Manufactured climbs....what to think? A dialogue.


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Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 5, 2017 - 08:11am PT
Climbing, generally speaking, attracts individualists who value their freedom of expression who weren’t heavily invoved with team sports. Team sports have written, codified rules...climbing has none. Climbing does have generally accepted, but not codified, rules of behavior that can sometimes vary region to region. These “rules” are consensus driven and usually respected by the climbing community.
I started this thread to get input, possibly consensus, on one particular aspect of climbing.
Hopefully people will continue to provide input in a collegial way without resorting to ad hominen arguments. We all belong to the same tribe.

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Oct 5, 2017 - 11:25am PT
There is a Mountain Mag issue from the 80's by Mike Law on the Sydney sea cliffs.
Lots of manufactured holds but an interesting perspective. Maybe someone can post this as I don't have it at home.

AP I remember that article... Reading about the climbing in Sidney, how its sort of a junk show with dead cars at the base of the cliffs, big trash etc. made me think of Stoney Point.

IIRC the chopped holds were on the part of the stone that gets sea water on it and once one got above the Hi-tide point the sandstone gets really good.

So they would chop giant holds and paint them with road paint so they would not dissolve so quickly, this was only at the base of a climb an no chipping higher up was allowed.

To me this seems like a sensible way to have a local option.

the Fet

Oct 6, 2017 - 04:46pm PT
When I worked on the first and first free ascent of the emperor;, I really wished some holds were bigger and some more existed, but I didn't chip. But what if I have? How would anyone in the world be effected . The impact of hundreds of cars driving into the kings canyon daily and dozens of people hiking the Rae Lakes loop is much greater than if there is some extra hold on a route that now is climbed like once a year. Don't see why you care about me not caring either.

V you are a leading climber now so people will look up to you. You do have a responsibility to understand the issues involved and hopefully communicate them to younger climbers.

First of all there is style and ethics. style is personal and you are right we shouldn't condemn others for their style choices. But what we are talking about here is ethics. Actions that impact other people, such as chipping or placing bolts is ethics.

In your example above the person that would have been affected if you had chipped would be the next guy/gal who would have attempted to free that line who is perhaps stronger than you and would have forever lost that opportunity to do the climb in its natural state. Just affecting the climb for one person is all that it takes to have poor ethics. But imagine a more popular climb. What if someone decided Midnight Lightning was too hard and they had chipped it. Bringing the natural line down to their level and effecting everyone who later tried the climb?

It's not about the ecological environmental impact. It's about the environmental impact to other climbers.

I don't know about Jim but I care because I had to learn why this was important too. I didn't get it when I first started climbing. Luckily I read a lot by people like Yvon and Royal and talked to my mentors. So I want to make sure people younger than me get it too so routes are preserved as much as possible. Like I said people will look up to you. It would be great if you were a steward for climbing resources.

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Oct 6, 2017 - 05:03pm PT
Right-onsky The Fet!

Oct 6, 2017 - 05:21pm PT
V you are a leading climber now so people will look up to you.
You do have a responsibility to understand the issues involved and hopefully communicate them to younger climbers.

No he doesn't.

You're making a religion out of this and telling him what to do.

There's plenty of so-called high climbing Priests already spewing all over the place where you don't need him if he doesn't want to.

Leave him the f_k alone.

His climbing alone is already his voice.

And we're supposed to listen to you while you lame save the rock hypocrites slaughter everything in sight.

Meh ......
the Fet

Oct 6, 2017 - 06:01pm PT
He posting here engaging in the conversation. Of course he can do what he feels is right, I'm explaining things I've learned and appreciated, and perhaps a new way of thinking about things.

Why are you so often insulting other people?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 6, 2017 - 09:15pm PT
by Mike Law

Why should there be more to life than what you can hold in two hands - food, flesh or rock? - anything more requires fairly complicated social devices. Three simple reasons for me to return to Sydney. I'd wasted too much time doing complicated things to my body on crags that were just so much vertical rock and not really cliffs at all, of any character at least. Sydney's seacliffs have character and a wildness I've always been drawn to despite any quantity of abject technicality, bolts or funny pants I might affect.

All the emotions we lump together and call climbing seem quite thick on the seacliffs. The void beneath calling, the icy heat of a technical move, pumping till your eyes bulge, jugs and forearms screaming for each other. Just like climbing but more so.

The first element fell into place some time back in the dark ages -'78? '79? I saw a wall which looked too much and thought. "Gee, if I chicken out, rap down and bolt it senseless it could be fun." And it was. I also discovered that if you're following natural protection. you're not following the best climbing (yuk, it might even be a crack). It's easy to muse on the virtues of run-out "real" climbs - character building, days of blood and iron, triumph of the will - but people only really enjoy them if they survive them and they're rarely put up on sight these days. Prior inspection is just substituting one form of protection for another.

