Tricksters & Traditionalists Revisited: 2006

Article Index

For routes and deeds done to be understood, honored and remembered, the style of first ascent is critical. We care how the rock was traveled, when, with what protection, gear, attempts, falls, recoups and retreats. Styles of first ascents rather than a peripheral or merely personal matter are central to the entire merit and meaning of the game. For this reason, climbing deserves better than endless debate, never mind recriminations, retaliations and official regulation. Climbers for their own best and richest enjoyment need to agree on first ascent styles for their area; how the game will go; what's permitted and what isn't; and what will be told and logged, all so merit and history can be clear and meaningful. Climbing can be a lifelong pursuit, from beginnings when newcomers search for rules of the road, to days when health and youth allow filling up and making ones mark, to waning days when reflection and reading become the final joy. For each phase to make sense and render the most pleasure, consensus on styles is preferred to conflict, murky methods and high tension.

Specifically, climbers need to organize, agree on what is acceptable on particular cliffs and disseminate written resolutions through guidebooks, signs, web sites and regular meetings. In Pinnacles, NE and Colorado, meetings, forums and committees (voluntary or otherwise) are beginning vehicles for developing and revising bolting agreements, and staving off unreasonable restrictions. In the NE, for example, one respected local, Al Hospers, indicates periodic meetings of climbers are necessary and needed for maintaining consensus ("Valley" has become the traditional area and "Rumney" the sport area). In Britain, informal bolting agreements govern Stanage and Raven Tor. "No fixed anchors on grit. Then a few miles away, there's a cliff sporting bolts … almost anything goes. Such a balance should be revered."19

For agreements to stick as new climbers enter the game, there is need to go beyond occasional meetings and forums around flare ups. Worth considering are ongoing local committees formed through nominations and election processes used by the AAC or Access. As Dave Turnbull, British Mountain Council CEO states, "If complacency rules, then climbers will take the path of least resistance or a minority will take matters into their own hands. The results will be random and out of our control."20  Democracy isn't easy and free spirited climbers will find many reasons to oppose organization and agreements; but, a bit of democracy is better than righteous hullabaloo and ripe for consideration after twenty years of dogged consternation here and abroad.