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Stewart Green

Swedish Climbing Federation Proposes Ban on Offensive Route Names

By August 14, 2010

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Swedish alpinist David Falt sent me a link to The Swedish Climbing Federation has gone mad!, an article he posted yesterday on his E9climbing blog about the latest climbing madness in Sweden.

David writes that the chairman of the Swedish Climbing Federation just announced that the Federation will implement a naming policy for climbing routes and "Offensive names shall be banned!" Wow!  This is the logical outcome of political correctness, let alone the demise of free speech.

The proposed ban came after Cordelia Hess, a sport climber and historian, went climbing at a crag in Gåseborg and found that some of the route names had a Nazi theme, like Swastika, Himmler, Hitler, and 3rd Reich. She told a Swedish newspaper, "I was there with my friends and doing a bit of climbing, and I thought it felt rather unpleasant to climb through the Crematorium or say that  'now I am going to do Kristallnacht.'" She said the names trivialize the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.

While Cordelia Hess is absolutely correct that these route names are extremely offensive, the question is whether or not a climbing federation can or should legislate how a route is named. As David Falt writes, "The names appear only in a printed topo not on the crag. The topo is protected by the laws ensuring freedom of speech. What is the world coming to when politics will decide route names?"

The Local, an on-line Swedish newspaper, published an article about the furor. Among the many comments, user EhWhat? wrote: "So, some puerile climbers chose to demonstrate their lack of maturity by naming the ascents after the Nazis? How is this news? Those of us who seriously climb are constantly dealing with unsafe idiots of limited intelligence and imagination... Official names are disregarded all the time by any number of climbers. Indeed the choice of name used can quickly identify from whence you came. Don't like the name? Don't use it. Or better yet, choose a deeply disrespectful name for the climbing club that the idiots belonged to and use that for every ascent."

That logic makes a lot more sense than having route names reviewed and approved by a climbing federation. The names of climbing routes are simply a way of organizing the world, of attaching place names and points of reference to vertical paths. There are lots of great route names as well as some offensive, stupid, and just plain dumb names.

Should we outlaw those names just because they offend us? Or is it better, as EhWhat? notes, to just ignore them or give them your own names or, if you're a guidebook writer like me, change them in your book.  That's grassroots censorship at its finest.

What are the best route names you've heard? And what are the most offensive? Do you want to change the bad names? Or do you want the American Alpine Club to start a route-naming policy and make first ascensionists give civil names to their routes?

Photograph above: (Top) Wounded Knee and Sitting Bull, route names at Ceuse, could be offensive to Native Americans but they could also honor the Sioux. Should climbing federations decide if it's appropriate or offensive? Photograph © Stewart M. Green


August 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm
(1) Alex says:

I live in San Diego and frequently climb at a spot called the Santee Boulders. There are two boulders with great names: The Butt Plug and Donkey Dick.

I think they’re funny names and there is nothing offensive about it. I was out climbing there one day and met a father and his five year old son. He just called the boulders “The Plug” and “Donkey Boulder” instead… no harm done.

August 14, 2010 at 7:03 pm
(2) Ashby Robertson says:

How do you say “f— you” in Swedish? The issue isn’t trivializing the holocaust, or offensive names, or even the maturity level of the climbers involved. The issue is “who the hell decides what is offensive and what is suitable?” Anyone who wishes to have this power over others should absolutely, under no circumstances, ever have it.
This is a very slippery slope! I can think of a few route names at shelf road that would have to go. Chrome plated semi-automatic enema syringe at Lumpy is out. Mescalito, Magic Mushroom, and The Hallucinogen wall are all uncomfortable drug references which set a bad example for the kiddies. Didn’t Steve Cheyney change the name of Left Handed Jew at Turkey Perch to Left Handed Crack in his old guide book?
The world isn’t a safe happy polite place. We all need to understand that.

August 16, 2010 at 3:51 am
(3) gane says:

“most of the route names had a Nazi theme, ”
Just for the record. There’s about 70 routes at the crag in total.
About 10 of them have names in reference to the nazis or holocaust (like “Kristallnacht” or “3rd Reich”, although written in Swedish and not in German language.)
Another 8-10 routes have names in reference to WW2 or war in general , like “Propaganda”, “Convoy”, “Messerschmidt”, “Spitfire”, etc, while the majority just have ordinary route names.

August 16, 2010 at 5:02 am
(4) J says:

It is not surprising that the Swedish Climbing Federation is forced to show some kind of reaction, although I am certain a policy (if it comes int o existence) will be just that: a set of recommendations that will help avoid future conflict with landowners and authorities. What is more remarkable is how local politicians openly suggest limiting freedom of speech and collectively punishing climbers for the warped sense of humour of a previous generation of climbers. Remarkable, but not surprising – it´s election time in Sweden… One would have hoped, however, that even in such tumultous times, the basic priciples of law and democracy would still apply.

