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Tuesday Night Bouldering

Between the Lines: It’s Time To Change Offensive Route Names

Routes belong to us all. That should include their names.

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This week in Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming: Rock Ranch owner Louie Anderson reported on Facebook that the names of several routes and one wall have been changed.


America is in a mood right now, and we should take advantage of this moment by retro-naming offensive routes, as folks in Ten Sleep are doing and others around the country are as well.

The subjective reasons behind why we find some route names problematic make for heated arguments on Instagram, but those precise reasons are actually a bit beside the point. If enough members of a community decide they don’t like the names of some routes, whatever the reasons may be, climbers should be totally free to change them. Are we really so attached to what that 5.11b on the right side of the warm-up wall at some choss heap is called just because we somehow feel indebted to the chucklehead who first bolted the line?

I’ve heard a bunch of people frame the route-name debate around who is offended or “excluded” by vulgar and offensive route names, but I haven’t heard anyone mention children in these arguments. I would like to add them as well, because a good test for whether a route name passes the “offensive” test is if it’s something you’d be uncomfortable hearing your own kid talk about climbing. This is relevant because kids are everywhere in climbing right now. Last weekend, kid teams from all over the country descended on Rifle to project such classy routes as Skull Fuck and Pygmy Mastadon Boner. 

I think we can all agree that there’s something inappropriate about our kids boasting about flashing Daily Dick Dose, which they all do, of course, because it’s the easiest V7 in the world if you’re small.

That said, am I personally going to launch an online shame campaign to get this immature and gross name changed so that one day my precious and coddled daughters don’t have to see them when they take climbing trips of their own? No, I am not because I believe there’s more value in teaching my kids to deal with all the ugliness in the world rather than try to shield them from it. I respect that others may disagree with this. But I am also not going to stop climbers from changing these names to something less offensive, if that’s what the community wants. Go for it!

It’s worth pointing out that a lot of these problematic and offensive names don’t come from a place of evil hatred as much as they do from immaturity, vulgarity, misunderstood references, or just a lack of an imagination. That doesn’t excuse them, per se, but it’s worth remembering this when confronting first ascentionists about their bad route names.

I don’t know if I buy the idea that first ascentionists forever have a “say” over his or her creations. At least, I believe there should be limits to this sense of ownership. Ideally, we can afford first ascentionists a sufficient degree of respect for their hard work, but also recognize that their routes, at some point, become our communal property.

Routes belong to us all. That should include their names.

[Also Read Misogyny On The Rocks: The “Tinder P****” Dilemma]

Guidebook authors have a lot of veto power here, and perhaps they should be more willing to unilaterally toss bad route names out and rename routes before putting clearly offensive names in their guides.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that land managers read guidebooks. Is it really worth pissing these people off just to preserve some developer’s unimaginative route name? Probably not.

In my view, great route developers are not self-serving artists producing masterpieces, but public servants doing exceptional work that gives back to a greater good. Who are you really serving when you name a boulder problem Pumped Full of Semen?

For the very online people: there’s a less confrontational and perhaps more effective solution here than just shit-posting more performative outrage on Instagram, and that is to speak to your fellow climbers in person and positively encourage them to be more professional and considerate, to start viewing their FAs not as “my routes” but as “our routes.” Contributing to their bolt fund is also something to consider and acknowledges that their work is being done for all of us.

Climbing is something that people of all ages, genders, races, religions, and backgrounds enjoy—and year after year, more and more people from a wider cross section of these demographics are enjoying climbing. Route developers must remember that they’re doing all this work for this growing community, and they can show their pride and respect for their craft by having a bit more maturity when it comes to choosing route names.

Until then, I say change ‘em if they are offensive. Whatever they’re called, they’re still the same perfectly great climbs.