Tricksters & Traditionalists Revisited: 2006

Article Index

How might things settle down? How to get traction? To start, climbers and their media should be more careful with their brains and tongues. Certain patently unsound positions need to rest:

From Sportsters:

- Rap bolting leads to less bolts. Writing in the 2005 AAJ, the creator of the first sport route on Fairview Dome recently claimed, "I do believe rap-bolting produced the better route with fewer bolts." Yet the bulk of rap bolt routes are done where it would be impossible or extremely difficult to place the bolts on lead without aid. For example, who can seriously argue Tuolumne as a whole would have fewer rather more bolts if rap bolting had not begun there? For example, the south end of Maroulmne Dome has about 200 bolts spread over routes within 50 to 100 yards (if your eyes can stand it, make your count from the guidebook, third edition). Most never would have been placed without rappelling or hanging on hooks. A climber defending rap bolting as reducing bolts needs to think not only about his or her route, but the door it opens to others to use the same technique across the entire area of the climb.

- Some routes whether bolted or sieged with regular hardware will not "go" any other way. First, the argument is contrary to years of climbing history. Any issue of the AAJ teaches today's impossible is tomorrows test piece and the future's cruise. In the latest, we learn of the first "flash" ascent of the NW Face of Half Dome, and repeat free ascents of the Nose route apparently in good style. Psychedelic Wall and Uncertainty Principle have yielded to onsight ascents.16  Second, and more importantly, it is exactly right that there will be rock which can't be done without sport technique, but climbers are under no obligation to climb everything and to think otherwise can damage the sport. Turning back before the fiftieth fall on a siege attempt off a web of fixed lines, before drilling another in a grid of bolts may be good not bad things. Such restraint may not only reduce berserk storming raining on the game but hold off regulators.

- Don't worry - it's all relative. Because acceptable styles vary across time and place, a favorite argument reads, "Almost all climbing - unless you go at it shoeless, naked and unroped - is aid." And if all is aid, what's the sense in worrying about rankling on "free" styles? This same reasoning followed upon "Tricksters and Traditionalists," pointing out "traditional" in the article itself was a collection of tricks, including chalk, sticky shoes, Friends and bolts themselves.17  Of course style issues are relative to time and place, but aside from pointing to the need for localized solutions, what's the conclusion? Should we all just laugh it off? Wishing, as they say, doesn't make it so. For better or worse, rock climbing is stuck with a persistent and divisive battleground. Poo-pooing the debate denies the dispute is real and centers on how we climb and use protection, not what we wear or dab on our hands.