Every Friday we post a falling video on rockandice.com. This “Weekend Whipper,” as it’s called, has become one of the most-viewed regular features on the website, and the comments section has morphed into a forum where the merits and, mostly, demerits of the featured climber are debated and discussed. In that way the Weekend Whipper functions not only as thrilling entertainment, but also as a sort of lesson, much like the Accident Report department in Rock and Ice
, where people can offer advice and learn how to be safer climbers.
Last week we featured a video that shows a climber attempting a route on a hill called Susunia in West Bengal, India. As usual (this being the internet), the comments are pretty harsh, ranging from speculation that the climber was errant in not getting a second piece of pro to simply stating that the video is an example of “some of the funniest (bad) shit I've ever seen. How is that guy not dead?”
In 2010 I went to south India and sampled some climbing in an area called Ramanagaram, between Bangalore and Mysore (check out the photos and article). A local climber named Kamalesh Venugopal was kind enough to show me around and we uncovered a few good pitches and a spectacular route—a shady, two-pitch crack that we dubbed Bollywood (5.11d, 5.10).
Although we could have climbed Bollywood
all clean with several #5 Camalots and a few Big Bros, we elected to bolt the long upper section which was over 4-inches wide, because, as Kamalesh informed us, “You probably couldn’t put together a double rack of cams to four inches if you gathered every piece of gear owned by climbers in all of South India.”
With this in mind, we placed gear till the crack widened beyond five inches, and bolted the rest, hoping that other climbers in the active community would be able to sample one of the finest routes in the region.
The fact is that most of the people in the world can’t afford climbing gear because they are having a hard time just getting enough food for themselves and their families. Each day, as we drove through the small settlement of Ramanagaram, I saw a spectacle of poverty that would melt even the iciest heart. Beggars with twisted limbs, hungry children with hollow eyes, even corpses. The sights graphically brought home just how lucky we are to enjoy the affluence that allows us to pursue such a frivolous—if incredibly rewarding—activity as climbing rocks.
Which brings me back to the Weekend Whipper. In the comments, people were speculating wildly. “This guy is probably the town's best climber. This entire village is out watching him as he demonstrates his skills or lack thereof … Rather comical.”
But, since we’re hypothesizing, I’ll put forward a more likely scenario. The gear you see is all the gear available to him. He can’t back up the belay, as someone suggested, and he can’t back up the pin and he doesn’t have a piece that fits the crack above.
So the choice facing the climber here is not between foolishly hopping on the rock and going for it without adequate equipment or heading to the gear store with his next paycheck and buying a rack of cams, micro-stoppers and a GriGri first. The choice is between climbing and not climbing.
When I was in India I learned that the bolts needed to equip a short sport climb represented about half a month’s wages for a middle-class Indian. Watching this video—which depicts a scenario where no one was hurt, where all the systems work perfectly, by the way—I’m not inclined to criticize, but rather to remark on the incredible pull of ascent and to send out a long-distance fist bump to all my brothers and sisters, all over the world, who are stepping up and going for it despite the obstacles in their path. Aum Shri Maha Ganapataye Namaha
! May your obstacles be removed.