A Racial Revamp For Rock Climbing Routes
Last year, Inside Appalachia brought you the story of rock climbers taking on racist, sexist and other offensive route names in West Virginia’s New River Gorge.
The climbers faced a tight deadline — they wanted to get those names changed before a new edition of New River Rock, the Gorge’s rock climbing guidebook, went to the printers.
The new book hit shelves in late July. Inside Appalachia reporter Zack Harold recently checked in with DJ Grant, a climber who helped kickstart the effort to change the names, to see if climbers were successful in their efforts.
Transcript has been edited for clarity.
For those that might not have heard the first story, can you talk to us a little bit about the issues that arose in the New River Gorge climbing community last year?
DJ Grant: Last year a group of climbers and myself were really upset about the names that were in the New River guidebook. Some of the names were racist, misogynistic, homophobic, sexist, and just downright offensive. And so we reached out to NRAC, the New River Alliance of Climbers, to ask them if they could fix it. And they were mostly on board with helping us fix it.
So once you had brought up this issue to them, a procedure was created to go about having these names changed. Can you describe what that process was?
We usually asked the demographic that we thought would be offended by these names. And whenever consensus was drawn that these names were offensive, we brought it on the table. We reached out to the first ascensionists and asked them if they were willing to change the names.
It has traditionally been the first person to successfully climb a route — the first ascensionist in the lingo — who has been allowed to name the routes. It's so interesting to me that you gave them first dibs at renaming these routes. Because, one, it preserves the legacy of these folks. And two, it allows them to right the wrongs that they created by naming these routes offensive things.
So how did it go? Did the first ascensionists agree to change the names?
We got all the names we wanted to get changed, changed. Yeah, it was a success.
There are so many areas of our culture where a minority group of people says, “This is offensive. This brings up bad things for me and I don't like it.” And so many times, the other side is so entrenched in tradition that they just refuse to change. And here, even the old guard were willing to say, “Okay, I see what you mean, let's move forward.”
They were more willing to help us when we explained, “You're not racist. We understand that times have changed. You're helping us and your legacy will stay there.”
Is there anything in the new guidebook to let readers know about the work that you and others put into removing these offensive names?
There is an excerpt in the book that says what we did and why we did it. It's just telling the next generation, “We had these hard conversations so you didn't have to. We fought for change. Change wasn't a right. It was something that we fought for. It was something that we did for you. It's something that we did because we love you.”
Have there been other changes to the guidebook that makes it more inclusive?
That's the best part. Not only have the names been changed, but now there's more representation. There's pictures of black and brown climbers. Pictures of female climbers. There’s pictures of not only white climbers, but Asian, Black, brown — all shapes and sizes on the walls. It’s no longer a white man's book. It's everybody's book. It’s everyone's sport.
Have you got your copy yet?
I have my copies. Yes.
What was that experience like flipping through for the first time?
Honestly, the book was so light because it was free of so much hate. No pain. I teared up. Because knowing that we made significant change, no other person will feel the pain that we felt.
There are two volumes to the New River climbing guide. This was volume two. Are you guys working on volume one now? I assume there are names in that volume that also merit changing.
Volume one, we have reached out to a lot of first ascentionists. A lot of the first ascentionists are onboard with the name changes as well.
Do you have any idea when the first edition might go back to press?
It's going to be a while, unless the public does a push for a new reprint.
Thank you so much for taking the time to me, and thank you so much for the work you and the rest of NRAC are doing to make the gorge a more inclusive and welcoming place.
On behalf of NRAC, thank you so much.