006. Of that total, 59 percent of the deaths were attributable to trauma either from falls or hazards such as avalanches. In 14 percent of the cases, the bodies were never found so details are unknown. The remaining 27 percent are the most interesting ones, attributed to non-trauma causes like altitude illness and hypothermia.

When you restrict the data to the 94 people who died above 8,000 meters, some interesting details emerge. Even among those who fell to their deaths, many were described as showing signs of neurological dysfunction, such as confusion or loss of balance. This is significant, because altitude illness comes in several forms. The mild version is acute mountain sickness (AMS), which mostly just manifests as feeling like crap. The two more serious versions, either of which can be fatal, are high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE, meaning swelling in the brain) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE, or swelling in the lungs).”

Infections are surging among climbers trying to scale Everest

“Nepal’s coronavirus outbreak, which is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the world, has spread to the remote Himalayas, with an increasing number of climbers testing positive after being evacuated from the base camps of Mount Everest and surrounding peaks.

In recent weeks, several climbers have been flown out of Mount Everest Base Camp after reporting symptoms of Covid-19, and then tested positive after reaching Kathmandu, the capital. On Wednesday, Nepali news outlets reported that 14 climbers, including foreigners and Sherpa guides, were being airlifted from Mount Dhaulagiri, another major peak, to Kathmandu for treatment after some were found to be infected.

The cases have raised fears for the safety of climbers and their Nepali guides who are pushing ahead with expeditions in the forbidding, high-altitude terrain, where doctors say they are already vulnerable to illness, lower blood oxygen levels and weaker immunity. Hundreds of climbers and Sherpas are isolating in their tents in gusty conditions at Everest base camp, trying to guard against infection while preparing to begin their ascent to the 29,000-foot summit.”

And a reminder that things weren’t great before the pandemic…

Will New Rules Reduce Crowds on Mount Everest?

The country’s Ministry of Tourism unveiled a series of proposals aimed at avoiding another disastrous, overcrowded year on the world’s highest peak

“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai said at a news conference reported by The New York Times. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits.”

The new price floor of $35,000 is still unlikely to deter inexperienced aspirants like doubling or tripling the permit fee would have. This seems to have been a move aimed at calming local operators, whose businesses could be hurt by a permit increase. The median price Nepali operators charged in the 2019 spring season was around $40,000, according to my polling, but deep discounts regularly took the price down to less than $30,000—or even lower.”

Everest is Over

With crowds, trash, and selfies at its summit, the once untamable mountain has lost its cultural power.

“Since the explosion of Himalayan mountaineering in the early 20th century, the world has swooned over the madness of climbers and their refusal to stop, even—or especially—in the face of great risk. Today, that infatuation can seem more pervasive than ever. Jarring reports this season have described climbers waiting in line at Everest’s peak while others take selfies. Crowds are leaving behind piles of litter, and the death rate is spiking. Some struggling climbers have said that others ignored their pleas for help en route to the summit.

Leaving behind injured, hypothermic, or otherwise struggling climbers to fend for themselves has long been the stuff of some of the beloved accounts of both death and survival in mountaineering, especially at high altitudes. On Everest, there are no explicit rules about helping others, and forging ahead to ensure your own survival is common. The recently publicized problems on the mountain, however, have brought this code of conduct under widespread scrutiny. Many people have responded with surprise and anger, calling for more safety and altruism on Everest.”

But here are some voices from women who’ve climbed Everest…

Then,

The First Three Women to Climb Everest

“This photo captures a moment that will never come again: the first three women to climb Mount Everest. Together, smiling. All are now gone.

Taken by Isabelle Agresti, a French woman climber, the image is from August, 1979, in Chamonix. Junko Tabei of Japan, Phanthog from Tibet, and Wanda Rutkiewicz of Poland were invited that summer by Henri Agresti, a guide at ENSA (L’École Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme) who was teaching a class to aspirants. Henri and Isabelle had in 1976 been part of a team to establish a new route up Mount Foraker, Denali National Park, and the two made the first ascent of the mountain Koh-e-Rank in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan, in 1968.”

And now,

More Women Are on Everest Than Ever Before

“For decades climbing was a male-dominated sport—it still is. But the gender gap is slowly shrinking, and many women have made significant contributions to the sport. 

