Climbing with existentialists

This post is written by Nathan Tableman–he has a blog at  Like many Homo Climbtastic attendees, he got a prestigious degree that he does not use, and works in software infrastructure offshoring or god knows what, and now primarily uses his marine zoology training to maintain his home aquarium.

The sun was setting off in the distance, the sky was orange, the air was humid, we were dripping with sweat and I was worried a 3″ inch spider and his 8 buddies would stay over there. I started to laugh a little and rightfully, Chavez, who I was belaying up a 10 something thin crack with a vicious start asked me, “What’s up? Things ok?”


We had both made it up the 9 in the corner about an hour before after I failed to replicate his start and came up with another way to get to the shelf about 8 feet up in the air on the first move.

I replied, “yeah, this is just an amazing moment. I am incredibly happy I came, the sunset if beautiful, and the rock is amazing. I am having the time of my life, I am so glad I came to Homo Climbtastic.”


I got a grunt in reply and the rope had a little slack. He had just pulled another move.

It was getting dark. When Chavez arrived at the anchor, we slowly setup everything needed to rap down, double checking work, moving slowly. It was the end of a long day and we both wanted to go back to camp safely. We had decided to do the climb a little alpine style in case Chavez couldn’t do the 10, plus the full exit was this crazy roof corner at 11b.

Climbing is the most physical embodiment of existential philosophy I can think of; to paraphrase Sartre, man makes his own meaning and my absolute favorite, Kierkegaard: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.”

Here is your protagonist in the midst of each passing moment; with the input of the rope, the climb, the spiders, his hands, the conversation, the smell of climbing all day, the heat, the sunset…it was all far too much to take in and make comprehensive meaning. Instead he focuses on the moment, the feeling of the moment, the happiness, the excitement, the being in the life he is leading. Here on the rock. Focused. The rest, the enormous details, to be recorded using the sensitive emulsion of the mind, archived for tales to be told later and deeper meaning to be extracted, created, and refined over a lifetime.

The conversation continued as I said, “What is funny, is that I was thinking of not coming because I am that classic tech-geek-nerd-introvert who can easily spend 5 days reading and not notice anyone else.” I think Chavez replied, “Well I am glad you decided to come and not be anti-social.”

Out of mind

In retrospect, I didn’t really mean what came out of my mouth, but we were both getting hungry and it didn’t really matter at this point.

Earlier that day, before the rain, I was with Joe, Jeremy, Henry, and others at Beauty Mountain working on a 10 start when Jamie chimed in with some beta on how to handle the move and setup the rest of the climb. The conversation started, if I recall correctly, because I liked the pink toe nail polish Jamie had on. The beta was spot on and I nailed the start first try the next time I did it. Later in the trip I would find myself having a conversation out front of the bar where I asked her a million questions about crack climbing, because I had done a couple crack climbs and found myself becoming very into it. The holds and style were completely new to me and it lit up my brain.

Joe, Jeremy

I am a newish climber, my first trad lead was in March of 2012. I had top roped before outside a couple times, and about 9 months of gym climbing. Nearly all of my experience is at The Gunks, not vertical crack land. I have some alpine routes under my belt as well, up in Maine at Katahdin and Whitney-Gilman (um, I lead the Pipe Pitch!) and other routes at Cannon Mtn in NH, but again not like these successive one pitch fun cracks starting at 8 and heading upwards.


Jamie said to me, “I noticed that your crew was a set of incredibly analytical climbers. Analytical climbers love cracks and cracks love them.” She then went on to teach me some good hold techniques to try amongst other great tips and tricks. On the side I mentioned I had googled her earlier, knowing she was formerly known as Jim Logan, she is incredibly famous climber and an accomplished architect, but was more than modest when I said, “it isn’t every day a guy like me gets beta and lessons from like likes of Jim Logan!”

Nathan belaying

Earlier in the year when I thought about coming on this trip, I was nervous about the idea of not climbing at an ability level that would make it fun and throwing myself into a mass of strangers. However, as I climbed each weekend somewhere outside, anywhere outside, I found myself able to lead and follow routes that would make this possible. Moreover, I soon realized that climbers are weird people. It was like that children’s book where the bird tries to find what kind he is. I am weird. I accepted this at 6 when walking on a family friend’s farm and said friend warned me, “Do not bother desiring normal, you will never be normal. The sooner you accept this, the happier you will be.”

