my mandala

12 04 2008

since moving to arizona for a temporary academic gig/climbing trip I have been exposed to a different sort of climbing landscape than what we tend to see in kentucky and the southeast. aside from the obvious differences (i.e. plants, animals, rock type), what really stands out is the history involved with bouldering in the West. while i’m sure there were some pebble wrestlers hitting up the rock in Chattanooga in the late 1980’s, the southwest had what we might call a full-fledged climbing ‘scene’ at that time. it’s odd to find yourself on a problem put up 30 years ago when much of the bouldering we routinely encounter in the US has been put up in the last decade.  i find it sorta neat in some respects to (re)walk john sherman’s ‘stone crusade‘.

that said, there is something odd about this historical climbing landscape; boulder problems in the southwest u.s. (in my experience) tend to be left almost nameless. in the late 80’s and 90’s a bunch of strong dudes rolled through much of arizona, new mexico, and texas putting up boulders with names such as: The Flake, The Rails, The Arete, and Lunge Left. descriptive as they were, these titles are a far aesthetic cry from the names of modern problems such as God Module, Mandala, Terremer, and Something from Nothing.

my core question for this post is why? would research show that there was a threshold in climbing history when boulder problems appeared important enough to be named thoughtfully? was there simply not enough people to make naming necessary?

more after the break>>

before we begin to suss this out, I first want to consider the naming of boulder problems more generally:

1) there are pragmatic reasons to name a boulder problem. for one, it sure as hell beats saying “that one problem to left of the tree next to the road”. in my experience having a conversation about a poorly identified problem is akin to explaining the particularities of a techno track. (i.e. boom, boom, blip, blip, crash). it simply doesn’t work.

2) a classic name goes a long way in making a classic line. that is, if Dreamtime was called “slanty problem with bad holds on the hill” it just wouldn’t evoke the same sort of reverence. all of us, at some level, must be aware of the power of language to do things outside of basic denotation and differentiation. chris sharma’s Realization just wouldn’t be the same if it were called Turd Majesty. it just wouldn’t.

3) creation and history. this is a big one. of course, we all know we didn’t ‘set’ the problem. but if we are the first to ‘see’ a problem, unlock the sequence, and make our bodies submit to its rules, then it seems the line between creation and discovery blurs a bit. tied to this, i think, is a desire to imbed this – our – creation in and on the climbing landscape. the act of naming outside the confines of characteristics of the problem (the flake, the pocket, etc..) is our way of connecting a bit of ourselves to this piece of stone.

given this list (which is anything but comprehensive), how is it that the West seems to hold so many unnamed problems? has something changed? is naming problems part of the commodification of climbing (or the commodification of everything?)? or am i missing something?

consider this an open conversation about anything even quasi-related to naming climbs…

-tissue

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6 responses

12 04 2008
thearchitecturality

i wonder if the naming of boulder problems other than something similar to their descriptive features evolved out of a revelation that the boulder problem was something worth pursuing in it’s own right, rather than a means to an end; namely, getting stronger for routes. – a point you alluded to.

13 04 2008
thereverend

let’s cut the bullsh!t. besides the pragmatic naming of things for a point of reference, problems are given names as they are by the sheer process and attempt of trying to look/have-others-believe-that-you-are cool. which is really the only reason to climb anyway.

right?

13 04 2008
tissuetendons

lol. sure, i think you’re right to a certain extent. i personally climb to make my friends feel like ninnies and collect as many “nice brah” comments as possible from total strangers. this still doesn’t answer why it appears people haven’t always been inclined to pursue naming as a way to solidify their ego.

13 04 2008
thereverend

i guess it points inexplicably to the fact that the solidification of ego is a more recent phenomenon.
that, or people weren’t smart enough to name them in the past.
so, i guess getting smarter is directly correlated to solidifying one’s ego.

that, or people just climbed for different reasons, until more recently (probably due in part with the popularization of the “sport,” and its accessibility).

13 04 2008
tissuetendons

probably weren’t smart enough. it’s hard to come up with two syllable titles that “pop”. 😛

26 04 2008
your favorite gym sucks « It Came from the Garage

[…] don’t have names or appropriate designation, as it relates to what tissue tendons wrote here. the point is this: climbers have resigned themselves to automatically viewing the indoor gym as […]

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