Hoping for a momentary escape into nature, away from the racism and sexism embedded in our society? Then by all means do not go rock climbing, a pastime whose participants have merely found more inventive ways to express their bigotry.
The Lily reports that because climbing is still dominated by white men, and because of a tradition allows the first person to climb a rock wall to name it, many climbing routes have extremely offensive names.
Melissa Utomo, a 29-year-old climber, recalled encountering routes dubbed “Slavery Wall,” “Happiness in Slavery”—a Nine Inch Nails reference—and “Welfare Crack” when she was climbing a section of Ten Sleep Canyon in Wyoming a few years ago.
The Wyoming routes weren’t an anomaly, as it turns out:
The way that such routes are named in the first place is straightforward and done without much oversight. When you become the first climber to successfully map out a new route—a “first ascender”—you earn the privilege of naming it. Beyond the Slavery Wall, in some corners of North America that has led to monikers such as “Gold Digger,” “Kitty Porn,” “Clean Shaven Girls” and “Astride my Indian Queen.” In a Medium post in July, self-described “novice climber” Sena Crow recalled being appalled by Texas routes such as “Schizophrenia” and “Third Reich.”
“I couldn’t really process or absorb the names at the time, because I was in this group of all White men,” Utomo told The Lily. “But when I returned home to Colorado, I started reading up on other violent, oppressive route names, and I realized I needed to do something.”
The name of the “Happiness in Slavery” route got changed over the summer (to just “Happiness”), but Utomo is working alongside a group of women and people of color in climbing to change the others. She’s also planning on using her background as a web developer (her day job) to create an app climbers across the country can use to flag such routes.
But of course the much larger task ahead of Utomo and her fellow women and POC climbers is to change the broader culture within the rock climbing community. I wish them well because if these reports are any indication, it sounds like it can get pretty toxic.