Technically I suppose, Indian Creek is not in the Rockies, but it's close. Photo by Craig Muderlak.

First off, let me explain the etymology of “Roconista.” I’ll be completely transparent that some friends and I believe we coined this term about eight years ago and have maintained since then the hope – probably in vain – that it will catch on. I’ll also mention that our epiphany that precipitated the word’s birth went down on a trip in Peru, thus the Spanish inflection (ista instead of just ist).

We were talking with a local woman in a mountain town in the Andes who knew a thing or two about climbing. We mentioned that we were there to do some alpinismo (the Spanish version of the term). She quickly corrected us, saying “You mean andinismo.” Being the boisterous and somewhat presumptuous Americans we were, we laughed, thinking she was joking. She wasn’t: “When you’re in the Alps, you do alpinismo; when you’re in the Andes, you do andinismo.” Oh. Then, my friend Ben said, “Well, we climb in the Rockies, so that means we do roconismo.” The dream was born.

At the time, we loved that we now had a name for our pursuit, especially its double-entendre with “Rock on.” Bon Jovi quickly became a soundtrack for our mountain adventures, partly because he was oddly popular on Peruvian radio for the time we were there, so the label seemed particularly fitting. We did our best to invent other Spanish sayings in our time in South America, but roconismo seems to be the only one with a continued utility, and we’re well aware of how esoteric even it is.

That all said, I’d now like to make a case for the concept of roconismo in the popular discourse, at least among climbers. The Rockies are a major mountain range that have a distinct set of characteristics. They have a wide range of rock types (granite, gneiss, limestone, and sandstone, to name a few) and an even more diverse set of climbing styles on this rock. In Colorado alone, which is a pretty narrow scope of climbing in the Rockies, one could practice nearly every discipline of climbing with only a few hours of driving in between: the imposing Diamond of Longs Peak, grade V survival climbing in the Black Canyon, pumpy caves in Rifle Mountain Park, relentless splitter cracks at Turkey Rocks, obscure yet elegant ridge scrambles in the Weminuche Wilderness, remote desert towers of Colorado National Monument, microscopic crimping of Shelf Road, and about a billion (plus or minus a few exponents) boulder gardens. If we include the rest of the Rockies, from Canada to Mexico, it pretty much covers the whole spectrum of what climbing can be.

So, roconismo is first about seeking a wide range of mountain adventures, but there’s more to it. I’ll again use Colorado as an example. While I’m a big advocate for how great Colorado is as a place to live and climb, I have no problem admitting that there is one glaring problem: Everyone else is here for the same reason. There is a real issue here in terms of environmental impact and preservation of resources. More so than most other parts of the country where I’ve visited, Colorado suffers from lots of folks traveling all over the mountains. Most other major climbing destinations usually have a few roadside crags that are very popular, but the crowds don’t seem to wander too far from civilization. Here, there are people everywhere. The conclusion I draw from this is that those who practice roconismo have to be that much more conscious of their impact. The land just can’t absorb that much use, so we must make sure to make our impact as small and reversible as possible. If we are going to impact the environment where we play (like, say, bolting and building trails), we must do so in smart ways that will be efficient and solid so that the impact is limited and useful for posterity.

The last element that defines roconismo is that the community matters. The image of the isolated pair of climbers exploring a vast frontier of uncharted terrain is archaic. It just isn’t the current state of affairs, especially in places like the Rockies where very few “off the map” locations still exist. Instead, we must learn to create meaning within the shared experiences of being in these majestic places and doing really cool stuff like climbing. We’re no longer seeking the sublime of untamed wilderness (to borrow from William Cronon’s “The Problem with Wilderness” essay); we’re exploring our own personal limitations and frontiers. The extraordinary thing about climbing is that we get to do so with others, and our partners are also doing a similar exploration. To put this in more concrete terms, the outcomes of climbing are less about “going where no man has gone before.” Instead, the partnerships, stories, personal accomplishments, and shared inspiration are becoming the currency of climbing.

Don’t get me wrong, unexplored frontiers are still exciting and worth pursuing, but I think we need to rethink what accomplishment in climbing really means. For a roconista, it’s about an exchange between people. I try hard to push myself with the help of others; I help others push themselves, too. This can come in myriad forms, and one of the great things about climbing is that nearly everyone finds a way to seek something that is deeply personally satisfying. To me, unless one is doing a completely unsupported, non-mechanical, onsight, naked, free solo of a unclimbed route in an uncharted region of the world, we’re all building on what someone else has done before. We’re all in some way or another, standing on the shoulders of giants. This is inspiring to me as much as it is humbling. It makes climbing more human and gives it meaning beyond what my ego wants to do next.

So that’s the etymology of roconismo, with my own pontification thrown in. We’re social animals, and roconismo addresses both the ‘social’ and the ‘animal’ part. We tap into our animal instincts when we push ourselves in climbing, and we get to feel satisfied by what we do in climbing by the social construction of what it all means.

P.S. For those that are less interested in the philosophical ramblings, I’ll make sure to post up some sweet photos and spray in the near future.

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