- Rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad
- That branch of philosophy dealing with vales relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.
When I first started climbing, I knew nothing of “climbing ethics”. I had been taken out to a cliff one day by friends and friendly strangers and taught the basics of how to rock climb and not to die. One of these friendly strangers, a French climbing guide, thought I should be learning to lead right away. Soon I was clipping bolts on 5.6’s, toproping 5.9s and life was easy and good (and I didn’t die).
Then I moved to a different province. I wanted to climb but didn’t know any climbers or where the crags were. Eventually, I ended up at the doorstep of the local climbing gym. During my orientation tour of the facility, the lead wall was pointed out to me and I was told that, one day, I would learn how to clip bolts. First, however, I had to be able to climb 5.10s comfortably without falling.
I thought maybe the gym’s lead routes only started at 5.10, but no, they had bolted 5.7s, 8s and 9s…
I came to learn that lead climbing was seen as something of a status at the gym, something to be earned, to graduate too. “Newbs” toproped, experienced climbers lead climbed. I passed my lead climbing test and shrugged it off as silliness.
The thing is, as my climbing career progressed, these “rules” and attitudes kept popping up. Just climbing a climb was not enough– a climb also had to be done in good style. Toproping a climb to figure out beta was frowned upon (unless it was a very difficult climb or had bad falls..or did it have to have both? I don’t remember). Actually, top roping at ALL was generally frowned upon.
“Suck it up and lead it!” They would say…
Correct language became very important as well: Sending a climb with pre-placed draws was a pink point, NOT a red point. Sending a climb after a friend climbed it first was a flash and NOT an onsight.
Somewhere along the way it all seeped in and I found myself noticing and internally criticizing those who were doing it wrong: She used the tree and that was out. He clipped the bolt when he could have placed gear. He pulled on the draw. She was hangdogging. They ticked all the good holds.
I also became aware that some types of climbing were apparently “better” than other types of climbing:
outdoor climbing vs indoor climbing,
bouldering vs. sport climbing,
sport climbing vs. trad climbing,
sewing it up vs running it out.
Three examples of the above come to mind:
While climbing at the local crag, I tried to be friendly and start up a conversation by asking the guy beside me what gym he climbed at.
“I don’t climb inside,” he replied. “I only climb outside.”
“Oh,” I replied, “You rock climb outside in the winter?”
“No, I climb at (name of indoor climbing gym).”
Then there was this time a friend was working on a really impressive 5.12+ roof crack and he posted this photo on Facebook:
The first comment on the photo wasn’t “good job!” or “way to go man!” but a fellow climber pointing out the pre-placed cam. They noted it made the climb easier and attached a link to a post on Mountain Project saying he should “knock at least a letter grade off if you do this”.
Finally, at my local crag last year, permission was given to some of the crags developers to install anchor bolts at the top of the cliff. Until then, all of the routes at the crag had been lead climb only–the new anchors would allow some of the routes to be accessed and climbed by toprope. Within days of the new anchors being installed, they were chopped.
The local climbing internet forum exploded: there were debates not only about the bolt chopping, but also about who can give permission to add anchors and bolts, what the right way was to install anchors and bolts and what the best kind was to use.
(There were even debates about the “right” way to chop bolts! Apparently the chopper didn’t use good style)
“ Does it really matter if a particular climb is done in any particular “style?” Is there one “true code of ethics” that is admirably suited to all climbers?”
– Warren Harding, ASCENT 1981
I was getting kinda bummed out about it all, when I stumbled over a blog called Rock Climbing Life, written by rock climbing enthusiast and “guide” Wesley Summers. In his posts, Wesley gives the finger to the idea of “climbing ethics”: he bolts trad routes, projects climbs on top rope, “onsights” and “flashes” climbs he has tried several times and “free solos” boulder problems. He mocks famous climbers and climbing elitism, even dedicating a post to why we should discourage new climbers from trying the sport. His popular response to those who attack him is, “Do you even climb?”
While his posts are brilliant, the angry replies Wesley receives are somehow even better, mostly because they expose some of the attitudes he is poking fun of:
Other actual replies to his posts:
“Just stay home, there are enough chodes coming to the gorge already, we’d be fine without another.”
“Get off the TR nipple”
“So bolt the snot out of routes so your self important retro-Patagonia clad rigid stem cam toting gym rat can hang dog on it?”
“Go top rope in a gym.”
“Is not an onsite ascent the highest form of style? Or do we dumb things down and make climbing “safe” for the masses?”
“Wes, go home and play with your barbie dolls. The crag is a place for men to climb, not you!”
So… I would just like to say Thank You, Wesley Summers.
Thank you for making me laugh and reminding me to not take climbing so seriously.
The climbing world needs you.
I look forward to more posts and hope one day Chris Kalous has you back on the Enormocast!
“I have often been asked why I seldom, if ever, write my views on all this ethics business. In thinking about it, I realize I don’t give a damn.”
– Warren Harding, ASCENT 1981