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While this October/November 2019 issue was ostensibly meant to be the “Winter Climbing/Shoe Review Issue,” at some point we took a different tack. (Don’t worry, the shoe review’s still here, on p.16.) Perhaps it wasn’t conscious, but the issue began to gel around the many ways our sport interweaves with the larger problems our planet faces, things like climber impact up on the cliffs and at the crag base, colonial appropriation and renaming of native lands and sacred sites, and the destruction of climbing or natural areas for industrial purposes and commercial gain.
New Mexico, where I grew up, is like many Southwestern states a relevant prism through which to view many of these themes. It has a history of European colonial exploitation and displacement of indigenous people, going back to the Spanish conquistadors laying claim to “Nuevo México” in 1598, setting in place a history that plays out to this day in the many reservations, including a huge swath of the Navajo Nation, that cover the state.
As a young climber in Albuquerque, I would often climb on Native American lands, in particular the Bernalillo Cliffs, a basalt toproping area north of town owned by the Laguna Pueblo. The New Mexico Mountain Club, which had tacit permission to climb and instruct there from the Pueblo, introduced me to the zone. Friends and I also bouldered and toproped on the basalt of the West Mesa, on BLM land. The cliff base had old petroglyphs and obsidian arrowheads buried in the dirt, evidence of the Native Americans who’d inhabited the area for thousands of years. We took care not to climb on or near the rock art, and yet, with our chalk and cliff-base footprints, we had an impact.
I never felt like we were outright trespassing, but still, something didn’t seem right about cavalierly recreating on lands that the Native Americans had a deep connection to and had historically been expelled from. One day, friends and I hopped a fence to climb at a south-facing basalt bluff west of Los Lunas. (A couple guys from the tribe who’d been grazing cattle there gave some climbers permission to access the cliffs, but as more of us arrived, the privilege was revoked.) It was the dead of winter, bright sun slanting in to warm the rock. A broad stream trickled through the red willows beneath the cliff, endless blue sky arching overhead, the only sounds the comings and goings of the cliff swallows. I remember thinking, “This feels like a sacred place,” and then it hit me: But to whom? As a fourth-generation descendent of Northern European immigrants, my connection to this land was superficial at best. I didn’t need it to survive or make my living; I’d just come here to climb.
Land ownership in the American Southwest is tricky given our country’s bloody history, and it’s also true that many of today’s climbing areas are on sites, today considered “public” (i.e., government) land, that were once the homes, range, or even worshipping grounds for Native Americans. In “Desert Rustle” (p.50), Krista Karlson and Len Necefer expertly dissect these issues through the lens of Cochise Stronghold, Arizona. And in a special Talk of the Crag article, “Origin Stories” (p.12), Mara
Johnson-Groh dives into the original, Native American names and lore for iconic American climbing areas, from the Valley to Devils Tower to Indian Creek. But beyond the American West, land ownership and stewardship are subjects that affect us all. In “The Accursed Alps” (p.68), the photojournalist/activist Bennett Barthelemy takes us to Valbona, Albania, an area rich with untapped climbing and adventure-tourism potential, being sucked dry by corrupt hydropower interests. And in two columns—Kathy Karlo’s For the Love of Climbing (p.26) and Katie Lambert’s Out on a Ledge (p.28)—the authors, respectively, dive into whether we climbers can truly be low impact and whether it’s time to put the kibosh on fixed lines on popular big walls.
A consciousness is emerging around not only our impact on the rock and in the mountains, but also our cultural footprint and the way our sport interfaces with history. It’s nice to think, when we head to the rocks, that we’re being transported to some secret Neverland, a playground free of society’s cares and woes. But it’s never so simple—and in fact it never was. The important thing is to keep having these conversations, to keep realizing that none of us, if we are to view the sport in its fullest, richest context, ever truly climb in a vacuum.
—Matt Samet, Editor
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In this issue…
Exploring the intricate web of history, stewardship, and climbing in Cochise Stronghold, Arizona with Navajo guide Aaron Mike.
The Canyon With Two Mouths
Grand Junction local Rob Pizem reveals the secret history and modern rebirth of Western Colorado’s sleepy Unaweep Canyon.
The Accursed Alps
First ascents meet anti-hydropower activism in Albania—Europe’s wildest unknown, untapped limestone paradise.
- Our regular climbing-photo gallery
- Top 10: Ways to extend rock shoe life
- Re-Gram: Personalized climbing gear
Talk of the Crag
- Origin Stories: Native lore behind America’s iconic climbing areas
2019 Shoe Review
- 12 new rock shoes for 2019
- Gear reviews
- Edelrid Giga Jul
- Metolius Climbing Dynamic PAS
- Mystery Ranch Scepter
- HoldBreaker X Climbing Sports Bra
For the Love of Climbing
- Does Leave No Trace Exist in Climbing?
Out on a Ledge
- Tangled Lines: Confronting the knotty issue of fixed ropes
- Black Streak: Where plaisir climbing first came to American soil
- Gaspésie Seaside Seeps: Short approaches and bullet ice in the wilds of Quebec
- Helping Hands: How Jesse Grupper went from sending hard to helping others
- Sendhaus™: A Premier Indoor Climbing Facility—and Birthday-Party Center
- The Climbing Q&A: Kyra Condie
- Train for Climbing in a Non-Climbing Gym
- The Benefits of an Adjustable Home Wall
- Moonboard Your Way to Max Power
- Quick Clips: Quick fixes for common climber problems
- Creating for Herself: Illustrator Stevie Lewis