Adult bullying is a prevalent problem, and although it rarely makes an appearance in the climbing community, it happens more often than we think. Just because it isn’t being talked about doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. Can we safely assume that if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to witness it, you still have a fallen, dead tree?

There is no other community in the world that I would rather play such a large and profound role in my life. My climbing community is full of unconditional love, people who exhibit such love and support, and the understanding that we all grow parallel to the sport as it progresses. The camaraderie that rock climbing creates around it is the cornerstone of the lifestyle that I have come to know and embrace.

So you can imagine my confusion when I received paragraph after paragraph of contentious text messages from Pamela Pack, a professional offwidth climber. We’d spent enough time together for me to sincerely consider her a friend, but after returning home from a trip to Zion National Park, I realized that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Someone posted a photo of my friend and I working on Gabriel, a 5.13c offwidth established by Pack in 2009. An innocent Facebook comment from an outsider joked: “I see a bolt, don’t try and tell me it’s trad!” Pack responded to this by texting me taunting remarks and threats. At the time, I chose not to respond.

I understand feeling disrespected by a joke that someone else made, but one cheeky Internet comment does not warrant such a response, especially when it was established that the comment was a meaningless wisecrack.

Her messages were aggressive and her language appalling. She referred to someone as “a faggot” and made threats of physical violence. A few weeks prior, she had denigrated Danny Parker’s ascent, saying that he “climbed it in bad style” because he overprotected it with Valley Giants.

Prior to my time on Gabriel, she had encouraged me to ditch the five 9” cams and “do it old school style” with a Big Bro at the start because “it was way more badass without the 9” cams.” I personally felt much safer having more gear with me, and for the record, I also used all of the bolts.

If it makes me safer, I will always opt to use more gear on a route. When I think back to early days of climbing history, before technology progressed and brought us spring loaded cams, I give those before me great credit for ascending routes with what tools they had then. Ruminating on the Gunks, where I learned how to climb traditionally, the men and women who put up routes with pitons and hammers in steel-toed boots were brave and prolific. Decades later, I don’t consider myself less of a person for protecting routes and myself with modern day pro available to me.

In the climbing community, aside from an unspoken agreement to uphold climber’s ethics, there really aren’t any “rules” that I am aware of. Many will climb the same route differently than others, and that includes everything from placing protection to style and technique. There is no comprehensive rulebook in rock climbing.

There is also no ownership in climbing—the route doesn’t belong to you. The rock most likely doesn’t belong to you, either, and unless you built the mountain yourself, you don’t have a right to criticize climbers who come before or after you. You can put up the first ascent of something and it still doesn’t give you the right to arrogance.

There are many reasons for putting up first ascents, and one of them (the most important one, in my opinion) is purely for the love of climbing. I haven’t put up any first ascents, and maybe one day I will, but the way that I have always seen it is that once you are done, you are giving it as a gift to the rest of the world. When you climb something that seems nearly impossible, you are opening the door of opportunity for generations to come. Much like when Alex Megos climbed 5.14+ in the New River Gorge this past year, he unwittingly showed people the possibilities that exist in climbing—and within ourselves.

After speaking with several first ascentionists, I think that it’s safe to say that the majority would confirm that they would be overjoyed to have climbers repeating their routes. Regarding Megos’ several sends of Mike Williams’ routes in the New River Gorge, local Paul Nelson said, ultimately, how psyched Williams was.

Regarding his own FAs, Nelson said: “If I report or post an FA on social media or Mountain Project, that is with the intention of people getting on it.”

Chris Kalous spoke of a route that saw repeats by Hayden Kennedy and Alex Honnold, who got on it and gave it their stamp of approval. All of these statements confirmed what I already knew and led me to understand that the first repeat is just as important as the FA itself because it gives the climb validation, in a sense. If an established FA lives on beyond its repeat, it certainly deserves bragging rights, but is that pride warranted if the ego is incapable of letting people climb it in their own style?

As Nelson pointed out to me, there is a small bit of smugness in seeing good climbers getting shut down on a route you put up, but at the same time, nobody really wants to see people fail. I imagine that if you toil over a climb and are proud of the work you put in, you would want to share it with as many climbers as possible; and that means gaining personal satisfaction when someone repeats your route. Climbers’ ability to be just as psyched on others’ sends as they are on their own is one of the community’s most wonderful merits.

