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