2 December 2011
On right and wrong
The stars and the planets were coming out of the blueblack now. You could see satellites going across amongst the planets. My fingers and toes were thobbing a bit. The company was good as the conversation flowed and rambled pleasantly. I could feel the stored warmth of the Cliff on my back radiating into me and on into the void of night.
This late September evening delivered this year's best moments on rock. Not the climbing which had been ok, but weirdly being here now. My arse, back and heels in contact with the grit. Lying there looking up feeling part of this all enveloping whole.
I was being self indulgant and romatic clearly. Yet once again I had enjoyed being outside in an Almscliff dusk. I was experiencing Joe Simpson's "head full of magic" and what Ofsted call "awe and wonder" when they inspect RE lessons.
Before I talk ethics I had better talk about why I climb. Those first few lines pretty much fail to sum it up. People do it for all kinds of reasons and I suppose your reasons change as your life changes.
Lately I want the intense focus of something fleeting but done well. I want the thrill of an idea made real. It's pure creation for me. I get much the same from a well climbed route as I do from making a piece of furniture. I crave those few moments when the weather is right, your head and body are in tune and it all comes together. You become absorbed in a few moments of execution. Then your brain releases all those chemicals it's keeping hidden for just such an occaision and the magic carpet ride begins.
I was always a bit of purist when it came to climbing. I was an onsight, trad gear only, no top rope practise, sort of climber. Easy for me, I never climbed very hard. So the consequences of my trad approach were occasional failure and a few slightly hairy moments. I am having a minor middle aged bouldering renaissance at the moment and trying to deal with and adapt to the changed ethics of the modern climbing world.
Things I now think are ok and wouldn't have dreamed of in the past are:
Going to have a look for holds at the top of a route or problem. I used to think this was the end of the world just seems like common sense now.
Getting beta - again now just seems sensible. Nowadays I want to be part of a community. If that community is sharing knowledge so much the better. I watch, ask refine and modify other people's beta and make my own hopefully better way for my particular needs. I used to want to feel like I was the first or only person that had ever climbed a route. Sometimes its still nice to be alone on rock but I also like the warm pisstake that is a group of people having a go at a problem.
Chalk marking of holds or Donkey tick marks - I know the debate rages on this check out the thread on UK bouldering to see how unhappy some people feel about this. Seems to me if you can't see a foothold a chalk mark can help. Not sure every hold needs marking though.
Things I don't get:
Bolts this is where I come unstuck. I have clipped a few, mainly in France. I still don't get it. It seems to remove all risk and it doesn't seem to give the rock a chance. For me its the point at which someone's desire to make a climb overcomes the gift of a route to the climbing world at large. I know its safe, I know I'm not good enough to climb most of these routes, but I still don't want to. I am not about to try to stop anyone else doing it mind you.
Re-enforcing holds I know this goes on. Resin and cement and all kinds of stuff get used to repair or protect holds or problems. For me the environment is a one shot deal which will all turn to dust eventually. Climbing, even climbing carefully slowly breaks it. We can't and shouldn't engineer it to make if suit our needs. Enjoy it whilst it lasts and respect it seems the best we can hope for.
I suppose chalk is where ethically I am cast adrift. It leaves an unsightly mark and it is a kind of artificial aid. Don't think I could give it up though. I have not seem anyone for years who doesn't use it. I can remember nearly getting thrown of a crag in West Ireland in the eighties for bringing it from the UK.
Maybe ethics aren't really personal at all. Maybe that's a myth I want to believe. Actually they reflect the climbing morality that prevails when you get into the pastime and maybe mine have shifted as the climbing communities views have shifted. Perhaps if I could ask you to think how the way you climb impacts on others. Rather than just think about how it meets your own needs. We will all have done enough to keep the game in the same rude health it has enjoyed so far.
Posted by Dave Prince
About the Author
Dave has been climbing rocks for as long as he can remember, odd then that he isn't better at it. He lives in Harrogate as he can't afford to live any closer to Almscliff. He is hoping to get up Pebble Wall before his middle aged knees give out.
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