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Slanderous Route Names—The Inside Scoop on a Time-Honored “Tradition”

Given that I used to be a brash, loud-mouthed punk—though have since aged into “charmingly” salty—I’ve been on the receiving end of a few slanderous route names, which, because I have no “boundaries” or “shame” or “self-esteem,” I will now share with you. 

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Back in the 1990s, perhaps the height of nihilistic, anorexia-fueled, competitive, petty backstabbing in the American rock-climbing community, we had a saying: “Be there or be slandered.” In other words, you could 100 percent count on the fact that everyone you knew, best friends and frenemies alike, was talking mad shit behind your back, just like you did when they weren’t there. Lord only knows why we were so insecure; it’s just how it was. 

The best example I can conjure was an article about two prominent climbers a friend had torn out of Rock & Ice, replacing as many nouns and adjectives as he could with sex- and potty-humor-themed words instead. He was so proud of his cut-and-paste job that he’d had it laminated at Kinko’s, and a bunch of us spent one rainy evening in his van in Rifle reading and re-reading it till our cores buckled and eyes teared up from riotous laughter. I can’t recall much more than that the phrase “dynamic duo” in the piece had become “dynamic duodenum,” which was certainly the least of the myriad, unprintable insults.

In that era—and before it, and after it—climber-on-climber slander has also played out in another time-honored form, namely the route name that either directly or obliquely pokes fun at another climber. Sometimes these jabs are lighthearted and friendly, sometimes their intent isn’t clear or there’s multiple meanings, and sometimes they’re unapologetically mean. 

In the first category, an example would be Take That, Katie Brown, a 5.13b at the Motherlode in the Red River Gorge. Established by Hugh Loeffler in 1997, and named with Katie’s permission, the route lovingly riffed on the fact that every time a hard new route went up in the Red, Katie would hike it onsight, as she would famously do two years later with Omaha Beach (5.14a); on Take That, some of the moves are as long as Brown is tall (5’1”), which suited the 6’5” Loeffler well. (Katie told me she never did get on the climb.) In the second category might be Funk’s Arete at Hueco Tanks, Texas. Established by Chris Hill in the early 1990s, the V8 is named both for its strange, slappy compression moves and as a jab at Hill’s friend and climbing partner Jimmy Surette—as the lore had it, the pair were squabbling at the time, as happens when you climb and work all day together, painting houses as they’d been. So, when said out loud, the name also sounds like “Fuck Surette.” And then there’s the mean, like Ranger Bob Is a Commie, H— Wimp, a 5.12a also in Hueco Tanks, whose very un-PC route name was pointed at the park’s head ranger in the 1980s, a Texas good ol’ boy who’d seemingly made it his life’s mission to hassle climbers. (In his defense, climbers back then were bolting routes illegally and often pulled shenanigans like hopping the fence to West Mountain, to avoid paying entry fees. We weren’t saints.)

Every local area has plenty of these climbs, and some might be sitting right under your nose, with a hidden backstory. Hell, if you’re lucky enough, one might even be named after you. Given that I used to be a brash, loud-mouthed punk—though have since aged into “charmingly” salty—I’ve been on the receiving end of a few slanderous route names, which, because I have no “boundaries” or “shame” or “self-esteem,” I will now share with you. 

First is Roadside Prophet, a 5.14a on the Bauhaus Wall at Rifle. I bolted this route in 1991 and 1992, sinking the first three bolts in its opening cave that first autumn in Rifle, then returning the following summer to bolt and clean the rest. It was a labor of love that took days in the July heat, but in the end I was unable to do the crux sequence, so I pulled the red tag and left it as an open project. Jim Surette freed the line in 1994, giving the route its name for, I thought, a 1992 ensemble comedy film called Roadside Prophets, which stars the Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz (Ad Rock). But then, years later, lying in bed one sleepless night staring at the ceiling, reliving every moment of embarrassment and failure in my grasping, pointless life, it hit me: the route name was a dig at me. In autumn 1991, pimply faced, greasy haired, and just 19 years old, I’d been going around proclaiming that, like some intrepid polar explorer, I’d “discovered” the Bauhaus Wall, which sits 100 feet from the road and is clearly visible to any idiot driving by. I, myself, was the Roadside Prophet, which Jimmy confirmed with an “LOL, yeah” when I DM’ed him the next day. 

Another name taking the piss out of me was Big Man on Campus, at a secret bouldering area near Allenspark, Colorado. Never mind that I hadn’t found the boulders but had instead been shown them by friends; I was arrogant enough to think my having put up the area’s most difficult problems qualified me to say who got to climb there. When a buddy and I put up the last remaining line in a highball cave riddled with seams and horizontals, we failed to name it. And so, during a slanderous bouldering session (that I wasn’t part of) a few days later, my friends named the campusy problem Big Man on Campus in honor of my gatekeeping. They also, as they told me later, had renamed me “Allen,” since the entire area was of course my own, personal park—i.e., Allen’s Park.

The best and final example must surely be Brat Slamet, a bouldery, four-bolt 5.12c up a slabby seam at the obscure Hideout area in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. The route was established in 2003, at the tail end of a byzantine ethics war between sport-leaning and trad-leaning factions in the canyon, which had seen a new-route boom that included one polarizing area, the Sport Park, with blatantly manufactured holds. Though I hadn’t partaken in any bolt removal, I’d been outspoken—ranting about Sport Park—conveniently forgetting that I was primarily a sport climber myself who climbed on drilljobs all the time, both wittingly and not, given the era’s many “creatively cleaned” testpieces. And so, Mark Rolofson, a longtime first ascentionist in the Boulder area who was establishing many of Boulder Canyon’s sport climbs, named his route in honor of my mouthiness. As Mark, with whom I’ve since reconciled, wrote in a comment on Mountain Project, “[Matt’s] editorials used to slam much on the sport climbing in this canyon. I figured if he saw this route, he would say it should be a highball boulder problem, done with a good pad.” 

By the time I did Brat Slamet in 2018 my highballing days were behind me, and I was happy to have the bolts, especially since I slipped at bolt two—an ankle-breaker of a bouldering fall, for sure. And I thought the name was hilarious and spot-on. Moreover, I was glad that Mark hadn’t been aware of my other slander nickname at the time, as I’m sure I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun on the  route had it been named Fat Cement.

Matt Samet is a longtime climber and freelance editor and writer based in Boulder, Colorado.

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