This year on Everest there are more women climbers than usual. Before 2018, of the 4,738 people to have summited Everest, 605 were women—that’s 12 percent. In 2018, there were 61 women climbers on the Nepal side and 49 made it to the top, or 18 percent of the total summitters.

The 2019 records released by the Nepal Department of Tourism showed that women climbers account for 76 out of 375 permits (20 percent) issued to foreigners. China had the most women climbers with 20, followed by India (18), Nepal (six), the U.S. (four), and Lebanon, Norway, the U.K., and Greece all with three. Last year, the female summit success percentage was 80 percent, so using the same number, we can predict that we’llsee 61 summits this year, perhaps a record.”

Image: yellow tent covered in ice and snow in the mountains. Photo by Wolfgang Lutz on Unsplash

How about you? Is Everest a mountain you dream of climbing? Do you get the challenge? Thoughts welcome in the comments below.

climbing · cycling · fitness · Zwift

Sam’s list of six things she wished she knew when she first joined Zwift

  1. The Everest Challenge as a route to the Tron bike. Yes, I’m making good progress. I’m more than halfway there. But at the start I rode for a few months without signing up for the challenge. Today in my group ride we talked about someone who had completed the climbing mileage and wondered why he hadn’t gotten the Tron. Turned out he’d never signed up.
Tron bikes all in a row

2. Other people seemed to be better about giving Ride-Ons than me. But it was only later I discovered you can give more than one ride-on at a time. “Use the Zwift Companion App to quickly give Ride-Ons to 5 random people within your near vicinity. Just tap your location arrow in the app! If you’re in a group ride, those Ride Ons will go to others participating in the same group. Ride on.” From Zwift Tips. I also learned that if you want to give everyone you rode with kudos on Strava, you just view the list of people and shake your phone. Who knew? I didn’t. I do now.

Zwift Ride On
Ride on!

3. When I first started doing workouts, I did them in any old place. It was only later that I realized (thanks Sarah!) that by doing my workouts on serious climbs, I could accumulate climbing metres faster. See THE EASIEST (LEGAL) WAY TO GET THE TRON BIKE IN ZWIFT for route advice.

4. It also didn’t occur to me–you’ll get the sense that the ‘game’ aspect of Zwift was new to me–that if I was attempting a climb to accumulate metres climbed I could turn around at the top and come back down to accumulate kilometres ridden. You can also just coast down and answer your email! Shhh.

5. You can return to the pairing screen and do things–like swap virtual bikes–without exiting your ride. It also took me awhile to figure out when to use which bike.

6. In real life, I don’t super tuck. I’m not a particularly nervous descender but I don’t adopt the aggressive aero position of pro-cyclists. I saw some avatars doing it in Zwift and I didn’t get it. I should have googled. At a certain point in real world cycling you go faster by aero tucking than pedaling. That’s true in Zwift too. See “How to” here.

From Zwift News: “In cycling, “aero is everything.” So pros like Chris Froome get into an aero-tuck (aka “super-tuck”) when descending, reducing air resistance and allowing them to travel faster with less work.

Looking for some rest while descending one of Zwift’s many mountains? You can use the super-tuck. It is literally the easiest way to go faster on Zwift, since it requires you to stop pedaling!

Here’s how it works: if you are on a 3% or steeper downhill moving at least 35mph (57km/h), stop pedaling. Your avatar will enter the super-tuck as soon as your power drops to 10 watts or less.

Once in the super-tuck your rider will travel faster, mimicking the reduced air resistance you would encounter when aero-tucking outdoors.

There is one exception: riders on TT frames cannot super-tuck.”

Zwift How-to: Super-Tuck When Descending | Zwift

How about you? If you Zwift is there anything you know now that you wished you knew at the get go?

climbing · family · Guest Post · kids and exercise

Climbing with kids (Guest post)

by Jennifer Szende

I am a recreational climber. I bouldered through both of my pregnancies. As my pregnancy advanced, I gained weight and muscle mass in proportion to each other, or so it seemed at the time. My center of gravity shifted forwards, and my body shape pushed me farther away from the wall, but I was still able to move my body in this familiar way, in a familiar setting, even as my body became less and less familiar. I primarily shifted to traversing (climbing sideways, rather than upwards), and I down climbed rather than jumping on the few (very easy) vertical bouldering problems that I still felt comfortable on.

