Tricksters & Traditionalists Revisited: 2006

Article Index

But bolting is not the only style issue riling climbers; pre-placed protection, long route working and new artificial tools add to the fire. Ascenders of a route in the Gunnison of Colorado6  using rock picks to advance indicate there are "appalled critics." The "king of Yosemite big wall free climbing"7  reminds us, "El Cap is for having fun … not for having fights and criticizing others" after grumblings about his falling "dozens of times," "fixing lines" and "top-roping" to do the Dihedral Wall free.8  Likewise, a recent free ascent of the Nose was greeted in Supertopo first by "Wow," then by "preplaced gear?" and "Skinner style ascent?" Posts wanting clarification on style often are not far behind reports of latest feats.9  A Supertopo poster reflects many opinions, "Some … were saying jugging up to a highpoint reached by previous … climbing … does NOT a free climb make."

The Regulatory Pandora's Box

More indication style issues aren't dead is the growth of climbing regulations, due in part to the volume of sport style bolting. In the Flatirons and Eldorado, (city and state land respectively), officials require permits for new bolted routes. At Joshua Tree, the National Park Service prohibits bolting in wilderness areas and power drilling altogether. Placements in non-wilderness areas require a permit. Devils Tower National Monument bans new fixed anchors. A proposal to ban fixed anchors in wilderness areas of all national forests is under consideration by the US Forest Service.10  In the Gunks, of course, land in the private reserve is simply off limits to bolts or pitons, except for replacement of fixed pieces put in before 1986. At Hueco Tanks, Texas, new bolting is prohibited and many areas are closed to climbing. Official "tour guides" must accompany limited numbers of climbers to permitted areas. The Pandora's box of official regulation is wide open.
In the face government regulation, climbers in some areas back into the corner of self regulation. In a discussion of climber's policing themselves in part to keep regulators at bay, authors of Tuolumne Free Climbs11  admit, regrettably, "yes, (bolt) chopping still occurs." Because of rising concerns from land managers at Pinnacles National Monument, climbers there have agreed to no more sport bolt routes, as the forthcoming new guidebook will state. Climbers around Boulder weigh the policing of their area organizationally. A web site for the Bolder area surveyed opinions about a possible climbers forum to protect "trad" cliffs such as Cob, Bell or Castle.12  Seventy seven percent favor the forum.