10 April 2011

Secret Areas vs. Low Key Areas

The idea of areas as being secret has been on my mind as of late. After returning from a week long trip to an actual secret area I thought it would be a good time to clear some things up. A good time to make a statement and share my views with the few who read this blog.
As spring moves forward and the boulder fields emerge from the snow, it has been asked of me many times "Have you been going out to your secret areas?". Also, questions and comments like "Why keep it a secret?" and "you should post it on Mountain Project (or some other community site)!" come up often. I imagine that it is the questions that got my mind rolling in the first place. To start off with I will say that I have only one secret area. Only a single secret area and it is a secret for good reason/s. On the other hand I have a large number of areas that I would put under the general category of low key. And again they are low key for good reason/s. Low key as the Urban Dictionary defines it is as follows:
1. low key
to keep something low key: to not announce it; to have a quiet gathering; opposite of a large party or big group of people; not much emphasis.
Secret is of course a secret and posting a definition seems like a waist if text here.

Everyone hears about secret areas being developed. Secrets have always been and always will be a large part of the climbing world. Reasons are many but have something to do with quality, quantity and maybe just secretive locals. Wyoming has all of that and some other reasons too. I can say that I have only one secret area. My reasons are all of the above and a larger one too, being a sacred place for me beyond climbing. Simply put, climbing is not everything, other more valuable life experiences are out there and one of those just happens to be a place that also has boulders that I love. When I started climbing I had no idea that it would consume my life in the way that it has. Many years of life had gone by before climbing found me or I found climbing and in those years of my childhood I had heard of a beautiful and wild place from my father. The place was sacred to him and then to me before I ever climbed. Then as my father watched climbing take over as my passion he suggested the place as a good possibility for my passion and it was just that, a good place for my passion. My dad passed in 2007 after a long fight and with that my secret place became a far more meaningful place to me. Like I said, there are other life experiences that are more important than climbing.
I have shared the place with a few people and I hope they understand what it means to me. I think they do. What strength it holds in my heart should be evident as I have shared it, but I always have a fear of some one wanting to advertise. I fear that the simple motivation of climbing will ruin a larger meaning. There are millions upon millions of boulders in the world and the ones I keep secret, I feel, can be saved for later. Secrets do not last forever and this one won't either, but for now I am very appreciative of it. For those of you who know, PLEASE keep it secret for now.

Others have secret areas because of the climbing and only the climbing. I respect their requests for secrecy and you should too. Respect gets paid back with respect and every person has his own reasons. Dealing with those secrets as someone who doesn't know the secret is a different matter and may better be applied to the idea of a low key area below. There is a chance that a secret area is actually just low key.

It was early on in my climbing life that I started to look for new rock. Growing up in Wyoming it is only natural that a young man would wander into the unknown in search of adventure. It was around that same time I was being exposed to the "developed" climbing world in areas like Vedauwoo, Indian Creek, The Wind Rivers, RMNP (as a route climber at first and later as a boulderer), and several others. Comparing new rock to old my conclusion was that the only difference between the two is the number of people who visit and talk about it. So, it made sense to tell people about the new rock and it would become as famous as the old rock as people visited and talked about it. What I didn't see at that time is the selfish motivations that sadly inhabit the climbing community and humans in general. The desire to make a name for ones self and to experience the fame of everyone knowing your name and what you have done is a huge driving force in much of the community. It would be dishonest to say that I am pure and have never had those thoughts, we all have, but I think we can agree some have it worse than others and many of us end up climbing for the love of it.
Around a similar time that Indian Creek, RMNP and areas in Wyoming were becoming overly used by the community I was busy telling anyone who would listen about new rock that I had found. Regulations hit those mentioned areas hard (Hueco Tanks and other areas too) and around the same time, areas I had found/developed that had a place in my heart, became my window into the selfish side of things. Without mention of names or places I can say that people who acted as friends went behind my and others backs to spread rumor, slander and lies in an effort to claim things as their own in hope of becoming "known". Other things happened to areas that I loved. Holds were chipped, names of climbs and problems were changed and people started calling each other out on things they had climbed. I was called out on several new routes/boulders I had put up and in good form re-climbed them first go using the beta I had described when describing the FA. Basically, the whole climbing community negativity reared it's ugly head as we all to often see on the online forums and posts these days.
 Of course, the vast majority of the time the community was supportive and absolutely fantastic times ensued. They were the glory days of my climbing life. It was the rare dark days that made me wonder why so much effort was put into the whole thing. I found it easier to just climb with my small crew and leave it at that. It was such a difference to climb for our selves. We quickly learned to avoid other motivations, great friendships developed, and too many great days were spent climbing for no other reason but to climb.
When the climbing web sites started to pop up and route data bases were being built I thought it was a great way to get the information out there without the above described back stabbings. A few posts resulted in a mass of  iternet drama and again it wasn't worth my effort. I do believe that internet data bases of routes/boulders are a huge benefit and it is really more of a problem in my local community than the climbing community in general. In any case, the idea of a low key area became the working model of new rock development and has worked for many years now.
The idea is a simple one. When I or a friend find new rock we clean and climb it with the small crew we normally climb with. After thousands of first ascents and only hundreds of repeats it is clear that I don't climb to make a name. I climb to climb and as I invite others to come along and enjoy the great rocks we develop they too seem to be the ones who climb to climb. It is a self perpetuating system in a positive way just as there is a system that self perpetuates in a negative way. We all climb for the love of it, so there are no issues and we don't advertise. There is no motivation to be know with any of us and as people become curious as to what we're up to we invite them along. I'm always amazed at how many people are so frantic to hear every detail of an area, but never show up to climb when they get invited without the advertising and details. The result is a low key area that grows at a healthy rate and as of yet big crowds haven't resulted in heavy regulations. With small growth and reasonable impact we have yet to see the problems of the big areas that get advertised. We also end up with great crews of boulderers who truly love climbing and don't give a damn about names and ratings. Wyoming remains wild despite hundreds of new problems going up every year.
These guys climb for themselves at the low key area of Needle Peak, Wy.


  1. Hey Davin, I understand your approach and will most certainly respect your wish to keep the secret. We had a great time climbing with you guys - hope the rest of your week turned out OK despite some deterioration in the weather.


  2. Chris,

    Thanks for that! The weather flat out crapped out on us, but we did get some good climbing days in. Lots of walking too.

    Let me know when you want to go out again. You and Scott should car pool up one of these weekends. Lots of stuff is coming into season around Laramie now.

    talk with you soon.

  3. Sounds great, man. Thanks for the invitation. Hope to see you soon.

  4. This was enjoyable to read; whenever people put thoughts into their posts, it is much more enjoyable . I am always concerned as to what people will say when I tell them what I have done. Primarily, I climb alone. Rarely am I with someone when I do an ascent I am proud of, excluding ropes. I become concerned that if someone were to call me out I wouldn't be able to repeat the route again. But, then I realize I'm not climbing for anyone else. I am climbing for myself.

    Also I now have a vehicle, so I plan on coming down to the Laramie Area to climb. If you could give me your contact information for when I come down (I'm thinking fall) to my e-mail that would be awesome. My e-mail is kerrek_stinson@yahoo.com