The Loss of Climbing’s Soul and Every Other Problem in Your Life: Why Social Media isn’t to Blame

OMG so annoying like who does she even think she is…Honnold?! Photo: Gaby Nobrega

In the last few years, there have been a number of articles in the outdoor media that all claim the same thing:

Social media and the people who use it are ruining absolutely everything.

At first look, this argument may seem sound. But that’s most likely due to the fact that social media is in the same category as things like yoga and low ball lip traverses—it’s very, very easy to make fun of. But just because something is easy to hate on doesn’t mean it’s actually bad. When it comes to the relationship between rock climbers and social media, I think there’s something deeper going on.

The “Hate on Social Media Equation”

These articles/arguments all follow the same format:

  1. Talk about the good ol’ days. You know, when things were simple and climbing was cool and you were cool and camping was free and nowhere was crowded and politicians were honest and the water tasted like wine and topless women fed you grapes at Camp 4 and you once climbed a boulder without a crash pad and you actually invented sport climbing and the whole world was so awesome and how the new generation really just doesn’t get it.
  2. Make fun of people. In this case, make fun of people who use social media. Make fun of their clothes, the pictures they post, their daisy chains, the captions on their Instagrams, their psych about their first trad lead, how totally lame and worthless they are for using social media just like the majority of earth’s population.
  3. Equate climbers who have large social media followings to Kim Kardashian or some other celebrity who was made famous by a sex tape. Because posting a picture of yourself cooking eggs in the Pit is essentially the same thing.
  4. Present an issue or list of issues within the climbing community and blame them on social media.
  5. Mention that Lynn Hill freed the Nose.
  6. Share the shit out of the article on social media. Don’t address the irony or hypocrisy in that.

Why social media isn’t solely to blame

To say that social media spray is responsible for things like the rise in climbing accidents, free soloing, or bad decision making is unfounded because it completely ignores other factors such as population growth. Our sport’s community is growing rapidly, and with this growth we can expect higher accident rates, more shitty decision making, and more people soloing. To put it simply:

More people climbing=more accidents.

More people making decisions=more shitty decisions.

Larger climbing population=more soloists.

We know this stuff.

Furthermore, these issues existed before social media. They are problems inherent to rock climbing. Even way back in the good old days when you were smoking hella weed in Camp 4 with all the naked chicks, climbers were still forgetting to double back their harness.

We can even see social media being used to actually prevent accidents, spread awareness about ethical and access issues, and promote safety. Recently, we’ve seen a number of high-profile athletes like Jonathan Siegrest using social media as a way to educate climbers about avoidable mistakes.

In fact, my climbing style, attitude, and knowledge has been informed by posts from Emily Harrington, Ann Raber, Paige Claassen, Hannah Hall, and many others.

Why do we love these articles?

Despite the obvious flaws in their arguments, these articles are fervently supported because it presents readers with an offer that’s too good to pass up — an external scapegoat for an internal problem. These arguments gift us with something outside of ourselves to blame for our own discomfort with social media. Readers don’t even care that the arguments are unsound because our egos are obsessed with anything that gives us an excuse to not take responsibility for our own shit.

Years ago, I wrote something about how pictures of women wearing makeup while climbing isn’t “authentic”. That may seem like a reasonable thing to say, but what was really going on was that I myself was uncomfortable with women wearing makeup while climbing. And to really boil it all down, it wasn’t even about other women, it was about me. I had issues surrounding makeup and climbing, and to avoid addressing those issues, I wrote some horseshit.

These articles do the same thing—they shame social media and its users, especially people who are really good at social media, in an attempt to deal with the confusion and complexity that surrounds our relationship with Facebook and Instagram. And for most of us, that relationship is super weird and tricky. The fact is that none of us have any idea what we’re doing on here, and that is an uncomfortable feeling, so we blame and make fun of others in an attempt to escape that feeling.

You know, human stuff.

It’s kind of funny, but social media is actually a great tool to help you addres your underlying issues. Just scroll through your newsfeed and see what pisses you off. Posts that we find annoying have nothing to do with the person who posted it. They have everything to do with us.

The loss of climbing’s soul and the loss of mentorship

Most of these articles argue that social media is somehow responsible for the loss of climbing’s soul. And despite the fact that they do not describe how, why, or what this looks like, this is important. I think we all can agree that the soul of climbing is something worth fighting for.

I do not know if climbing’s soul has been lost, or if something of that nature even has to capacity to be lost. What I do know is that there is a severe lack of mentorship in the climbing community these days. Mentorship is a crucial and enormous part of the solution to our sport’s most pressing problems: accidents, dumbass free soloing, bad decision making, being a douche towards the land/other climbers, and yes, the loss of the spirit of climbing.

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of experienced, veteran climbers to pass down knowledge and wisdom to new climbers. This wisdom should not be about how lame it is to post pictures on Instagram. It should not only focus on anchors and knots and rope systems. It should be an education in the spirit and heart of rock climbing.

The thing is, if new climbers were to read these articles, they would assume that the soul of climbing is mostly about making fun of Sierra Blair-Coyle. This is ironic because I was taught that the soul of climbing is pretty much the opposite of that.

What it’s all about

Climbing is about community, strong friendships, acceptance of others and ourselves, immersing oneself in crazy beauty and what that does to our psyche, our power and powerlessness, our control and lack of control, and the sobering fact that mother nature always bats last.

And in my experience, climbing is mostly about living the life of an outlaw, of a rebel. In these times especially, it is an act of rebellion to climb up a rock, to move upwards in an attempt to find things that have been deemed useless or silly — uncertainty, a summit, a challenge, mystery, fear, unbridled joy. And you don’t have to be a dirtbag to live this way. Even if you work at a bank in the city, even if you haven’t climbed in ten years, your heart knows about the goodness in the mountains. This cannot be unlearned, unknown, or forgotten about. This gift you carry — and it is nothing short of a gift — helps you decipher between what’s real and what’s not real. That’s what nature does, that’s what climbing does. We go climbing again and again to feel this, to be reminded of this, to experience this in a different way or in a different place.

Instead of comparing new climbers to Paris Hilton, experienced climbers should mentor and educate the younger generation about all of this.

You could even do that with a social media post.



PS: New climbers, if you’re looking for mentorship/education, don’t be shy to approach crushers and ask for their help. You can also take classes/workshops at your local gym, read books, watch movies, and listen to podcasts.

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