Hell, being gay, lesbian, trans, whatever you are, makes us all acutely aware we are different. Sometimes too often. But in the end, I thought; I like to climb. Maybe these people will be weird and like to climb like me. Worth a shot. I am going.

Jeremy, Nathan

I hope this is not shocking to anyone: Every single person I met was weird and thank goodness for that!!! The denouement; the conversation where some of us were talking about how the world is not designed for oddballs. We are all supposed to play by the rules and being gay means you opt out in some ways and that is liberating.

Walking with Joe over to Happy Hands (another crack!) and without thinking too hard, I went on up. Sun dappling the crag, and thinking to myself that trad lead 9’s are work for me when they are not cracks, let’s see about this one. I was pretty certain the crux was about 75% up where the wall got smooth and the crack opened up wider. My hands were wet and I chalked up often to keep them as sticky as I could and because I was nervous. I notice I chalk a lot when thinking about a hard move. The heat was stiffing, but I was feeling good.

I did it. Yeah, done.

Joe had to clean some of my gear that I got stuck, for which I still owe him a beer or two. Thanks Joe! Other than that it was awesome. One more crack, done…

In our own little trad world, we recognized the time and packed up to get back to camp, clean up and attend the presentations and festivities for the evening. I, along with many others, would be heading out in the morning. It was like summer camp was over and real life was waiting for us at home. I hadn’t put on real clothing, nor real shoes, all week. I had little desire to change that.

Jeremy at Cantrell’s campground

Registration now OPEN for the 2012 Homo Climbtastic Convention

Wanna come to the largest queer climbing event in the world, at one of the nation’s best sport climbing destinations?  It’s July 26-29, in Fayetteville, West Virginia.  BE THERE OR BE SQUARE.


Fill out the registration form.  There’s no deposit, and you can fill it out even if you’re not sure if you’re coming.  Make sure you see the confirmation page–if you don’t fill out all the required questions, it’ll take you back to the form, and the unfilled, required questions will be highlighted in red.  If we run out of space for anything… people who registered earlier win.  Even if you’re a maybe, click that link and register.


Book under the “Alex Rowland” reservation by calling Nancy at Cantrell’s.  Cantrell’s offers tent camping, rustic bungalows, and fancy-pants cabins.  To make a reservation call 304-574-2500 or 800-470-7238.  They’re holding space for us with no deposit, but not forever… cabins book up much earlier than tent sites.  There IS a deposit to reserve your spot at Cantrell’s.

Experience Southern sandstone and other rock-hard bodies carved by God!

Then What?

Expect to get an e-mail from me (Rowland) within a week or two.  If you don’t get one, shoot me an e-mail.

About the Accommodations

If you’re interested in a cabin, check out the page listing the options with a roof, and note that the on-site cabins are the bungalows, the Deluxe Amish Cabins, the Country Cabin, and the Barn Loft-style Cabin.

Tent camping is $8 a night, so with a 50% deposit, you’re facing the loss of $20 if you end up not making it.  So go ahead and book the damn thing if you’re camping.  Plus I’m guessing Nancy will let you upgrade to a cabin if you decide to get all fancy-pants later.

Split up equally, the bungalows will run about $12 a night, and the cabins about $25. The cabins have air conditioning.

But it’s in the South!

Damn straight!


We get lots of e-mails from anxious yankees, terrified of rain, Southerners, humidity, and Burt Reynolds.  Well, we can’t promise you Burt Reynolds.  But we can promise you a lake to cool off in about ten feet from the climbing, food so good it’s escandalo, the hijinks of the Homo Climbtastic leaders and members, aaaaaaand world class sport routes (with plenty of trad routes to keep those with high ankled shoes occupied).

If you’re wondering how it is that a small town in West Virginia is so good at playing host to a queer climbing convention, well, there’s only one way to find out.