August 16, 2010 at 8:04 am
(5) Martin says:

One of the route names at Gåseborg (the crag that’s mentioned in the article above) is called “Hitler-kort men jävlig” which translates to “Hitler-Short but nasty”.
When it comes to provocative, childish names, that is quite a good one for a route, at least if you feel compelled to follow the ww2 naming theme…

August 16, 2010 at 11:35 am
(6) Gane says:

To J(5):
What’s even more remarkable is that the issue with the politician threatening to close the cliff, was driven by the local major newspaper. You know the type of paper that never misses an opportunity to bang their own drums about their high standards regarding freedom of speech, expression, etc…

I suspect that any or all of the involved, the woman/climber, the journalist and/or the politician in question, probably would have personal interests in a climbing ban at the cliff!

August 18, 2010 at 7:52 am
(7) Indy says:

There are so many ways this discussion could run. As a guidebook author myself, in doing research (and writing my guide), there were times I said, “You’re kidding me, right?” or “Seriously??”, but in the end I kept the route names as given. For one, they are a historical reflection of the time in climbing’s history (this may or may not apply to the specific example of the WW2 related names in Dave’s blog, but I’m not addressing that specific, just route naming in general). Look at the Gunks. Back in the infancy of rock climbing in America, we (the US climbers at least) went through what is termed the Vulgarian Era. The route names they gave reflected the thought patterns and attitudes of the climbers of that time. Some of the route names could be taken as offensive, if one wants to let thin-skinned. Similar at some of the crags in my guidebook. (but if that’s going to be the overriding focus while you are out climbing, you have other issues that need to be addressed)

Secondly, in my guidebook writing, I did not presume to take on the mantle of name censor while recording the routes in the book. I did not feel that was my place. I viewed the guide as a historical document in that manner, and any attempt at my changing names meant that in some small way I would be changing history, in addition to levying censorship on other climbers. I don’t presume to wield such authority.

Taking route name changing a step further, there is a route at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia called “Old Ladies Route”. A friend of mine, a woman in her 50s, hates the name and keeps referring to it as “Young Women’s Route” (or “Young Ladies Route”). I presume the original name offends her because of the “old” part, and she doesn’t think of herself as old. So when she takes newbies up it (often women in their 20s and 30s), she tells them her name for the climb. Which then later confuses them when they either can’t find it in the guidebooks or talk to other veteran Seneca climbers about the route. I think it sets up a dangerous precedent, and disregards the first ascentionists right of naming it, and the history of the route.

Now, on a more personal level, on the question of favorite and least favorite route names, I have to say that “Magical Chrome-plated Semi-automatic Enema Syring” is my favorite route name (sorry Ashby). I mean, come on, whomever came up with that name was either on something or had a seriously active imagination. I think the route name is funny as hell. When I first saw it in my old blue Lumpy Ridge guidebook more two decades ago, I said “I have to climb this!!”

As for least favorite, I’ve run across some names that I wasn’t fond of. But I could generally ignore that and climb the rock, and enjoy the climb. The name was just an identifier for the route. And unlike cataloging guidebooks from best to worst, I never really kept a tally of worst named climbs. :-)

August 19, 2010 at 6:31 am
(8) Järfällabon says:

This discussion is very interesting, and as mentioned the Swedish federation only suggested a naming policy, not a ban.

However, from someone with a little inside knowledge, the mayor of Järfälla now has written the Swedish fedration suggesting a naming competition between climbers and locals for new namnes of the routes. Unfortunately this shows close to no understanding of the climbing world but reflects that electins are coming up in Sweden and she do not want to be left behind.

Wether a municipal can close a crag or not, wether this is a thread to freedom of speach, I have no idea. But this letter is definetely a thread to the entire naming policy of the climbing community. However I feel rather confident that the federation will turn this offer down as they know they can not change the names themsleves, which is why they suggested a policy and nothing else at first.

There are some really stupid namnes out there and more will go public as climbing grows. We might as well realize this and prepare for how we want to handle coming discusssions.

August 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm
(9) Ashby says:

“Chrome plated” is certainly a winner.

There are some real doozies out there. I love the history of rock climbing and the attitude of the first ascent team is part of that. Route naming is just for fun (like Sharma says) but it is our history and our common language. So, think up good ones… bad ones… nasty ones… whatever. Just don’t bore me!

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