The Constant Gardener, The Constant Aggrandizement of Occasional Gardening and Other Heroic Deeds, and the Bitch Fest of One Disgruntled Dirtbag

This is what Constant Gardening looks like.  Cooper Varney on the FA of Todo Cambia.  Photo: Florian Haenel

This is what Constant Gardening looks like. Cooper Varney on the FA of Todo Cambia. Photo: Florian Haenel

So there he stood. Covered in dirt, hands so worn and ruined that he could not properly shake my friend’s hand.  Brushes long-since de-bristled, blood and dirt caked to cuticles and stuck in the eye creases, spittle stuck with dirt in the corners of his mouth.  So exhausted from his “day off” that he cannot even refuse my offer to push him across the river in the tyrolean cart.  That’s how I know he’s whopped – Daniel is a proud and capable man, and is far more likely to help me, than me him.

Now, Daniel, he’d fit the bill of ‘constant gardener’.  His extension to his own route Camp Farm on Cochamo’s La Junta – which he has worked bottom up, top down, side to side, and everything in between for multiple years now (often on solo missions that involve sleeping on the wall without bivy gear, and scrubbing, brushing, cleaning, bolting, etc for 10 hour stretches) – that route would qualify for the name.  Daniel’s been been putting up new routes in Cochamo for over ten years now – his Camp Farm extension is just the latest and greatest.  If cleaning vegetation out of cracks and scrubbing lichen and moss off of faces were cool in the climbing community, than Daniel would be Chris Sharma.  If there is anyone as accomplished in those thankless tasks, I’d love to meet him or her.  Simply put, Daniel’s appetite for cleaning is voracious and insatiable.  I learned from him, and J.B. Haab how to properly “work” on a route, during my first two seasons in Cochamo.  I also learned from them that it’s not something to brag about, or anything, it’s just what you do.  It’s what we do.  We’re there, in paradise, getting to establish new routes on incredible walls.  It’s a privilege.  It’s the biggest privilege.

Okay, I can feel how crusty I’m being even before I get to the point.  But seriously.  When a couple of pro climbers put up a new route in Yosemite (in 2 days, mind you – not the month+ suffer-fests I’ve witnessed in Cochamo), and call it the Constant Gardener; and then when their sponsoring company makes a video about it to show how amazing these guys are, for all their selfless gardening and hard work up on this wall – I can’t help but laugh (a bit cynically, perhaps).

In truth, it doesn’t have anything to do with these athletes, or this company, or their route, or another route.  It’s not a pissing match.  The thing I find frustrating is that we as a community constantly drool over these ordinary people who we ourselves place on the “hero” pedestal.  The media and the industry behind it feed into it by making a big deal of normal everyday actions when pros do them.  If I had pitched to any climbing company that I would go somewhere and spend days, weeks, whatever it took on a wall, scrubbing it, cleaning it, and prepping it for free climbing, repeat ascents, etc – they would have laughed me out of the office.

If?  Oh wait, that’s right.  It’s not easy drumming up support for blue collar work if you’re a measly plebeian dirtbag.  You can’t get a major AAC grant to do it.  You can’t get major sponsorships (i.e., ones that pay) – magazines don’t want articles about it.  What can you get money for?  How can you make a name for yourself?  Well, you’re not going to suddenly start climbing 5.15… You won’t all of a sudden grab the speed record on the nose… Nobody cares if you climb a new 5.11… but wait, what about a 5.11x?  Hmm… now we’re talking.  How about a 5.11x in PATAGONIA?  Uhhuh, we’re listening… And it was shitty conditions, and I almost died.  Yes?  Tell us more…

Everyone wants to see pros acting blue collar, down to earth, humble, and community-service oriented.  But nobody wants to see amateur climbers doing the same.  As far as the climbing community, media, and corporate sponsors are concerned, it seems to me that the only thing that really gets a nod, a mention, or a dollar spent on it if you don’t have “a name” is risking your neck on big scary mountains.  The riskier, the gnarlier, the better.  Does anyone else find it ironic that our heroes die in the mountains, and then we establish grants in their names to encourage new climbers to do the same?  Okay, we’re not directly encouraging them to die.  Obviously not.  But if we make remote, challenging, and alpine pre-requisites – we certainly encourage toeing that line.

I know it seems like I’m biting the hand that feeds.  Yes, I did receive a Copp Dash Award this past winter, and yes, it is to attempt a new route on a remote alpine big wall where weather is super gnarly.  Yes, I am grateful, humbled, and honored at the opportunity.  But no, I don’t think we should avoid the subject.  What is the ostensible goal of the climbing media?  What should we promote, and what should we devalue?  What responsibilities do climbing companies have to their clientele, and what responsibilities do we as climbers have to one another.

There should be another way.  If you want a professional place in the climbing community, there should be more options than risking your neck, or giving up because you’ll never climb as hard as “the other guy” (as most of us won’t).  The story we need to begin, more and more often, to tell, is the one of the everyday climber who is just like us.  The average ascentionist, the dime a dozen dirtbag.  If we cannot find inspiration in them, how can we begin to find inspiration in ourselves?

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