The rise of predatory climbing groups
What is a predatory climbing group?
I have been climbing since 1971. Group sizes were small, as there was almost no “climbing scene”. Usually, a group was one to four persons with one or zero pets. There was no such thing as a waiting line for a route. The 'rack' was machine nuts on string, crude nuts, clanking hexs, and a few pins. The rope was not stretchy, and it was belayed around the waist with leather gloves. The shoes were not sticky, and worked no better than tight tennis shoes. Leading was not much safer than soloing, so climbing was a matter of convincing your most suicidal friend to bring the rope up to an anchor.
Climbers were more like hikers, with small incomes, and old cars. There was no internet, guidebooks, or climbing gyms. In short, no one would understand or care about what climbs you did. That has changed. Climbing is now dominated by office workers with higher incomes and very little time. Climber's habits are formed indoors, or at outdoor venues that are crowded and unpleasant. In this modern pressure cooker, it is advantageous to be aggressive, loud and numerous at the cliff. Dangerous pets also help to 'lock down' a given crag. The same is true at the camping area.
Thus, the activity has 'evolved'. Good sportsmanship and consideration may be good for ones soul, but a large predatory group gets the finest campsite and the best routes. In the age of climbing blogs and sponsorships, a little 'cheating' is rewarded. There are no impartial judges to decide if a hard route has really been done in good style. So, a gang-like group structure helps it's members to get notoriety and free stuff. It is not so cool to brag about yourself, but it is not uncommon to hear people taking turns bragging about each other around the camp fire.
What can to done to reverse this sad trend?
There must be a way to reward individuals or groups that are considerate and use great sportsmanship. And, the control should ideally come from within the climbing community. I have decided to attempt a film to address these issues. While British climbing flicks celebrate sportsmanship, bravery, and quiet love of the outdoors, the American variety seem to celebrate the opposite qualities. Watchers learn to have tantrums, yell loudly with each move, and form larger, more aggressive groups. Only the 'best' climbers are showcased, easily doing the very hardest routes. My offering will showcase folks in small, non aggressive groups 'recreating' their bodies and personalities in peaceful settings.
The success of last year's short film 'A desert life ' [vimeo.com] gives me hope. It was shot by Austin Sidiak, with me [Alf Randell] as the subject. The eight minute documentary shows a dirty and somewhat pathetic hermit, who camps and climbs in a party of one. I believe that my stoic nature and love of the desert comes through. People watched it in great numbers on line, and many outdoor sites linked to it. A portion of it was shown on national TV.
The members of predatory groups can be influenced. Even though they were educated in a factory-like system, and live in swarming cities, they will learn to take their exercise in smaller and less aggressive groups. They will begin to value sportsmanship and quiet strength. Climbers will leave their irritating pets at home, tell the truth about their accomplishments, and loose interest in products and sponsored big-names.