Tricksters and Traditionalists

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The last two points are the most difficult for tricksters to accept. After all, they believe their style is applied only when traditional styles cannot be used. Perfectly capable of climbing in traditional style, tricksters feel they know its limits. They feel that few, if any, climbers will be deprived of first-ascent opportunities. A recent case in point is the Bachar-Yerian Route on Medlicott Dome in Tuolumne Meadows. This spectacular route ascends a black water streak on a dead-vertical golden wall. The leader placed protection bolts while hanging from hooks affixed to knobs. The climb is superb, the line is direct, the protection is scanty; it is hard to imagine the route could be protected without resorting to a trick such as hanging from hooks. Surely, say the tricksters, no opportunity for traditionalists was removed in this case.

Perhaps the Bachar-Yerian Route could not be done any other way, except by rappelling to place the bolts. If all the routes done by tricksters were this impressive and difficult, there would be less to discuss. Within a few miles of the Bachar-Yerian Route, however, numerous examples abound of climbs where tricksters have removed very real possibilities for traditionalists. Handjive, on Lembert Dome, originally protected by placing bolts on rappel, lay well within the capabilities of climbers of the time to protect on the lead. Hoodwink, on Harlequin Dome, was first done with an aid ladder to protect free climbing. Traditionalists of the day could have done the first ascent without the ladder. Death Crack, once rehearsed by top roping, is now led occasionally on sight. Blues Riff, once protected on aid, is now done without this style. In the last two cases climbers of today were deprived of the opportunity for first ascents in traditional style. Other examples exist where climbers of the era, or those of the next generation, could have done—or would have wanted to try—trickster routes in traditional style.

The irony of the Bachar-Yerian Route is that John Bachar's usual climbing style suggests how the route might have been done to no one's objection. Since Bachar free solos routes of the highest standard, one gets the impression he put in his bolts for subsequent climbers. Suppose he had put in only those bolts that could have been placed without hooks and let climbers scratch their heads for years to come. Neither the traditionalists nor the tricksters could then object to losing the first-ascent opportunity to such a fine climber and so pure a style.

Whatever real or supposed opportunities were removed by the Bachar-Yerian Route, the style of ascent still disadvantages climbers preferring the traditional style. In the hands of lesser climbers, "hooking" is certain to remove ever more first-ascent possibilities for traditionalists of today and the near future. It is possible also that advances in protection technology will allow routes like the Bachar-Yerian to go without hooks, rappel placements, or aid ladders. Or perhaps more climbers will soon accept less protection, in line with Bachar's usual climbing style. The point is that tricksters should not presume to know the limits of traditional styles or styles less dependent on protection. Also, they should not presume to know how many climbers prefer traditional styles now or will in the future. Traditionalists may be a silent majority or weekenders who rarely have the time or contacts to make known their preferences. Considerable unthinking arrogance lies in the presumption that one knows the capabilities and preferences of everyone in the growing population of rockclimbers. Tricksters should also realize a first-ascent opportunity comes only once. Restocking can revive game populations for those fishing and hunting. But once the first ascent is bagged, it is gone forever. This fact alone should give pause to those who use weapons others in the sport refuse to employ.