Originally Posted By: jstan

But seriously we went through a time when ego was getting involved with climbing and people were pulling pins. A person died as a result.

After one has climbed awhile the point becomes one of trying not to set the risks that others feel they have to take. The down side is just too large. Furthermore doing this flies directly in the face of what climbing is.

We do have a responsibility for each other.

Someday we may reach a point where people come to agreement as to how to manage protection.

When that agreement has been fashioned I can see coming a time when carefully chosen routes can be restored to their original condition.

It will be a very exciting rebirth.

But only after the consensus has been solidly put in place.


John, I don't remember the incident you are speaking of. Care to refresh a failing memory?

In any case, I think some of what you are saying refers to a historical situation at the beginning of "clean climbing," when nuts were just coming into use and were simply not up to the task of protecting many situations. Perhaps the push to "climb clean" in those days did influence people to advance into difficult ground with some very blunt tools. But technology has marched on, and the contemporary climber, armed with a rack many times the size of the original stopper and hexentric collections, now enjoys protection possibilities that would have been utterly unimaginable to any previous generation.

As for setting risks others feel obliged to take, that certainly sounds like a bad thing, but I think the realities may be both more subtle and more complicated.

First, although all climbing involves voluntarily encountering risks, there is no agreement on what constitutes acceptable risk. What risks, then, are those we should not be "setting?" If we agree that such and such a situation has an acceptable level of risk and someone gets killed there, have we failed in our responsibility to that person?

An experienced climber was recently killed in a ground fall from the first pitch of Three Pines. I wouldn't be surprised if there might have been a low fixed piton at some point back in the day, now removed. Does that removal now constitute a failure of responsibility?

Or consider this: there is a fixed pin over ceiling on the second pitch of MF. It is in a crack that will take a perfect cam placement. People clip that pin without backing it up and then fall on it. They have no idea how good that pin is. Wouldn't the responsible thing be to remove that pin---it certainly isn't necessary there---so that leaders would have to place good verifiable protection instead of blindly clipping something they cannot judge?

The problem is that all climbing involves the voluntary renunciation of some of the means at our disposal. It is now possible to put a bolt every ten feet on every climb. There will, over time, be many fatalities that could have been avoided if we had only done this. Are we thus responsible for all these tragedies?

I find the idea that some group of people is responsible for some other group's safety highly problematic. It seems to me to come from, and make perfect sense in, a sport-climbing context, where the creator of the route has a responsibility to bolt it so that it is safe. But in traditional climbing we are dealing with The Creator rather than a creator. Nature has already made the safety decisions by providing or denying opportunities for traditional protection, and no one is "entitled" to any specific level of risk reduction. For example, a poorly protected 5.7 climb may not be doable by climbers whose leading limit is 5.7. Are such leaders "entitled" to more protection? Is it a failure of communal repsonsibility to provide it for them?

A year or so ago, Dick and I removed an extremely dangerous piton from the upper part of the first pitch of Pas de Deux. This pin was regularly clipped, without backup, by almost everyone I ever saw go up there. I can flat out guarantee it wouldn't have held even a short fall. The people clipping that pin were climbing under a dangerous illusion.

We didn't replace the pin. The crack seemed to channel water and we guessed another rusted time bomb would be the result. Moreover, you could get a small cam in there. And furthermore, there was a solid placement for a medium-sized cam a few feet up and left. We thought the combination of opportunities was in keeping with the nature of traditional climbing and was, in reality, a far safer option than the pin had been.

Well, there were a few (not very many) complaints. Some people said they didn't normally carry a cam that small. Others apparently never looked around when the terrible pin was there to see if there might be alternate placements, and still didn't look around after the pin was gone. And so they said the route had been made more dangerous, an astonishing claim really considering how dangerous it had been with the rotten pin.

I have to say these attitudes really took me by surprise. If someone gets to a place where feel they need protection, and they don't have the piece needed for that spot, then either they back off (not at all hard to do at this spot on Pas de Deux), they look around for alternate placements (in this case available), or they decide to make the next part of the climb an exercise in their skill and control with full realization that they have chosen to take this particular risk.

Is someone forcing them to go on? Are they laboring under some kind of unholy social pressure? Are Dick and I responsible if they take a giant whipper, responsible for their decision not to retreat when they didn't have an appropriate piece, responsible when they failed to look for other placements, responsible when they misjudged the difficulties ahead and their own abilities and forged on unprotected? Do climbers have any of their own responsibilities for their choices? Are their mistakes and human failures somehow a consequence of my or Dick's egotism?

I recently had the privilege of climbing with one of our local masters. We were on unknown ground on a new route. He made a bunch of 5.9 and 5.10 moves and got to a spot where he needed a piece he didn't have with him. So he reversed all those moves (without weighting the rope), came back to the ground, got the piece he needed, went back up, placed the piece, made the hardest moves on the route, and continued to the top.

Perhaps a deeper question has to do with what trad climbing is or isn't. Is the current restriction on placing new fixed protection simply a Mohonk Preserve rule, or is there some sense that traditional climbing, as opposed to sport climbing, is about dealing with what nature has provided, rather than modifying nature for our own amusement and edification? Is trad climbing now defined as sport climbing on gear?

Even more to the point, consider the case of fixed protection that cannot be replaced by today's modern gear. Does the current existence of that fixed protection confer some "right," in perpetuity, on future climbers to enjoy the protection that was historically present, or should the climb be allowed to revert to its natural state, waiting until future gear innovations perhaps make it once again "protectable?" Why exactly are we "entitled" to some level of risk reduction just because it was available in the past, especially in view of the fact that the risks in question are utterly voluntary?

Don't get me wrong---I'm not arguing that fixed gear should be removed, nor am I arguing that failing fixed gear should never be replaced. But I am asking whether the assumptions of entitlement that accompany these discussions are inviolable articles of faith in the climbing community, or whether, as I think, they are open to question and interpretation.