My first pregnancy was in parallel with Beth Rodden’s pregnancy, so from my second semester onwards, I was following her blog for posts about climbing when pregnant, and fortnightly interviews with climbers and mountaineers about their pregnancy experiences. The interviews gave me some previews of what postpartum climbing or climbing with kids might be like. I read about professional and amateur climbing mothers from around the world, and the variety of ways that climbing became part of their postpartum and family life. It gave me a little preview of the different ways that it might be difficult, but might still be possible to keep climbing once I had kids. The differences and diversities were as important as the similarities.

Even so, I was still surprised to experience a complete loss of technique and muscle tone postpartum, with both of my pregnancies. My climbing gym had a mother and baby climbing group with an instructor, which was a very positive experience for me, but essentially required me to learn how to climb all over again with what felt like a third unfamiliar body. Although I had climbed all through my pregnancy, I still experienced a significant loss of core and ab strength. Basically, stretching your abdominals outward for a prolonged period of time, or adding a substantial amount of weight that sits on your pelvic floor, changes those muscle groups one way or another. Climbing postpartum was difficult in unexpected ways. In terms of the logistics of climbing, there were two primary changes:

(1) I couldn’t use lower abs to raise my legs, especially on an overhanging climb, and

(2) I found it difficult to use core strength to keep myself on the wall.

Essentially, I had to learn how to climb with yet another new body (although this time it was on very little sleep and a base level of constant exhaustion). I found some resources to help me out. Beth Rodden’s postpartum posts continued, and chronicled her very difficult postpartum recovery. The relevant part of the blogosphere has grown in the past several years, and I think this advice is really sensible. Especially this: keep making plans, and keep trying, because “The more times you try, the more times you will actually get some climbing done”.

Here are some of the techniques that my mom and baby climbing class helped me develop:

  • Concentrate on volume rather than difficulty to begin with. I would aim to climb all of the easy climbs in the gym (V0 and V0- especially), and potentially climb them twice.
  • Climb as many (easy) problems as possible within a very short timer (e.g. 5 minutes) then do active rest for longer (7 minutes), and you will avoid ‘cooling down’ between climbing reps.
  • Reps on an easy climb (up and down) to build endurance.
  • Do some core and conditioning during rest periods (e.g. plank for 1 minute, V-sits, squats holding a baby, wall sits for 1 minute, piston squats, etc). Or, just do some kegels, if that works for you.
  • Mostly ignore overhanging problems until other techniques are back, although using overhanging problems for lower ab workout (basically reps of hang from straight arms and try to raise one or both legs) was a way to check in with conditioning.

Somewhere along the way, I read and heard about a number of people who took parental leave trips to climbing destinations. Two or three families in my climbing circle did extended road trips through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Colorado, Utah, California, and other climbing destinations in the US. My partner was able to take an extended parental leave, and we ended up spending most of it in a series of climbing destinations. The highlight was spending nearly 2 months in Fontainebleau with an 8-9 month old, and it was motivating from the moment we booked the flight. Climbing with a baby in Font is such an absolute delight. (It was also an excellent lesson in comparative European parental leave policies.) There are guidebooks that rate climbing areas around Fontainebleau by stroller friendliness, list rest day activities by children’s ages, and highlight gites with high chair and crib availability. It was such a delight, in fact, that we have been back to Font 3 more times over the last several years, and we are not alone.

I think, essentially, that climbing postpartum made me feel like I was part of a community much more so than any other postpartum activity I did. I attended mom and baby yoga, caregiver and baby story time at the library, and a couple of different parent and baby community health groups. But climbing was the one where I felt the most connected to the other adults in the group. And, it turns out, that climbing with kids has given me access to another supportive community. 

Pregnant bouldering

Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, and mother based in Toronto.

220 in 2020 · climbing · family · swimming · yoga

Bettina has some news: exercising while pregnant

CW: discusses pregnancy

Last month, I blogged about my February slump. It’s true that I always find it harder to motivate myself towards the end of winter than at the beginning, but this year I had an added difficulty that I didn’t mention in my post because it was still early days: I’m currently 16 weeks pregnant, meaning that in February I was in the middle of first trimester fatigue. I. Have. Never. Been. So. Tired. In. My. Life. (Anyone who is tempted to counter this with an “ooooh, it’s going to get so much worse once the baby is here!”, please refrain in the interest of my sanity.)

