I am a climber, and at the risk of offending the enthusiasts of other outdoor pursuits, I’d argue that climbing is among the dirtiest, in the literal sense. Routes and problems are conceived and sent above cleared patches of dirt, moves grunted out through gritty clouds of chalk dust. Meals or snacks, if there are any, are consumed swiftly with scabbed fingers and raw palms, and airing out sweaty, grubby feet is a frequent – even necessary – occurrence.
Surfing has pristine, crystalline waves looping on the horizon. Sea kayaking and canoeing have sleek keels constantly licked by the water. Paragliding and base jumping and other aerial endeavors have vast expanses of clouds and open sky.
Climbing has gravel. And dust. And a lot of rocks.
Indoor rock climbing gyms, at least up until recent times, used to be equally grimy – dingy hole-in-the-wall vaults meant primarily for biding time until winter thawed and the natural walls of the Great Outdoors were accessible once again.
[Korean climber Zooey Ahn powers through the crux of a bouldering problem in a "dirtbag dungeon" in Seoul. Photo: John Burgman]