Retrobolting Opinion

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Retrobolting Opinion

From Discussion of Adding Bolts to Hair Raiser Buttress (HB), Post to Supertopo Website, 2006

Posters should know they are not alone in their disappointment at turning back from nice walls like HB because the protection/mix is problematic. I certainly have passed on great looking climbs due to a protection/difficulty balance beyond me. See my previous posts about turning back from certain climbs, for example a long sought prize - Super Pin in SD. Closer to home, I was disappointed at turning back from the Bachar Yerian and You Asked For It (sidebar: attempting them with a solo self belay system was stupid). The point is, depending on our abilities and the protection, all of us face climbs too difficult or dangerous for the day. I never thought to ask Bachar to add bolts to insure my safety. Being humbled is part of the game, especially early on when pushing and hungry. Overall, I believe the best response is to alter our own behavior (get sane or better) not the climbs.

Some posts also express quandary at why I kept the number of bolts to a minimum on HB, or certain other first ascents. My motive was not to create death defying or "manly" routes (a poster asks, "You want a bold route that other climbers will aspire to do in the same manly style you did?" See T&T post, Dec. 1). Under clean climbing standards and ground up rules I grew up with (see previous T&T post about strong role of my mentor), bolts were the last resort. Minimizing their number was not to create mind games for others but leave the rock marked with as few bolts as possible. I realize my attitude may seem quaint in the era of sport routes, but we are products of our times and mentors, and that was the attitude instilled in me.

Should bolts be added to routes created under the minimalist bolting ethic so more climbers can enjoy them? After all, couldn't bolts be added, guidebooks still note the original style of the ascent and give credit accordingly, as a poster suggests? Of course there is pleasure being named in a guidebook or history. But to think getting into publications is such a central prize in climbing underestimates the complexity of the game. Preserving original protection is not to insure climbers get scared or first ascent parties get into history as bold. Preservation insures climbers preferring to do the climb in its original style get to do so. Some climbers prefer more risk and complication than many sport routes provide. They deserve their opportunities just as much as sportsters deserve theirs. But the picture is bigger than preferred risk profiles. Not altering routes insures they remain tributes to the time and mentality around their creation.

An important joy of the climbing game comes not just from doing climbs, but viewing, pondering, absorbing (as per this very web site) the full well of experiences, the moving stage of heroes, fools and follies, high and low tales, grand and vain acts. In the drama, the features of routes and associated protection are the underlying choreography, the hand and foot sequences set in stone and passing on through time. Once protection is changed, the original choreography of moves, runs, hardware (and sling) frustrations, resulting pumps and rests, the curses and hoots - the entire emotional passage - is altered. And lost is an assessment of how nuts or noble were the makers, our second guessing of all they felt. In short, there is no tribute to the past, no way to tap the well. It is for all these reasons, barring unusual circumstances, routes should be left to stand as they were first done.

In sum, for now I will ask for climbers to leave HB as it stands. I am open to receiving more information on the questions I've raised, consider further and post. I also will consult with my partner for the climb. I hope all this seems reasonable. Ultimately, today's climbers will have to decide what to preserve and not, as the wonder and fragility of the game is each new generation gets to determine how to play it.