Picture of a pregnant woman (not me) holding her belly. She’s much further along than I am, but I am definitely starting to show.

As a result, I’m now so far behind on the 220 in 2020 challenge that even if I kick things up more than a notch, I likely still won’t make it to 220 this year. Because come the end of August (due date: 30 August) and probably even before that, I probably won’t be doing much exercising for quite some time. I’ll keep reassessing what exercise means to me as I get further along and of course after I give birth, and I firmly plan on doing things, but I’m also not going to push myself beyond my limits. If I need a night on the sofa rather than in the pool, I’m going to give myself that.

While exercising has been tough, it also hasn’t been non-existent. I stopped bouldering essentially as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I went once in early January only to find that I was scared of falling the entire time I was on the wall. A lot of people boulder at least through their first trimester and possibly longer, but not me. I don’t want to climb in constant fear. But I am still swimming with my team, albeit a little slower than before. I’ve been running as well (much slower than before), and I’ve been doing yoga. I’ll report a little more on how these have been going in my post next Wednesday! In April, I’m starting a prenatal yoga class. I want to keep all of that up for as long as I possibly can. As I move into the second trimester, I’m hoping to get some of my energy back and also still be able to do most movements. So far, so good!

Also, I’m ridiculously thrilled and terrified in equal measure to become a parent. We are having a son, and we plan to raise a strong, fit feminist.

I would be excited to hear about your experience with working out while pregnant! Feel free to share in the comments.

climbing · fitness · Guest Post

On route names in climbing (guest post)

When you enter a long distance trail race, it isn’t called the Wet Dirty Crack 100k. When you enter a soccer tournament, it isn’t called the Spread ‘Em Baby Tournament.

When you take up rock climbing, you don’t have that “luxury.” You have entered a subculture where adolescent male sexual humour has had free play. By convention, the “first ascensionist” of a climbing route gets to name the route, and they name it for whatever is on their mind. Sometimes the results are delightful and witty. Names emerge from days of hanging out at the cliff, working hard, shooting the breeze with friends. There’s a rich kind of free association and play that works its alchemy.

But alchemists don’t always turn lead into gold. Sometimes they just end up with lead. Here’s a page from the recently released guidebook for the climbing in the Blue Mountains in Australia.

img_5924.jpg

Jennifer Wigglesworth at Queen’s University in Ontario (Canada) is working on a PhD on women’s experiences in climbing. The Globe and Mail this year published an article on her work. My own local community figures in that article, with a gym owner and route developer defending these so-called spicy names. You gotta like that the journalist ended the piece with a classic quote from him: he says that the critics of these naming practices should grow up.

It took me some time to get my head around everything I think is wrong with this route-naming practice. There’s still lots of open discussion to have in the community–about what’s problematic and about how to bring about change.

There’s the obvious colonial history of people “finding” places and naming them as they please. The history of climbing is historically deeply entwined with the European project of “finding” places that were never lost.

I see sexualized route names as a form of sexual harassment. Consider the comparison I started with. If someone down at my university’s athletic centre wanted to name a soccer tournament “Spread ‘Em Baby”, students would have reasonable grounds to object to that as a form of sexual harassment. Making it a price of admission to the sport that you have to take part in (or exclude yourself from) activities with sexualized names is just that.

Some people don’t take the analysis that far: what they object to is derogatory names, not sexualized names. So our local community’s new guidebook (not the one pictured above) has derogatory names removed–where the authors correctly identified that a name was derogatory. Derogatory names that they didn’t think of looking up in the urban dictionary remain. And the book treats us to nice long trips down memory lane explaining the previous derogatory names.

Sigh. Like buddy down at the gym who wanted to call it the “Spread ‘Em Baby” tournament was told no, he can’t do that—so he planted himself at the registration table and told everyone who registered how he came up with this oh-so-funny name and why, with the wisdom of age, since he has a daughter himself now after all, he now sees that “Spread” alone is better. “Spread” is a tournament he would be comfortable having his daughter register in.

One perspective you don’t see in The Globe and Mail article (one a local coach mentioned to me) is that the names become a problem when you are coaching a group of kids. What kind of crag are you willing to bring other peoples’ kids to?

