They say that crude and vulgar behavior corrodes society, but climbers have made a way of life out of being obscene, self-centered and inconsiderate.
Whether it’s orgiastic drinking binges on a lonesome desert wash, creating pandemonium on shuttle buses in national parks, or scamming ways to live for free for as long as possible, climbing, at its core cultural essence, is really a form of rebellion against the fakery, Puritanism and greed underpinning mainstream society. You only need to look as far back as the 1960s with the Vulgarians to see that this is true.
The Vulgarians, in case you’ve never heard of them, were the East Coast equivalent to Yosemite’s Stonemasters—only they were way badder. The only reason we don’t hear much about the Vulgarians today—while the Stonemasters continue to appear once a year on Rock and Ice covers—is because in the days of yore, the Vulgarians were too busy soloing naked at the Shawangunks (the Junks, as I call them) to be bothered to take photos of themselves or write self-congratulatory stories that embellish their exploits. This fuzzy record of their history is proof that if you don’t make your own legacy, no one will.
I wrote to a friend and O.V. (Original Vulgarian) “Clawed” Suhl to see whether his erstwhile gang actually lived up to its name.
“I will cogitate and rake my memory cells and any stray mammary that passes by so as to arrive at some crudessential truths,” began Clawed’s response. “Let’s see … the vision forms in my mind’s eye. A faint darkness punctuated by traffic headlights. Neon bar signs. Gold glows from half-spent pitchers of beer.
“Lots of beer. Pretty as a pitcher. Certain inhabitants of the Bavarian Inn, aka the ‘Barbarian’ Inn for its pleasant Third Reichian atmosphere, prove distressing. Their behavior does not meet the acceptable standards of our gang. Thus a desire for retribution wells up in our minds as something necessary.
“Myself, Dave Craft (the ringleader), Dick Williams and Pete Geiser stagger out the front door, anticipating the upcoming departure of those deemed in need of sanctions. We ruffle around the corner of the bar, and assault a brick chimney that leads to the roof. Merrily we piss off the roof, over the front door, as the departing blokes below seem astonished at the sudden onslaught of a mild shower.
“Headlights weave away. Unfinished pitchers meet their end. And a new legend has been born.”
When I hear stories such as this, a fierce joy wells up in my heart because I belong—at least in some manner of shared common attitude, if not direct lineage—to such a playfully offensive and filthy circle. It’s the kind of pride that makes your father cringe, which is perhaps the most attractive reason of all to this man-child still farting around in Freud’s middle stages of development.
Those diabolical maniacs lived in a different time, however. People weren’t so afraid. Back then, if I may speculate carelessly, it seemed as though more people could express themselves freely without the fear of being locked up in jail, a reality that new-school climbers with power drills must face every weekend.
Today, the only pissing that climbers do is the metaphorical kind on sport routes. Professional climbers tell us, via blogs and 8a.nu scorecards, “I pissed on that route! Yeah! I’m a professional! Woot! Woot!”
Sadly, such cheap tropes indicate that much of the vulgar behavior of today’s climber merely comprise of dumb figures of speech for those too illiterate to read anything longer than a Tweet. They may be professionals, but their image is all amateur.
God forbid if one of these professionals—or any vulgar dirtbag on the climbing circuit, for that matter—wants a place to stay, or specifically, your place to stay. It’s OK by me to be flippantly abusive to most congenital non-climbers. However, we are treating the homes of our fellow grimpers like the boulders behind Camp 4, a type of self-obsessed thoughtlessness that has turned us against each other. Every Quentin Tarantino movie I’ve seen tells me this type of behavior will not end well.
The sacred bond of the rope hasn’t just been abandoned by the self-aggrandizing wenchers who suck money out of every corporate orifice they can get their lips over in order to pursue their vain quest of bagging the Seven Summits. Many regular rock climbers have lost respect for each other as well.
It came up just the other day with my belayer, Jen.
“I sometimes feel like you don’t respect me or our relationship,” the belayer said.
“What are you talking about?” I countered. “I always go in direct when I’m hangdogging.”
The topic of conversation shifted as Jen, whose house had been overrun by five jobless and itinerant climbers, complained about finding rank urine all over her toilet seat from the festivities of the prior night.
The words “jobless” and “itinerant,” I realize, may evoke John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but I’m not exactly talking about the downtrodden here. A day in the life of many half-sponsored climbers looks something like this: They wake up around 11 a.m., and spend the next two hours chatting on Facebook, looking through their library of videos and photos of themselves, slagging other climbers for their latest upgrades on 8a.nu, and otherwise wanking around on the Internet (e-mailing sponsors, grunt-laughing at YouTube, etc.). This is a period of “work,” after which it’s time to start entertaining the idea of going rock climbing. They reach the crag or boulders, do one or two warm-ups, smoke a bunch of weed, and get on the hardest route they can find. They yell at each other in Spanish, snap photos of each other, and then head back home to consume half a pint of whiskey (each) and make a giant meal. Dishes pile up in the sink as they ravage their third bottle of red wine. Now sufficiently hot and buttered, they step out onto a porch to smoke more weed and loudly express their frustrations with the climbing industry until 2 a.m.
