Virgin Gets Drilled

Please, watch this video, then we shall discuss below.

First, the climbing here, wherever it is, looks absolutely brilliant.  I have never really climbed sandstone as a “mature” climber, but this looks nothing short of awesome.  I also have to tip my hat to the production values, something that sometimes gets left in the snow fence on the side of the road of video production, what with the easy access to editing software and publication (via You Tube and Vimeo, as well as others).  As someone who started his career in video production, I have to appreciate when someone takes the time to do it right.

That being said, there are two glaring issues in this video, however, which are but examples of a larger epidemic: there is the scene of a drill being taken to the rock (around the 2:05 mark), and a brief scene of one of the climbers sitting next to a fire lit directly beneath the rock.  Both of these are such blatant disregards for Leave No Trace norms, and serve no purpose other than the selfish ones of the climbers.  I cannot fathom why, in any scenario, a hole must be drilled into the rock at chest height.  And lighting a fire under the rock just takes away from the natural beauty of the place.

(I am slightly less upset about the giant flake that was thrown off of the top of the boulder just before they are shown drilling it.  If it was very loose and was going to be an obvious hazard in that it would have come off under simple body weight, than…well, to me, it falls in that gray area, drifting towards being OK.  But seeing that they are drilling immediately after that makes me wonder how the flake was removed…)

The problem that these actions represent is one of respect.  To be put simply, boulderers (by that I mean those who participate exclusively, or almost exclusively in that discipline), and to some extent some sport climbers, lack a certain respect for their environment.  I blame the gyms.

Here is my theory: it is, by and large, very unlikely that someone who climbs trad to enter that discipline without being mentored by someone.  That person learned their craft from someone else, and so this relationship of mentor/apprentice goes on.  Because of this relationship, the attitudes and approaches of the older climbers gets passed on to the newer generations.  There is a fairly large “entry barrier” as well, as getting into trad climbing involves a substantial investment in gear (’cause cams ain’t cheap!), so unless the climber is serious about pursuing their craft, they more than likely will not stay involved.

Boulderers, on the other hand, need only their shoes and a soft place to land.  There is no need for a partner, and frankly, just about anyone can figure out what needs to happen to finish a problem.  Granted, there are limits depending on a climber’s strength and technique, and I wholly believe that bouldering can only make you a better climber, but bouldering is not hard to start.  A climber doesn’t require much instruction, it is way more accessible, and someone can get the gear they need for less than $200 (as opposed to the $500-700 required to get outfitted for trad).

So here we have a whole subset of climbers who don’t have that same connection to the traditions of their forefathers who have now been turned loose on the rock of the world.  Those traditions, in some respects, may be too constraining: there are certainly old heads who look down on the concepts of sticky rubber, dynamic rope and camming devices as blights on the face of “pure climbing”.  But sometimes those traditions can manifest as restraint, or as a conscience.  They can be that little angel on our shoulder who makes us stop and think about our actions.

Boulderers, I think, don’t have that angel; hence the drilling at ground level and lighting a fire at the base of the rock.  Things have started to improve some, but only because of access closures.  Once the rock is taken away, then people start to listen.  Perhaps at that point, it should be too late.  But, through the work of local organizations, the climbers start to clean up their act (and clean up their crags).  Until they develop that conscience, though, until they develop traditions that are in the best interest of the land they use for recreation, they will continue to be the source of so much angst for the climbing community at large.

Now, this isn’t to say that all boulderers are soulless crimp monkeys who fling their crap at the world…far from it.  I think that the majority of climbers who participate in that discipline do have respect for the environment and the rock.  But then, I would also hazard to say that the majority of them probably participate in other disciplines as well, and take a more balanced approach to climbing.  I would also hazard a guess to say that the problem “children” probably wouldn’t know who John Gill was if he fell on them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not against drilling for sport climbs when the climb is not protectable by traditional means.  I am not for climbing every rock I see, but I also don’t see a problem with responsible development or aschew the ideal of nailing a first ascent on a premium problem.  These opinons are obviously up for debate.  But regardless of your thoughts on the ethics of climbing, I think that we can probably agree on two things: 1) that the drilling incident in the video above is way out of line, and 2) that it is our shared “heritage” that, despite all other arguments, holds us together.

One last thought about protectable lines: if it is going to be drilled, it really shouldn’t be able to take any protection.  Check out this video for an awesome example of a really clean ascent.  Oh, and I would never want to take a fall like this guy did.  That is the definition of hard core.


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