Friday, January 30, 2015

Noise Pollution: In Defense of the Dub-Box

"You damn kids and your music!" Playing music in the
wilderness can be awesome or an ear-sore. (photo: A. Stephen)

Ever since the late 70's when battery operated boomboxes became popular, adventurous (and young) souls have been taking their music with them to the crags, and, with the advancement of technology, into the wilderness. For a weight sacrifice of a lb. or less, you can add a compact, solar-rechargable bluetooth-equipped speaker to your backcountry travel kit and bump your Miley Cyrus (or whatever the kids are into these days) wherever you are. But there are some ethical questions that need to be answered here. Not all climbers will see your music as motivating or appropriate.

If all the members of your party are psyched on bumping some music, speakers can bring much enjoyment, inspiration, and even much-needed reality breaks in times of high stress.  On the Torment-Forbidden traverse in the North Cascades, I vividly remember simul-climbing up through heavy fog with the "dub-box"-as our portable speakers have affectionately become known- playing Radiohead's "All I Need", and thinking how perfectly it set the mood, cutting through the mist, inspiring us onward.  There have been many times multi-pitching where the dub-box has helped distract me from the discomforts of a hanging belay, or provided psych to push through fatigue or fear.  And nothing is better than a little musical inspiration to power through steep approaches!

The dub-box hasn't only provided positive experiences, however.  Some climbers find music distracting- others down-right noise-polluting.  I have had a climbing partner who asked me to "turn that s&%# off!," and others who felt as though music was a detriment to their wilderness experience. Fair points, which I cannot argue with.  So when is the dub-box appropriate? Here are some guidelines to help you boogie down without rocking the boat:

1. Evaluate Surroundings.  Where are you?  A crag? A crowded hiking trail? In the wilderness?  If the area you're in or traveling through is devoid of other people, there may be no problem with playing music.  If you are anywhere near other people however, there is cause for consideration.

2. Be Upfront! If you are at a crag, sharing a multi-pitch line, or camping near others, the best thing you can do if unsure whether or not cranking the dub-box is acceptable, is ask.  Simply asking the people you are sharing space with if they would mind if you played some music goes a long way towards creating respect and a good name for those about to rock.  If any parties say no, you should cease and desist.

3. Know Your Audience.  Even if everyone around you is ok with a little music, you should do your best to anticipate what is likely to be appropriate, and what may be offensive.  This should be obvious after the discussion of step 2.  If you are climbing next to a bunch of 50-year-olds, EDM may not be the best choice if you are hoping not to offend.  As a general rule, even if other parties consent, keep the volume down a little lower than you might if you were alone.

If you follow these three easy steps, you are guaranteed to keep the peace and positively influence the portable speaker community by showing that you can rock out without disrespecting others.

Where To Get Your Own Dub-Box
GoalZero is the standard portable speaker for climbing.  It is affordable, rechargeable, clip-able, and durable.  Find them here.  The top of the line is the Turtle-Shell; it has all the features of the GoalZero, except better, and more expensive.  Find the Turtle-Shell here.

--Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide

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