Michela J. Stinson and Bryan S. R. Grimwood Title : On the affective capacities of rock climbing
Michela J. Stinson
Bryan S. R. Grimwood
Rock climbing is frequently constructed as a tourism practice that exemplifies the
rational, masculine, and colonial quest to conquer the chaotic, natural world (Nettlefold &
Stratford, 1999). Climbing, in effect, is permeated with discourses that hold nature and culture
forever apart. But rock climbing is also a negotiation between many affected bodies—those
human and nonhuman—that are constituted in relation to one another. As a personal, embodied
practice, rock climbing is unbounded: a negotiated, non-representational experience that
contributes to the production of tourismscapes. According to van der Duim (2007), a
tourismscape is a materially-heterogenous ordering that positions tourism as a becoming—a
generative, emergent practice with unexpected consequences. Conceiving and enacting rock
climbing in this way reveals it as an inherently destructive force, rife with material, social, and
environmental defacings ‘necessary’ to its earthy practice (Rossiter, 2007).
Rock climbing's unavoidable degradation means that access to climbing spaces is
increasingly contested as land managers, access coalitions, and climbers work to engender
various sustainable practice initiatives. Ultimately, control over the conservation of and access to
climbing spaces frequently reiterates discourses of a subservient and non-agentic feminine nature
(Nettlefold & Stratford, 1999). In this context, conversations around area access and ‘ethical’
climbing practice frequently focus on ensuring the ongoing availability of vertical worlds—rock
faces, cliffs, boulders, etc.—for the explicit purpose of human climbing.
This presentation considers the tourismscape of Southern Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment
(Canada) as a climbing destination. Drawing on actor-network theory, our aim is to illuminate
the drifts, emergences, and dissolutions of affect through the narrative capacities of climbing,
and in turn, attempt to rework climbing’s inherent defacings as productive. Through descriptive
orderings of various defaced climbs, we show how a climber’s relation to bolt hangers (i.e.
permanently-fixed protective gear), limestone, and other nonhuman actors blurs the path of a
climb—and the assemblage of climbing—in material-discursive ways. These defacings also
reconfigure the affective emergence of the climb, and ultimately alter climbers’ relationships to
‘natural’ spaces, jarring climbing’s traditional (yet contested) separation of nature and culture
(Rossiter, 2007), and making space for situated knowledges (Haraway, 1988)—alternative ways
of knowing and being.
In the context of welcoming creative solutions for promoting sustainable tourismscapes,
we illustrate how attending to the affective, more-than-human capacities of climbing can foster
ecologically vibrant, lively, and hopeful possibilities for many diverse actors (Cunningham,
2018; Evers, 2019; Rossiter, 2007). By attending to the defacings of affects through the many
interferences of bolt hangers, we rework the ways in which climbing on Southern Ontario’s
Niagara Escarpment might become (or already may be) sustainable.