What Is Trad ?????????


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Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Apr 29, 2013 - 05:00am PT
I don't know how Tarbuster did it, but somehow he has managed to guide a thousand-post meditation on the nature of trad climbing without having the wheels fall off the bus under the influence of trollers, flamers, naysayers, bullies, who-gives-a-damners, ad hominem attackers, and all the other myriad characters who typically gang up to derail sustained serious conversations.

Partially, it is a tribute to the Supertopo membership who are willing to participate thoughtfully or else are willing to let those who are interested have their conversation without feeling the need to undermine it. But even here, Tarbuster's even-handed posts as self-appointed moderator (what a thankless task!) kept the thing going, alive, and on-topic for what seems to me like some kind of world record for internet coherence.

Well done Mr. T!
Mark Force

Trad climber
Cave Creek, AZ
Apr 29, 2013 - 07:30am PT
Here is a link to the whole 1972 Chouinard catalog available online thanks to Bob Hutchins.


Here is a link from Black Diamond where you can download a PDF of the whole catalog.


Thank you, Tarbuster, for a wonderfully moderated thread.

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 29, 2013 - 07:37am PT
No worse ... for the wear over here fellas!
I'll take a bow & tip my hat to you!!!


Trad climber
Bolinas, CA
Apr 29, 2013 - 10:10am PT
Good stuff keeps rolling on!

On the "morals" section from the catalogue: Morals and ethics could be a good starting point to continue with (i.e. Higgins' update from '06 from his "Tricksters and Tradionalists" article and the last paragraph in particular here in case one can't go back and find http://www.tomhiggins.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=19);. Since they are constructs of the majority in any society,and are subject to change as the society changes, so it is with the climbing community. And by the looks of things, trad, as defined (hopefully we're there) by this thread looks to be in the minority. Where as Chouinard and Frost's views were more of the majority back then, they are not now. Others styles of climbing have moved to the fore. And a narrow definition as defined by them then is obviously much broader now. And when morals and ethics change, obviously the definition of what is "right and wrong" does too. In other words, just exactly who the tricksters and traditonalists are must also change. So in keeping with what I believe Tarbuster is trying to do, not judging styles, lest we fall into the mire, but trying to simply define trad and it's place among the community at large. And further, to preserve it going forward into the climbing future. Keepers of the flame as it were. Because, being in the minority, we don't have the numbers to enforce but can only lead by example.

Jeez, I wish I were a better writer!

Now back to the nomenclature.....

One of the nifty little piccolo's of pure trad (by the threads definition) is the use of "Stance grading". I haven't seen it mentioned here but it is definitely a product of trad climbing and I would argue, a strong example of the trad ethos and the use of bolts in that sense. Stance grading meaning the grading, on a scale of 1-10 where one hand drills from a stance and the stance itself is then graded by consensus of the fa team. Much more fun and communal then grading the climb overall.

Mar: Great. The reason I climb is that it is the only form of anything I do which brings me to a more inner place. The form being specifically run slab fa'ed by specific artists whose form I feel brings me closest to pure adventure. My whole world reduced to Davinci's Vetruvian Man. And observing others in that same place (to wit, watching my friend Jaywood, totally committed on pure, sustained 5.9 friction on the apron just last weekend, so in the moment that he bypassed the only bolt and belay for 100'clipping the first bolt of the next pitch before I reminded him of where he was because there was only 10' of rope to stop him further movement (and thus, unknowingly creating a direct variation to a lost classic). And a great example of the arbitrary nature of numbers and rating of something as nebulous as the mind's role in our game.

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 05:15am PT
Please hold those thoughts Western Climber!
(I think your handle actually means West Marin Climber? At any rate, it's really hard for my voice control software to grapple with unorthodox linkages of consonants and vowels)

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 05:16am PT
Going to have to recant my characterization of Patrick Compton as a troll!

