Friday, October 5, 2012

The Adventure Gap

Alpinist #40 arrived in the mail today!  IMHO, Alpinist is the best of the climbing magazines.  It's published only four times a year, so each new issue is an eagerly awaited event.

In this issue is an intriguing article by James Edward Mills, Exploring the Adventure Gap.  (I've linked to the article on the Alpinist web site, but it is behind the paywall at present - it may become free later.)  Mills begins thus:

"In 2006, with little fanfare, Sophia Danenberg reached the top of Mount Everest.  She was one of 493 climbers to summit that season, and her story was not widely reported.  Nonetheless, there was a historical significance: Danenberg was the first African-American to ascend the mountain.  Thus, for the first time, a black climber who was descended from our nation's past of racial oppression had succeeded in elevating herself to the highest point on earth..."

Mills takes Danenberg's achievement as a starting point for a discussion of the "social cues" that us to understand what kinds of behavior are "normal" for persons of differing racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Across the racial spectrum, he reports, Americans view climbing as "one of the things that white people do".  (For example, only 1% of the visitors to Yosemite National Park, the most renowned climbing area in the US, are African-American.)  Similar perceptions apply to other outdoor activities.  Mills names this disconnect "the adventure gap".

Does the adventure gap matter? Mills writes, "In any ecosystem, diversity is a sign of strength.  Any place that can sustain a variety of different individuals with wide-ranging interests and purposes is more likely to thrive...Inclusiveness will be a critical factor in the continuing viability of the environmental movement and in the protection of the landscapes that climbers love."

I'd add that it matters to disengage the narrative of care for and celebration of the earth - including its wild places - from the narrative of privilege and conquest.  Last year, Katie Brown and Alex Honnold (two of the best climbers in the world) made a commercial for Citibank that shows them climbing the extremely photogenic route Ancient Art in the Fisher Towers of Utah.  If you haven't seen it, take a look at the wonderful photography!  But what does it say that the final image  is not that of Brown's elated step onto the corkscrew summit, but of a credit card that promises "unlimited miles on any airline"? 

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