How one move can make climbing more inclusive
January 21, 2020 12:08 PM   Subscribe

We listened as Emily explained the four major elements that are involved in climbing: the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. I think my jaw dropped when, partway through the clinic, Emily asked us, “How is anyone going to ‘go for it’ when their heart center is heavy and weighing them down?”

Anaheed Saatchi writes about how the climbing community can become more inclusive and intersectionally aware, starting with one challenging move: the dyno.
posted by daisyk (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed this video documentary of Michaela Kiersch getting the first female ascent of The Golden Ticket, a climb whose crux is a dyno.
posted by Phredward at 12:53 PM on January 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a climber I found this piece interesting because, on the one hand, there's not much inherently unusual about dynamic moves. Standing on the ground and jumping half an inch to catch the first two holds of a route is a dyno. (Or doing the same thing while standing on a ledge halfway up a route, if you don't think it counts off the ground). Few people would say that represents a major barrier to climbing, nor having to jump an inch or two inches.

But that's not typically how dynamic moves are set in gyms. They are usually part of challenging routes, requiring a vertical leap of several inches, often partly to the side rather than directly vertical, and often landing on subpar holds, all of which combine to require a great deal of power, coordination, and commitment. This creates an element of gatekeeping, making dynos synonymous with big, powerful movements on hard routes, when they don't have to be any of those things. I appreciate that this piece made me think about that artificiality.

(As an aside, dynos are one of the few areas of climbing that really benefit from powerful legs in a sport that is mostly dominated by upper body strength. The others are heel hooks, toe hooks, and high feet, which are all moves frequently—though of course far from exclusively—employed by shorter climbers to overcome a lack of height or armspan, but dynos are not, at least in my experience.)
posted by jedicus at 1:48 PM on January 21, 2020 [9 favorites]

One of things I love about climbing is that—outside of explicit competitions—the community mostly (mostly) focuses on self improvement rather than being better than others. The question is "how can I do this thing" not "how can I do this thing better than you" or "what can I do that you can't". This leads (again, mostly) to "how can I help you do this thing too". It's such a fundamentally absurd, ineffable activity that it needs communal experience in order to be made sensible. The only real way for two people to have a mutual understanding of the difficulty, pleasure, or satisfaction of climbing a route is for both to have climbed it, and so helping others is almost required in order for a climbing community to exist.

As another example, consider the route grading scale, which is both relative and subjective. While the first person to climb a route is generally given the privilege of declaring its difficulty, there is also an element of consensus. If the bulk of the community or various trusted authorities decide that a route is actually harder or easier than previously graded, then the grade can be altered. There is a real sense that you've only climbed a route of a certain difficulty if others have also done so and agree with you. And so there's a concrete reason to want to enable others to climb the same routes.

The necessity of helping one another and building community is why I can't fucking stand it when people gate keep. And there is, unfortunately, still so much gatekeeping in climbing, despite all of the above. Route building (indoors and out) that favors a single body type and particular climbing styles and difficulties. Guidebooks, websites, and films that focus on those routes and the people who have historically been best suited to them. People who make fun of new climbers as though they themselves had always been experienced climbers, having sprung fully formed from the head of Adam Ondra. Shirtless dudebros in general.

Here's another, maybe more challenging piece by Saatchi on gatekeeping, race, and gender in climbing media: Stop Making Movies About White Guys Doing Cool Shit.
posted by jedicus at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2020 [17 favorites]

I'm (1) a climber who cares a lot about diversity and inclusion in climbing and (2) a climber who is intimidated by dynos. And I think this essay nails it. Brilliant.
posted by medusa at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Climbing is amazing because it forces you to focus on the here-and-now. For me it is therapy. I also have super strong legs and am horrible at dynos. A dyno on lead is a scary thing. In conclusion, climbing is a multi-faceted thing.
posted by misterpatrick at 3:04 PM on January 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

As a former climber (and by this I mean bouldering rather than top-rope climbing), I rated my improvement by the moves I could make without a dyno. Learning leverage and weight distribution was the real key to progress. There's certainly a lot of allure to the dyno moves and some folks were absolute gorillas in this regard; I saw a guy dyno up two feet and catch a very dicey sloper: impressive. That's a way to climb--and power to him (heh)--but there's a lot more poetry (IMO) in climbing when you can do it based on balance, core strength, technique, and good strategy.

Anyway, the thing I most liked about climbing was how it was based on personal improvement rather than competition. And there was a lot of comradery and inclusiveness at my gym. You could learn from people as you rested and watched. You could ask for advice and generally get good advice. And also a strong taboo against "flashing beta" (giving unsolicited advice). Sometimes you just want to work out the problem on your own. And if you failed, nobody had anything but encouragement for the fact that you tried. Indeed, even the best climbers failed most of the time because they were trying to learn a new technique.