Before the big days of bolting, most routes were simply complete epics. The Fear, the most celebrated 17 in the civilised world (which still ends 100 miles from the Harbour Bridge despite most persuasive trips to exotic areas), took a mammoth three hour lead on the first ascent. Consigning blocks to the howling winds, tunnelling through savagely honeycombed roofs, rope drag you play "God Save the Queen" on and even a 40 minute pause to (gasp) place a bolt. Since then eight or nine bolts have appeared and most parties whip up the 45 degree overhung arete in half an hour in a chalk-storm with glimpses of lycra and gritted teeth.

Once lines of stainless steel bolts became a regular feature, all sorts of nice things began insinuating themselves into guide books. The next modern ethical advance occurred at Diamond Bay. a smooth wall that was nearly boring (holdless) but not quite. Detailed inspection work dotted out one route that would "wander about like a drunk and be about as attractive", using up a wall that could really support three or four nice little routes. I now know they have been chipping themselves senseless in Britain and Arapiles for years, but people were a bit shy about the good works. These routes were chipped and-widely broadcast and all became fairly popular. The most savagely chipped, Ordeal by Fur (25), even made it as a checsecake shot on the front of the Chouinard catalogue last year. What an ethical triumph for the forces of fun. Spare the chisel and spoil the climb.

Spare the chisel indeed! Never! Sandstone really is the perfect rock for sculpture, and I know people will hate me for saying this, but it really does need improving upon sometimes. Occasionally there's just a big sandy hold, then it's a case of either paint or chisel, depending upon the bag of trix. There are great lines of features up walls with really boring 12 foot bands of holdless rock that can often run across an entire cliffline. Chipping ranges from the odd "courtesy" hold, which is commonly added after a first ascent (Slap and Tickle, 21 with chip,23 and disgusting without; not really what's known as a choice) through to entire climbs (Watch This Space, 26) or cliffs (Coogee).

Coogee, a sheet of boring, orange rock, the few natural features skilfully utilised by dedicated craftsmen using century-old techniques to produce objects of rare beauty and delight. Animal was the first one to 'paint with a full brush' here and early routes proved that someone 5'4" shouldn't try to create reach problems. It defies imagination as to how Get A Rat Up You (22) could be done by someone whose arms barely reach their genitals. Gash Rash (543) - that's 17 times harder than anything else in Australia - was a better try with a crux that involved small layaways, underclings and a nasty rope burn.

Further left the crag steepens and the holds become bigger and closer together (I guess if anything looked really hard they'd be big enuff and so close together as to form a chimney). A few climbs exist which are basically series of lunges connected by dynos and bolts. On the steepest section Wop Bop A Loo Bop (26) is the chronic pump (it was going to be the classic 17 but I got lazy) and SKP (28) is a direct on it. A drawn roof/face unit topped with a dreamy dyno, sheer delight. Beef and Chips (27) is probably the best of these pumps - it actually ends up delicate, presenting a problem that can't be easily solved by mere tips and tendons.

Actually the most exciting route here is all natural - Come on Aussies (it's an old joke that starts something like "What's worse than grease on Poms?") a big jump across the yawning for a sloping something, then onwards bolted and uppish. This and Mark Colyvan's two climbs, Head High Tackle and All in Brawl (all three climbs are graded 23, the prime grade for humorists these days) caused consternation at first when natural holds were discovered all the way up them - but locals have avoided crassing them so far.

One that the council nearly erased is at Diamond Bay. Back in the before times it was a huge roof (about 20ft thick) with a crackline through it and a park on top. Schoolboys Kim and I assembled nerves. etriers and a vocabulary to assault it. We were within a bee's dick of trying it when one day we rounded the arete and BLAM! The council had obviously decided to avoid any "strollers in shark-nude-drug-torso-shock- horror collapse" and blasted the place to smithers.

At least a decade later I rapped the corner system that had been created by one act of fortuitous vandalism and commenced on another. Blocks the size of beds dropped out of the corner with no warning and by the time I'd fully cleaned it, it was unclimbable. Actually, one natural hold is used, but you'd be hard-pressed to know which one it is. The only thing that holds Spurting Wildly back from-mega-classic status is the lack of a good paint job on the holds. It gets sandy unless oft-climbed. It's been graded variously 21, 23 or 25 but grading can only indicate some techno-weeny index and how likely you are to cream yourself doing same. On the crumbling edges of civilization the waves and the seagulls are crying for you and mere overprotection won't help you stem the evil tide. (Serious contenders for the big horrors, such as Housemaids Knee, with its grade 24 "crawl pitch", should take along a cross, a corkscrew and possibly a Bat-a-rang or a head full of drugs.)

