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From Not Eating Creatures to a Situational Opinion on Lowering Off Rappel Rings, Gear Guru Has the Word

Going vegetarian isn't just animal friendly, it can help your health and the Earth, and giving up meat isn't difficult nor does it impose any hardships.


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Question: I imagine that when you are on the wall you eat nuts and bolts, but what does Gear Guy eat when not climbing? I know, this isn’t a question about equipment, but eating is as much of a performance and health/safety issue as selecting the proper gear, so help, please.

Gear Guru says: You are correct: Diet is a health issue. Arguably, more climbers will become sick, even die, from poor eating habits any given year than will be injured or die in climbing accidents. An unhealthy diet is just a more patient killer than avalanche, rockfall or failing to knot the end of the rope.

Two years ago I was on the couch listening to the woodstove snap and pop, Petunia the pug in my lap, and I realized that that cheery mongrel enjoyed life. Same for the Rhode Island Reds my wife and I raise for eggs. Whenever we go into the yard, those hens come running, happily clucking and turning their heads, fixing us with their dinosaur eyes. It’s like they’re trying to communicate, tell us that there’s more to them than drumsticks. One day, after 57 years of eating whatever was put before me, I got the message. I understood that dogs and chickens want to live just like us, and by extension so do birds and cows and hogs and all gentle creatures except delicious oysters. I quit eating meat on the spot. 

Since then, my hereditarily high cholesterol has dropped to a normal level, and I lost 10 pounds almost instantly. I’ve also learned that vegetarians have around half the carbon footprint of meat eaters, so the Earth benefits from my new-found diet.

On big walls I haul up a bicycle and eat it.

Eating vegetables isn’t a hardship, but requires thought—you can’t whip into Big Bob’s when you want a snack or toss back a sack of chicharrones. Getting enough protein is the crux. I figure I need about 100 grams of protein a day (I weigh 150 and am reasonably active). I eat eggs when the birds feel like accommodating. One egg has six to seven grams of protein. Large-curd cottage cheese has 13 grams of protein per half cup (I’m vegetarian, not vegan). Some days I eat an entire 32-ounce tub of cottage cheese at a sitting (probably not recommended, but I like it). Other good sources of protein are lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas and what I think of as “heavy vegetables”: brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, potatoes, broccoli. Google to find more. About half the year I have a garden and grow this stuff. Lately, vegetable “meat” substitutes are on the rise. Some are tasty, some aren’t. Some are good for you, some aren’t. Some are Earth friendly, some aren’t.  Experiment and read to find what stokes your palate and what sit well with you ethically.

You are probably thinking, Yech, that sounds like the parts to a meal, but what’s the meal? Main dishes that I prefer are veggie pizza; burritos (with potatoes, beans and cheese); all sorts of pasta, usually with mushroom sauce; rice dishes; vegetable stews; polenta with veggies and a marinara; veggie burgers; potato dishes such as mashed or baked potatoes; and all sorts of slow-cooked beans (get a crock pot). If you like Indian food, you are in luck because much of it is vegetarian—get a cookbook. Same for Chinese, Thai and Cambodian dishes. Then there’s sushi.

Over Thanksgiving the family was all home, and our traditional meal had no meat at all. We had green-bean and corn casseroles, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted brussels sprouts with pistachios, squash tarts with caramelized onions. Everyone, even our youngest daughter home from college who loves turkey, agreed that it was the best holiday meal they’d ever had.

If you are serious about improving your health and conditions on this spinning blue marble that has kindly provided us with cliffs, boulders and mountains, consult a dietitian.

Per your first point, correct, on big walls I haul up a bicycle and eat it. Bon appétite!

ALSO READ: THE SECRET TO A HIGH PERFORMANCE DIET IS IN YOUR CALENDAR

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Question: In your Issue 258 (July 2019) column on the (non-existent) dangers of rust on your rope, you chastise your concerned climber for lowering off rappel rings. Yet, in a 2010 edition of this selfsame column, you refer to the “absurd fear of wearing out the anchors.” Pray tell, exalted gear guru: Which is it?

Gear Guru says: Of course I never imagined anyone would go back nearly a decade and fact check Gear Guru for consistency, but since you took the trouble I’ll note that my position hasn’t changed.

What I recently wrote was: “Actually, I don’t care. Rings require threading, a common source of fatal accidents when done wrong. If I had my way, rings would be banned and replaced with steel carabiners so you could clip and lower without untying or ever getting off belay. Lives would be saved.”

My opinion is situational. Usually, when I arrive at a pair of rings, I clip carabiners to them and lower, toprope through the carabiners if anyone else wants to do the route, then pull the rope, leaving the carabiners for others to enjoy when they steal them. To me, the danger of untying and threading the rope outweighs the expense of two carabiners. Ideally, every anchor station would get two fixed steel carabiners, and responsible locals would replace these as necessary, paying for it from a communal fund. This would help eliminate lowering accidents.

I believe that in time the climbing community will switch over to replaceable carabiner stations, but for now some crags, especially backwater ones frequented by more spiders than climbers, still have rappel rings at the stations, and many people frown on toproping through them. This is for various reasons. Mostly, it’s because toproping through rings carves grooves in them, and rings aren’t easily and inexpensively replaced because you also have to replace the chain and sometimes the hanger. I won’t lower directly through rings except a real pinch. I either rappel, or as I just noted, clip a carabiner to each ring and sacrifice the carabiners.

So, actually, I suppose I have contradicted myself. I actually do care. Gear Guru has spoken!