Gnu Wave

Ever get tired of being a "traditionalist"? The stodgy connotations of such a term bring up images of hobnailed boots, knickers, long ice picks, and stiff hemp ropes. The alternative "sport" designation for today's climbers, on the other hand, fires up the imagination with flashy outfits and hairstyles, smooth and powerful motion on the stones, and generally a cool outlook on life. "Passe;", the expert sport climber is imagined to casually declare, as he/she fires past the crux of one of today's 5.13c testpieces.

The traditionalist, on the other hand, conjours visualizations of some sweating climber as moaning and groaning up some awkward 5.10 fist crack, cursing while fumbling with a heavy load of gear.

The more humble attitude that the so called traditionalist embodies is not because of lack of talent, but rather the knowledge that natural rock offers the concept of limit and impossibility that sport climbing, with its infinite bolts, denies steadfastly, given enough time and talent attempting moves in a safe vertical environment.

Surely, it cannot be denied that sport climbing has pushed the limits of the sport, and has increased the level of difficulty in all realms of the sport of rock climbing, with climbers who have taken the advanced technical skills they have developed on the bolted crags to virgin territory in more remote settings. But at what cost? The current practice of bolting the so called "traditional" aid lines from the top down in order to free them seems a backward progression. Free climbing, by nature, is ultimately a mode of climbing which relies less on gear and more on human physical ability. But what is the point if a climb requires construction equipment and techniques (i.e. motorized construction tools) to make it go free? The additional dependence on technology seems anathema to the concepts of free climbing.

The advent of motorized construction tools has made it too easy for the individual to ignore the fact that impact is taking place on the stone. The bolt goes in so quickly, almost like Stallone's bolt gun in Cliffhanger, that it doesn't distract the ultimate mission of the prize of an all-free climb. Drilling each bolt by hand, on the other hand, really reinforces the impact, because each bolt requires some hard work to place, requiring the climber to stop and focus on what is actually happening here. Motorized construction equipment has no place in the mountains. Besides, that realm was pushed to its ultimate limits by Caesar Maestri on Cerro Torre over 20 years ago and requires no further attempts to top his feat in the mountains.

Just as backpackers are not allowed to use chainsaws to cut firewood in the backcountry, climbers shouldn't be allowed to use construction equipment (motorized drills) for rock climbs.

The practice of bolting everything and in essence, eschewing the possibility of natural protection, is just one of man's egotistical attitudes of his dominance over nature and is merely another misuse of the superiority of the human's retractable thumb over other animals.

Bolts are the murder of the impossible (Reinhold Messner). And they quickly deplete the natural resources of our rock, and cheat future generations who will be able to climb difficult rock without the nuisance of a protection bolt every 5 feet.

Let's call a spade a spade, and yet not go so far as to say, "sport climbing is neither". Yet sport climbing is a misnomer, "bolt-to-bolt climber" is more enlightening to the casual observer. And to hell with that "traditionalist" term, call it ground-up climbing if anything. I for one am tired of being so easily pigeonholed with such a stodgy term.

Gnu Wave: Ground up New Wave, is the realm of time, effort, and ability intensive routes, ground up, and requiring a bolder approach to establishing routes. For the last eight years, this realm has been dead in the US. The testpieces are still the few put up by the likes of John Bachar and Mike Lechlinski in the mid 1980's. How can one compare the top down bolted Crossroads (5.13a) with the bold, ground-up Phantom (5.13a) on the same section of rock at Reed's Pinnacle in Yosemite? And even routes like Inchworm, a mere 5.11b (unprotected) with TKO (bolted 5.11c) on Arch Rock. Put it to the test and climb these routes and see which is really more difficult.

The gnu wave is alive and well in Great Britain, with routes by folks like Paul Pritchard and Jerry Moffat, which combine bold ground up climbing with difficulty. The routes at Gogarth are perhaps the extreme of this ideal. Why is it so dead in the US? (In the US, there are a few pockets of bold testpiece routes, in the Needles California, Black Canyon, and a few other areas, but most areas have been lost to the new "bolt everything" mentality). It is time for the bolt-to-bolt climbers to put their put their chalkbag where their mouth is, so to speak, and use those bolt-to-bolt higher technical abilities to the test on some "gnu" testpieces.

Enough of this tirade...