Climbing Ethics

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Letter to the Editor - Climbing Ethics

IN THE 1982 ISSUE of the American Alpine Journal, Bruce Morris wrote a historical and interpretive article on face climbing in Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows. As a contributor to the face climbing tradition of these areas, particularly Tuolumne, I suggest Bruce Morris has done a very poor job of telling the story.

First, he has omitted much of the relevance in the history of routes and the ethical traditions of the areas. Second, in addition to these omissions, there are confusing discussions about the experience of face climbing and rationales for climbing styles, all suggesting the author either doesn't believe what he is saying or isn't clear what he is saying or both. Finally, and most disturbing in the pages of the Journal, the author sets out very unconvincing, if not preposterous, arguments in support of certain climbing styles clearly aimed at murdering the impossible.

Let's begin with the omissions in the article, some factual, some interpretive. If I had to name my favorite face climb in Tuolumne, it would be Piece de Resistance. It is a long, direct line on the largest dome in the area, Fairview. It entails progressively harder face-climbing (some say 5.11, some 5.12) and crack-climbing, and follows a spectacular arch in the middle of the wide-open west face. Bob Kamps and I worked on the route several times in the early 1970s, always turning back at a blank headwall about midway up. We had no desire to aid the headwall. Our climbing styles (mine was learned from his) were founded on the belief one should leave the impossible for another time or for other climbers who might someday free-climb it. In 1974, Vern Clevenger and Bob Harrington did the headwall only and then retreated. They placed several bolts, at least one of which was used for aid. Later, Vern Clcvcnger and I returned, free-climbed the headwall and finished the route. I named the route as I did since I felt it was my finale in Tuolumne. I also wrote an article about it for the Sierra Club publication, Ascent. In part, the article was a tribute to Bob Kamps as my mentor, to our friendship and to our many attempts together on the route.