Sorry about that Patrick.
Although I may have wished you'd gotten a better sense of our position on "old trad" and our motives in defining it, I can see you were sincere in your attempt to answer the essential question put forward in the OP.

I got to thinking: is Patrick's definition what he wants it to be?
Or is it simply the working definition which he and his climbing buddies rely upon as needed?
Then I reread one of his posts and he did use the word "WE".

So I've been continuing the informal survey.
To cut to the chase, there is a reason why older climbers, those who are still active such as Donini, David Bloom, and Dingus McGee have essentially dispensed with trad-centric terminology altogether and simply call it all climbing. Not that they don't understand distinctions of style along the way.

I had a long conversation with a younger (35-year-old) climber here in the Boulder area who has been at it for 12 years. I can tell you it wasn't easy to pin down the definition of trad and it took us a long time to wrestle the concept out into the light. But there were a lot of parallels with what Patrick has experienced. Mind you, this is Boulder, the birthplace if you will, in tandem with Smith Rock, of the uptake with sport climbing and the great change known as sport climbing in the USA. See Christian Griffith, et al. . THE GREAT CHANGE ha ha!

The short of it is that for many young climbers out here trad is this huge umbrella with a whole bunch of subsets. And I checked him on this and they definitely do use the term TRAD. Head pointing is now pretty much just a subset of trad for them. Oddly, for me perhaps, this fellow underscored what Patrick's sentiments were about Indian Creek. Namely that it is almost outside of trad due to the fixed anchors everywhere; this even though it is all about gear usage.

Basically for these guys trad is anything involving placement of protection and all the related tactics. Add to that perhaps a certain element of uncertainty and adventure. Like it or not that's the working definition for them, in this locale. They're very committed to the idea that one must place one's own protection whether or not there is prior knowledge from pre-inspection. This fellow referred to the end of this continuum simply as "full tactics trad". I.e. everything we see happening on El Capitan.

He also concurred with what many supertopo folks did on this climb that was touted in a magazine as trad somewhere in the British Isles and repeated by a woman. Namely that she head pointed the route, but apparently a lot of the gear was in situ: to my interviewee, since the gear was mostly in place (whether fixed pin or nut or cam), this was more like sketchy sport climbing than honest head pointing where gear is placed from one's rack exclusively. The facts of her gear placement perhaps not coming off of her rack during the red point isn't as important as the idea that the new generation sees fully preplaced gear as nothing other than sport climbing on gear.

They are really into the original concept of on-sight ground-up leading as the purest form of trad. Again, much like the trad definition of old, it's a continuum. But as Patrick was trying to tell us, frankly the same as MH2 intimated in one of his posts: by the time you add fixed anchors on top of every pitch and hammer down the fresh on-sight experience even further with super detailed gear lists, as in Indian Creek, you're moving further away from a strict experience of on-sight trad climbing and commitment.

So the deck has been reshuffled: it's broader but different kinds of disqualifications apply. I've got a good hunch this is why the old guys just toss it all out. I mean if head pointing is good trad but Indian Creek on-sight even without a gear list perhaps is not, where is the consistency?

Head pointing is trad: while ground up even on-sight leading at Indian Creek somehow falls short of the mark! It's really a mess I tell you.

Let's explore the head pointing allowance. It was actually trad guys in the early 90s, factually going all way back to the early 80s with ex-pat Brit Alex Sharp, who started head pointing in Eldorado. So since they were trad, by proxy what they were doing was trad. And head pointing is committing that's for darn sure, because by definition protection is usually really sparse as are fixed anchors if not completely absent. This is likely why, when I asked a young climber here in Boulder eight years ago what he was up to and he said to me "hard trad", that head pointing had become, to his mind trad and by this he definitely meant head pointing specifically.