This has been the germ of a whole new perspective I have on this naming behaviour. Given the well-known ability of 13, 14, and 15-year-old girls to crush hard routes that virtually all grown men only dream of climbing, I suspect the whole practice is really a move to keep away the most threatening competition.

I’ve made some surprising connections in my local community with women who love my suggestions for feminist revenge names. The process of thinking up revenge names is fun. Handy tip: you can just take the first ascensionist’s name and call the route “[Insert name]’s Sad [Dick/Crack/Hole] Joke”. I’m also planning a whole crag built around lyrics from Beyoncé’s Lemonade album.

I tried making a plea for some minimal standards with the sexualized joke names. Cracks are a rock feature often climbed. You can see where this is going. You can just imagine how worked up a sexually frustrated quasi-adolescent gets when repeating the word “crack” over and over again all day while trying to perform a physically challenging act on said crack. Crack climbs are absolutely the low-hanging fruit of sexualized route names.

So I proposed that we could at least have a moratorium on “crack” double entendres, on the minimal grounds that they’re just too obvious. To my surprise, some people in our little facebook debate were genuinely surprised to learn that their crack joke was not seen by everyone to be as clever as they thought it was. I guess that’s how potty humour perpetuates itself–generation after generation failing to perceive the obvious.

There’s a local crag (Sorrow’s End) with a route called “See with Joy.” Now there’s a name that captures something about the climbing experience. May there be many more names like that in the future.

IMG_3817

climbing · fitness · Guest Post · strength training

Get a grip (guest post)

Shortly after starting indoor rock climbing, I found out that my grip strength was going to be a limiting factor, especially when I tried out the bouldering wall. So, I decided to train my grip strength. To get a baseline to measure my progress against, I asked my gym for a go at their grip strength tester.

I pulled about 100lbf. “You have excellent grip strength!” the gym attendant said, pointing at the last column of the “female” table, which topped out at 70lbf. That didn’t seem right to me because while I can open jars, I couldn’t hang on in any but the absolute easiest bouldering routes. So I checked the “male” table.

[img description: A grip strength tester reading about 100 pounds, set next to a paper showing two tables with age ranges and grip strength categories from “needs improvement” to “excellent”. The top table says “female” and the “excellent” grip strength column has numbers around 70 pounds. The bottom table says “male” and the “needs improvement” grip strength column has numbers around 90 pounds.]

“Poor,” it said.

Literally, this manufacturer’s grip strength assessment put the weakest of wimpy men at stronger than the strongest of women.

I would have understood overlapping results with “average” on the men’s table being a bit higher than on the womens. But this?

Anybody who trusts this table won’t recommend grip strength training to women but will to men, for the same strength measurement. It quite directly encourages men and discourages women from strength training. “Oh you’re plenty strong enough, lady,” it says. No need to get stronger.

Then people wonder why men tend stronger.

When I pointed this out to the gym attendant, he was shocked, and went looking for a better grip strength table, but all the ones he found on the internet had the same gap between the top of the women’s table and the bottom of the men’s table.

A much more useful grip strength table, in my opinion, wouldn’t be split by gender at all, and would have column headings like “can open most commercially sealed jars,” “can hang 50kg body weight with a 2 handed grip,” and so on. Because it looks to me like every female climber is going to be well into the “men’s” table,and whether your grip strength is “excellent” or “needs improvement” should really depend on what you need and want to do, not on some arbitrary and sexist value judgement

Varve is a nonbinary novice climber who is heartily sick of being told they can’t do something because they’re “a girl” – and has been since long before knowing there was anything outside the binary.

climbing · fitness · Guest Post

Ms. Marmot says… (Guest post)

Climbing routes with sexually explicit and degrading names have recently attracted some attention, with articles appearing in Engaging Sports, The Globe and Mail , CBC , and Gripped. In July, a somewhat lengthy discussion thread about the issue began at The Mountain Project. While the vast majority of climbing route names are completely inoffensive, not to mention intriguing and fun — think Moonlight Buttress, or Cardiac Arete — it’s surprisingly easy to find ones that demean people sexually in ways that target their gender, sexual orientation, racial identities, disability, and body type. Some of the names also evoke associations of sexual assault. 

