Comment heard today: “Why did she post a picture of herself on a climb that she didn’t even send?” BECAUSE FUCKING SPRAY. (And then we toproped a project thing at the Yellow Wall that we also didn’t send.) So, I posted a photo with the above caption because, honestly, I thought it was fucking funny. I take comments like that with a grain of salt these days, but I genuinely appreciated some of the feedback:

“Nice not send. I’m sure it was a fantastic day of fun and challenging yourself.”
“There are tons of photos of me on shit I haven’t sent (yet). Because some shit is fucking hard, and I suck at sport climbing and anything involving splitter .4’s, oh and because fucking spray.”
“Who made the Instagram climbing picture rules?! Where can I find these documented so I can break them? You keep doing you.”

Who, in fact, made the climbing picture rules? Where there are rules and ethics to rock climbing, are there also really rules to rock climbing pictures? And dear god, have I been breaking the rules all along?

I think that there is an informal list of rules regarding ethics in climbing that dictate much of our activities in the outdoors: pack our shit out, leave no trace to the best of our ability, be truthful about what we say we do, don’t harm the rock and environment we are privileged enough to enjoy, et cetera. And then it gets interesting. There’s a whole other set of “rules” revolving around things like first ascents, onsighting, free soloing, and so on. Gosh, there is even an ethical conversation about using colored chalk versus rock-colored chalk to try and preserve rock face and reduce things like chalk or tick marks on routes. But I was unaware of any kind of guideline as far as posting pictures of rock climbing.

I have some friends who get a little squirmy if I take a picture of them toproping. “Please don’t post that.” they’ve implored in the past and I respect their request. Another climber I once knew got a little more than squirmy–borderline pissed–about his girlfriend posting a picture of him on toprope a few years ago.

Was it shameful to have a picture of them on toprope instead of on lead? Was the #climbing_pictures_of_instagram community going to laugh and make fun of them, or even worse, take away their climbing card? Would they be kicked out of climbing forever for breaking the rules?

Was it just as shameful and in bad style to have posted a picture of myself on a route that I did not send? Just as soon as I’d posted the picture, I momentarily questioned these silly rules. And then I deliberately made a retort about spraying because the fact of the matter is: NOBODY is keeping tabs on you. And for those who are judging, let them. Let the losers win. Let those who have something to say, say it and move on. Let them prove what they need to. Why would you waste your time trying to fix what’s wrong with somebody else or defending something that doesn’t need defending? The ones who are climbing only for the send are missing the entire point–that climbing is beautiful and it’s fun and I’ll spray if I want to.

Cover photograph courtesy of Prab Naththarampatha.

6 thoughts

  1. I remember the first time I inadvertently broke ‘the rules’ of climbing photos on the interwebs. I was brand new to climbing at the time. A bunch of experienced people took me out to a gorgeous crag on the coast. The easiest way to access the climbs was to drop in from the top of the cliff, into a chasm with the ocean swirling away under you, then climb out with a top belay. It was a beautiful, photogenic spot. I took a photo of one of the guys (who is a massive beast) climbing the easy route he had set up for me. I posted it on the Australian equivalent of Mountain Project. No one had uploaded a picture for that route yet, and I thought mine looked pretty cool – red rock, blue ocean, all sorts of awesomeness.

    A week later, the guy in the photo asked me to take the photo down. He’d been copping shit from lots of people on the site for top roping a 5.7. Like he should be embarrassed about it, like his very manliness had been shattered by my happy snap that I took during a day of climbing that I loved.

    In my circle of outdoorsy humans, I’ve noticed that the femme-folk tend to diminish their achievements more often than the dudes.

    The guys tell me about a route they climbed, with big smiles and sparkling eyes, infectious stoke and adjectives like AWESOME, and EPIC, and RAD.

    The girls tell me that:
    “Yeah, I led that route, but it’s pretty soft for the grade… and I was really slow…. and I put way too much gear in”
    “Yeah, but I was on top rope, so it doesn’t really count”
    “Yeah, but for these 108673764 reasons, it wasn’t actually that epic”

    I noticed that for a while, I avoided posting pictures of myself on top rope. Because it wasn’t epic enough. I wasn’t a REAL climber.

    Now I try to catch all my climbing partners when they talk themselves down. If you enjoyed it, if you challenged yourself, then it’s fine to be proud of yourself!

  2. I post photos of everything. Who gives a rat if it’s not the prestigious lead? I don’t like leading that much – I like having fun on rock. Ignore the persnickety nit-pickers.

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