Another example about the Indian Creek shtick: right here on supertopo, one of our cherished old guys, crunch, once characterized the Indian Creek lines as vertical treadmills. He prefers adventure. Back to the young man whom I spoke with yesterday: his thing was that trad does require an element of either the unknown or of commitment or both, so ironically one of his stipulations harkens back to what I said about "walking off the back" ... as characterizing a trad ideal. He elaborated by saying no matter what happens in Indian Creek, you can just aid up to the anchor and get all your toys back and go home. He likes to think trad really does require one to summit! Well a lot of my old school friends wouldn't argue with that sentiment!

So I asked him about Yosemite Valley and all those short free climbs which were developed by Barry Bates and the Stonemasters. He said, "yeah, I think Lumpy Ridge here in Estes Park is more trad than a lot of Yosemite cragging, because climbs at Lumpy generally require one to summit and that's the only way they are going to complete the route and get all their gear back before they go home. He even went so far as to say that cragging isn't actually very good trad! Again, I presume this was predicated on potential lack of commitment or adventure in ordinary cragging.

It's really an alphabet soup anymore, usage seems to be a mess frankly and again depending on locality, age of the interpreter and so forth.

While I do believe that we did a good job of characterizing what trad really meant and should continue to mean, it appears that in many localities that train has left the station and for what looks like a dozen years or so by now. Many of you may recall I suspected this and stated as much upthread.

I'm going to work this a little bit more: stay tuned!
patrick compton

Trad climber
Apr 30, 2013 - 07:55am PT

Thanks for the clarification. Admittedly, I was a bit harsh and therefore trollish with my response to your IC trip photos.

I'll repost what I had written for context:

My personal perspective is that any route that takes gear (enough that you need to place it correctly or risk major injury or death) is Trad. What is being purported on the links you posted and somewhat in this thread is the idea that only ground-up, 'adventure climbing' is truly trad. This simply isn't true anymore, and it has a lot to do with physical performance pushing the grades.

Modern trads are pushing mental and physical limits, so onsighting and lowering without working and placing a minimum of bolts or cleaning cracks for gear is impossible for a minimum of safety. The Dawn wall siege is a good example. Those guys are doing v10 and up moves, run out 20-30'. This level of 5.14 trad climbing simply doesn't happen onsight, ground up. Cracks needed cleaned, sometimes ticked for hand and gear placements, the odd bolt placed; for example, Honnold on Gift from Wyoming. In general, risk versus gain needs to be assessed. Some, including the link author, will say this is a slippery slope to sport climbing, but this is untrue. Sport climbs have bolts 6-10', whether the section needs it or not. There is still a very high degree of risk in these climbs while maintaining a high level of need for physical ability.

Then, the practice formerly known as trad becomes adventure climbing. A proud tradition to be sure, but now an aspect of trad and an aspect of the larger sport as a whole. As you have said, a point on a continuum. At this point, adventure climbing may have more in common with alpine climbing than modern trad because the grades are less important than the adventure, risk, and well... just surviving!

In the next several posts it was discussed that:
'adventure climbing' probably better defined as 'ground-up' climbing,
and Warbler made a valid point that Trad should remain what it originally was, and what new methods evolve should have their own names.

IC is notable in 'trad' world in that it is really very safe and predictable. If one completes a 5.10 like Supercrack or 3am, they could be tempted to proclaim themselves a 5.10 trad climber. In this case, it really means they have the fitness and skill to maintain perfect jams repeatedly. Placing the gear safely requires a bare minimum of skill, and a fall with gear at even below your feet shouldn't have serious consequences.

As you said, this is much different experience than going on a 5.10, ground-up with a full rack on unpredictable terrain, or traditional trad. Interestingly, sportly bolted slab routes in Tuolumne on 1/4, hand drilled pins with 30' runouts are, in a sense, a lot more 'trad', dangerous and scary, despite not carrying and placing gear.... and high-ball bouldering, well, that is just crazy.
The Warbler

the edge of America
Apr 30, 2013 - 08:39am PT
Thanks, Patrick, for acknowledging the irony in renaming what was originally trad climbing in order to pirate the name for something not just different, but actually outside the boundaries of what you're calling traditional trad. I can't swallow that description though. Classic trad makes more sense, has a respectful air to it, and lacks the redundancy.