Many climbers feel that such names should be changed, and change is slowly taking place. Nonetheless, controversy remains. Some climbers are attached to the freedom of route creators to name without having to consider the feelings or needs of others. Others don’t think people should make a big deal out of sexually degrading route names. And if the comments sections are any indication, some think that taking a different approach to route naming would censor climbers and violate their right to free speech. The researcher at the heart of some of these articles — Jennifer Wigglesworth — has also received some rather troll-like attention from commenters who believe that the study of gender discrimination in sport is a waste of time and money.

Canadian climber Bonnie de Bruijn’s article in Gripped takes into account some of these concerns and offers a reflective argument for why it nonetheless makes sense to take the issue of demeaning route names seriously. Her article is worth reading whether or not you climb, so I won’t get into its content here. But her article did lead me to wonder about a couple of issues that might warrant greater consideration.

The first concerns whether degrading route names cut into the kinds of experiences — like joy, flow, feelings of sensuality, and a sense of achievement — that people often have while climbing. The physicality of engaging with the forces of natural landscapes can also involve what philosopher Sigmund Loland refers to (in the case of snowboarding) as a “rebellious sensuality.” Like joy and flow, the sensualities (rebellious or otherwise) of nature sports are pretty great to experience. 

But it is also really easy to kill these kinds of experiences. Degrading and abusive language, for example, can smother joy, flow, and feelings of achievement in an instant. Sexually crude and demeaning comments can send sensuality into hiding. Given that experiences of joy, flow, and sensuality are important reasons why many people climb in the first place, one might ask: Doesn’t it make more sense to foster the conditions that stimulate awesome experiences than to preserve language that undercuts them?  

Why settle for lower cloud nine when you can have upper cloud nine too?

De Bruijn’s article also led me to wonder whether derogatory route names might affect the kinds of psychological preparation needed to reduce human error. Feelings on the edge of consciousness — like feelings of doubt and feelings of knowing or “rightness” — are, in my view, especially important in sports with a high injury or death consequence. In Alone on the Wall, free soloist Alex Honnold says, “I’ve walked away from more climbs than I can count, just because I sensed that things were not quite right. It’s a deeply subjective decision, a combination of my mood and the vibe of the place and the weather. It’s nothing I can precisely quantify, more like a vague feeling that some days are just not the right day.” He practices and focuses until he feels that the risk of error on his part is as close to zero as it can get. 

It’s a good model to follow. Nature sports with inherent dangers require clear focus and a solid awareness of subtle feelings and environmental cues to reduce the risk of error. But devaluing and callous language is preoccupying and can interfere with mental clarity. It can also undermine confidence and performance, which are similarly important for safety. Given that most people are not Stoic sages when it comes to insults and threats, it’s hard to make the case that demeaning language has no consequences for presence of mind. So why create mental obstacles for people at the outset of a climb when it isn’t necessary to do so?

I took my daughter on an educational tour of the Mountaineers’ Cemetery in Zermatt. Don’t let it be said that I’m not fun on vacation!

As I see it, the concerns raised about route names are not about limiting speech, or censorship, or trying to spoil anyone’s fun. Rather than censorship, this issue is more like saying to a friend: 

“when you say ‘Let’s climb $>%**@!+# today,’ I feel uncomfortable. Also, ew.” 

Or saying to the community:

“We can see how $>%**@!+# might have seemed funny before we knew more about the impact of such language, but now we find it dehumanizing and distracting. Can we talk about this?” 

Good conversations around these issues will help resolve conflicting interests and better enable climbing communities to decide what kinds of experiences and interpersonal relationships they want to build. Like it or not, we are the authors of our communities and sometimes it takes a bit of rewriting to get along. It might not feel like it sometimes, but there is a lot of goodwill to work with on all sides.

In my view, it’s better to create more opportunities for good sporting challenges and eliminate unnecessary social obstacles and sources of psychological harm. And given the relative rarity of experiences of joy, flow, and rebellious sensuality in life, it makes sense to avoid diminishing such experiences where we find them. So for now, Ms. Marmot says, 

TLTR: stop behaving like jerks, eh?

climbing · fat · fitness · Guest Post

On boundaries, in life and at the climbing gym (Guest post)

by Alisa Joy McClain

I’m a fat woman climber. And, I’m a person who directly pushes back when people invade my space. Given Bettina’s recent post about mansplainers at the climbing gym and Susan’s mention of my name as a Boundary Hero in the comments, I thought it might be fun to share a few of the internal thoughts that have enabled and empowered me to say, “NO,” when someone has overstepped a boundary with me without spending precious emotional labor trying to protect their image of me or getting them to like me.