Sydney's favourite suicide venue is The Gap, and it's impossible to climb on the main wall without police, priests and the newspapers trying -to rescue you ("two young men are stuck on the precipice lashed together, trying to jump"). Reality isn't a big thing with some people. Because of this most energy has been poured onto the walls south. Bladder Control (22), Hey Sucker (13) (13 bolts and a hanging belay - welcome to the home of discount grading) and the exposed OS (24) are all little gems perched on the top of a big wall of necrotic pox. But closer to the gap Duelling Biceps (22) was an instant hit with the locals, we even get the odd American onto it these days. But further right in the big zawn the roofs are calling.

The "easy" right arete was an eight hour two pitch bolting epic. We were each to lead the pitch we'd bolted (it's the only way to ensure it's properly done). So I set off on the walls leading up to roofs, hanging on with last week's arms on the "slab". I rapidly decided I'd picked the soft option. After more bolts and shameful epics I finally succeeded. Giles started his pitch with a wee roof, a short crux and a long hand traverse. After a cramped rest he launched out over a bigger roof - I'm not sure pitches like this one are only ever led so someone has to second them. We graded Why Me? 24 back in the days when 24 was big talk.

A diversion from these relentless upward forces was the mighty traverse line of Boyzone (23). A 70ft traverse along an 8ft vertical wall with big roofs above and below is a wonderful setting for this jug-a-thon with no real footholds. Fish Fingers (26) follows a line of cruxes up the wall below this, culminating in a 15ft unprotected roof then a hanging belay on Boyzone's traverse. The 35ft roof above is Giles's pitch once again, but this has a big flake and an intermittent crack line for a progressive body pump. (If you haven't been sandbagged lately that is a stomach pump that affects the brain.)

It took us a year or so till the memory of bolting those had become something that happened in the good old days. Then it was back down again for more of the same. But this time Giles picked something with a few vertical sections amongst the roofs and I picked the one that leant like a sausage, one in two overhung (except where it is a roof). They share a common start and 30ft up, his Siamese monster Let's Get Married cranks out a 30ft hand traverse to a 'rest'. Above this, nasty moves, roofs and ill-formed holds lead to a few knee-knocking moves on the only slab within (literally) seven miles.

Talk about creating a monster. My route Doggit (Till Your Eyes Bulge) could easily drive me to drink, distraction and the gym. The jugs are vast but so are the reaches. The rush is what I love, cranking on steep rock breathless with dying arms.

These are this winter's problems; it's too cold to climb anywhere else easily while it's warm and dry down there. Giles and I aren't up them yet but by spring we'll be trying to say they're only 25, without letting a smile escape. Practice makes perfect but this undergrading is no easy task.

There really is just too much unclimbed rock to ever contemplate spending my sunset years here. I'd just pull myself to pieces high above the ocean one evening or literally explode in the middle of some king pump. No, I think when a cranky adolescence is over at 15, 30 or 75, I'll settle back to the golden glow of retirement in the mighty Blue Mountains nearby. How could anything nearly vertical ever be hard?

A personal review of hard climbing development on the sea cliffs of Sydney, Australia, by leading activist Mike Law.

September/October 1987


Mountain climber
Timbers of Fennario
Oct 6, 2017 - 09:30pm PT
I agree with Werner up there. Telling people how they ought to behave cause other people may look up to them? Meh.
Don't know Vitaly, but he climbs with Garrett, who is a friend of mine. Enjoy his posts here.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 6, 2017 - 09:41pm PT
Mike Law 2013 interview:

"If punk infected the ethic of climbing in the late ’70s and ’80s what is the dominant aesthetic and philosophy of the modern climbing fraternity? Is there one?

Convenience and conservatism, but for every movement there is a counter movement. There are less lifestyling dirt baggers and lifers, more weekend heroes and sport tickers. The commoditisation of climbing has led to it being marketed as a safe consumer sport, through gyms and sport climbing, so it’s a slick experience, like a fantasy f*#k. No wonder people get upset when it all goes wrong and they die. I like getting scared; I just don’t like dying."
the Fet

Oct 7, 2017 - 05:23am PT
I guess my choice of words was poor. Not the first time. It wasn't my intention to tell anyone how to behave. He asked (paraphrasing) why we should care if he cared and I was attempting to address that. From what I've read he climbs with good style and ethics already. My main point is that climbing with minimal impact is not about impacts to the natural environment. It's about respecting future climbers (including yourself). If someone chipped a hold for a free climb 2000' up el cap, no one but other climbers on that climb would be affected by it, no animals or even plants would be harmed. It would just change the challenge that nature presented for future climbers on that climb. possibly including the climber considering chipping, who may come back year after year to finally free that move.

