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Alberta climbing community seeks change for ‘racist, sexist’ mountain, trail names

The hiking trail on Yamnuska in Alberta's Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, part of Kananaskis Country, is shown in June 2017. Some of Alberta's climbing group is making a push to change the names of some climbing routes and peaks in the province due to racist connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colette Derworiz. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colette Derworiz

Alberta’s climbing community is making a push to change some controversial names for both mountains and rock climbing trails in the province.

Some of the names being noted as in need of change include a mountain that is known as Squaw’s Tit near Canmore, as well as a series of trails in the Bow Valley called The White Imperialist near Grassi Lakes which also features sub-routes with names like No Tickee No Laundry, Chinatown Left and Chinatown Right.

There are also some with sexist names in the province, for example, another trail in the Bow Valley called Naked Teenage Girls.

“Some of them are derogatory, they’re racist, they’re sexist,” Brandon Pullan, the editor of Gripped Climbing Magazine, said.

The push for the names to be changed has been going on for several years, according to Pullan.

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“Climbing tries to be as inclusive as it can be. So by having names that may keep people away is a bad thing.”

Changing names for a route is fairly straightforward. That’s because climbing route naming is less official and generally named by the first person to ascend the area, Pullan said. He said changing the trail names would be as simple as contacting guide book authors and getting a new name assigned.

“To change [route names] you just tell the guidebook author to change the name in the next printing,” Pullan said. “It’s happened before. Sometimes there will be a historical footnote.”
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Logan Grasby, a climber and admin for an Alberta climbing group on Facebook, said that with the Bow Valley, where The White Imperialist is located, the popularity of that route is partly why it’s now being discussed.

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“I would say that it is quite easy to point to a few of the more popular areas that have a select concentration of these [offensive] names,” Grasby said. “And I would say that it is probably your average climber who goes to the more popular areas who will encounter these routes.

“In Alberta, there are hundreds of new climbers every year… Certainly, it’s growing, and certainly, the demographic is changing. People should name routes to be publicly acceptable,” Grasby said.

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For peaks, the naming situation is slightly more complicated. Alberta’s mountain ranges are officially named, and any new names need to be approved through a provincial application process. 

One of the more problematic peaks is known by climbers as Squaw’s Tit, one of the largest peaks near Canmore, also called just The Tit by many. However, that name is not an official one — but similar to the trails, that is what it’s been known as in the climbing community for decades.

“[Squaw’s Tit] is an informal name,” Jude Daniels, Canmore resident said “I summited it back in 2006. It was one of my first ones, that’s when I first heard this name, and I was shocked.”
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Daniels said she’s been trying to get a new, official name chosen for the peak’s scramble (the route climbers generally take up it) for years. The mountain currently doesn’t have one.

“From an Indigenous women’s perspective, I think the person that coined that name, held Indigenous women in utter contempt. In fact, the name generates hatred towards Indigenous women,” she said.

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“I decided that I wanted to have that peak given a formal name. I discovered it was quite a lengthy process. In the meantime, I wanted to ask people to use a different name.”

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She said that while a “number of” people including some local guides now call it The Tit, she believes the summit needs a new name that has zero connection with the old. The government also has rejected The Tit as its official name, Daniels said.

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Now, in an attempt to pick a name that will be approved by officials, Daniels has been working with the Stoney Nation about whether they had a traditional name for the mountain.

“Every time I see that peak, and I literally live next door to it… to the left of me is a peak of me called Squaw’s Tit. To the right of me is a mountain called Lady MacDonald. I think that speaks volumes for the kind of thinking that arose at the time of the informal naming of that peak.

“It truly is a punch to the stomach when I first heard the name, and every time I see the name, it’s the same visceral effect.”

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Pullan said that Gripped is also working through routes names all across Canada in order to compile a list that needs to be addressed.

“[Gripped] is looking at route names in Canada, and coming up with a list [off offensive names]… and sending that list out to guide book authors… to see what they think, and the next step.

“If it offends somebody, if anybody is offended… just change the name,” Pullan said.