“personal choice”

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Lynn Lieu

I often marvel at the accomplishments of first-gen valley climbers. Standing at the foot of El Cap or Dawn Wall gives me butterflies in my stomach. My hands sweat just thinking about ascending something that magnificent. But what’s more impressive is that the first ascensionists used whatever tools and gear available at the time. It was a different culture.

Today, as the sport has progressed so too, have the equipment and community.

Top rope: Malibu Creek

Malibu Creek, Calif.: Top rope

In a recent encounter online, I mentioned what many would call “controversial” or dare, I say, “offensive.”

On a video post of two women trad climbing a single pitch route in Red Rocks, Nevada, I mentioned wearing a helmet. My comment was met with arguments from both sides: those in support of helmets (in light of safety concerns) and those in defense of not wearing helmets (from the OP and her climbing partner).

Albeit the comment, the OP and her partner seemed more upset about the topic being discussed on a post that wasn’t meant to provoke that type of conversation. So, the discussion only went so far before comments were deleted and I left the group…

The first argument went in defense of not wearing helmets citing “personal choice.” Others included things like, looking good isn’t as important as being safe.

One other that stood out the most, which I regret to have failed to screenshot the since-deleted comment, was in support of not wearing helmets due to the abundance of photographs of pro climbers without the head gear. It went something to the effect of: You don’t see photos of pro climbers always wearing helmets, so therefore, and I paraphrase, the choice of not wearing a helmet must be valid.

Just to clarify, the topic surrounds outdoor, free climbing on rock with a rope system.

This brought up two thoughts:

1.) Is it true that pro climbers — or perhaps better said, most pro climbers don’t wear helmets (whether or not they are photographed in the head gear)? But more importantly, what are pro climbers’ stance on helmets, especially the pioneers that came up in a helmet-less culture? Have the times changed or are helmets really obsolete in an inherently dangerous sport?


2.) What are the impacts of media (editorial, social, etc.) on future generations of climbers’ decision making? Is what you see, really what you get? In a sport with a tradition of mentorship, where does the responsibility lie when it comes to what you see (i.e. in photos, in magazines or on social media, etc.) verses what you experience first-hand? With more and more climbers going gym to crag and the sea of information available online, what is the truth behind the photo and what really should impact personal choices?

Trad climb: Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree, Calif.: Trad climb

So, I began with a pitch…

Since this topic was brought up in a women’s climbing group, I figured why not toss this one out to a women’s non-profit?

Beginning in the later part of fall, I’ve been volunteering as an editor with the Outdoor Women’s Alliance, a non-profit focused on mentorship for both women athletes outdoors and those looking to get into the outdoor media profession. After throwing out the idea, the founder was on board.

My adventure begins here, where I plan on logging my learnings. But the full story will be available over at OWA; pub date TBD.




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