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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.