Any libertine would find this lifestyle totally fine, but it doesn’t jibe with people who wake up at 6 a.m. for a job to make the money needed for a place to live. We’ve gone from pissing on bar ruffians, to pissing on routes, to pissing on our friends’ homes.
Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe you are someone like this. Either way, it seems appropriate, in this new age of self-centered atavism and vulgarity, to lay down some house rules. Basic manners, really. Fortunately, the most courteous principles for how to behave in a place that doesn’t belong to you have already been laid out by the tree-huggers in the hippie wilderness credo Leave No Trace (LNT). Let’s see how:
PLAN AHEAD & PREPARE
One time, I desperately wanted to climb around Las Vegas, so I called up my friend and spiritual mentor Bill Ramsey, who lived there. Of course, he said, it would be fine if I stayed with him.
Upon sharing my upcoming plans with Mason, a mutual friend, I received some advice that maybe just saved my ass.
“Don’t even think about showing up at Ramsey’s house without a gift,” Mason said. “I know some Canadians who stayed with Ramsey, but never once stocked the beer fridge. I heard Ramsey beat them like shit-eating dogs!”
Never enter someone’s house without a fine bottle of scotch, or in Ramsey’s case, Tito’s handmade vodka. When I unsheathed the clear bottle of Austin’s finest from my duffle bag, a hopeful and welcoming sparkle emerged in Ramsey’s eye, and I knew any unforeseen and unfortunate issues with my presence would be automatically forgiven … just as long as the bottle was full, of course. As we got blown out, we covered everything from Nietzsche to Sharma to the tremendous gyrations of Shakira’s hips. The swelling weight of our inebriation pulled us deeply into the cushions of our respective couches, and from that depressed vantage, we enjoyed each other’s company. Unbeknownst to him, however, I concealed paranoia, watching aghast as the bottle of Tito’s slowly drained. Like sand in an hourglass, it indicated to me how much time I had till my presence would change and become entirely repellent.
TRAVEL & CAMP ON DURABLE SURFACES
If you want to stay up and party till 2 a.m., that’s fine. But don’t get pissed when the lights come on and coffee-grinding noises go off in the adjacent kitchen at 6 a.m.
A van or truck outfitted with a bed can be extremely beneficial in helping to minimize your impact on your host’s home. No one wants to tiptoe around his or her own floors every morning, especially climbers, who already stand on their toes too much.
If staying for an extended period of time, consider using the Walmart return policy to make your stay more comfortable. Get a slat of memory foam, sheets and pillows, and set up your bed in the most inconspicuous corner of the abode. You’ll have 90 days to return everything. One climber, in a manic rush to get to longer, drier rock in Europe, forgot to return his $300 queen-size foam bed. After a period of moral deliberation, his host appropriated the mattress as “room and board,” returning it himself, obtaining full store credit and promptly embarking on a wild shopping spree for groceries. Did you know Walmart has organic vegetables?
DISPOSE OF WASTE PROPERLY & LEAVE WHAT YOU FIND
People mix these two concepts up in a fit of dyslexic negligence. It’s not leave your waste and dispose of what you find, got it?
Years ago, when I was more dumb, I let a new-school Vulgarian stay on my couch. Before I knew it, 30 days had passed and he was still there, breaking wine glasses and pissing on my floor and projects. As his presence increased and became more permanent, I began to live in fear of him in the way a grandma might cower before a gang of Bloods. The balance of power had shifted, and I began buying groceries for my new master. Pretty soon I found myself somehow evicted from my own bed, banished to the couch! Wrong! Eventually, my landlord regulated the situation, and kicked this most sinister squatter out, so I, like a Golem, began to worship my landlord instead.
MINIMIZE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS
After you bring your host a bottle of scotch or vodka, you’ll likely be spending many nights together drinking it. The increased alcohol intake is entirely symptomatic of the fact that your host doesn’t really want you there, but feels obligated to entertain you and is also looking for any way to pass the awkward hours more quickly.
Try to be considerate of this fact the next morning when your host wakes up with a hangover. A great houseguest who can cure a hangover will be canonized. Here is a remedy that I guarantee will work: two fried eggs, two bananas and fruit juice for breakfast. Tea (not coffee). Upon waking up, bring your host one liter of water and two Advils. Stroke his hair, and recite this poem from Robert Frost:
Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
Andrew Bisharat knows in his heart that he is a doomed Vulgarian born in the different era.