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Ban on Route Names Sparks Debate

In response to the announcement from the Swedish Climbing Federation banning offensive route names, Colorado climber Stewart Green posted this photo on his climbing blog. He remarked that Wounded Knee and Sitting Bull, route names found at the French climbing area of Secteur Biographie, Ceuse, could be considered both offensive towards Native Americans and honoring to the Sioux. Should names like these be banned? [Photo] Stewart M. Green

The international climbing community is somewhat bewildered after an announcement in August from the Swedish Climbing Federation’s chairman, who proclaimed that all offensive names on climbing routes would be banned.

The announcement came after sport climber and historian Cordelia Hess found certain route names offensive at a crag in Gaseborg, Sweden. She told a Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, that the Nazi-themed names, such as Swastika, Himmler, Hitler and Third Reich, “trivialize the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.”

Sure, these names are offensive, but should they be to subject to legislation?

Swedish alpinist David Falt wrote on his blog soon after the announcement: “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?”

By tradition, deciding route names is an honor given to those who first ascend a route. Often these names are inside jokes between climbers. For many, to legislate the naming process would take away the fun and spontaneity that leads to these names in the first place.

Professional climber Sonnie Trotter said, however, that “most of the time crude names are [the result of] people just trying to get a rise out of others, trying to stand out.” Trotter avoids certain contentiously named climbs as a way of showing his disapproval.

Sweden isn’t the only place with potentially offensive route names. Just outside of the Canadian mountain town of Canmore, Alberta, you can find Premature Ejaculation on Chinaman’s Peak. And while Chinaman’s Peak has since been renamed Ha Ling Peak after the railway cook who first climbed to the summit, the former name is still used commonly, often without anyone giving a double-take to its political incorrectness.

With that, a big question arises: in addition to banning offensive route names should we be renaming every peak or route name that we now find offensive in our 21st Century state of enlightenment? “It’s a debatable subject that will go in circles for eternity,” Trotter said. “Some route names that offend some people don’t offend me, and vice versa, so it’s all a matter of opinion.”

It would seem, then, that it is only up to climbers to decide. They are, after all, the only ones reading the topos. Offended? Colorado-based climber and writer Stewart Green recommended climbers simply give the routes less offensive names. He calls this method “grassroots censorship.”