In the end I was comfortable around V2 and, mostly by having mastered one hack or another, could sometimes flash a V3. Small victories, but I had fun. So, never a great climber but I never felt any shame over it.

My gym was very inclusive and very supportive of climbers of all levels. It was my happy place (until it closed :( ). For variety, there were problems here and there that required dynos, but they didn't set them as a barrier to progress. It was nice to catch a small dyno from time to time. My nemesis turned out to be cave problems; I just couldn't master the spiderman stuff at all.

Anyway, fortunately for me my experience of climbing was different. My gym was amazingly inclusive and supportive. It's sad to read that others have had bad experiences with it.

But appros to this article, my son and daughter had very different experiences climbing. My son was pretty much OK with the try-fail, try-fail, ... try-succeed! loop. He was also connected to the skateboarding community and that is pretty much their jam. My daughter actually had much more natural talent for it, but failing a move was excruciating for her. I took it as manifestation of their different temperaments, and I still think that holds up. But it's possible there were other dynamics at work that I was insensitive to. It's something to reflect upon.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:15 PM on January 21, 2020 [7 favorites]

I like the idea of making climbing ever more inclusive. I like the reminder that some people prefer "you're doing great" over "you'll get it next time". I'm not excited about the focus on dynos. In my group of climbing buddies we have one person afraid of bouldering, one person who gets anxious on overhung walls, and another who struggles with leading. Each person is physically capable of doing these climbs/moves, but has strong emotional or mental blocks in that one area.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 5:58 PM on January 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

I had to read this a couple times to organize my thoughts on it. I climb a fair amount, and I spend a lot of time around climbers-- my partner works at a climbing gym, our social group is 75% climbers, we take climbing vacations and hang around other climbers on them.

I have an emotional relationship to climbing, and often not in a good way. I was never an 'athletic' person, never thought of myself as active or sporty. Owning an identity as 'a climber' is hard for me, and the tendency for the climbing community and climbing gyms to focus on powerful, dynamic movement versus the balancey, static routes I favor doesn't help.

I think that climbers think of themselves as a super welcoming, inclusive community and in a lot of ways that's true, but ultimately it's not a diverse group-- a majority of climbers, especially in gyms, are 20 or 30 something white guys with professional jobs and middle class backgrounds, and that sets the culture and the norms in a way that can feel alienating. When I climb in a group of women, especially women that I click with, I push myself to be more dynamic and to try harder. I'm still trying to unpack why that is-- I think part of it is definitely feeling more emotionally safe, but it's more than that, there's something about feeling more free to fully own my experience and stay present in the problem. For whatever reason, I struggle to do that in the same way in more male dominated groups-- I'm way more likely to look at a dynamic move and be like 'nah, I can't do that and I don't want to try.'
posted by geegollygosh at 6:27 PM on January 21, 2020 [13 favorites]

The idea that people have welcoming inclusive climbing communities is blowing my mind. It is not like that at all where I am. Climbing here is filled with aggressive, judgemental status jockeys with a dollop of misogynist dude bro on top.
posted by medusa at 8:18 PM on January 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

This was an interesting article that illustrates everything I value in climbing (bouldering, in my case.) It is often hard as shit, and super in your head. Frequently, working out a route is as much an emotional success as a physical one.

And there is a super ‘performative’ part (for me) in that everyone’s watching you fail over and over and over. And that can be hard, and certainly resonate with other, not climbing feelings and issues. Which aspect the writer nails.

Also, I instinctively think of ‘Outside’ as a white dude magazine - if one that is frequently the source of really good writing - and it’s good to read something that reflects the experience of a not WhiteDudeInHisMidThirties.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:38 PM on January 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ooooh this article speaks to me, thanks for sharing it.

I think of myself as a dynamic climber (I'm a 5'4" woman who's quite gym strong for my size, I deadpoint the hell out of things) but I hate dynos. Beyond all the reasons in the article, there's one thing about dynos in gyms (I'm mostly a boulderer) which makes me hesitate to work on or even try them: you take up so much space when you do them. And somehow, despite being a member for three years, I feel like I don't have a right to take up that space.
posted by invokeuse at 12:08 AM on January 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

some people prefer "you're doing great" over "you'll get it next time".

I also have an awesome inclusive climbing gym. Bouldering's really made me aware of how much discomfort I've still got about people saying encouraging things at me while I'm failing at a physical task. It's been an interesting kind of therapy, working through some related picked-last-in-gym-class shame. I've made a lot of physical/skill progress in a year and a half in this sport, and I've definitely become more engaged in our gym's little climbing community, but a busy night when a dozen people are cheering each other on while going for the same tough move is still interesting to watch, but kind of toxic to my own climbing headspace in ways that mirror this article but don't really feel... well, serious enough to warrant the label trauma. It's a thing I've been mulling over a lot though - why does other people's positive encouragement while I'm trying a thing and failing at it make me feel so shitty? Is it just my personality? Sometimes I wonder how having platitudes shouted at you while you're trying to concentrate on something challenging could make anyone feel good.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:11 AM on January 22, 2020 [3 favorites]

I definitely only appreciate verbal encouragement from friends, and I only give it to friends that I know want it and in the way that they want. Shouting to strangers could just be a distraction, interfere with communication with their belayer/spotter, or be a kind of "encouragement" that they personally don't like (e.g. many people don't like hearing "you got this" while on challenging routes). And that goes doubly any time there's a social power imbalance at play, such as a man shouting to a woman he doesn't know.