As the number of climbers continues to grow rapidly and get stronger, the culture of competition influences climbing more than ever. While a competitive spirit can certainly be good-natured, it can also encourage selfishness, thereby weakening our community if we let it. At this moment in time, I have a greater understanding of how my ego comes into play and works itself into my own personal climbing. I get it; I’m competitive as hell. I don’t like to fail—nobody does—but I’m never going to win at the expense of somebody else feeling small. There is a profound difference between competition and crushing people.

And if at some point in time, you are rude to somebody on the way up the mountain, you are inevitably going to have to see that person on the way back down.

Our sport continues to foster healthy competition, but it does not encourage bullying. Climbing will not condone anti-gay slurs, threats, and intimidation. There is an integrity that runs parallel to having integrity as an individual, and I implore my community to take a moment and ask themselves to take a look at the athletes we hold in high regards.

Sponsorships are more than a hashtag on social media, discounted gear, or how many “likes” you get in support. They aren’t even necessarily about how hard one climbs or how many FAs one puts up. Ultimately, sponsorships are esteemed as a great honor because they, like climbing itself, are a gift given to those who have gained the trust and respect of the climbing community. You can gain respect based on grades and ascents, and many do, but a person’s character should also be an integral part. Let’s all look beyond grades and FAs to ask ourselves: are we admiring sponsored athletes for who they are rather than their accomplishments alone?

We may be long past our cafeteria days, but the playground bully doesn’t necessarily disappear once we leave the schoolyard. When I reminisce about my own childhood, I smile because it’s so simple, yet true: everything I need to know in life, I learned in kindergarten. The important ones that come to mind: “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody knows how or why, but we are all like that.”

And the most important of all is The Golden Rule. Think of what a better world we could all live in if we remembered to treat others as we want to be treated.

I don’t expect those at the forefront of climbing to be perfect people; watch anybody scrupulously for a period of time and you are bound to discover they’re not. My expectations aren’t impossibly high, but I believe in my own set of moral standards enough to hold people to similar standards as well. These standards apply to every human being in my life; they aren’t limited to climbers only. However, those who are sponsored have an unspoken obligation to be leaders whether they are tied into a rope or not; lead by example, or don’t lead at all.

31 thoughts

  1. Sad post but your better off without a mate like that and if your ever in Kalymnos come and have a day bolting a new route with me and Dr Death, beers are on you : )

    Regards

    Andy H (UK)

  2. I love this piece. Your last three paragraphs are so powerful and well put…Thanks for speaking up and being brave!

  3. I really enjoyed this. Thanks for being so positive during such a negative experience. Next time you’re in Vedauwoo hit me. I’ll share a rope with you any day

  4. I feel sorry for people like this woman because their own self doubts cause them to suffer and then they lash out like this woman did with you. They should be pitied. One of the great things about being a newbie climber has been the welcoming I’ve received from experienced climbers. Thanks Kathie. One night at the gym my son in law and I finished a 5:10b and this guy that we’d watched leading a 5:12 said to us that we looked really smooth on our climb. That’s a special memory. In Hawaii this kind act is called Aloha and climbers have it too. So please don’t let one unhappy person upset your Aloha. All the best.

  5. I absolutely agree…
    I share the same motto of freedom ..”treat others as we want to be treated” Easy to say but it seems difficult to do for humans beings. In fact, why is it so hard to do?.. in theory we are intelligent beings!! Is it possible that our EGO blind our intelligence?

  6. Warm cookies and cold milk are not the foundation of a good diet, some things are not to be shared, and a doomed plant growing in a styrofoam cup is not a good analogy for life. And how is “be aware of wonder” a lesson from kindergarten and not just a fluffy new age slogan.

    She sounds like a terrible person but this blog post is an over dramatic public airing of dirty laundry. Best to just put her on the ignore list if you can’t cope with her trash talk and not publish something like this.

  7. This is a nuanced and delicate issue that comes up more than we might imagine, despite a sober appreciation of fair play and civility that most of us have most of the time. The challenge is that there is no way to enforce Golden-Rule behavior, and the fallout happens in several ways, subtle and rarely understood at depth. While it is facile to dismiss as a crank someone calling fellow climbers “fags” and berating a security-first, over a bolder, perhaps more reckless, style, is is far more challenging to try and understand what the hell is really going on at a gut, emotional, even instinctual level.

    First, whenever you call out a given style (old-school bold in this instance) as unjustified to your way of thinking, and instead promote your own preferences (security-first), then run off a laundry list of justifications that any rational person would seemingly agree with, you have – perhaps unwittingly – jumped into the judgement game that Miss. Pack started. That is, for reasons you state, reaching back to kindergarten, your Golden Rule approach has served you well and and for the the stated reasons should be adopted to maintain the unconditional love model you favor. At this point the issue is not good or bad, or better or worse, but rather you have imposed this on the community to try and live up to. Inherent in this is the judgement is that your way is better – and I don’t disagree. The challenge is, what happens once you gain this judgement game.

    First, you get to disown all your own aggression and dark side onto Miss Pack. She seems to deserve it, but the counterintuitive part is that this rarely if ever works. Imposing a love model is only digestible when it happens from attraction, not promotion. As psychologist Hal Stone, Love is great so long as we don’t try and “do” it, because we have to bury and project the rest of us that is exactly like Pam. We don’t have to act out our aggression is such untoward and rude ways, but we always have to embrace our shadow on the inside or we force the Pams of the world to act it out for us, so we can see it.

    The other issue is that a certain fierceness has always been at the heart of great ascents. When it’s directed to others it is destructive and ugly, underscored by this incident. Directed to a project, and consciously doled out, it becomes a resource. Trying to rid the climbing world of ugly behavior because love and respect is “better” is simply a strategy that will never work. In a million unconscious ways, every time we hear about an incident like this and someone cries foul – which is the most natural thing in the world, since in this instance it feels like a betrayal from a “friend” – the Devil inside of us secretly cheers.

    You said that you didn’t bother to respond to her clearly ugly comments, but you did, here, airing it all out in public. Of course you had every right to do so. But perhaps a personal communication to Miss Pack would have born more fruit per understanding her and yourself. That IS a bold move, and there’s no protection, and you’d have to leave the poppy field to do so. But it might have been an adventure of self exploration, however thorny the ground.

    Just a thought….

  8. “…the men and women who put up routes with pitons and hammers in steel-toed boots were brave and prolific. Decades later, I don’t consider myself any less brave for protecting routes and myself with modern day pro.”

    You’re entitled to think of yourself however you like… but what made the early pioneers brave, when they risked death for their accents, if you’re just as brave for climbing that same route with modern pro and in perfect safety? I feel that comment denigrates their accomplishments.

    Lastly, let me make clear; this comment isn’t motivated out of a desire to put you down or make you feel small. I’m sorry you’ve had a falling out with a former friend. That hurts. I’m not trying to add to your woes, just trying to bring some perspective concerning what the old school hard men and women went through.

    1. Yep. You can’t compare bravery between you and a FAer if you sew up a climb with modern gear. It just doesn’t work that way.

  9. hmmm maybe don’t give a shit what others think? I remember climbing being somewhere you could go to be yourself and tell the establishment to fuck off. Guess it’s more like yoga now.

  10. Good post and thank you for publicly shedding some light on her unacceptable actions. Nearly a decade ago I had many dealings with this individual. Putting down others was important to her. I noticed that she thrived on drama and if she didn’t have any, she created it. I was shocked to see the examples of pitting climbers against each other and general ugliness of humanity that she espoused. Sadly, it seems like nothing has changed. There is an unfulfilled psychological need somewhere in there that’s driving this. Regardless, you aren’t her therapist.

  11. Fuck you for putting these people in blast on the internet. Maybe pack wasn’t entirely right but putting this on the web isn’t cool either.

  12. Thanks for writing this!

    She certainly had a way of projecting her unhappiness onto others…

    It’s interesting to see how many other climbers have had similar dealings with her.

  13. It may be hard for you to understand but when you yourself have been one of the people threatening and bullying others, there’s not much to say.. Pam has created a very toxic lifestyle and for some reason you have joined her in scorching many around her and yourself. She’s used people, threatened others, had friends threaten people, and attempted to destroy all community ties to which she doesn’t approve. Solving a dispute is only possible when the antagonist can recognize and address the issue, not be-little a community and create toxicity through lies and threats. I have personally been attacked by her and yourself and know many people who have been, she deserves everything she has coming to her. I give great credit to Kathy for being one of the very few who has gained the courage to address this pompous egotistical bully of the climbing community. Pam and yourself are a disgrace to the climbing community, a disgrace to professional athletes, and a disgrace to yourselves

  14. It may be hard for people to understand but when you’ve been one of the people threatened and bullyed by others, there’s not much to say.. Pam has created a very toxic lifestyle and for some reason her and some of her closest friends have joined her in scorching many around around the community. She’s used people, threatened and had friends threaten people attempting to destroy all community ties to which she doesn’t approve. Solving a dispute is only possible when the antagonist can recognize and address the issue, not be-little a community and create toxicity through lies and threats. I have personally been attacked and bullyed by her and and others around her. I give great credit to Kathy for being one of the very few who has gained the courage to address this pompous egotistical bully of the climbing community. Pam and others like her are a disgrace to the climbing community, a disgrace to professional athletes, and a disgrace to to the world in which they inhabit

  15. As someone who also used to consider Pam a friend I too have experienced the verbal threats, hate mail, and seen first hand the way Pam lies, manipulates, and pits climber against one another. While professional athletes are obviously not perfect people it is unfortunate that even after years of this sort of thing going on Pam still manages to keep up the charade. Props to Kathy for calling Pam out on her BS.

  16. Why is no one addressing the fact that Pamela Pack, in the year 2016, is still using the word “faggot”? Also: this is a blog, people. Not the BBC. The “airing of dirty laundry” is most appropriately placed here (again, on someone’s PERSONAL blog).
    P.S. As someone already mentioned, slander isn’t even the correct word. You’re looking for libel. However, the statements made would have to be false to qualify for either. Not to mention you’re using libel to call someone out for libel, so…

    1. i mean this is at best hearsay. if i believed everything on every blog post i read, whoa buddy would I be in a world of hurt.

      Not defending the use of the F-word or Pack. Just that blogs are not judge, jury and executioners and those who have arrived here may have been biased by the words of Ms. Carlo

  17. What a joke. Without hearing the other side? But more importantly…WHO CARES? It’s personal business. Go climb a rock.

  18. “As Nelson pointed out to me, there is a small bit of smugness in seeing good climbers getting shut down on a route you put up”
    Reminds me of what Todd said after freeing the Salathe with Paul. From a bent memory:
    “We discovered the meaning of climbing:
    – To effortlessly send your hardest routes
    – To have you flail miserably on ours
    – To become the focus of sexual desire to your girlfriends.”
    OK, for one, there’s more, many more women in the climbing scene than there were in those day, so #3 needs to be updated a bit.

    While this is addressed up-thread, this comment just doesn’t make me feel your pain, and distracts quite a bit from the angle of your blog:
    “… the men and women who put up routes [with inferior gear] were brave and prolific. Decades later, I don’t consider myself any less brave for protecting routes and myself with modern day pro.”
    It is dandy that you find yourself brave for send hard-as-ass OW, but if you have little to no fear of dire consequences should you fail, then you must make the conclusion that you are indeed less brave than those that risk it all. Sure, times have changed. But not so much that we’re more aware of a painful descent than our predecessors.

    Oh, and +1 for Largo’s thoughts.
    :- k

  19. When we think of friends, and call their faces out of the shadows, and their voices out of the echoes that faint along the corridors of memory, and do it without knowing why save that we love to do it, we content ourselves that that friendship is a Reality, and not a Fancy–that it is builded upon a rock, and not upon the sands that dissolve away with the ebbing tides and carry their monuments with them.”
    ― Mark Twain This is your blog, and it’s a good one. I enjoy your style and the pictures you paint with words. Seems like others always know how you can improve and have no difficulty running off at the mouth about it. Writing is a very personal endeavor, it can be fulfilling and exciting. It will bring praise and arrows, savor the one and deflect the other. I, for one, appreciate you and your words. Thank you! M

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