Climbers reject the name of racist climbing routes


A sleepy town reminiscent of the Old West, Ten Sleep, Wyoming is home to some 300 residents and one of the busiest climbing destinations in North America. Melissa Utomo, web developer and recreational climber, hiked nearly seven hours from Boulder, Colo. To experience the 800 bolt-on climbing routes Ten Sleep Canyon had to offer. While opening her guide app, she stumbled across a boulder labeled Slavery Wall with routes called Aunt Jemima’s Happiness in Slavery and Bisquick Thunderdome.

This was not the first time that Utomo encountered problematic road names. While rock climbing is meant to be a comfort in everyday life, climbers of color, especially black and native climbers, experience a different reality. Many have had to overcome invisible barriers that make sport inaccessible, from the lack of generational knowledge and control within the climbing community to the overt racism encountered in the outdoors. Racist road names are another way for many to feel unwelcome.

“When I travel over these rocks, I see Confederate flags and ‘South Will Rise Again’ signs,” says Dominique Davis, an Atlanta-based yogi and climber, of her experience as a black woman walking to sites. popular climbing in the South. “I feel uncomfortable when I try to access these places, and then, to go up on a wall and see it named Neck in the Noose or Whipping Post, I guess that feeling stretches through time and time. space.” She says if she’d seen either of these names the first time she climbed, she probably wouldn’t have returned to the sport.

Climbing routes are named on a first come, first served basis; those who do the top of the road first, aptly named first climbers, can choose his nickname. These first names are then passed on by word of mouth and immortalized in the topo-guides of the climbing routes. Many, including Utomo, believe these route names are symptomatic of internalized racism within the climbing community. The recent propelling of this discussion into the mainstream has raised some fundamental questions that the community now relies on, including who should be responsible for naming the roads.

The development of climbing routes is currently a labor of love, carried out by avid climbers with little supervision. Building a new route is as tedious as developing a recipe from scratch. After checking with the proper authorities, the first climbers spend weekends scouring what they consider uncharted territory to find intact rock, which they then clean up, secure bolts with the help of equipment. heavy that they transported to the site so that future climbers can hang up their ropes safely. , climb the road many times and meticulously record their way, which can take from weeks to seasons without any monetary benefit. For this great effort and contribution to the rock climbing community, they feel rewarded for naming the rock.

Early climbers have come under pressure to address and change their names as grassroots efforts in the climbing community merge with recent protests centered on black life. Utomo has developed a feature proposal for Mountain Project, a user-generated virtual climbing route guide that allows users to report harmful and oppressive route names, thereby drawing attention to the sheer volume of appellations. offensive. Davis is working directly with publishing houses in Georgia and Tennessee to change the names of racist routes in local guides by contacting the early climbers who developed them. As a result of their efforts and many others, some names have changed, including the Ten Sleep Slavery Wall, now called Downpour Wall, and its accompanying routes.

Many other nicknames remain the same that early climbers and climbers repel, claiming that the name of the route should be the sole responsibility of those who “discovered” it. Ashleigh Thompson, an Indigenous mountaineer and PhD candidate at the University of Arizona who focuses on Indigenous archeology, compares this mindset to a settler-colonialist attitude, where people believe the land that they explore was never colonized or used before they arrived: “We are the first here, so we have a right to the land, including name it. Early ascensionists deliberately disobeyed indigenous communities to build roads or expressed a connection to spaces from which indigenous tribes were forcibly evicted, explains Thompson, who attributes this to a sense of entitlement to the land.