Thursday, May 30, 2013

Crag or Culture?

What's more important in climbing, the crag or the culture?

I have climbed all over the country and the overwhelming factor for enjoyable climbing is the culture of the climbers with whom you share your crag. Take, for example, the culture of climbing in South Dakota. There are thousands of routes in the Black Hills and surrounding areas. If one route is taken, we simply move to another. In fact, my group of South Dakota climbing friends actually leave notes inviting more climbers to the crags. Anyone is welcome, and the more people who are there, the better everyone climbs! This is indicative of a COOPERATIVE climbing culture.

What culture do we have in Minnesota?

"Minnesota Nice" refers to the phenomenon of upper-midwesterners being nice to your face but then turning around and excluding you or saying something behind your back (or maybe just taking out their aggression on the road).  Is there such a thing as "Minnesota Climbing Nice"? Have you ever felt like there are mixed feelings about newcomers when you arrive at the crag? Have you ever been disappointed or worried when more people show up to climb on a Sunday morning?  I know that I have.  I will admit that, when I climb in Minnesota, sometimes I say "Welcome!" but I really mean, "Please don't take my route."

Where does this culture come from?  Can it be changed?

I believe that our "Minnesota Climbing Nice" culture mainly arises from scarcity.  We have such a small amount of good, climbable rock, that while we revel in sharing our pasion with other like-minded individuals, we also fear that we will not be able to do the activity we have to share with others. Even in the gym, we get frustrated when it is really busy and we are reluctant to put out an "all call" for more climbers.  Route scarcity leads to a COMPETITIVE climbing culture.

What intensifies this route scarcity is the nature of guiding and instruction in Minnesota. Our biggest guiding and eduction source, our local gym, adds to the scarcity by monopolizing routes to guarantee their clients an experience worth paying for. The high quantity and low quality of their classes is also flooding the climbing community with a large number of uninformed participants. This corporate approach to climbing outreach and education is creating a negative, competitive climbing culture in Minnesota.

How can we shift our Minnesota climbing culture?

1. Support the creation of new climbing areas by donating to causes like the Access Fund and MCA.

2. Take care of the areas we have previously established by attending Adopt-a-crag events.

3. Support grassroots, community-based approaches to Climbing instruction and guiding. Contact ClimbSmartMN for an alternative to the corporate approach to climbing.

4. When attending a Meetup. Let's really try to welcome newcomers. I know that you already have your group of meetup friends, but let's open our circles a little.

So, it is up to you.
Do you want to be "Minnesota Nice" or just be nice?

Climb Smart MN is a grassroots approach to climbing education based on community and charitable giving. For information on donation based climbing lessons visit ClimbSmartMN and follow us on Facebook. With over ten years of climbing instruction, coaching, and guiding experience,  Chris Hesselbein strives to better the climbing community through personalized technique and safety education.