Critiques Of Tricksters And Traditionalists

Article Index

Responding To Critiques Of Tricksters And Traditionalists

In Response to Critiques of Tricksters and Traditionalists on Supertopo Website, 2006

- regarding, "I think the author ... has a good point about making the style known," referring to the article calling for complete descriptions of styles on first and first free ascents. Such information about the style of ascents, whether in guidebook histories or route descriptions, not only enriches the experience, history and lore of climbing, it provides some way to compare achievements across time. As the article states, "Contrary to cherished belief, climbing is a competitive sport. Climbing a route all free, with limited protection and on the first try means much more than climbing it after rehearsing moves or placing protection on rappel. Consequently, climbers should agree to reveal how new routes, particularly hard ones, were done. Only in this way can climbers test themselves by trying routes in the same or better style." Doesn't this notion still applies today, in spite of the popularity of bolted sport routes? Why else do recent guidebooks, such as to Mammoth and Red Rocks, list first ascent parties for sport routes if the finished route is the only thing that matters? Why do posts and scuttlebutt go around about how many falls, tension rests, pre-placements and days to completion were involved in first free ascents? And why else do we have terms such as redpoint, flash and the like if we no longer care how routes are done, whether protected by bolts or other hardware? It seems we forever "vote" with our brains on style issues, contrary to another post, "we climbers vote with our feet and the election is LONG OVER."

- regarding the comment, "easy for a granite slab climber to be so sanctimonious, dealing with low angle naturally clean rock, but for the New England climber ..." Yes, the article is a bit pissy, isn't it? I was rather mad back then, just as the likes of Henry Barber and Mark Twight are now (See Rock and Ice, "Style Issue," # 138, 2004). It's worth asking why the style debate is so contentious and continuous across generations, a point I hope perhaps to address in a future article on styles. But I take your point: the less pissy the better. Oh, as for climbing only low angle granite slabs in the ground up style I ascribed to in those days, not so. At Pinnacles National Monument in California, I carried out the same style on a number of first and first free ascents on vertical and overhanging, mungy, lose (cleaning was not an option) volcanic rock which may rival some in New England. Add bats flying in your face, dive-bombing falcons, hand drilling without looking up to avoid the tip off, and you have quite an adventure. And yes, I put in many days on steep sandstone in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, wet English cliffs (machine nuts would you believe), junk piton Dolomites and in the Alps around Chamonix (a partner there threatened to pull me off if I didn't stop free climbing as it clouded up), all with the same climbing style. My mentor, Bob Kamps, would have it no other way. Mentors were very influential then. Imagine your partner beginning to pull you off for stepping or hanging on a bolt to rest - exactly what Frank Sacherer did to a young Tom Gerughty on the Crack of Despair in Yosemite. Bob was kinder to me, but the style lesson I got was clear: a few falls, no rope rests, reclimb to the high point, try again another day, ground up. And no dibs with tape or fixed ropes. Someone else always could get it while you're away - and did.

- regarding the comment, "the statement that prior to 1970 all routes were climbed in his so called traditional style is completely ridiculous," it rivals my overstatement in the article. To be exact, the article says, "Before 1970, there were few, if any tricksters; nearly all the routes were done in traditional style." Perhaps it should have been, "The great bulk or majority of routes ..." I still contend there was a sea change in styles around that time, just as the same post itself contends by going on, "The truth of the matter is, a rappel inspection ... hook ... hangdog ... are techniques allowing guys like ... to take the climbing world by storm in the early 1980's." Storm indeed -  exactly my point.

- regarding, "Higgins must accept the responsibility that comes with encouraging boldness ... inevitable deaths." T&T does not equate danger with traditional style. The article is more focused on the how protection is placed and used rather than the volume of it. Nor did I create any death routes to my recollection (corrections, please). R, yes, but not X; bold when necessary to get it done, but not death defying, I hope. Some authors and commentators in The Rock and Ice issue cited above do seem to equate "traditional" with potential long or ground falls. Not my point at all. I tried to stay away from or turned back from many climbs I thought were too dangerous (getting down the better part of Super Pin in SD was the worst one). When caught in a desperate situation and getting through (e.g Twilight Zone and Fish Crack in Yosemite, with protection which wouldn't fit), I did not feel satisfied and ready for more, only grateful to be alive and determined to avoid a similar situations in the future. My preference in doing bolted first ascents was to make the protection as adequate as possible, keeping in mind bolts mark the rock, are hard to put in in the middle of difficult moves (often done anyhow) and time always was limited (paid dearly a few times on cold, unplanned bivouacs). As well, I have enjoyed my share of sport routes, but always found myself going back to the more mysterious, out of the way beauties, preferably involving a good share of natural protection.

- the central point of T&T was not discussed on the posts. It is not about the merits for ourselves or others of sport or traditional styles (however defined), but a suggestion for climbers agreeing about how styles should play out in areas where they are in contention. To cite Pinnacles again, there climbers met, debated and agreed to ground up from now on (new guidebook will tell) as rap bolting became problematic for all users of the area. In the UK at the moment, regional forums are discussing, among other things, how trad and sport cliffs can exist in the same area via local agreements. It seems their cliffs are scarce, climbers numerous and without such agreements, bolt chopping and acrimony ensue. As T&T states, "climbers can get down to the business of mending old agreements and striking new ones." The idea seems very much applicable to some areas today.

- last, to the post, "Higgins was such a humorless guy," I will suggest another piece for your enjoyment from an old Ascent - "In Due Time." Admittedly, some of the humor there is a bit dark and cerebral, probably from Irish blood.