Well Patrick, first of all, I have no business suggesting what anyone, trad or sport climber, should or should not do, and it wasn't my intention to do so. It seems, though, that the top end of trad climbing is destined to be either a version of sport climbing with pre-placed gear instead of bolts, or else incredibly dicey and dangerous leading, practiced over and over, on negligibly protected rock, neither of which seems much like what I'm now obliged to call "traditional trad." This is not to say that these pursuits are not of great value and import to the practicioners and to those who follow their exploits.
If we pull back from the frontiers of difficulty on one hand and risk on the other, then there are a vast range of climbs that still fit into the trad genre, which is to say that they can be done by good climbers from the ground up without extensive rehearsal, placing the gear on the way, with perhaps a few falls but without a lot of hangdogging. These climbs have a mixture of difficulty and risk that together make up what I think people mean by "adventure." When sport climbing norms are transported to this realm, we get bolted belays in places where gear would work perfectly well, the elimination of run-outs with via bolted pro, and a proliferation of convenience rap stations that remove the commitment factor intrinsic to the climb in its natural state. Those are the features of trad climbing that I think need to be protected from the influence of the sport genre, even if it is already late in the day for some places.
I agree rgold. The placement of unecessary bolts in the trad genre negates the classic 'tradness'. It is late in the day for some areas. I'm recently off the couch after a long hiatus and getting educated as to what has transpired in rockclimbing since I stopped. At some crags I have been looked upon as an antique rustic as I clang my way up with a rack of pro. But in these unecessary bolted areas we have discovered a new aspect of the sport. Eliminating, not chopping, placed bolts with perfectly good trad placements. Really fun. I do like sport climbing though as well, just different. The issue for this old alpinist is I like to go into the mountains where pro is kind of needed so its good to stay honed.
I used to be a staunch "ground-up only" type of guy, and also argued that you couldn't red-point with pre-hung draws. Geesh, was that really me?
While I still have a staunch ground-up only view, I also see that many routes couldn't be protected by going ground up. I'd love to see the upper half of Growing Up to see what caused DR to go on a down-first escapade. I know Doug, and I know that the choice he made wasn't an impulse buy.
The thread title, What is the essence of sport climbing?, could just as easily be "What is the essence of climbing?" Because really, the goal for 99% of the folks who rock climb is the exact same.
I think the big deal, if there is one, is about personal values. When one is dissed over one's values things can get contentious. People get testy. So go try another way, get exposed and see what all the hype is about. The naysayers might like it. I think the goal is to get to the top, get some satisfaction and go home in one piece.
When sport climbing norms are transported to this realm, we get bolted belays in places where gear would work perfectly well
Although this sometimes the case, often the pro is so thin on these nu-trad pieces that the belay pro is no better than the thin, run out pro on the route. I am not surprised that a minimum level of protection is allowed to prevent the ground fall deaths of both climber and belayer in the event of a fall that pull all the pieces.
In any case, the 'leader must not fall' paradigm has been deemed impractical to those pushing the limits of low-probability moves on marginal pro. Falling and working moves is inevitable at this level.
So, I would argue that if hard trad isn't worked with these tactics, then it wouldn't exist.