"Real" Climbers

Although I've always heard rumblings throughout the climbing community that some people think there are such things as "real" climbers (versus gym climbers, or whatever else they choose to dub "not real climbers"), I never really experienced the concept firsthand until I moved back to the Midwest. Apparently it's a thing here - a thing so real we discussed it at length at a staff meeting a few weeks ago.

The concept is sort of confusing (and pointless, and shallow) to me. One of the major reasons I got so into the climbing community so quickly is the level of acceptance and support I felt among other climbers - much more experienced and well-versed climbers than I. The climbing community in which I was brought up is all about new climbers, gym climbers, outdoor climbers, trad climbers, ice climbers, crack climbers, boulderers, sport climbers, whatever - though I heard rumblings on occasion that there may be people in the community with opinions about "real" versus "fake" climbers, I never really experienced it.

Gym climbers are climbers. Some people simply enjoy gym climbing more, and that's okay. Maybe they don't have the time, the means, or the relationships with other climbers to get them climbing outside, or maybe they just don't want to. Maybe they like the controlled environment of indoor climbing, and the constantly-changing routes, in a convenient location. They're still climbers. They're still climbing things, and that makes them climbers. It seems like a very strange phenomenon to me that someone said, "You know, we should probably define 'real' climbing, because these hoodlums are running around acting like they're climbers, and that is totally threatening the man-on I get from pretending I'm the only 'real' climber around." So strange.

Although I don't normally let anyone preview my posts, I let my climbing partner, Ryan, go over this one when I first started brainstorming it. He had some very specific thoughts on this topic, and I wanted to share them.

"In a sport where the goal is to increase altitude in a literal sense, we tend to validate ourselves (or lift ourselves up, as it were) by pushing those different than us down. 'Sport climbing is neither' was a common phrase used by trad climbers that existed in part to legitimize trad over sport, and, as a result (either intentionally or not), validated the decision to spend thousands of dollars on cams. It's indicative of a species that has evolved through the millennia via 'survival of the fittest' that we should try to separate ourselves as ahead of the pack. Devaluing others' efforts because they deviate from our own achieves this on some level. The tendency to put others down is written into our DNA, so to speak. One thing my first climbing teacher taught me is that the one common thread in all climbers is the struggle. The same frustration I, as a new climber, felt on a 5.8 is cut from the same cloth that Sharma was feeling on Dreamcatcher."

To me, no one climber, regardless of experience level or affinity (for example, a boulderer versus a lead climber) is more or less "worthy" of being called a "climber" than any other climber. No one climber is any more or less worthy of experiencing or attempting classic routes than another. Even if it's way out of your pay grade, by virtue of being a climber (of any sort), you are just as worthy as any other climber of climbing that route and gaining that experience. One of the most beautiful aspects of the climbing community is that climbers all love one another and seek to lift one another up through our sport - maybe if you're the corner-sulker bemoaning the popularity of bouldering among today's youth climbers, maybe it's you that isn't the "real" climber because you don't have a climber's heart.

Thanks to Ryan Fischer for his significant contributions to this post.


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