I do sometimes join in giving a little applause or cheers when someone finishes what was obviously a challenging route for them, if their own climbing group starts the cheering.
posted by jedicus at 7:33 AM on January 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm very lucky to be part of a climbing gym that is very inclusive. People are helpful and encouraging, and if there is competition its generally good natured and between friends.

They even have a weekly time when folks with physical disabilities can come and climb. They put a ramp thing over the squish floor so it's wheelchair accessible, and have special harnesses and things so they can just use their arms. There's a blind woman who climbs with the group whose belayer will call out where the next hold is. She's *fantastic*.

I feel super comfortable there, and grateful that I dont have to put up with getting 'tips' from dudebros like a regular gym.
posted by ananci at 10:19 AM on January 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

The focus on dynos is interesting to me. I mostly boulder at the gym these days, and I think of dynos as the moves most likely to lead to uncontrolled falls. Which brings to mind another reason that climbing skews non-diverse: health care costs.

I've had a climbing injury for which the PT alone was billed at $25k. If I didn't have good health insurance, I would have given up the sport a long time ago.

"Let’s make it so that everyone feels safe enough to try a dyno." includes economic safety as well.
posted by aneel at 6:11 PM on January 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

many people don't like hearing "you got this" while on challenging routes

It's truly a measure of how much I love this weird thinky physical sport that I endure this particular form of torture on a semi-regular basis.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:20 PM on January 22, 2020

The focus on dynos is interesting to me. I mostly boulder at the gym these days, and I think of dynos as the moves most likely to lead to uncontrolled falls. Which brings to mind another reason that climbing skews non-diverse: health care costs.

I've had a climbing injury for which the PT alone was billed at $25k. If I didn't have good health insurance, I would have given up the sport a long time ago.

"Let’s make it so that everyone feels safe enough to try a dyno." includes economic safety as well.

I think it's fair to characterize the roots of climbing as, like totally, white. And by extension, mountain sports in general. The activities are equipment intensive, counter-intuitive, physically difficult, expensive, dangerous, remote, and most importantly, utterly useless. At least competitive sports can be a source of income if you are great. There's nothing more bourgeois than risking life and limb for no reason.

On the other hand, climbing has been transformed by the existence of climbing gyms. They are pretty cheap, the gear can be had for a few hundred dollars, and if you go outside, it's free. What has not changed is climbing's fundamental nature. It's dangerous. I'm 63 and a solid climber. I don't boulder because I don't want to be injured, insurance or not. Jon Krakauer said, "The rewards of climbing totally outweigh the risks, until something bad happens and then the rewards are totally not worth it."

It remains to seen whether gym climbing is another fad, or if is has staying power. I suspect it is here to stay, because of the very experience that Ms. Saatchi describes.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 4:20 PM on January 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

I was probably naive, but I never felt that the falls I had to endure while gym bouldering were particularly dangerous. The heights were not often high and you would be building core body strength and skills about falling as you progressed.

I'm not an American football fan at all (because of concussions, etc.) but the idea of being tackled while running full out and slammed to the ground seems crazy to me. But (again, apart from concussions), these guys have built up the strength and the skills to endure it. My own body would smash into a thousand pieces. I could say a similar thing about skateboarding.

To be sure, it certainly helps to know that you have a good safety-net of health insurance and certainly a lot of privilege (sadly) plays into that.

Anyway, while it took a lot of practice and experience to reach the point where I could do it, I never felt that I was in a position where a fall would be anything other than a do-over. But for sure, a move that is safe for one climber is not necessarily safe for another. To be able to fall safely is definitely a skill and also requires a certain amount of core strength as well. A more important skill is not to climb beyond that.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2020

sjswitzer, I think you've been very lucky. I've seen three friends twist or sprain ankles while falling in the bouldering gym, which is of course much safer than bouldering outside. (I've also heard, secondhand, about broken bones....) My friends were all relatively inexperienced, though, which speaks to your other point: to know your limits. The best piece of advice I ever got was during my initial orientation from the gym employee, who emphatically told me not to climb higher than I was comfortable, and implicitly gave me permission to back off when I wasn't feeling it.
posted by invokeuse at 9:17 PM on January 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

« Older awkward pastel drawing of a person peering through...   |   Farewell to America Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments