Books on Bolts, New Routes and Other News

Do you know that feeling when you get back from a long vacation in which you disengaged from responsibilities of the working world? It’s a kind of euphoria. I’m fighting to stay in that state right now; having returned to work at the beginning of last week. Plus I’ve been given more responsibilities while I was away, which is great but challenging my ability to remain in that high. Still, if I close my eyes and concentrate I can still imagine myself being up early, sitting in an Adirondack chair, sipping coffee and watching the fog lift off the valley below as the sun rised.

While I was away a lot of stories about new routes came out and few other things struck me that I wanted to share:

Activity in the Waddington Range — I have a soft spot for northwestern North America (AK, YK, BC AB, WA, OR) and it’s vertical rock and glaciated terrain, so the news of these five climbers sounds nearly epic. First, Colin Haley — who never does anything small nor sits around for long — soloed Mount Waddington (13,186 ft./ 4,019 m.) and continued over several other peaks in British Colombia’s Coast Mountains. Click here for Colin’s take on his blog, Skagit Alpinism.

Separately, the new routes and attempts on The Blade (10,840 ft./ 3,304 m.), Combatant Mountain (12,327 ft./ 3 ,756 m.) and Mount Asperity (12,191 ft./ 3,716 m.) also caught my attention. For two weeks in August the four-man expedition dealt with route issues, such as frequent changes in the rock that effectively created dead ends. This made free routes difficult but the quest was epic. Click here for more.

New Route the Vampire Peaks — Pat Goodman, who is a thoughtful climber, climbed with Jeff Achey, Jeremy Collins and James Q. Martin in the Northwest Terrritories to put up a new route they named The Phreenix (VI 5.11, 18 pitches) on the Vampire Spire (5,225 ft./ 1,593 m.) For geographic reference, Vampire Spire is very close to the breathtaking yet forboding Cirque of the Unclimbables. You can check out more by clicking here.

Cerro Torre’s 2012 Season — The literature contemplating and comparing the controversies with Cerro Torre’s 2012 season has been in blogs and magazine articles; In fact, I’ve learned a lot since January, including more details of Cesare Maestri’s climb in 1970, where he finished the job of placing 400 or so bolts up Cerro Torre. Jason Kruk’s and Hayden Kennedy’s controversial climb “by fair means” where they knocked off about 100 of Maestri’s bolts, not to mention David Lama’s free climb that came days later, will now be the subject of a new book. According to the 2012 American Alpine Journal, writer Kelly Cordes “is writing a book about Cerro Torre and its 2012 de-bolting.” I’ll be pre-ording that one.

There was a lot of other news too, including climbs on K7 and Great Trango, but the America’s have enough for my imagination to run wild. These aren’t keeping me in the high completely, but they help.

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Freedom of the Hills’ Non-Uniformity

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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Cold and Controversy

I’ve been thinking about the four expeditions working on the Himalayan 8,000ers. If they are having as mild of a summer there as we are here in North America (especially here in Peaklessburg,) then the teams might succeed in getting the first winter ascents. Of course, the season is not the only factor.

With work and my new training schedule, I have struggled to find time to catch-up on what has been happening in climbing news lately, but one story has been inescapable. A simple passing over the headlines kept bringing me to news about the Compressor Route.

In case you’ve been climbing somewhere remote without your smartphone or stuck in endless business meetings, here’s the recap: The controversy began in 1970 when Cesare Maestri climbed the Southeast Face of Cerro Torre in Patagonia with the aide of a compressor drill weighing nearly 100 lbs. The route has been heavily bolted and the drill has hung along the route ever since. Since then, the route has become one of the most popular routes up Cerro Torre. The appropriateness of the bolts have been debated ever since.

Fast forward to January 2012 and Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk climbed the route and chopped about one hundred of the bolts on their descent. The reactions have been mixed. Some praised them for restoring the wall and others criticized them for ruining what was essentially a great sport route. The police detained the two alpinists for a brief time as well. Then, days later, David Lama with partner Peter Ortner successfully freed the Compressor (or is it Formerly Compressor?) Route, while the debate on the Kennedy-Kruk climb went on.

What I don’t understand is the acceptability of placing permanent bolts in the first place. I realize blank faces have few options for protection. This isn’t a subject I’m experienced in. The only place I’ve ever climbed with bolts is the gym. Plus, my focus on alpine mountaineering, for the most part, hasn’t discussed the ethics of bolting on routes. Perhaps you can shed some light on the subject for me.

News on the four attempts to bag the first winter ascents of the unclimbed 8,000 meter peaks has been harder to come by, at least through the main news sites. In short the stories are still unfolding. The saddest news, and most significant to date, came from the Polish expedition; one of their climbers died on Nanga Parbat. So there is more to follow with the Russians on K2, the two expeditions on Nanga Parbat and the international team on Gasherbrum I.

Well, thanks for dropping by once again. If you enjoyed this post, and the many others, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!