Last week, while national outrage erupted over Boy Scout leaders who knocked down a rock formation millions of years old, a similar controversy was brewing in the sport of climbing. Joe Kinder, a professional climber originally from New Hampshire, was accused on Instagram of cutting down mature juniper trees to enable putting up a new route on a crag near Lake Tahoe, California. Sunday, after previously denying that he had done so, Kinder admitted the action in a post to his blog.
Under the heading, My Actions, My Responsibility, My Mistake, Kinder wrote, “I was recently informed that I had done something wrong last month while establishing new routes at an underground crag in the Tahoe region of California. I cut down two trees. Not just any trees, either. Junipers.”
Word of the tree felling first came to public light on Thursday, October 17, when a California climber named Bernie LaForest posted a photo of one of the downed trees on his Instagram feed and accused Kinder and partner Ethan Pringle of responsibility.
“The CA Juniper cut down by Joe Kinder with accomplice Ethan Pringle,” he wrote. “I wonder what Muir would think of the progression of our sport. Let these guys know how you feel. Maybe it will make a difference in the future. This tree has been growing here since before most of our families came to this continent.”
On Thursday, after numerous attempts by Adventure Journal to reach Kinder by phone, email, and social channels, he responded via Facebook, denying the incident.
“All good man…that was pretty much a joke and nothing needs to be said. No comment and nothing ever happened that was posted as fact. Nothing.”
LaForest refused to comment on the incident, other than to say, “[the issue] needs attention brought to it that would be constructive that would not be detrimental to two young climbers.” A few hours later, he removed the photo from Instagram.
But the issue didn’t end there — word made its way to climbing forums, and someone posted the photo to a forum thread at SuperTopo. Pressure was building.
On Friday, Kinder told AJ he would make a statement. On Saturday, he said he would make it by Monday. Today, he published the 1,500-word post, acknowledging the cutting and apologizing for his actions.
“This was a regrettable error on my part. I am deeply apologetic about what I did. I was wrong. I F’d up. And I’m very sorry.”
Kinder explained the sequence of events:
I lowered through a tree that was blocking the start of a route. I pushed my way through the tree and got down to the ground. The tree was about 10 feet tall and 10 inches thick. A neighboring tree (below the route next to this) was smaller, dead, and in the same predicament.
My main goal when it comes to putting up a new route is: Will this climb be something high-quality, something safe and something that climbers will enjoy? I try to make decisions that answer those questions as best as possible.
This tree I lowered through was in a dangerous spot due to the fact that there was a difficult part on this route near the ground. Essentially, a fall from this lower section might have left a future climber injured: stabbed by tree limbs or worse. This was a serious concern of mine. I left the cliff thinking about that tree, not sure what to do.
A week later, he returned with Pringle, who didn’t know that Kinder was thinking about cutting down the trees.
“I thought more about the tree making hazardous the start of this new route. Ethan didn’t know I was going to cut the juniper down and wasn’t included in my decision or action.”
Justifying his actions as a public service, similar to the men who toppled the rock in Goblin Valley, Utah, Kinder wrote, “I decided to take the initiative and make the climb safe for the future climbers…I spent about ten minutes and sawed them down.”
Kinder left Tahoe, moved onto other climbing areas, and a short while later was excited to see an email from the climber who’d introduced him to the little known Tahoe crag. He expected praise for putting up new routes, but instead was excoriated for the cutting down the trees.
“I opened it giddily, thinking it would be some exciting news about more route development at this Tahoe-area cliff. Unfortunately, his message was a shocking note of concern over my tree removal.
“I lost my breath. I felt faint. I responded immediately. [He] informed me that this was a precious, respected tree: a juniper, perhaps very old. Junipers are some of the most respected trees and they can survive for a very long time, upwards of a thousand years.
“Hearing this I nearly died. I had no clue and I felt completely awful. I had really F—d up.”
Because the exact location of the felled trees has not be revealed, it’s unclear what legal ramifications Kinder might face. Tree cutting in Tahoe National Forest, if that’s where the crag is located, is illegal without a permit, with fines up to $500 and up to six months in jail. But Tahoe takes tree cutting for spurious reasons seriously: Authorities there have been cracking down on illegal tree cutting when homeowners lop trees to improve views. In 2011, the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority, the agency charged with overseeing the issue, fined a homeowner $20,000 for cutting down five trees. In 2007, a woman who hired a company to take down trees on national forest land faced 20 years in prison, but was let off after paying $100,000 in retribution.
Read the full text of Kinder’s statement at his website, here.