I'm not totally against chipping, for example in the example above about removing sharp crystals from pockets to make a climb possible. But personally I'm am against chipping to make a move go at an easier rating when someone could do that move later.

right here, right now
Oct 7, 2017 - 08:31am PT
Thanks for making this thread fun again. (Was it ever?)

Mike Law, a.k.a. The Claw! What a shock jock. Irreverent, anarchistic, brilliant. One of the more interesting people I've met in my time.

To read Jugs in Space you would think we Yanks were and are simply a bunch of church ladies, holding ourselves back with our styles and ethics. That's pretty much what he told us when he visited Josh! He gave off the air of being preternaturally bored. I think he has the curiosity and abandon required by the painters of Abstract Expressionism.

Whatever you think of his stance, and his oeuvre, he's provocative and funny as hell:

Why should there be more to life than what you can hold in two hands - food, flesh or rock? - anything more requires fairly complicated social devices.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 7, 2017 - 10:33am PT
a complete aside, but the Mike Law interview I posted a link to has interesting comments, another:

Do you have any climbing heroes?

John Stannard (USA), Peter Croft, Lee Cossey, Zac Vertrees. The guys who put up
Wings of Steel and Hall of Mirrors in Yosemite, they were reviled but their routes were the hardest aid and free big walls for many years.

Wings of Steel: FA Richard Jensen, Mark Smith, 7/81
Hall of Mirrors: FA Chris Cantwell, Bruce Morris, Scott Burke, Dave Austin, et al., 1978-1980, 'dry variation,' Jonny Woodward, Darrell Hensel, 5/1992

Stannard would produce a big guffaw over this, then deny he ever did anything to warrant the comment...

hmmm, look at The Claw on Doggit above (and nearly twenty years later?) the time this FOOPS image was made, 1967, I was reading in the climbing instruction literature that one must have three points of contact on the rock at all time...

(look at the comments made by the Rezucha bros and Stannard)
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Oct 7, 2017 - 05:48pm PT
V you are a leading climber now so people will look up to you. You do have a responsibility to understand the issues involved and hopefully communicate them to younger climbers. 

Thank you for the follow up comment after that one. Wanted to respond to the first not a "leading" climber by any means, I'm just a 40 hour work week, climb on the free time and one-two 2-3 weeks off for vacations guy. If in the recent years I was able to get a few cool things done it doesn't make me a great climber, nor should it make one listen to my opinion and respect it more than another person. One of the reasons I personally like climbing is for the freedom it offers, so it would be going against that belief if I tried to yell how to climb to anyone else. I'm a big believer in leading by example, not my moth. Other people can loom at things I do (usually long backcountry climbs) and either want to try stuff in remote parts of the mountains or not. Everyone should make their own choices and I don't want to brainwash anyone or belittle anyone because supposedly they are somehow inferior based on the type of climning they do. At times I climb with people who are new to climbing and I try to show them that there are many ways to enjoy being outside...and that's about it. Hope it kind of makes sense. Like Werner said, plenty people to preach climbing, I like climbing for climbing, not arguing...unless it is supertopo :)

Oct 7, 2017 - 08:43pm PT
Great article and photos, thanks for posting. Irreverent.

They have the best route names!

Social climber
Oct 7, 2017 - 09:43pm PT
Artisanal types=lame a@* mofos

Trad climber
Carson City, NV
Oct 7, 2017 - 10:02pm PT
If someone decides they can do a manufactured route with fewer holds, is it ok for them to chop some holds to bring it up to their level?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 7, 2017 - 10:08pm PT
interesting idea Max,

the debate over routes with scant protection (think Tuolumne Meadows) in which it is endlessly proposed that more protection be placed (so as to make them "safe") is a corollary


Trad climber
Carson City, NV
Oct 7, 2017 - 10:30pm PT
Yeah, I’ve recently thought that it would be nice to have more moderate, better protected routes in the meadows to spread people out a bit.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
Oct 8, 2017 - 05:45am PT
^^^ Just like voter redistricting.

Ice climber
Oct 8, 2017 - 08:30am PT
Any thoughts on "Insomnia"?
Didn't some famous climber pry off a jug to make it more rad?
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