A frequent event for me at the climbing gym is this: I am waiting to get on a boulder or a wall. I’m positioned a polite distance away but close enough that my claim should be obvious. Because it happens often enough that my mere presence is not enough of a stakeholder, I’ve widened my stance and put my hands on my hips to non-verbally say, “I mean business. I am here with purpose.” When the space becomes available, it is not terribly unusual for a guy to just step between me and the wall like I don’t exist or that my fat body is actually invisible.

I have some choices here.

1) I can just move to another wall; give up my claim.

2) I can stand there and glare at the guy, passive aggressively communicating my displeasure and hoping he notices and is more aware in the future.

3) I can wait and let him know verbally at the end of his use of the wall.

4) I can politely interrupt him before he gets started and say, “Excuse me. I’m sorry, but I was waiting for that. Do you mind if I go first?”

5) I can interrupt him before he gets started and say, “I was waiting for that.” I usually do this in a slightly raised voice, aiming for mild social distress as a negative reinforce.

More and more often, I opt for number 5 or its equivalent.

So, these are things that I have thought about over the years to make this a near-automatic and pretty unapologetic response.

Option 1: If I give up my claim, the guy is definitely going to keep doing it to me and everybody else. He was probably oblivious to my existence and will continue to be oblivious to my existence.

Option 2: If I wait and glare, he’ll probably write me off as a bitch and I am the only person who has been inconvenienced. He has already demonstrated that I do not exist for him, so I have serious doubts my glaring will result in a behaviour change.

Option 3: It is still largely me that is inconvenienced, and I actually have already decided that a person who doesn’t observe the space and see if anyone is waiting doesn’t really care that much about social interactions and community environment. In the past, at most, I have gotten a non-satisfying apology, a glare, or actual verbal abuse when I pursued this option.

Option 4: I tried this for a while, but when I ask nicely and politely for something I shouldn’t have to ask for at all, it feels like I erase myself. It feels like this guy has given me his emotional discomfort with waiting, and I have accepted the burden and will tend to the burden carefully to ensure that I don’t give it back to him while meekly asking for a tiny share of respect. This option doesn’t feel good, and I don’t’ think it’s my job to help grown men who are actual strangers to me (and have already shown me I have no interest in getting to know them) develop basic social skills.

Option 5: My best option so far. In this case, I am returning the burden of discomfort. It’s like a ball he threw at me when I wasn’t willing to catch it, and I’m just tossing it right back at him. “Sorry, I think you dropped this.” I affirm my own right to exist. I am just loud enough to make sure that anyone nearby can hear because I feel like it protects me from an escalation in violence. I’m relying on social expectation to help this guy reconsider his options next time because his actions told me that my opinion of him is already not enough to change his behavior. The world tells me on a regular basis that I don’t deserve space in the world, and asserting myself and my right to exist in these interactions is one of the ways I reject the word’s erasure of my existence. I am treating myself with respect. This guy is probably not going to like me very much, but he already didn’t respect me and I don’t actually want to invite him into my life. I don’t owe the person who just told me that my existence is at their convenience any great efforts in kindness. Every once in a while the guy I do this to will offer a genuine apology, and I will then profusely thank them. That’s when they re-earn my respect and my effort towards active kindness. Janis Spring says “You don’t restore your humanity when you forgive an unapologetic offender; he restores his humanity when he works to earn your forgiveness.”

Bystanders are often uncomfortable with my choice of option number 5. When I’m with friends, I have to remember to not exercise option number 5 on their behalf (when the guy gets in THEIR way) because it’s their choice to do so or not and not mine and I don’t want to make my friend uncomfortable if they aren’t choosing these kinds of interactions. Susan mentioned her visceral discomfort in her comment about me on Bettina’s post. I get it. It’s also part of what I choose when I decided option number 5 was my default. I understand that discomfort as one of two things:

1. an expectation that I, as a woman, continue to defer to men or 2) a rejection of their own desire to do the same; not yet ready to take on the social disapproval of stating a boundary firmly and with expectation. Whelp, I am not going to start deferring to men; I’m just not house trained. And, I compassionately understand the bystander rejection of my boundary setting, but I’m not going to bend for it. After all, to not set boundaries for myself feels like participating in my own social erasure, and I have to live with myself for the rest of my life.

