January 23, 2015

The Dawn Wall, The New York Times, and being cool

Every person who isn't in a coma right now (and maybe some who are, medical science still doesn't totally understand what's going on in there) knows that Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson finally sent the Dawn Wall. That's because, unlike a lot of other climbing feats, this one made it into the mainstream media. Brian Williams talked about it in his nightly newscast, Melissa Block from NPR spoke with Kevin and Tommy on the air, and on January 4 The New York Times ran a piece about it. I didn't read that article, but I did read something Brendan Leonard wrote in the Adventure Journal that collected the best of the negative comments from the Times article.

Reading those negative comments was depressing. My wife and my buddy Vic both reminded me that the comments weren't that big of a deal, and that there were probably lots of good comments on the article too. They're right on both counts, internet comments should be taken lightly, and many of the over 500 comments on the article are positive. Still, it irked me to see people hating on a major achievement in a pursuit that's so important to me. The haters are probably voting citizens, and with their votes help shape public policy and the way our public lands are managed for recreation.

Most of the negative comments had their roots in a lack of understanding of the basic facts of what those guys were doing. If their opinion of what was going on was more informed maybe it would be more positive, maybe they would be more likely to encourage their elected officials to support and protect recreational opportunities.

So here's the call to action: next time a member of the non-climbing public stops you to ask about what you're doing, whether you're at a backcountry trailhead with a rope on your pack, or at a front country crag walking back to your car, be cool. Answer their questions. Their interest in our crazy passion is totally sensible, and the fact that you just sent your project does not make you a better person than them. This is an opportunity to create an ally or an enemy for climbers. Which would you rather have?

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