A t a crag recently I was part of a somewhat impromptu rhetoric on the bolting abilities of some new router who, it was felt, had placed a bolt or two in a less than ideal position. Some felt that it is the bolters responsibility to ensure that a climber, any climber, can simply walk up to a route and climb it worry free - the presumption being that it is safe. What disturbed me was the implication that were injury to result, the bolter was liable / responsible - a surprising train of thought considering the prodigious warnings that all rock climbing paraphernalia carry.
"Warning: Climbing is a dangerous sport where you may be seriously injured or killed. Anyone making use of bolts, pitons, etc do so at their own risk."
Now exactly which part of the above excerpt from a recent guidebook is ambiguous?
Climbing has always danced to a more decadent beat, embracing non-conformity and regularly challenging any form of authority and or rules. It thrives on individuality, SO, if you are incapable of assessing what is "safe" for you and, as importantly, accepting the consequences of that judgment, then perhaps a long hard assessment of yourself and your chosen sport is needed.
In a recent editorial in SA Mountain Mag, Tony [Lourens] points out that we have an almost incomprehensible amount of fine, available and accessible rock. And then the oxymoron as we learn that retro bolting has made many an old death route more accessible to all and sundry. In fact there is an entire article devoted to revealing that Paarl Rock, as a crag, is no longer a 'death crag'. What the article sadly fails to point out, however, is the resultant 'Death OF a crag' at the hands the retro bolter. Paarl was Paarl, and there was an understanding that hard-men had trodden there before and left a legacy of bold, committing climbs. Those at the forefront of our sport, for each generation, would test themselves here and often leave a test of their own; following in the ethic that was Paarl. Of course, Tony is right - there is a #@$% load of rock to climb, BUT, if you can't climb a route in the style (or better) that it was opened in, then go and bolt your own route - one that meets your needs and is within your abilities! Alternatively, top-rope the route.
"But top-roping is not the same" I hear you say. My point exactly!
It's about the lead. Don't get me wrong, I am pro rebolting (replacing existing bolts if their condition is suspect), I am all for 'clip-ups' and I am most certainly not mocking those who have the presence of mind to know danger when they see it, and have the strength to walk away. Neither am I targeting the retro-bolter exclusively, but rather the current ethos (or lack thereof) that seems prevalent today. I find it incredibly selfish to dilute the efforts of the first ascensionist while simultaneously removing a likely established test-piece. The opening party made the effort, they got there first and have dictated the style, if you are not equal to the style/challenge, then at least be bold enough to admit that and leave it alone. There is no shame in that, only respect. Ultimately we each get something different from climbing and while it may be somewhat elitist for a top, bold climber to open routes in that style expecting them to be repeated (or not), it is nowhere near as selfish as bludgeoning that same route into submission, to satisfy your own fast food approach to a sport steeped in history and tradition. Theirs is a code scribed in the sweat and blood of passion; the least we can do is respect it!
Lastly, if your motivation for climbing a route has no reference to the history of the route, then take your unappreciative consumer appetite to a crag born from that intent and be glutinous in your "route ticking" (and remember to tell anyone who'll listen the grade route you climbed - because, undoubtedly, you don't know - or care - it's name, first ascent).