Tricksters & Traditionalists Revisited: 2006

Article Index

Styles: Not A Dead Issue

In spite of the obvious acceptance of sport climbing, the merit of contrasting traditional style now receives the same attention and energetic defense as twenty years ago when sport was trick. On the amicable side of the trad/sport divide, climbing websites (e.g. Supertopo, Tradgirl) provide the option of signing in as a "trad" climber, or climbers often voluntarily do so. Numerous posts suggest excitement about doing some traditional routes, fascination about how old and bold were done, and praise for traditional style. Within the last year or so, Climbing, Rock and Ice and Summit have run articles on "ethics" and "styles" describing the challenge and adventure associated with traditional styles.  In web site discussions of "best climber," nominations include John Gill, Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill in the U.S., and in Britain, John Dunne, climbers ascribing to traditional styles.2 In a PlanetFear post, we hear a typical pithy support for trad style, " … 5 years spent finessing their next micron grade advance  … hanging on the 4th bolt of Mecca … to most of us … is the big so what."
On the contentious side of the divide, the heat of twenty years ago marks the scene, especially when styles involve bolting. Some of the longest threads (ten pages or more) on Supertopo, Rock Climbing, Climbingboulder and NE Climbs web sites feature intense discussions of excessive sport bolting, bolting near cracks and retro-bolting of trad routes. "Braying jackass" is reserved for the leader of a party adding bolts to an exiting El Cap route to facilitate free climbing.4  In the North East, the addition of bolts to a 30 year old route without permission of the first ascent party (The Prow) brings controversy, as does the removal of a sport route in the vicinity of a traditional climb (Crack In The Woods). There, a secretive (but named) bolt remover roams, bringing praise and ire. In the U.K., about adding bolts to established routes where cams and nuts once did the job, a poster warns, "Why do you think there are no bolts on Pembroke limestone … it's because the moment a bolt is placed in that sacred stone, someone takes it out"5