Anyone who has seen Valley Uprising, will know about the classic rivalry between Royal Robbins and Warren Harding. Two of the great figures in American climbing in the 1950s.
Royal Robbins is painted as the stoic, thoughtful philosopher-climber while Warren Harding is shown as a wild, drunken man barging his way up big walls. Both made impressive ascents.
A classic point of rivalry is Royal Robbins taking offense to Warren Harding’s siege-tactic climbing style: placing large numbers of bolts and fixed ropes to get through tough sections of climbing. The story goes, that Royal Robbins would climb Harding’s routes, chopping off the heads of the bolts. He saw it as defacing the rock – it wasn’t pure climbing.
In the Czech Republic, near the border with Germany there a style of climbing that has developed to be extremely sensitive to the natural landscape. Very few bolts are placed. Climbers are not allowed to place any sort of metal protection. Instead, knotted ropes are wedged into the rock. Climbers climb barefoot and chalk is not allowed.
Flip back to America, and the guys pushing the barriers of Modern climbing: guys like Tommy Caldwell, Chris Sharma, Alex Honnold all climb sport routes (on bolts), with shoes and chalk. They are also doing things people previously thought was impossible.
Such as Caldwell’s ascent of the Dawn Wall:
Sharma’s iconic climbing of Biographie:
and any number of Alex Honnold’s amazing free-solo’s (on routes he’d practice with bolts first):
There is no question that as climbing gets more and more popular, climbers need to be conscious about the marks we are leaving on the natural landscape. At the same time, however, we want to be pushing harder and climbing further than ever before. No one wants to fight progress.
Each generation of climbers have broken ground in their own ways. Whatever your personal ethics on climbing are, those breaking ground in the future will almost certainly do it by streamlining and reduction of lasting impact.