See you at the New.

Introducing: Poser Captcha

I’m just gonna be the a-hole on this one: climbing in a gym is gym climbing. Without further context, “I love climbing” or “I’m going climbing” or “I’m climbing on Wednesday” means you will be exposed to sunlight and the stuff you’ll be climbing on will be the product of geology.

The worst offenders in this category are people on online dating web sites.  Like OK Cupid, which is famous for their zillions of personality profiling “match questions.”  I’ve answered 236, and I still keep getting people who think flag burning should be outlawed.

You know I'm not quite sure why I didn't click perverts instead. I really would know better than anyone else on this.

So guys on OK Cupid or whatever buttsecks finding dating web site message to say, “I LOOOOOOVE CLIMBING!”

This is when you ask, “what kind of climbing”, and it all falls apart. Because in the gym, there aren’t multiple kinds of climbing, there is only one kind of climbing, where there’s a rope running up to the top and you’re wearing athletic shorts and socks in your shoes and climbing gloves (note: Julio can pull off athletic shorts, because they are athletic short-shorts, and the indentation of his penis is visibly large enough to create a veil of shame with enough mass that time slows down and light bends around it, but the chances are very, very high that you are not Julio).

Although I’m usually not a prescriptive grammarian, if you’re going to climb at the gym, “I’m going to climb at the gym” is the superior nomenclature. Because to us, when you refer to gym climbing as simply “climbing”, it’s as though we’re saying, “we’re gonna take our Harleys up the interstate” and you say, “I love biking! I own an 18 speed Trek! I, too, take it on the road from time to time.”

But even that isn’t an appropriate analogy, because biking (as in bicycling) is still cool. So maybe a more appropriate analogy would be, “I’m trying to decide whether I like a single speed for mountain biking or not,” and you replying, “well I love being able to adjust the friction in my spin class, so I would highly recommend that feature!”

Not that the people in spin class couldn’t totally kick my ass at spin class. They did. I was well short of whatever it was those people were spinning. Just like there may be some German girl who can crush all your climbing gym projects and offer you struedel afterwards. But if you put her on the Orb, she’d probably fall three feet, hit her head on the dirt, and start crying and demanding why there isn’t 200 square feet of padding. But then again, maybe not. Maybe I’m just trying to make Ann feel better about getting demolished by someone too callous to even offer her a 2nd place struedel. But by gosh, there is something absolutely special about taking 5.12 gym climbers outside for the first time. And by special, I mean retarded. And by retarded, I mean you’re amazing and you can do anything! Except climb outside, apparently.

I thought I had taken enough X for the techno music, but was it enough for the disco ball?

Now, there are those who have presented very compelling reasons why gym climbing is a sport that deserves recognition as its own inherent institution. And to them, I say, your photo of you on a 5.14 gym climb will be discarded by the editors of the Patagonia catalog for a picture of some fat jerk on a 5.8 top-roping outside and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. It is literally easier to collect the money to pay someone to judge your Klingon costume than it is to collect the money to pay someone to judge your gym climbing. You will find more opponents in Scrabble, Street Fighter II, and putting together castles out of popsicle sticks.

So, I am calling for an end to this tolerance of anyone referring to gym climbing as though it’s anything but a training device and a cruel impostor of actual climbing, A) because it’s just irritating, and B) because it’s fostered a massive delusion on gay dating web sites, which should be legally required to have a javascript mechanism double check people who click climbing as an interest with a test question:

“Do you know what lead climbing even is?”
“Have you ever worn a helmet because rocks were hitting you in the head?”
“Are your routes ever marked with anything besides tape or neon colors?”

A kind of captcha for posers. Poser Captcha.

This was by far the least offensive of the captchas on google image search. You try it.

Poser Captcha could really be extended to all sorts of things. Want to indicate an interest in biking?

“Do you even own a bike?”
“You don’t. Be honest.”
“Are you able to even take the wheel off of a bike?”
“When someone buzzes you on the roadway, do you smash their rearview mirror with your bike lock before or after photographing their license plate and uploading it to facebook?”

Comment thread idea: Poser Captchas for your own interest areas!