Climbing Ethics

Article Index

Finally Morris has given no credence whatsoever to "selective cheating," even while setting out to do so. He quotes Claud Fiddler, a "notorious local," who apparently supports such actions as placing bolts on rappel, rehearsing moves, previewing possible routes, and drilling aid bolt ladders to allow free-climbing. Asks Claud, "How can a route be worthwhile unless 'questionable methods' were employed on its first ascent?" Morris then goes on, "After all, can temporal ethics ever be successfully reconciled with a mandate to extend contemporary standards beyond the merely human? Like Pantanjali's Yogasutra, the moves on a difficult face-climb should outline the mystical steps toward achieving a deathless super-consciousness." Who among the ascribes to new climbing styles understands—never mind believes—such rubbish? There are hundreds of worthwhile routes done without questionable methods! And who is mandating an extension of contemporary standards? Or, who has the gall to say they are reaching toward a deathless superconsciousness beyond the merely human in climbing when they stand on bolts to place others? Or when they rappel down to check out the difficulty of a possible new route? Or place bolts on rappel for later protection in free climbing? One can usefully discuss the appropriateness of these climbing styles based on how they affect other climbers ascribing to different styles. But it is laughable to defend the style on the basis of their abilities to transform us into gods. What is this stuff doing in the pages of the Journal ?

Nowhere in the article has Bruce Morris explained or defended the climbing styles he discusses. Perhaps such a defense is possible, though I have yet to see it. I'm not alone in wondering how cheating selectively, as Morris says Clevenger has done, can be justified to form an "artistically satisfying whole." I'm unconvinced Cantwell has created a better climb in the Hall of Mirrors by placing an aid bolt ladder up the "line of strength" and then free-climbing it, rather than climbing a ramp to the right without a ladder. I still ask why Ray Jardine feels justified in "sculpting" holds on El Cap, if in fact he did so, to make an area of rock go free. Nothing in the article convinces the reader that these methods either make good routes, or are justifiable no matter what the resulting route. Who wants to climb aid ladders free? Or climb on sculptings? Or on gymnastic problems next to a more natural path of holds? And who so completely can disassociate ends from means as to ignore how holds were made or bolts placed, and climb like a dullard, unaware or uncaring of who first did a route, how and why?

In sum, omissions, confusions and unconvincing or preposterous assertions abound in "Methods & Madness." I hope readers are treated to better fare in the future.

American Alpine Journal, 1983