Letter To Summit

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Letter To Summit Editor On Style

Dear Editor:

I recently came across Roger Breedlove's review of Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows in SUMMIT (March -April 1984). I regret not seeing the review earlier, as it contains an inaccurate criticism of my introduction to the Guide, and a defense of thoughtless climbing styles. I offer the following response.

Roger calls my introduction ". . .a self-serving methodology of reducing stylistic and ethical considerations to a black-and-white decision process which only he and his mentors may define and to which all others must aspire." The introduction argues strongly the case for traditional style, but it does not tell climbers what they must do. Instead, the introduction advises the climber to "Think and question yourself as you climb in Tuolumne Meadows. Try to assess which routes and ethical traditions seem best." And later, "Will you prefer to remember having done the most severe routes in whatever way was necessary, or having done a few of the hardest in the best style, while perhaps failing miserably on some others and avoiding altogether still others? It is a question the tumultuous climbing traditions of Tuolumne force upon you. Think before you answer it, for your best climbing days too soon rush by." Are these statements commandments to climb in one style? Black-and-white prescriptions? Or does the introduction state where I stand, but urge climbers to consider the opposing ethical traditions and decide for themselves? I think the introduction clearly urges the latter, not the former.

Next. Roger contends the introduction suggests I "could have done all those new and hard routes if (I) had relaxed (my) standards and resorted to the 'appalling' style of the 70's." Nowhere does the introduction say any such thing. I do contend preprotection, previewing, yo-yoing and similar tricks have the effect of "robbing others of the opportunity to try the first ascent in traditional style." In the latest issue of Ascent I have argued the same point. "Tricksters" do remove opportunities for others to try certain routes in traditional style. But the introduction never states I or other traditionalists could have done "all those new hard routes" in traditional style. In fact, the introduction says just the opposite. I mention two cases where Bob Kamps and I turned back on Fairview Dome because we could not proceed without some form of aid (roofs above Crescent Ledge and the headwall on Piece de Resistance). Indeed, I am perfectly willing to say I could not have done first ascents of certain Tuolomne routes in traditional style. What I and other traditionalists wanted was the opportunity to try, and the pleasure of wondering who might succeed some day, or if anyone would ever succeed, in the traditional style.

Finally, I must take issue with Roger's attempt to dismiss the importance of climbing styles. Roger contends. "We can believe it is relatively easy to do stupid regrettable things on first ascents—Hoodwink is a good example of this." And, "We can believe one's cherished notions can be easily trammeled by other climbers. . . as they make, for better or for worse, their personal stylistic choices." I'm sorry Roger believes it easy to do regrettable things on first ascents, as he did on Hoodwink, one of his own first ascents in Tuolumne. I wonder if it is this very cavalier attitude about what can happen on first ascents which led Roger and his companions to place a string of aid bolts to protect free climbing on the last pitch of Hoodwink. Did he give any thought to whether traditionalists might want to try the route without resorting to aid? Or did he simply "trammel" on the "cherished notions" of other climbers of the time, and make his "personal stylistic choice" for "better or worse"?

I believe it is important that climbers have some agreements about climbing styles, and that they abide by these agreements. I don't think it is or should be "easy" to "trammel" the climbing tradition of an area. I don't think the choice of climbing styles is strictly personal for "better or for worse," consequences be damned. I regret any climber believes these things, and regret still more Roger's philosophy has been given credence by publication in a respected climbing magazine. I only hope Roger doesn't represent the philosophy of very many climbers, though my hope may be in vain. As Roger says, "Higgins argues one point of view while the climbing community seems to implicitly argue another." Alas, this may be the only accurate statement in his entire review.

SUMMIT, Jan. - Feb., 1985