These past few weeks climbers that follow the news (whom are distinct from climbers that only climb, don’t follow the news and live out of a van, right?) have been exposed to more headlines about Jason Kruk and Hayden Kennedy’s bolt chopping on Cerro Torre’s Compressor Route than on any other single subject. In fact, there has been so much chatter, figuring out where people stood on the issue became the most interesting point and to that end Patagonia mountain guide Rolando Garibotti collected leaders’ positions and quotes for Alpinist.com.
Except in the guiding space, like the American Mountain Guide Association, or competition-climbing world, there are few official standards in climbing. Equipment is built to exacting requirements for the good of the climber’s safety as they push the envelope — even if the limits are merely their own.
The standards we have are really a subjective set of ethics and style and in that vastness there is a lot of room for variances and dissent. I think that’s part of the appeal of climbing. We’re free to repeat routes and others accomplishments, explore lines previously untouched, and climb to the summit or just the ridge and call it a victory either way. They may not land in the pages of Climbing or the American Alpine Journal, but that’s okay for some of us.
But in that freedom come room for sincere controversy. We can argue about a lot of things. What is a first ascent? Was that really a new route or just a variation? Did they really climb unsupported? Or, in Kruk’s and Kennedy’s case, was it ethical and acceptable to remove the bolts on the Compressor Route?
The climbing culture is mainly a group tolerant of many things so long as it doesn’t interfere with the way they climb. There are anecdotes from expedition basecamps (one springs to mind of the 1996 Everest season I read about) where discussions of politics risked coming to blows and yet they climbed the next day tied to the same rope.
Until the AMGA or the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations establishes some regulating body for terms and behavior, we won’t have clear answers. And that is wonderful! I would encourage them not to anytime soon. There is a great appeal to leaving the world of climbing style and ethics to human subjectivity. It’s a wilderness of our own making. Establishing rules should only happen out of a desperate situation stemming from anarchic danger. For now, climbing is exiting, controversial and dangerous enough.
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