Some time ago, I stumbled across a video called “Chalk Life” that was devoted entirely to New Mexico climbing. While I was definitely excited to see coverage of some of my favorite local crags, I couldn’t help but scoff at the film’s name.
First off, the metonymy is simply strange. Of all things, why pick chalk to stand in for the entirety of the climbing lifestyle? I mean, is chalk really so central to the hobby? To me, this is kind of like calling the film “Tubular Webbing Life” or “Water Bottle Life” or maybe even “Deodorant Life.”
Of course, the worst part about the title is that it celebrates a part of climbing culture that’s really pretty ugly — namely, the gratuitous, ubiquitous and unsightly chalking of natural stone surfaces. Head to any popular climbing area from Rumney to American Fork Canyon to the Buttermilks, and you’ll see it: beautiful stone sullied by a layer of greasy, caked-on calcium carbonate.
Perhaps the worst part about this widespread vandalism is not that it’s aesthetically displeasing, but rather that it’s totally unnecessary. If people were a little more disciplined — if they were willing to take a couple of minutes to clean up after themselves — they could enjoy the performance benefits of chalk without detracting from others’ visual experience. Is it really that hard to brush off holds when you’re done climbing?
It should also be noted that there are much cleaner alternatives to chalk out there. For my part, I recently switched over to Metolius’ Eco Ball, which, contrary to what some people say, isn’t expensive at all — especially when you consider the external cost to the cliffs of those old blocks you buy. Then again, you could always skip the chalk altogether and get super strong.
Maybe “Leave No Trace Life” is the movie title we should be striving for.
(Today’s photo of a chalked-up boulder outside of Socorro, New Mexico is courtesy of Natalie Rae Good’s Tumblr.)