Tricksters and Traditionalists

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Tricksters defend their actions by means of two popular but fallacious arguments. The first is that no matter how a first ascent is done, traditionalists can always climb the route in their preferred style. They can bypass protection placed on rappel, and they can try a route without rehearsing or resting on protection. In so doing, they can experience their own "first ascent." The problem with this contention is that it discounts the importance of first as¬cents for others. Removed forever is the unique opportunity for a first ascent in traditional style. Obviously, a special satisfaction comes from doing a first ascent, naming it, telling others the story, being recognized, and adding one's name and accomplishments to the history of climbs in an area.

Tricksters raise a second argument: "Tough luck." They say the first-ascent party always has denied others the opportunity for a first ascent, no matter what the style. To be sure, people using traditional styles do deny first ascents to others, including climbers employing the new tricks. The rebuttal, however, is simple: bullets kill more easily than arrows. Where game is plentiful, it doesn't matter who uses what weapon. But when game is scarce, it certainly does matter. Guns remove more game for bows than vice versa. It is for this very reason that bow users are allowed to hunt before the regular season opens. It is also the reason that certain weapons are restricted in hunting and fishing. Consider the rightful ire of a flyfisherman observing someone building a trap or dynamiting the water!

Not only do tricks remove opportunities, they create certain dangers. Where a first ascent is rehearsed by top rope and preprotected, for example, traditionalists may be endangered in subsequent ascents. Traditionalists may not be able to place protection on the lead and, not having rehearsed the moves, may fall at a dangerous point.

Again, climbing style is not purely a personal matter. It affects other climbers in various ways. On established routes, adding protection offends climbers who wish to do the route in its original style, or as the first-ascent party intended the route to stand. Consequently, many climbers still agree to honor the protection style of the first ascent. On new routes, both climbing and protection style can affect others as first-ascent opportunities grow scarce. In this case, climbers employing preprotection, rehearsing, and resting on protection are more easily able to do first ascents than climbers choosing not to use these styles. For all these reasons a majority of climbers prior to 1970 agreed not to employ certain styles on first ascents. If a route could not be done in the traditional manner, the prevailing agreement was to leave it for better climbers—or future generations—to try.