Greenies

coplate
Nebraskans and Kansans love Colorado. But it’s a well-known fact that the state’s south, west, and north neighbors – New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – often don’t.

I was recently at a climbing festival in Wyoming. One of the event sponsors – a CO-based company that I won’t name – tossed out a hat into the crowd. It had their label, and underneath, “Colorado.” My friend – a Lander local –  caught the hat, looked at the Colorado advertisement, laughed, and showed it to her friend (also a Lander local).

“Want it?”

More laughs. And no. I don’t know who ended up with the hat.

Another local friend of mine put it to me this way (paraphrasing):

“Anywhere you live has its ups and downs. If you live in the front range, you get the advantage of lots of work opportunities, museums, ethnic restaurants. The downside is, your crags are all super crowded, and not that good. Lander, on the other hand, it’s super hard to find work, the social scene is pretty non-existent, we don’t have major concert venues like Red Rocks, there’s no Whole Foods, and if you don’t bring your own girlfriend, you’ll probably go a few years before you find one. But, we have incredible climbing, zero crowds, and 300+ days to climb a year.

When people from Colorado come up to Wyoming with a huge posse, and throw up like 20 topropes on one crag, and bring music on their boom box and a pack of dogs, and just gangbang one section of wall with the easiest 12a, you know, it just kind of ruins my reason for dealing with all the drawbacks of Lander. It’s like they get the best of both worlds, while I get the worst.”

I thought what this friend had to say made a lot of sense. There is a sense of entitlement a lot of us climbers bring to our climbing experience – especially those of us who like to travel to crags away from our homes. In my experience, it seems that there is little effort made to find out about local customs or ethics, or to attempt to minimize our impact.

As for entitlement, the same friend was the first to point out (again paraphrasing): “yeah, I mean, I have my own entitlement issues, thinking that I should be entitled to having amazing climbing areas all to myself! I mean, I don’t own them, so why do I have any more right than someone from the front range?”

I think the take home message is that all of us as climbers have a propensity to act in a very entitled way. We tend to think it’s our god-given right to climb, to climb where we want to climb, how we want to climb, when we want to climb. In fact, most of us climbers come from a place of privilege to begin with.

Entitlement and privilege are two things that have come up over and over in the past few months as one ridiculous #alllivesmatter goober after another completely fails to see the point. As the political climate in the United States becomes increasingly tolerant of overt racism, and race relations continually boil over into what can only be described as the precursors to full out racial war, I think it would be worth remembering the importance of intentionally avoiding labels, and feelings of entitlement.

“Greenie” may seem innocuous enough. But the seed of thought, behavior, and cultural context that allows us to use a label like that unabashedly has more dangerous and serious underpinnings than may be immediately evident. I’m not trying to pretend in the least that “Greenie” is as bad, or as laden with historical mistreatment as other color-based labels like “Brownie” or “Blackie”; but I do think we should be cognizant of the kind of rhetoric and thinking that allows us to fall into labeling and prejudicing traps.

 


I went up to Wyoming with Maryland tags (and to some degree, I was glad to have them). A week after returning, I have green Colorado plates.

The funny thing is, I’m still the same person (by and large). I like to travel to climb, but I try to be respectful of local cultures and communities, and to bring an air of appreciation to local developers and ethics.

The point is not to bash Coloradans (front rangers) here, and it’s not to let them off the hook, either. The point is to recall that we all bring some collection of prejudices and feelings of entitlement to the table. I think that’s only human. But we’d do well to try our best to check ourselves on both.

“You play how you practice,” a soccer coach once told me. While climbing is a largely stupid and meaningless pursuit, it can serve as a microcosm, proving grounds, or crucible, for our values and the behaviors we bring to the world at large. Being more tolerant in our own communities, and being more respectful of other communities, are equally important, and valuable goals to pursue.

They will probably have a much bigger impact on your life than sending that gnarly (soft) 5.12a anyway.

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