Retro Bolting (Continued)

Do Higher Level Climbers Create Scary or Dangerous Climbs for the Rest of us?

Karl, I think your points about 5.13 climbers running way out and creating dangerous routes for 5.9 and 5.10 climbers would be helped with some examples of specific routes and people. Not sure where I fit in your assessment, but your point is pretty general without examples of people and places. Just what 5.13 climbers have created what routes in support of your point?

As for myself, I was a 5.12 climber (no 5.13s) in the day (not a lot of those, but several) and always tried to do new 5.9 and 5.10 climbs with reasonable protection for anyone climbing at that ability. I have admitted to running it on 5.8 and 5.9 sometimes to get moving before dark, or due to breaking drills or trying to avoid still more tedious drilling in the middle of a 5.8 section when it looked like easier ground was coming. But where I felt the resulting route was not reasonably protected, I either gave permission to others to add a bolt (e.g. Fairest of All) or went back and added a bolt myself (e.g. Jonah). I think my longtime partner Bob Kamps was of the same mentality and I can name others who, I think, were responsible on the point of placing protection with subsequent parties in mind.

Where to Focus the Retrobolt Debate

Generally, I think painting the creators of run or X routes as flawed (ego driven, lazy, bolt poor or thoughtless of subsequent ascent parties) muddies the waters on the retro bolting issue. In my mind, the issue of whether to retro bolt or not needs to be distinguished from the character or motive of the FA party. Why? I don’t think we can decide on whether or not to retro bolt by making character judgments case by case by route, especially as time goes on and history fades. For example, because of Bachar’s high esteem in the climbing community, no one now will seriously debate retro bolting the very run out BY. But as time goes on and the memory of Bachar fades, what then? And do we retro bolt, say, the very run Burning Down the House because some may not see the route creators as having quite the same esteem as Bachar or because, by their own admission on Supertopo, they were determined to create a very run route out of anger over a slight by an influential climber of the day? Talk about a slippery slope or muddy waters!

Nope, the focus should be away from character and motive of the FA party and on retro bolting itself. The nub of the issue is how we cope with multiple and conflicting preferences among climbers about how we create new bolted routes.  I think we need to understand climbing never was and never will be a purely harmonious enterprise with all agreeing on climbing styles generally and protection styles in particular. Instead, we need to accept both the stellar and horrible routes around us, and our great hodgepodge of saints and sinners, however we define them. We can and should argue about better and poorer ways of climbing and resulting routes, but we need to let multiple styles have their place and day as long as they don’t imping on one another. So, sport away on your sport cliff. Trad away on your trad cliff. Curse and pass on an old R or X route, fair enough, but leave it untouched for those who want the quirky pleasure of doing it. Scold and pass on the sport route bolted every 10 feet, but leave it for those who like it.

The Way Out

While not easy, the way I suggest through tiffs like on this thread about bolting style is to agree area by area just how protection style preferences can play out without curtailing the options of anyone. Argue to the death (keeping as civil as possible) about what styles are superior as a climbing experience, but don’t chop the sport routes and don’t retro bolt the trad routes. Preferably, stake out cliffs to provide opportunities for each style and enjoy. If both styles have to play on the same cliff, go with caution when crossing old trad routes with new sport routes to avoid effectively retro bolting the old lines (the new Southern Sierra guidebook will make just this point). I think this is the way (and maybe only way) to insure maximum climbing satisfaction and minimum harm to camaraderie of the game. Seem reasonable?

Supertopo Post, June 8, 2012