Outdoor Climbing vs. Indoor Climbing and Why it Doesn’t Matter

In no way do the thoughts or ideas expressed in this article reflect the opinions of Moja Gear. We do, however, support a platform for freedom of expression and open discussion within the climbing community.


As a climber living in the ego-centric and overpopulated bubble of Boulder, CO, it can be very difficult to maintain a certain level of self-worth. I don’t mean to sound self-deprecating, I’m simply trying to convey opinion (that’s all this is after all—opinion). Before moving to Boulder, I spent some time living in San Luis Obispo, CA where I attended California Polytechnic State University. I loved it—mainly because of the 24 hour bouldering gym that was readily available as soon as I was finished with my exams. Friends and I would spend hours upon hours climbing in this little bunker. We studied in there, ate meals in there, threw parties in there, and more notably, learned something new about what motivates us as individual climbers. I myself had quite the crew of talented and motivated peers to look up to and push myself with. We traveled all over the state together in search of the most beautiful and challenging climbs.

As I’m sure many California climbers will agree, we care a great deal about the notion of aesthetics. Sure, just like any other climbing community, we want to make our mark and climb bigger and bigger numbers, but more often than not, it’s the beauty of an area (or of a specific boulder problem) that inspired us. All this is to say, we spent quite a lot of time in the Buttermilks.

 

Related: Climbing Destination Guide: Bishop, California

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Alex on Kevin Jorgeson’s infamous Buttermilks testpiece, Footprints (V9).

This is all to say that I’ve lived in both worlds:  the world of noble dirtbags and the world of elitist competition climbers. Why does that matter? It means I actually have something to say and the grounds to say it.

Fast forward three years and you’ll find me sitting on my porch writing this opinionated rant on the differences between the two platforms of Climbing—outdoor climbing and indoor climbing. Ironically, I write this the day of the 2014 USA Climbing Sport Climbing Series National Championships. Oh well.

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Competing in the 2014 ABS National Championships

Over the last several years, climbing has become more and more mainstream. This, of course, is the product of the manifestation of indoor climbing gyms. This new development has diversified climbing by opening it up to a broader audience: the 9-5’ers, the students, the mothers and fathers; the general population, not just “dirtbags.” With the advent of the climbing gyms came the climbing competitions that now seem to dominate the majority of our media platforms. As these competitions have grown in both size and popularity over the years, the overall umbrella of Climbing has begun to split right down the middle:  dirtbags on the left, competition climbers on the right. (Note: I’m fully aware that these are broad stereotypes, but for the purpose of this piece, it’s better to keep things simple.)

 

Related: Is Dirtbagging Really Dead?

 

I guess we’re all still waiting for a thesis. Very well. It is my strong opinion that Climbing has evolved past the boundaries of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas; Climbing is now a two-pronged activity, with outdoor enthusiasts scaling the granite cliffs of Yosemite and the indoor gym rats pursuing gold and recognition in the local, national, and international auditoriums.

Of course I have a preference of which vertical I’d like to pursue, but that is entirely irrelevant to this discussion. What is more important is whether or not you—the self-righteous “steward” of the outdoors who believes that gym climbing is a waste of time and merely about bulging biceps and competition podiums, or you—the young and arrogant gym rat who thinks his first place shines brighter than her first ascent—is willing to accept that we simply cannot compare the two mediums of climbing. As much as we’d all like to deny it, comparison matters.

 

Related: What’s in a Grade?: How to Approach Climbing Difficulty

 

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Competing in the 2011 CCS National Championships

I’m tempted to delve into all the pros and cons of each vertical, but what good would all of that do? None. The underlying question that inspired this (probably) piece of shit blog post is, Is one form of Climbing better than the other? Of fucking course not. And why should we care? It doesn’t matter if Team ABC decides to spend all their time training in a gym and winning comps and “bro-ing” out at all the mainstream climbing areas. It doesn’t affect my climbing ambitions. And who cares if Joe Blow wants to spend all his time and money traveling around in his van, making friends with all the local baristas and writing snobby blog posts (much like this one) about the importance of outdoor ethics? I certainly don’t. And neither should you.

 

Related: Climbing Ethics: Vital Decison-Making Scenarios

 

The reason I elaborated on my climbing experience in San Luis Obispo is so that you have at least some understanding of my climbing background and what climbing means to me. Honestly, I couldn’t give a shit less about the communal aspect of climbing. I don’t like team sports. I climb because it’s a venue for self-growth through masochistic and obsessive tendencies—not because I have a great love for the outdoors or a need for the limelight. I love the recognition I get from my climbing-related accomplishments, and to be completely transparent, I do place far too much of my own sense of self-worth on my climbing. That being said, who am I to judge you if you prefer to spend your time climbing inside or outside? I honestly don’t care which one you do. As long as you’re climbing for honest reasons, it shouldn’t matter if you decide to spend your time in a van or on a podium.

Tackling his longterm highball project, Luminance.
Tackling his longterm highball project, Luminance.

My point here is simple: climbing is the most selfish and subjective activity I’ve ever experienced. Climbing should be about whatever the hell you want it to be about. Your only concern should be whether or not you’re being honest with yourself.

 

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