Joe Kinder describes himself as “one of the most influential rock climbers in America today,” on his own Facebook page. And we all know that everything people post on Facebook is the truth. He continues with the statement: “Known for his outrageous personality and infinite psyche, Joe is walking motivation. He eats, sleeps and breathes climbing and stays true to his personal slogan “ALWAYS PSYCHED!!!”.”
From what I’ve seen from his Instagram feeds and a very brief introduction to him, this is true, and inspiring. So why do I give a shit about how JKid describes himself?
I wouldn’t normally, except Joey cut down an old (but fully living) juniper tree so he could put up a new climbing route in the Tahoe area and that struck a cord with me. When word got out via an Instagram photo a lot of pissed off people started to rant on every forum they could find. The last thing we, the climbing community, want is for his outrageously irresponsible actions to influence the next generation of climbers.
I admit to getting my feathers ruffled too. The hubris of some outdoor adventurers infuriates me because I believe anyone spending time in the wilds should be responsible for learning how to be a good steward of the environment.
Initially I was incredulous; Did he really dare cut down a very old juniper in a National Forest without a permit just so he can spray about a new route?! Then I remembered how, upon our brief meeting, he told me how he had killed and scraped out an entire bee hive from the roof of a cave he wanted to climb. I thought it was ridiculously selfish to think his route was more important than the bee hive so then I became angry.
I read through many of the hundreds of posts on the SuperTopo website thread until, completely disgusted at the banality of comments, I sought a brighter light on the subject. Finally, after a few in depth text exchanges with another long time climber (because I knew my friend couldn’t discuss this subject out loud while at work, but I couldn’t wait) the real issue emerged and trumped my anger and disappointment.
There are a couple of issues actually. The first, and most important, is that we should all take a hard look at what we believe is acceptable behavior in the effort to promote our preferred sport/activity/pastime. I, for one, have probably climbed dozens of routes where the nature of the environment was intentionally altered or destroyed. Most of the time I probably didn’t even recognize what was missing. Sometimes destruction happens over time as evident in the second and third editions guidebooks when they say, “Pitch 2 tops out at (what was once) a bushy ledge.” I’ve been known to scrape a little lichen off to get that solid foot placement (and lichen is VERY slow growing) or push moss out of the way for a good hand jam. I’ve also skied down slopes at resorts. And that’s a lot of trees to cut down.
What I’m driving at is the fact that we’re all responsible for some damage out there in the world so before we get up in arms about Kinder cutting trees, we should acknowledge our own actions. (Or inaction of speaking out against what we believe is wrong and how we plan to help fix it.)
That said, Kinder, as he said himself, is an influential figure on the climbing landscape, and that is the second big issue here. For someone who has been in the spotlight for nearly a decade, his actions smack of flagrant school boy antics and it would appear as though he thought he could fool the school on this one. For him not to expect that any action he takes will be magnified and scrutinized under a ruthless public eye is reckless denial. For him to shirk admittance of his wrong only to come back using an “I didn’t know better” excuse is unconscionable.
If someone proclaims that they are the most influential rock star around, then they better be able to produce the whole package. The package, as the saying goes, is that with freedom comes responsibility. Kinder’s freedom to climb just about anywhere in the world as a professional climber is an incredible luxury. One might think that as a world wide climbing ambassador he would follow basic ethical standards set forth through the collective climbing community. He botched it big time by breaking that trust, but in some ways so has the climbing community. Trashing him is so blatantly counter-productive. If the community would stop bitching him out and take a deep breath we might actually get something more constructive out of this- like giving Kinder a chance to redeem himself.
Let’s take account of the good things: 1. Kinder is the Judas pig here and other famous climbers may be scrutinized more closely because of Kind kid’s hacksaw. (Maybe, maybe not. It’s true that most of us will just forget about it and go climbing) 2. A bunch of young climbers are witnessing the wrath of SuperTopo and social media slander (including death threats) and hopefully learning that there is more to being a heroic climber than sending 5.13s. 3. We all have the power of the dollar and our voices to make it clear to Kinder’s sponsors what kind of representatives we want out there. If you want to be heard, speak up.
Both Kinder and the community have an opportunity here to use his Always Psyched! attitude to turn the whole story around. If Kinder was truly sorry and wanted to right his wrong, he might reach out and offer to give back more than he has taken. As with any professional athlete, the fan base wants to see that he has taken the time to learn the culture from his predecessors and move forward by putting effort into supporting not only climbers less talented or fortunate, but also the areas where he climbs. For he is only a guest in those places, and a guest with any manners would most certainly never cut down a tree in their host’s back yard.
If Kinder came forward with an offer to take responsibility for creating a constructive end to the story, representatives from the Tahoe climbing community might then come forward with a proposal on how he could help protect climbing areas, whether that’s by the sweat of planting trees, paying out of pocket to local environmental non-profits, or taking disadvantaged youth of the area out for some climbing trips.
Whatever both sides do, the little microcosm of the climbing world is now watching. There is a lot to lose on both sides. Joe could lose his livelihood, whistle blowers could incur a backlash and lose more trees. Access to climbing areas states-wide could be jeopardized.
We all need to buck up and take responsibility for our actions. Be forgiving, but firm with Joe. Don’t let the sponsors off the hook. Hold them responsible for carefully choosing who our ambassadors are. Most of all, tread lightly, we may be part of nature, yet we are but humble guests in the ever shrinking wilderness.