I understand the evolution of tactics and the need to evolve to meet the extreme difficulties of new free climbs that aren't sport climbs. I've done plenty of that myself. Roy's "interview" produced a term that appeals to me - tactical trad. As I've said, I have nothing but respect and admiration for any climber who is pushing the limits on new ground, regardless of tactics. Even rap bolting has its place and can create phenomenal routes.

Interesting conversation, but I gotta go for now

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 08:45am PT
Thanks Patrick,

But to clarify your last post: was this meant primarily to address the Indian Creek schism inasmuch as it is essentially seen as "soft trad" by yourself and the fellow with whom I spoke yesterday?

Meaning, is that pretty much all you are addressing for the moment or are you saying any more than this?
[edit] (that was kind of rhetorical: I know you are saying more).

So I did read you correctly that you were being a little facetious with my reportage on the Northern Arizona guys as categorically climbing trad in Indian Creek. Thanks for copping to that! It was pretty clear to me.

What was more important to me, rather than calling you out on it, was to point out that our definition of trad, the old one if you will, just doesn't preclude Indian Creek from being trad.

What's interesting about all of this, is that we are pretty much just tracking usage changes of the term trad in the bulk of this thread. If you look at the new usage of the term trad as characterized by yourself and the young climber with whom I spoke yesterday, what is interesting to me is that although the ground-up limitation is being completely eschewed when appealing to the new definition of trad, (meaning head pointing and pre-inspection is now allowed or included in the definition of trad) it's the sense of commitment and/or the unknown which is still elevated, no? In this we have common ground I believe when comparing the old definition with the new. Not that we need to find common ground, but this is to say there's the net overlap which is consistent throughout the migration of the definition from the old to the new.

For our purposes the Indian Creek omission from the context of modern trad just helps to highlight this current focus on trad's commitment [plus difficulty] factor doesn't it?

Just trying to clarify what we're building on here.
To my mind we are grappling with perhaps five different things in this thread:

1) what was the old definition of trad?
2) how can we best celebrate what that meant and let's try to characterize its intrinsic qualities in terms of the experience it affords the climber (really my main thrust at the outset)
3) what is the new definition of trad, how consistent is it throughout the climbing community (my current focus)
4) has anything been lost by the new definition usurping the old (Warbler and RGolds concern, echoed by myself for sure)
5) how can we best celebrate what the new definition means and best characterize its intrinsic qualities in terms of the experience it affords the climber (I presume this to have been your main thrust throughout the thread from the outset)

I find all of this quite interesting actually.

I don't know if what we are really doing here is venturing into linguistics or sociology or what, but it is true that language does drive or at the least inform perception, motive and goal. I believe this is one of the tenets of linguistics. It's also perhaps one of the key pieces of insight which might be available to us within the context of this discussion. And I don't mean just that language informs things like perception, but more specifically how is it informing the modern evolution of climbing. Certainly we can turn the question around and say how is the modern evolution of climbing informing the changes in language, specifically regarding this evolution of usage of the term trad. One can never be certain whether the tail is wagging the dog or the reverse!

I know that's a lot: but in a nutshell this is what's in my head.

Apr 30, 2013 - 08:58am PT
Over 1000 posts and you guys are still trying to convince yourselves you know WTF you're doing on this planet?

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Apr 30, 2013 - 09:00am PT
from the Introduction to Climber's Guide to Yosemite Valley Steve Roper, 1971


Far from being nihilists, Yosemite climbers take an active interest in discussing the future of their sport. Those who have been climbing for any length of time have noticed a marked change in the attitude of both new climbers and the public. Climbing is rapidly becoming an acceptable activity, rather than a totally insane avocation. Climbing has already become an "in" sport, as has happened to both skiing and surfing. Climbers who wish to preserve the basic ideals of climbing often speculate, "Look what happened to skiing and surfing," and, "Let's don't have it happen to us." Discussions will soon revolve around the central question, "How did it happen to climbing and who's guilty?" Guidebook writers, climbing schools, publicity seekers who notify the media in advance of a climb--perhaps many are responsible.

