If you haven’t heard, there’s a hot new ethics controversy in the climbing world: while developing a new route in Lake Tahoe, Joe Kinder cut down some old juniper trees to “make the climb safe for the future climbers”, then posted a public apology after an internet mob outed him as the culprit.
It’s unclear if Joe acted alone, if the tree was actually a safety hazard, or if his apology was sincere. Opinions from the climbing community are varied: some commenters have called for his head on a stake, others argue that a single tree among billions isn’t a big deal. He appears to be legitimately sorry and has taken actions to rectify his mistake. Whatever your view, I don’t believe condemning Joe is productive or worthwhile at this point.
The legal and ethical issues are being discussed elsewhere, but to me, this situation is about respect and humility — for the people, environments, and communities that make rock climbing possible. Joe’s mistake wasn’t in cutting the tree; it was in not taking the time to consult the local community and learn its ethics. It’s no different than visiting someone’s home: if the host removes her shoes, so should you. If she leaves them on, it’s still polite to ask if you should remove yours. Bothering to follow the local custom shows your gratitude for being invited in.
Such simple gestures of respect and humility are part of just being a good human being. But they’re also essential in maintaining access to our favorite climbing areas. Landowners, rangers, and crag developers will often reciprocate your respect. If you take off your shoes in my house, I’m much more likely to invite you back.