Climbers caught between a rock and a social movement

WARNING: This story contains offensive descriptions.

The Black Lives Matter movement has reached Australia’s rock-climbing community, as the world’s top climbing platform forces a change to offensive route names.

Activists have called for Australian climbing routes, such as “Trigga Nigga”, “Brother in a Body Bag”, “I’m With Hitler”, “Rape Machine”, “Slap My Bitch” and “Flogging a Dead Faggot”, to be re-named.

In climbing culture, the first person to ascend to a peak names the route. For the last 30 years, many routes have been recorded on the website theCrag, which says it is the “largest rock climbing and bouldering platform worldwide.”

If a climber adds a route to theCrag, it may be added to climbing guidebooks.

The debate over offensive route names was reignited in Australia after a climber posted offensive route names from Nowra on her Instagram story.

“Being a woman, I feel the violence and threat of route names referencing rape and violence against women,” climber Teagan Westendorf wrote. “Joking about violence normalises it and makes it sound like acceptable behaviour.”

While the issue has been raised in the past, the Black Lives Matter movement “changed the whole appreciation of the issue”, Ulf Fuchslueger, a staff member at theCrag, told Central News.

“The climbing community’s a white community,” added Mr Fuchslueger. “You must face it. It is, even in the US, still a very white community. And this changes extremely slow.”

Mr Fuchslueger believes while there are minority advocacy groups in climbing, “the whole Black Lives Matter movement … is way more powerful than all these climbing groups combined.”

“We always had this capability, or this technical capability, to hide offensive names,” he said. “The posts that were made in social media in Australia … made us apply our Code of Etiquette a bit stricter.”

theCrag will review route names by searching offensive terms, and if a route is reported. If a route name is considered offensive, the website will ask the first ascensionist to change it and will put the previous name in a separate “offensive name” field. If there is no response to the request for any reason, a “local authority” can suggest a new name.

Blue Mountains-based climber and first ascensionist Nick Roach says that first ascensionists should still have control over their route names. He told Central News;

“It needs to be made clear that these routes are works of art, and by forcing an equipper to change the name of the route is like forcing a band to change the name of a song.”

“I think a lot of the [first ascensionists] that gave routes the most offensive names will have matured a bit since they named them and will gladly give them better names.”

theCrag is an international platform and Mr Fuchslueger says cultural differences can make censorship difficult.

“We are dealing with route names all over the world in many different languages. And on top of that it’s a cultural thing,” he says.

One route in Nowra called “Black Butt Borers” was flagged as offensive. Blackbutt is the common name for the Eucalyptus Pilularis tree. Ultimately, the route was changed to “Blackbutt Borers”.

Mr Fuchslueger says offensive route names are in the minority.

“If you look at the percentage of really offensive names, they’re a small part,” says Mr Fuchslueger.

“There are certain hotspots like Nowra, or very often these hotspots are created … because somebody has given an area a name and then people try to stick with a certain category of names without really thinking a lot about.

“But overall it’s really not a thing that is intrinsic to the climbing community.”

— Lanie Tindale, @LanieT96