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General Climbing Discussion

Topic Date User
Sonnie Trotter Goes Down on Tasmania 1-Mar-2016 At 11:26:24 AM IdratherbeclimbingM9
On 25/02/2016 Tastrad wrote:
>Here's a quote from Bob McMahon's memoirs which is a way more eloquent
>response than anything I could come up with.

>A climb is something which has taken place on a piece of rock and changed
>utterly, and forever, the nature of the rock. After a climb has been put
>up, the rock is a different thing. There may be people, purists they would
>view themselves, who see the virgin rock as becoming a lesser thing for
>having been climbed on. With this sense of loss uppermost in mind, they
>hold the belief that the climbs once done, should at the very least, not
>be publicized. The reasons are many and most of us have a fair degree of
>sympathy with them. Regardless of all the reasons, my mind switches to
>an inescapable respect for the facts of the matter, an overwhelming desire
>to do justice to the creation, (the climb above all, the climb) and the
>creator, the person whose act changed the rock irrevocably.
>How much we avert our attention from the polluted river and see only the
>cliffs is brought home when travelling farther up the river past Duck Reach,
>and the absolute delight one feels as all the elements coincide of clean
>river, clean rock, clean air and golden sunlight a coincidence missing
>from the lower reaches, and we are so impoverished because of it.
>The collection of facts is a relatively easy pursuit, especially when
>the facts are at such close hand, and their arrangement a satisfying thing
>and to me a significant thing. When all the climbs are listed, described
>and illustrated, I get a picture of my years of activity that in no other
>fashion would I get. I see before me the enormous amount of time I have
>spent rambling this river bed and these river banks. I can see before me
>the pointers to my intimate knowledge and I know that the time it took
>is time well and truly filled. This guide should be viewed as the product
>of a satisfied person who filled his days pursuing that most beautifully
>useless of all human activities; climbing. (Bob McMahon 1982)

1982 eh?
Hmm. Here is a quote from Royal Robbins; Basic Rockcraft; La Siesta Press; 1971; Pages 61-65.
Ethics & Style.

Actions which directly affect others in the climbing community are properly questions of ethics. Several might be considered, but we will be concerned with only one.

Preservation: The primary ethical consideration involves leaving a route unchanged so others may enjoy, as nearly as possible, the creation of those who made the first ascent. Through the years there has been controversy over questions of placing and removing bolts, as well as other questions such as destroying holds or creating them with the pick end of the hammer. Those removing bolts (and holds) often think everyone should do a route in the best possible style or not at all. This is extreme.

Climbing in good style is admirable, but must everyone be forced to do so? Opposing these super-purists are extremists of the opposite bent who insist all routes should be accessible to all persons. A compromise is in order, one based upon a simple point of reference.

The first ascent principle: A climb is a work of art, a creation of those who made the first ascent. To make it more difficult by chopping bolts is to insult those who put it up and to deprive others of the joy of repeating the route as the first party did it. It is like taking anothers painting or poem and 'improving' it. Better to paint our own pictures and write our own poems. On the other hand, to bring a climb down to one's level by placing bolts (or pitons on an all nut climb) shows an equally lamentable lack of respect for, and degrades the accomplishments of, its creators. If we do not disturb the route done in a shoddy manner (eg the placement of unnecessary bolts), it will do no harm, and may provide a good climb for the less capable. And as for the route done in elegant fashion - let it remain as a pinnacle of achievement to which we may aspire. Better that we raise our skill than lower the climb. So let it be.

The above definition of climbing ethics, self-limiting as it is, has the advantage of avoiding the chancy area of pre-judging the way a first ascent should be done. This is left entirely to the individual and becomes a question not of ethics but of style.

'Style' is a slippery word, difficult to define. In rockclimbing it refers to the methods and equipment used, and the degree of 'adventure' involved in the ascent. Adventure here means the degree of uncertainty as to the outcome. Generally, methods and equipment determine the amount of adventure. Thus, by using the method of siege climbing (returning repeatedly to inch fixed lines higher and still higher) and using as part of our equipment an unlimited number of bolts - success on any pure rock climb on earth, no matter how flawless, is virtually assured. There would be no adventure in such an endeavor, and it would be in the worst possible style. On the other hand, to assault a great wall in a direct, committing way, without fixed lines, and with a limited amount of food, water, and equipment, is to climb in good style. It is to place more trust on one's personal qualities and skill, and less reliance on equipment and laborious methods. But the style must be suited to the climb. To use good big-wall style on a little wall is to turn good style to bad. To climb in good style is to climb in the most natural way possible, to do it with the smallest number of technical aids. The first technological aid to be eliminated, if possible, is the bolt, for it can be placed anywhere. With pitons one at least needs a crack, though almost any size and shape will do. Jammed nuts are better, for with them we must adapt to the nature of the crack. We must work with the rock; we can't force it. It is more natural. Better still are runners placed on the natural belay points such as horns, trees, or chockstones. And finally, we come to climbing alone, without a rope. But that will be for the few. The trick is to suit the style to the climb and to oneself. The truly ultimate style is the perfect match - the treading of that fine edge between ambition and ability.

Granted we are free to try to climb in any style we choose as long as we don't damage the route, what about the many individuals who desire a better definition of the 'good game', those who aren't so much interested in getting up routes as in meeting the essential challenge of them? What is a good general goal to shoot for - one which, when achieved, will leave us with a feeling of accomplishment, of having done the route in the right way? In other words, 'what is the point of the game'? Every climb is different. A good standard which is always applicable and yet which allows for the individuality of each route is our first ascent principle. It can guide us in questions of style as well as ethics. If we take for our general stylistic goal the way the first ascent was done, we have a ready made, always available standard for a minimum style to shoot for.
The acceptance of this principle has the advantage of obviating general style controversies. A further advantage is that the style of the first ascent is a reasonable goal, for those who come after have the psychological advantage of knowing the route will go, as well as a description of the route.
If we regard the style in which a route was established, we pay respect to those who did it, and show we are aware of their values and that we consider their climb a creation, not just another climb to be knocked off and checked in our guidebook.

It makes for interesting reading in my opinion, and he elaborated further still on those topics in his second book in 1973...

Post edit:
For con-text, the early '70's were a pivotal time in the golden age of Yosemite climbing and Royal Robbins was one of the 'larger than life' Yosemite-characters that was no stranger to the controversies of that era. He and the likes of Yvon Chouinard picked up the clean climbing ethos and ran with it...
Without doing the searching, I'm pretty sure Yvon wrote stuff (in his book-like climbing catalogues) reflecting the 'climbs as creations' point of view as well.
Maybe Bob McMahon (like me), also picked up on, and identified with, that sentiment from those times...?

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