Beyond this basic question are scores of other controversial topics of discussion. Some of the more interesting ones concern topos, crack ruination and blank-wall climbs.

Topos are highly detailed schematic drawings of routes. Designed to supplement or even replace the written description, topos are controversial in that they tend to make climbing a bit easier on the brain. Routefinding problems are simplified; one knows just where to expect a fixed pin or an off-route arch. They encourage climbers onto difficult routes because of their unshakeable belief in the topo. Some topos have listed the actual pitons used per pitch. Topos assure speed records; they also lessen responsibility. No more querulous statements such as, "I'll just look around this corner," only, "Here we are and where the hell's the belay bolt." In other words, part of the adventure of climbing is removed. Topos are not used in this guidebook for the reasons mentioned above and also because this size book is impractical for them (topos are usually drawn on large sheets of paper).

Granite cracks can hardly be thought of as fragile and yet on some popular routes it looks like a jack hammer has been employed. Chrome-moly pitons are responsible, as is the American habit of removing all pitons. This habit came about by the belief that each party should find the route in its natural state. This is hardly applicable now. Using climbing nuts solved some of the problems, but perhaps pitons made of soft iron (so that climbers will not be tempted to remove them) should be left in place, as in the Alps. In places where fixed pitons are impractical, due to the already ruined cracks, bolts will have to be used. The solution, whatever it may be, is sure not to please everyone. At present the ruined crack problem exists on only a few score routes.

In the ego-search for new routes, climbers have lately taken to finding exceptionally tenuous lines up "blank" walls. This has led to an increase in bolting and has opened up the possibility of new routes every few yards. There are many who decry this attitude, feeling that the technological aspect of bolting is in direct conflict with the traditional concept of climbing. Is climbing progressing?

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 09:04am PT
Well darn it Werner!
I mean jeepers: you never tell us what we are doing here so we just have to make it up as we go along!!!
Stupid Americans. Ha ha.

Apr 30, 2013 - 09:07am PT
I like your threads Roy.

You always do very fine job of keeping them interesting.

Kudo to you for your fine efforts .....
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Apr 30, 2013 - 09:13am PT
'It is normal for each generation of climbers to think they have attained the ultimate standards and that there is nothing left to be done. Surely that is not yet the case on the main White Mountain cliffs, while detailed explorations of the lesser crags has barely begun. But one is still left to wonder what "firsts" will remain for ambitious climbers of 2078 on cliffs such as Cathedral Ledge.

Even if all the possibilities for "firsts" do eventually become exhausted, that does not mean the sport will die. While this history has been concerned with those involved in the exploratory aspects of the sport--the discovery of new cliffs, new climbs, of new limits of technical difficulty--the vast majority of climbers over the years have been content to repeat the established routes. They have been concerned with exploring their own personal frontiers or simply interested in enjoying exhilarating activity in beautiful surroundings. For these climbers the thrills and joys of the sport will always be present.'

Al Rubin

From the history section of Cannon, Cathedral, Humphrey's and Whitehorse; A Rock Climber's Guide by Paul Ross and Chris Ellms, 1978

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 09:14am PT
Well I'm glad for that Werner!
You really have no idea just how much all of this makes my pussy hurt!!!

Just try using Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice control software and see if you can keep your ailing arms off of the keyboard.

But I do love social interaction so I drop in from time to time to mud wrestle, talk loads of crap, and drink beer with you guys and gals!

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 09:34am PT
Just keep that relevant stuff coming Ed Hartouni!

