Do ‘First Ascentionists’ have any rights?

Look at this photo carefully….stonemastersSee anything special? Is there anything ‘mythical’ about it? Did the men in this photo have super natural powers that allowed them to effortlessly float up sketchy routes with only a handful of home-made gear, or worse, a rack filled with failed inventions like this:

lowe camYup… Think of those next time you’re Elvis leg kicks in as you try to place that bomber X4 on some 5.5 at the Gunks. The truth is, climbers in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s weren’t the fearless bad asses that our generation is lead to believe. They just didn’t know any better, and ignorance doesn’t make you a hero.

We’ve all seen that silver haired, cantankerous, ‘vintage’ climber at the base of some classic 5.fun route at the crag spewing outrageous comments that somehow the new-school climbers have ruined the honourable pursuit of rock climbing. Like we have no respect for what climbing used to be.

What climbing used to be?? This is what climbing used to be:old climbersClimbers from ‘back-in-the-day’ would pound in pitons, yard on gear, pull on branches, and at the end of the day, name and grade their ascent. Today, many of these routes exist as ‘classics’ with 1 or 2 bolts, (1/4 inchers), rusted out to shit, a few corroded pitons, and holds that have either broken off, or become polished from over-use. So logically, someone should upgrade the route to the 21st century, right? Remove the crap gear, retro bolt it with stainless steel, and put up a fun, safe route, right?

This is where people go nuts… Ask this question on Mountain Project, and you’ll get the typical response..

“If you can’t climb the route as the FA did, either get stronger, or find another route to do and leave the 5.6 R/X routes for the big boys!”

This is climbing’s most egregious obstacle. We think we owe it to the first ascentionists somehow, as if they deserve respect for their gorilla tactics on the rock. Routes with runouts should be protected safely. Routes with pitons should see them removed, and replaced by bolts. 5.6 routes should exist for 5.6 climbers, not 5.13 climbers who work up enough courage to get on an R/X route that’s well below their free solo level, and then spray about it to their other 5.13 climber buddys.

Unless the FA owns the cliff where he/she put up their first ascent, they should have no say in what style someone can or cannot climb a route. The great thing about a bolt is, you can choose to not clip it. If you want to climb a route in the style of an FA, find out what shoes they were wearing, if they used chalk or not. Were they drunk? Did they used a hemp or nylon rope? Try to match the conditions exactly. If it was raining, wait for a rainy day. If they clipped only 1 bolt, 60 feet off the deck, feel free to skip the first 8 bolts that I put in, and relive the glory days. Sit around the camp fire at night, and bask in your awesomeness. I however, warmed up on the route, clipped all 16 bolts, and lowered off the Fixe Draco sport anchors, because it’s my goddamn right to do so.

 

Wes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Can we trust “sponsored” rock climbers?

How do we know if Adam Ondra has actually climbed 5.15c?

Did Ueli Steck really solo Annapurna’s West face?

Is Daniel Woods’ sit-start of The Ice Knife really V15?

We as climbers like to believe there is something sacred about our sport. Short of a few European boulder cups, we generally don’t have throngs of screaming spectators, or massive arenas in which we climb. By and large, we pursue our sport in seclusion, surrounded by majestic vistas, towering rock formations, and a handful of close friends. We celebrate small victories, and even large failures. Clipping the chains on your long term project can taste just as sweet as retreating off your summit push due to bad weather, as long as you surround yourself with good people. But there’s a dark cloud looming over us, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

We all read the magazines, watch the movies, and ogle over the photos and articles of the latest and greatest routes put up and sent by our favorite climbers. We get inspired, and find the mental toughness to stick it out for another work week so that we can get out for two days on the weekend and shred out on the rocks with greater ferocity than the week before. This has always been the role of the sponsored climber: Get the rest of us off our asses.

