The inherent nature of rock climbing means that in order to climb one usually has to travel, either near or far. Climbing becomes somewhat of a basic need and in order to satisfy that need and for the passion to survive it is common to go ‘foraging’ for rock, or the nearest thing to it. As I thought more and more about the connection between climbing and rewilding, I noticed that in many ways the extent to which a climber stays local or reaches out further a field, reflects the amount of “domestication” of the individual, versus how rewilded he or she may be.
The Local Climber
On one end of the spectrum there are the local ‘gym rats’. These are the climbers that have no problem spending hours pulling on and hanging off plastic holds in the climbing gym. These are the individuals who most likely started climbing in the gym and are somewhat afraid of the outdoors or have just never been exposed to real rock and nature. They often live and breathe the city lifestyle which is their norm. In many ways these are the most domesticated species of climber.
Then there are the ‘weekend warriors’ who represent the slightly less domesticated type of climber. During the week they train on plastic in order to prepare themselves for the outdoor weekend climbing trips. They are caught right between civilisation and a more rewilded lifestyle. They often will camp out in nature over the weekend near the crag, bringing them close to nature and the true climbing community. Some of them dream and aspire to rewild more fully by becoming what is commonly known as a ‘dirtbag’ whilst the more domesticated kind are very happy to go back to their homely comforts and weekday desk job routines. Their nomadic nature in and out of the city lies not within the seasons but within the scope of the domestically entrenched flow of the working week. Still, it’s a great place to start rewilding whilst reaping the ‘benefits’ of both worlds. I will admit that I currently identify the most with the weekend warrior as I live in a city, often pull on plastic holds to keep strong and train, but all in preparation for the real deal of incredible outdoor climbing.
The international climbing nomad
Something I have done myself as a traveling rock climber, and have seen many climbers do, is to become fully nomadic and follow the seasons in order to be at the best climbing spot at the best time of year. And this type of lifestyle something that is deeply reflected within our hunter-gatherer ancestry as their mobility and location depended heavily on the seasons. For example, in Australia and New Zealand the general climbing circuits are fairly well known within the community. In Australia during the Summer and the shoulder seasons it makes sense to be somewhere more temperate such as Tasmania or down South in Victoria (specifically Arapiles and the Grampians). Then, as it gets colder it is normal to migrate and road trip North to Queensland (e.g. for crack climbing at Frog Buttress). The best advice and information about locations, the camping, locals, and the climbing itself is excitedly shared and passed on within the community. It appears very instinctual to live in such a way.
At the heart of this traveling rock climbing community is the ‘dirtbag’, briefly mentioned above. This type of individual could be seen as one of the most rewilded. Mostly living off-grid and camping at the crag, this nomad usually only has just what they need in order to survive and keep following their passion. They have the most knowledge about the local climbs, type of rock, even down to the individual moves hundreds of metres up on the side of a mountain. They live close to nature and rely heavily on their community. They can even sometimes be seen foraging. However they don’t usually forage for wild foods, but most often will exercise what is commonly known as ‘dumpster diving’, at the closest civilised settlement such as a town. However, perhaps one of the most healthy aspects of being a ‘dirtbag’ or simple nomadic climber has to be the regular exposure to the elements, and natural world of which we are a part of.
Nature at the doorstep of the climber’s home
One of the most common traits of being a climber has to be one’s proximity to nature. The least domesticated climber usually camps in a tent, and although it may be a synthetic man-made dwelling, it still represents a simple home, close to the ground, which can be easily moved around. Much like any traditional nomadic structure. Not only this, but living outdoors inherently exposes climbers to the elements in all their various forms, which in turn promotes resilience and healthier survival mechanisms. As a climber I have sometimes been caught in some sticky situations which have forced me to learn how to assess, evaluate, and problem solve. Being caught in a storm on the side of a valley gorge in the South of France, or getting stuck off-guard over night on the top of a sea cliff in Greece are the type of experiences which I do not wish to repeat, but which have taught me a lot and given me plenty of resilience.
The camping lifestyle of the climber is perhaps one of the aspects that is the closest to the rewilding lifestyle. Just as modern indigenous cultures worldwide, living close to the ground and the earth is extremely important. From being barefoot, to using nature as a toilet, the least domesticated climbers have it all figured out. And let’s not forget the use of fire as an integral part of the whole inherently rewilded system of living. Learning how to make and tend fires, as well as to use them as a tool for warmth and cooking food is all just part of the norm for many climbers, and has an important side effect: the bringing together of community.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Credit goes to Camilla Howe