Moon Blog / Opinion / Looking at the Big Picture
Looking at the Big Picture
In resent weeks Cerro Torre, a spectacular rock spire in Patagonia has once aging stirred up emotions. This “new” conflict can best be described as a storm in a fish bowl. If we look at the climbers as an enterprise acting on a global scale its would be easy to argue that chopping the bolts on the Compressor Route is equally following a number of principles guiding corporations who follow International Environmental laws or are taking Corporate and Social Responsibility seriously. All actions in the mountains must boil down to sustainability. These principles justify all action that preserves the environment for future generations even if we in this case are talking about pseudo advances in coming to some kind of world wide rules on what can and cannot be done to our planet.
The mountains are a part of our planet. So the debate lies outside of the mountaineering circles. The dolomites are now a UNESCO protected site, so something such as the Compressor Route would not be possible to put up there. Why should it be anywhere else? And why get angry with a partial clean up effort?
The history of climbing is littered with examples of controversy. However when it comes to action, most climbers shy away from controversy. I feel that as climbers, we should embrace controversy.
For me it is crystal clear that controversy always has been and always will be one of the decisive factors behind quantum leaps taken in the history and in the future of climbing. I recognize that technology, diet, knowledge about the human body’s adaptability to the elements along with a number of other factors have played a huge role in the development of climbing. But that alone cannot explain the progress we are witnessing. Feuds, bolt wars, outspoken criticism against climbing styles where the mountain has been brought down to mans abilities and not climbed by fair means, have played an equally crucial part in where we are today, a fact that is often overlooked when we consider where we are and where we want to go in terms of developing climbing.
As climbers we are not born with any right to stand on a summit or to top out a route or a problem. We have to earn that moment of completeness by hard training and by gaining the skills necessary to scale the desired object, (and even then, only if we are lucky!).
In the early days of mountaineering it was not so much about the physical aspect of climbing; it was not an athletic sport but rather a geographical exploration. Climbing is a fairly new phenomenon as a sport. Upon receiving the Piolet d’Or in Chamonix, Messner recounted that on his first trips to the Himalayas he was traveling in uncharted terrain both literally speaking and in terms of what we then knew about the human body’s abilities to endure the strains of high altitude during prolonged efforts. So we don’t even need to go back to the days of Hillary’s exploits to understand how much modern climbing is still just scraping on the surface of what is going to be possible in the future.
Behind some of the most significant climbing controversies in history we will find ego-driven and some times narcissistic climbers. A common characteristic of such climbers is that they are obsessed or rather consumed by the desire to forge their way up a mountain no matter what price they must pay and no matter what the cost for future generations. Today we sometimes try and explain or excuse these actions with references to nationalistic pride and the accepted style of that era. That might be true to some extent and it cannot be ignored that nationalism has played a significant role in climbing history, however, that does not excuse the fact that actions are performed by individuals, not nations. Some of these feats have pushed climbing forward at no significant cost to the generations that follow, but quite a few have left irreparable scars on the mountains, depriving future mountaineers the opportunity to explore and climb unknown ground.
I think most climbers who really care about their climbing are suffering from a healthy dose of obsession and it couldn’t be otherwise, but we can never confuse our own obsession with a problem, route or mountain with the fact that the climbing objective we are devoting our energy towards its not our private property. Problems, routes and mountains were around way before us and we merely pass by them for a nanosecond in the bigger perspective of the history of the universe.
Style and ethics matter. Grades, numbers and summits do not. There is never an acceptable justification for exploiting a problem, route or mountain for personal satisfaction. Climbing is about fulfilling personal ambitions, but we can never let that come to us at the expense of another climber’s opportunity to experience the route in its natural state. Today we are fairly well informed about the environmental impact our climbing has so we cannot blame lack of insight when boundaries are over stepped today. We can only blame our blinded ego for not assuming responsibility for how we treat the objects we so dearly love to climb.
The most recent climbing controversy revolves around one of the world’s most iconic mountains, Cerro Torre. Having no stake in the game, I would just like to express my gratitude to the two climbers, Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk, who decided to give controversy a face and take responsibility for their actions by chopping some of the bolts on the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre. Since, it seems that the climbing world has been divide into two fractions. Those who think the bolts on the Compressor route should have been preserved as a tribute to the history of alpinism, ignoring the obvious narcissistic act performed by a single climber back in the day. The other camp supports the chopping of some 102 of the plus 350 bolts on the Compressor Route, celebrating the fact that skill has won a huge victory over obsession and that style is not defined today but rather in the future. Proof: just days after the bolts were chopped David Lama climbed the first free ascent of the same aspect of Cerro Torre. Rest assured, the future will surprise us all in terms of what is possible to achieve in terms of climbing.
What can we learn from history and the current state of affairs? I think its simple. Always approach all your climbing objectives with passion but never let your own aspirations create an obstacle for future generations. There is not an endless supply of great natural lines available in the world. If you cannot get up your dream line rest assured, some one else can and will, without leaving so much as a trace of their feat. A universal climbing ambition should be that the next one who shows up under a problem, route or mountain can enjoy the same feeling of novelty and virgin ground you do when carrying out the first ascent. What defines you as a climber is not the numbers you achieve or the number of summits you bag but the style you do it in.
Nothing said her is new or original, yet I think it can’t be repeated enough times.
Have fun out there exploring the mountains of the planet and be safe.