Originally, this issue of Climbing (No. 373) was going to be the Olympics Issue. Our sport had been building up to this high note for years—anticipation, psyche, and energy were high. We were even sending our digital editor, Kevin Corrigan, to Tokyo to cover the Games. Then the coronavirus happened. Perhaps the closures, tragedy, economic uncertainty, and postponement of life as we know it were not a surprise to epidemiologists, virologists, historians, and anyone who’d been following the increasingly grim news out of China, Iran, and Europe. But in any event, events cascaded so rapidly that we were all left reeling.
One day, there we were, getting up early to go to the gym, making climbing plans for the weekend, and figuring out summer travel. And then the next day, the gyms were shut down, cliffs were closed or climbing was no longer recommended, and many of us were furloughed or even laid off—all, of course, while worrying about contracting this deadly virus or having it infect our loved ones. It was like taking the lead on a well-protected finger crack only to find, halfway up, that the crack tapers to nothing and you’re facing an 80-foot runout on grainy, blank slab that nobody told you about and that you have to do anyway.
However, as climbers, I believe we’re uniquely positioned to weather this crisis because we are used to dealing with situations like the one above. Our sport is dangerous, with exposure to risk and very real and sometimes tragic consequences, especially with highball bouldering and traditional and alpine climbing. Even on well-protected sport pitches, shit can go wrong. Perhaps a hold crumbles as you’re clipping the second bolt, the rope creeps behind your leg, or your belayer short-ropes you on a critical clip. To ensure your safety, you have to immediately address these exigencies. You have to be flexible, creative, risk-aware, and fast-thinking. If you’re being emotionally honest with yourself, you begin each climb accepting that things may not go as planned: The outcome is far from certain; you might even call it uncertain.
However, if there’s one phrase that’s been turned into meaningless marketing mush during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s “During these uncertain times … ” Like the virus itself, it’s everywhere: in the ads on the stand-up comedy radio station I listen to during my commute (I’ve been coming into the office to escape the little-kid chaos back home), in the sponsored posts on my social media feed, and on the YouTube ads that flash on before I indulge in my nightly nostalgic binge-watch of gym-bouldering videos. (Remember gyms? They were fun!) To climbers, pat phrases like this ring hollow. Perhaps they give solace to the non-climbing public, for whom omnipresent risk and the accompanying need for self-awareness, accountability, and informed situational assessment are foreign concepts. But I believe that we climbers get it—nothing was ever that certain anyway, as we’ve learned in the mountains.
With that said, we’ve switched tactics “mid-lead” to bring you a Sort-of-Olympics Issue, even though the Games have been postponed. We have an in-depth look at six “comp shoes” that have come out in the lead-up to the Games. We’ve kept our Faces profile of Brooke Raboutou, the first American climber to qualify to compete at the Olympics—and its author, John Burgman, also looks at the silver lining to the Games’ postponement in Talk of the Crag. We devoted the rest of Talk of the Crag to looking at the coronavirus’s impact on our community—from gyms, to gear shops, to guides, to local climbing organizations, and beyond—as well as what having America’s most popular cliffs temporarily depopulated has meant for flora and fauna. And we also decided—because, let’s face it, we can all use a distraction—to keep our regular content, from destination features like the one on Croatia, to Training (dyno like a boss), to alpine-rock adventures (the High Sierra’s Citadel), to a celebration of the route-smiths bringing us America’s most popular climbs: bolted sport moderates.
“In these uncertain times,” I feel fortunate to have a job and my health, and to be able to bring this issue of Climbing to you all. And I’m grateful for the ongoing support of our readers and advertising partners. I’m also encouraged to see the grit and agility with which our community is addressing the crisis. We’ll see you back at the rocks soon.
—Matt Samet, Editor
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In this issue...
Deciphering the cryptic lore of the Sierra Nevada's remote, seldom-visited Citadel.
The Croatia Connection
Life, love, and vertigo in Paklenica - a traveler's journal.
The Mod Squad
Meet the tireless first ascentionists establishing moderate sport routes around the country.
- Caption Contest
- Quick Clips
Talk of the Crag
- COVID-19 Hits the Climbing Community
- The Silver Linking to the Olympic Postponement
- What's Happening at the Crags During the COVID-19 Closures
- Summer Crag Kit
Gear: Comp Shoes
- 2020: Year of the "Comp Shoes"
- Comp Shoes 101
- Dover Island, Nova Scotia: The Ever-Changing Granite Playground of this Tiny Atlantic Isle
- Torment-Forbidden Traverse
- Celibacy Vow: Committing to Sexual Distancing in Order to Send the Gnar
- Dynoing Mater Class: Learn to Launch with Power and Precision
- Climbing Photo Gallery
Faces: The Climbing Q&A
- Brooke Raboutou: How this unassuming college student - and pedigreed super-climber - became the first American climber to qualify for the Olympics
- Salome Aubert: Scientist with a Side Hustle