This was all well and good when being “sponsored” meant that you get a schwag -bag full of climbing gear from Black Diamond every 3 months filled with shoes, chalk, and maybe a rope. Today, however, climbers such as Alex Honnold, Sasha DiGiulian, Ueli Steck, and Adam Ondra, get more than just a new pair of rubber shoes. These, and dozens of other “pro” climbers, are making millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Alex Honnold is backed by companies such as Goal Zero. One look at his Facebook wall, and it’s clear he has become a corporate shill:

alexh

That’s not all… Do you ever wonder what the best climber vehicle is? Sprinter van? Westfalia? Wrong! It’s an Audi! That’s right, here’s Ueli Steck showing us dirtbags what to save our coffee house tips on:

Then there’s Red Bull. What real climber even drinks this stuff? These climbers would have you believe that the only way to become the best, is to get a massive caffeine high every time you tie in to a rope:

redbull

The list goes on and on. When we’re talking about big money, there is only one constant. There will always be cheating when the incentive of money is on the table.

  • Lance Armstrong doped.
  • Jose Canseco doped.
  • Ben Johnson doped.
  • Barry Bonds doped.

Why? Because the better they performed, the more money would be thrown their way by sponsors. The only difference between the above list, and professional climbers, is that at least other professional athletes have to undergo drug testing.

Now, I’m not saying that all or even any pro climbers take steroids… but are we just supposed to take their word for it? I can’t climb V15 yet, and not many people outside of the inner sanctum of top level boulderers can, so how do we know Daniel Woods’ latest V15 send isn’t actually a V14, or V13, or even completely fabricated? Instagram photos can be Photoshopped. Maybe a lot of these routes and boulder problems that sponsored climbers claim to have sent don’t even exist. Who actually goes out to verify these things?

When there’s big money on the line, athletes are known to bend the rules, or even outright break them. We shouldn’t think that climbers are immune to this. If Ueli Steck can claim to solo Annapurna without any evidence – – surely Bob from the climbing gym can claim the same. In fact, just last week I chugged back a can of Red Bull, cranked up my tunes on my Goal Zero speaker, and sent North Americas very first 5.15d. I named it, Prove me wrong, bitch!

I’ll take my Audi now, please.

Wes.

 

Matt Segal: Pioneer or Destroyer of Routes?

Recently there was an article on the Climbing.com website by Matt Segal, called, “To Bolt, or Not to Bolt”. The article talks about a route he established in China, called Air China, 5.13+ R. Segal talks about how he wanted to establish the hardest trad route in China. Right off the bat, we see that he had a goal in his mind, and nothing was going to stop him.

Matt-Segal-Air-China-Fall-3As a route developer myself, I don’t seek out contrived lines just to fit my climbing goals. If a route ends up being easier than I thought it would be, I still take the time to clean it, and equip it in a safe way. Segal so desperately wanted this route to be considered a “traditional” route, he risked his own, and his belayers life just to try to nab the first ascent. His ego drove him to almost paying the ultimate price. In the end, the crux was so dangerous, he ended up adding a bolt, and sent the route using that bolt.

I understand the drive he felt. But there comes a point where you should check your ego at the door, and not let your pride destroy what might actually have been a great route. In the 21st century, you are IRRESPONSIBLE if you are establishing R/X routes. Period.

There was a time, where most trad routes were what we consider, R/X. This was simply because climbers in the 70’s didn’t have the gear necessary to protect the route. Bolts were terrible, and cams were not around, so many thin routes were put up with shitty hexes, and pounded in pitons. But today, we have bomber protection, 6 inch stainless steel glue-in bolts, and there’s no reason (other than selfish ego-stroking) why you should rob the community of an excellent, well protected sport route, just because you were stupid enough to risk your life and climb it using tiny off-set brass nuts, and three 000 C3’s.

Sure, the FA gets to name the route, grade it, and goes down in some guidebook or online route repository. But he/she does not own the rock, or get to dictate ethics/style. I would have no problem going to China, and bolting the shit out of Matt Segals route.

Do you agree? Let me know,

Wes.