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Living and Learning on Southern Smoke

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 by Abbey Smith

At age 15, New Hampshire’s Joe Kinder fell in love with climbing and made it his life. After traveling and climbing full-time he has learned to value the climber lifestyle and is now a proper ambassador for the sport.  (Read more on Joe…) AAC Friend Abbey Smith talked to Joe about a bolting snafu in the Red River Gorge that he thought an important lesson:

To think of my position as an ambassador is surely a responsibility I don’t take for granted. My life is completely immersed in climbing and the nomadic lifestyle. It’s the entire package, if you will, and a life I am proud to lead. We all choose our paths and when we are passionate about what we do our decisions are simple. The sacrifice and the gains are what make us who we are. The climbing lifestyle is the most fulfilling way I can ever think of existing. I’m honored to say I’m a professional climber.

As a “professional” climber, most people think all I do is climb. Well, that’s far from the truth. Trust me. There’s work involved that’s overlooked at times. As climbers we all have the same motives to uphold in terms of how we are held accountable. It is do the right thing and understand we are only human.

A few years ago I bolted a route in the Red River Gorge that caught my eye and I simply couldn’t stop thinking about. I got some cheap bolts from the hardware store and, after several days of drudgery, I got the route up. I worked it to death, fell in love with it, and then sent it. This was the first line I had ever bolted and a total thrill as a first ascensionist. I honestly caught the bug for bolting with that endeavor.

It’s our community that matters whether you climb all year long or struggle to get two hours in the gym. We live our lives with that passion that drives us. That is something we all share.

One year later I learned that I had used bolts that would deteriorate faster than the proper hardware would and that the locals were displeased with my decisions about gear. I learned the RRG’s moist climate requires special care in putting up new routes. Stainless steel? Glue-ins? I had used the inferior brand, metal and a bolt that climbers rarely use. This was a lack of patience on my part and I learned the right way as opposed to the wrong way. I was psyched and had good intentions, but should have covered all grounds before I embarked on this endeavor. (Locals in every area have info on the correct bolts to use. Always ask, don’t assume.) Thankfully no one got hurt, but still, I screwed up.

“Locals in every area have info on the correct bolts to use. Always ask, don’t assume…”

I took the responsible path and wrote a letter of apology. I admitted that I was wrong, did it publicly, and with the confidence that I’m only human. I immediately sent new and proper hardware to a close friend who re-bolted the route and made amends the best I could.

I headed back to the Red River Gorge this past season and climbed on the route again. The new bolts look great and will last forever. The route felt as good as I remember and will forever be a learning experience for me as a climber. Live and learn right?

It’s times like this that make me realize how our actions as climbers affect many other people and not just me trying to send the next rad line. We are all responsible and as climbers it is valuable to understand that. It’s our community that matters whether you climb all year long or struggle to get two hours in the gym. We live our lives with that passion that drives us. That is something we all share.

Climb safe and climb smart everyone.

      —Joe Kinder