The last bit by Al Rubin was pretty cool: essentially no one knows just what kind of evolution will take place in the context of our pursuits, our tiny brains, and these great big fat bleeding hearts of ours!

right here, right now
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2013 - 10:15am PT
So Western climber:

To get back to your recent post. I just re-read everything on Tom Higgins site again concerning all of the style stuff; something like four or five pieces in all. I think the first thing that you are addressing is this idea that Classical Trad, as just coined by Warbler (and I like that), is something currently in the minority. It isn't just trad versus tricksters anymore: it's classical trad at the bottom of the heap, then modern trad, then sport climbing.

Good Lord I feel all the weight of that dog pile of modern styles pushing down upon my sad classical trad ass right now! Ha ha

Then you re-address this idea of how can it be saved? And the reason you reference Higgins is because he talks about democratic process for these kinds of things. For that I think you have to go back to my post dated: Topic Author's Reply - Apr 27, 2013 - 11:04am PT .

In short it's through print writings, blogging, threads like this, and frankly through younger people at some point angling toward a renaissance of classical trad. There's nothing really happening here to classical trad other than it being forgotten, so I don't know what kind of democratic process would really be brought to bear here, other than this renaming thing which we are sort of hashing out right now. It's not nearly so divisive really as was the original trad/sport conflict. It's just that modern trad is subsuming classical trad and making it harder to see. Oh well. Like I said earlier, much earlier, it's something akin cultural absorption following a war or simply a species dying out.

As to the stance grading: not to make light of your concept but I'm not so sure such a thing will catch on other than in reportage of first ascent experience; similar to that passage that I put up about my experience on West Side Story in the California Needles perhaps. For example: the stance I had with the hook pulling sideways on a tiny thumbnail flake while standing on smears was something like 5.7/5.8 feet with some ludicrous aid grading for the hook placement itself. I mean it wasn't even really taking full body weight. Rather it was just allowing me to lean out and drill.

The other stance was probably like standing on a 5.7/5.8 crux as well and with no hook for assistance, but with a binding drillbit that wasn't going to work out very well: ziiiiing!!!

Just think how some sport climbing clips all by themselves are in the 5.14 range!
Top sport climbers sometimes are getting to the point were they just have to blow past bolts.
Nevermind what Dingus McGee said about gear being a pain in the ass to work with; on superhard sport just clipping is a stupid nuisance!

I hope I am addressing what you were angling toward.
patrick compton

Trad climber
Apr 30, 2013 - 11:40am PT
But to clarify your last post: was this meant primarily to address the Indian Creek schism inasmuch as it is essentially seen as "soft trad" by yourself and the fellow with whom I spoke yesterday?

Meaning, is that pretty much all you are addressing for the moment or are you saying any more than this?
[edit] (that was kind of rhetorical: I know you are saying more).

So I did read you correctly that you were being a little facetious with my reportage on the Northern Arizona guys as categorically climbing trad in Indian Creek. Thanks for copping to that! It was pretty clear to me.

Yes. no. yes.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Apr 30, 2013 - 12:45pm PT
As I re-read this thread, I think rgold comes the closest to my personal definition of "trad:" " an insistence on having nature determine the protection opportunities." I would only add the words "climbing and" before "protection."

I think we can all acknowledge that "traditional" protection, at least, has changed over time. The use of bolts for anchors and protection on the first ascent of Shiprock in the 1930's represented an expansion (so to speak) of acceptable practice, but still within Rich's suggested criterion for "trad," because the leader on the first ascent still had to stop long enough to place them. That holds true even for BY, because they still needed a place where a hook would hold, and nature, not the FA party, determined that.

Rap-bolting, aid-bolted ladders, and chipped holds remain outside my personal trad rubric, since they can be placed anywhere the rock is sufficiently solid, regardless of the formation of the rock. This allows both protection and climbing anywhere a human wants, rather than where nature makes possible.


Social climber
Colorado Plateau
Apr 30, 2013 - 12:48pm PT
define chipping John, if you would?
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