Harriet Lerner has written some great books on women’s anger and boundaries. In it, she says, “You can have change or you can have people like you. You often can’t have both.” When you put it that way, I’ll have change especially over winning the favor of men who will mansplain to me, take my space, or generally treat me as less than them.

I just don’t need them to like me nearly as much as I need to like myself.

Alisa Joy McClain spent the first half of her life thinking she couldn’t do cool exercise-y things because she was fat and is now spending the second half of her life enjoying the body she has and all the cool things she can do with it like rock climbing, cycling, and scuba diving. When not trying to be a fat athlete, she can be found reading books, playing pinball, hanging out with her family and children, and ranting about various social injustices.

climbing · men

Men explain things to me: the bouldering edition

This week, I was going to post about my new bike and commuting with it, but I’m afraid this is going to have to wait until another time (though spoiler: I’m loving it). Something happened to me this week that really annoyed me, and I need a space to vent.

Mansplaining apparently never gets old. When I prepare a post I always double-check it hasn’t already been written, or what the other fit feminists here think about a topic. Lo and behold, when I checked for “mansplaining”, a post from Sam came up from 2014: Men explain things to me: The Gran Fondo Edition. Five years later, enter the bouldering edition!*

I’ve written before about how bouldering is a social sport that is a lot of fun in a group, and it is. Even if it so happens that you show up at the bouldering gym alone, you will usually end up chatting to someone about a problem that you’re both working on. And most of the time it’s nice. On Monday, however, it so happened that I just wanted a bit of quiet time figuring stuff out for myself. It’s been really busy round here, we have visitors at home (whom my partner was taking care of for the day), and I needed a bit of space. So maybe it wasn’t the best idea to engage in an activity that usually provokes chats. Maybe I should’ve just gone for a run. But I wanted to boulder, so off I went.

A smiling Bettina hanging off a bouldering wall, enjoying the triumph of a solved problem.

Oh boy, did people talk to me. And by “people”, I mean men. Out of an admittedly small sample of n=3, 100% of the people to give me unsolicited advice on problems I was working on were male. I got so pissed off I left earlier than I normally would have, or else specimen no. 4 would have had a “CAN A PERSON NOT HAVE SOME SPACE IN HERE?!” thrown at them. I didn’t want a hypothetical specimen no. 4 to suffer thusly.

The most blatantly mansplainy exchange was this:

ME: *works quietly on a boulder problem, chickens out before the end because doesn’t want to slip and bite the wall*
RANDOM GUY (RG): But you almost had it, you just have to step up on the last bit!
ME: But I didn’t want to. If you slipped there, it would be really nasty.
RG: Hm, OK. But have you tried this problem? *points to problem next to the one I’d been trying*
ME: No, I haven’t.
RG: You should, it’s a fun one.
ME: OK, sure, I’ll give it a whirl.
RG: Try it, and then I’ll show you how.

I mean, seriously???!!! I hadn’t asked him for help, I hadn’t asked him what problem to do next, and I certainly hadn’t asked him to “show me how”. The conversation went on like this for a bit as I tried my hand at the problem (he wasn’t wrong, it was kind of fun, just not with a random guy watching and doling out “helpful” advice). Eventually, I sort of bowed out and scampered off to the other end of the gym. Yes, I enabled this guy by agreeing to do the second problem. But what does one do in such a situation? Is there a way of shutting mansplainers down without being rude? Or should one just be rude?

Interestingly, I have hardly ever encountered unsolicited advice-giving from women. Mostly, they either don’t say anything, or they wait till you ask. On rare occasions, they have said something along the lines of “Have you tried doing this or that? It might not work for you, but it did for me!” As in, not just telling me what I “just have to do”, and waiting a while until politely offering a possible solution, while being aware of the fact that it may not work for me.

Often, I’ll have an exchange with someone and a witty reply will come to me after the fact. This time, I’m still stumped. What would you have done? How do you all deal with this sort of situation?

*Others have written about this too, notably Kim in her post “Why I hate spin“.