The Future of Route Names - Neural Networks?

A project in the US recently turned to climbing route names as learning material for training an artificial neural network. The results are amusing and made us wonder if climbers are perhaps a little crazy - at least, the neural network seemed to get that impression, anyway...

A simplified view of an artificial neural network., 70 kb
A simplified view of an artificial neural network.
© By Dake, Mysid - Wiki Commons

Janelle Shane is based in Boulder, Colorado and trains artificial neural networks - i.e. not the ones in our brains - to write (unintentional) humour at and is also a research scientist in optics. She explained what a neural network is and how the different 'temperature' settings affect the outcome:

'A neural network is a type of computer program that learns by example, rather than being told exactly how to solve a problem. Based on thousands of examples of route names, it had to figure out the rules that let it generate more like them. At a low temperature setting, it will generate names that it thinks are very quintessential - they'll end up a bit repetitive, but it will mostly be correct. At a higher temperature setting, it will be more daring when it generates names, going with less common sounds and phrases.'

Janelle obtained lists of the named routes in Boulder, Colorado (4,527) and Joshua Tree, California (5,633) and fed the data to the network. It seems that climbers really do have a penchant for the rude, the quirky and the downright weird.

Some of our personal favourites from the list of generated names are:


Wart Face

Stank Traverse

Start Fall


Yourd of the Shire

Murfon Cow Sprolf

Ass Over


Warm Crack

Gut Dyno

Dirty Low Down In It

Bubbles and Sugar

Knob Crack

Buts Belly Goose


Amant My Fart

Is this the future of route naming? No more naming angst for first ascensionists. Find the full (censored) list here.

We sent Janelle a few questions to find out more about this quirky project...

Where did the idea for the project come from?

One of my friends is a rock climber, and he gave me the idea to train a neural network on climbing routes. Before he told me about them, I didn't know there were so many climbing routes with interesting names. If I'd had to guess, I'd have said there were maybe a hundred routes in Joshua Tree - I had no idea there were more than 5,000.

Why are climbing route names suited to this project?

The nice thing about climbing route names is that they're weird enough that the neural network's odd choices can pass for normal. There are also enough of them that the neural network can see lots of examples of how they sound, and what the commonest words and phrases are.

What did you discover from the results?

I discovered that Joshua Tree and Boulder routes each have their own feel. At Joshua Tree it's chickens and poodles and problems. At Boulder it's cracks and maybe a little more rage!

Which was your favourite route name generated?

It's a toss-up between "Chicken Problem 2" and "Chocolatrance Problem (aka The Boom Sag Poodle Boys A Pill-Bob)"

Have you got any similar projects in the pipeline?

I've got tons! People are always alerting me to new quirky naming traditions.

Forums 40 comments

Yes perhaps something would come to mind if I'd actually put up a new route! I'd have to resist the temptation to use one of these...would be a shame if there wasn't a "reason" for the route name (whatever that...
Better names than I could come up with, but then my imagination is poor. Really?  I have larger supply of potential route names than I'm ever going to be able to use but obviously it helps if there's a theme to the...
What a load of rubbish. This thing is pretty much coming up with random words joined together. Words that aren't even words..."Wark Fly Dorf". This is irrelevant to climbers in every possible way, although it might be...
Thanks I think it will be interesting! Some of them will probaly sound quite plausible. It would be interesting to do it with cave names as well, suprisingly there isn't a good list of caves in te UK as many caves are...
I thought Johnny Dawes always had good, imaginative names for routes: Sad amongst friends Lllanberries Silk   They're quite playful and poetic. I always wanted to do a Dawes route but never got good enough.  
"Route 2" has more character, and "Route1.5" is a result of people straying off the other two. Then there's "Original Route", "Ordinary Route" and "Direct Route" all of which can inspire the climber to venture onto the...

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