Adamantium low… and thoughts on FA behavior.

On Thursday, Matt Birch did Adamantium Low on his first try. It was impressive to watch him! I had done the problem in the past before the start crimp had broken, or so I’ve heard. I repeated the start move, feeling it was about the same. Jon Wright and I thought the original line was v9. Matt had just recently flashed a 10 in Toulumne that he felt was soft but thought this line was a bit harder… maybe 10? Does anyone know of any changes to Adamantium in recent years?

Adamantium, v9 or 10. Matt Birch on his first go send. This is the first move to a high horizontal.

Adamantium, v9 or 10. Matt Birch on his first go send. This is the first move to a high horizontal.

Matt tried Bang On too, but that first move is a real stickler. I gave him beta on the two ways it was done, FA by Ben Moon, and repeats by Tim Clifford, Wills Young and Dave Struthers, but he found that simply back-stepping on a low positive bump might be his way of doing it.

bang on_mb

Birch attempting the first move on Bang On, v11-13, via a back-step.

With regards to Adamantium, what is worrisome is that the start hold is slightly pliable, and I’m sure will break eventually. Glue? Ewww! Don’t say that around the BM crew (jk)… For the record, I don’t glue, but I’m not against it either, at least in a an absolute sense. For reference, the start hold on Spectre at the Buttermilks is reinforced. Is that wrong? I don’t know. Glue always fails at some point in the future, so in some odd and transformative way, a glued hold can act as a go-between for different generations in that once it finally breaks, climbers may be stronger to find a new way to climb it. Yet, fundamentally, it’s not pure and upon breaking is adding pollution to the natural environment. Does the glue, therefore, take something alway from the problem? Yes and no. According to the Black Mountain blog, it’s a distraction, but to others it’s a line in a transitional stage of existence… one could say that about all problems. But maybe the biggest issue is its effect on the greater community: it’s the “cat out of the bag” argument in that if it carries any bit of approval, others will begin to take it to the extreme and potentially start to glue many things. We went through that when sport climbing took off in the US.

Speaking of glue, the Black Mountain blog speaks of ethics and says that Howl’s Moving Castle:

“…has been vandalize [sic] by a “benevolent” climber who took it upon himself to reinforce the holds with heaps of epoxy. To our knowledge, this is now the only glued problem on the mountain, and it has dearly suffered as a result. The glue sticks out, catching your eye and changing the feeling of the holds.”

The glue was applied by the original founder of the line before Paul Robinson did the FA. I personally didn’t notice it until it was pointed out, and I was told that the original hold was loose but equally very solid (with a heavy effort to remove or break it before climbing)… a sorta keyhole hold. Is it wrong to glue it? The fall can be awkward if the hold breaks (unglued), but if it’s a true keyhole hold then it’s not likely to break. Regardless, a wobbly but stable hold can have increased leverage on it and will begin to break down just from the movement and prying of successive attempts. To my knowledge Paul never commented on it being a distraction, but I don’t want to say that assumes he approves of it either.

Regardless, I do have a problem with descriptions that say “vandalize,” “heaps,” “dearly suffered” and “glue sticks out, catching your eye and changing the feeling of the holds.” These are spin words meant to heighten the dramatics of the opinion of the writer. We all get it in that glue is an ethics issue and for some, simply wrong. The high brow moralizing can be a bit heavy handed, and equally condescending.

In the broad scheme of things, humans have a tendency to generalize with regards to morals and ethics. It makes it much easier to know where to draw the line, so to speak. But the reality of things is much different. Generalizations are just that, they allow humans to be absolute about their views and never waver. Fundamentalists view the world in this context, and we’ve all seen how they judge others too quickly with little regard for the grays and variations of life that issues always bring to the discussion. That’s pretty much what my efforts are in this particular blog post: broadening the understanding to better appreciate the nuances. If I could climb Howl’s Moving Castle, I would be fine with the glue, but if I put up the line, I wouldn’t glue it, or so I think seeing it from afar. My point is that I wouldn’t demonize someone for gluing something with a reasonable argument, but that doesn’t mean I approve of it. I can still appreciate a line for what it is without judging others so harshly.

And the reality is the climber did put in a serious effort to decide what to do. He chose to glue it because he wanted it to remain as constant as reasonably possible for future climbers. Is that wrong? That’s for you to decide, especially if you’re an FA’ist.

Another way to look at things, is to use an analogy: am I against killing another person, yes. Would I kill someone in defense of another, likely yes. That seems like a contradiction, but it isn’t. If you add in the nuances of this situation, you have to question the motivation or context of this person who attempts to kill another. You have to accept that life doesn’t have pat answers to things, though we wish it could be that way. When we question and consider the details, we end up with a more complex image where personal judgement has to be applied according the what one sees as the best possible solution. Or… we could just stick with our beliefs and never waver. This means we have to evaluate degrees of good and bad, and realize that though we judge for ourselves to reach a conclusion and action, we don’t have to be condescending in our judgement of others for their rational arguments. What we can do is speak up and be open and honest about what we dislike or won’t do. And in this context, we have both voiced our opinion, avoided moralizing others based on our own beliefs, and acted in context with what we need to do.

Here is another example of an odd way to voice one’s opinion from the same ethics post:

“There is a fine line between cleaning and manufacturing. When you’re establishing a problem, sometimes you have to make a judgment call on whether or not to remove a lose [sic] hold. Leave it on, and perhaps the problem will change from person to person; but remove it and there’s no going back, the problem is forever different. We trust climbers putting up new lines to make this call. We don’t, however, condone anyone else from putting metal to the rock in order to clean, regardless of the purity of their intentions. “

This paragraph is just before the one on Howl’s Moving Castle. It articulates the sticky situation with establishing new lines, especially where rock can be loose, and it does a good job of explaining the conundrum of FA work; unfortunately, it goes on to moralize and then do the very thing it says it won’t do (earlier it says “There’s no dad among the climbers on the mountain…”): “We trust climbers putting up new lines to make this call.” Only a dad has to trust their son or daughter. Those that are writing a guidebook and putting up FA’s at BM are not overlords that get the privilege to decide who to trust. They then go on to explain what they don’t condone, and that is putting metal to rock. Fair enough, they’ve voice their opinion, but you can see how things can get a bit moralistic. They have a view of how they do things, yet they speak as if it’s the dominant view and a view that others must adopt… otherwise, there are consequences: “We’ve tried to distill and articulate the norms that already exist. If you violate them, who knows what will happen.” Scary!

“We as a community get to decide what kinds of behaviors are appropriate and what kinds are inappropriate. If something bothers you, start a dialogue to find a solution that everyone respects. If that doesn’t work, figure something else out.”

Think about this for a second; a community is a collection of opinions where a dominant opinion takes center stage, so to speak. That means if you aren’t of the dominant opinion (and remember there is no real forum to determine this), you must then follow their rule of starting a dialogue for they and others to question. I don’t recall having the authors of the pending gB going to the community to ask for approval or makiing sure they are doing the right thing, yet they want others to do just that. This is an example of playing father for others, and using the term community to really mean themselves. In fact, I’d say they see themselves as on such high ethical ground they just can’t imagine anyone questioning them. But the truth is we all need to discuss these things and decide how much cleaning is involved in establishing a boulder problem.

My friend in Oregon City has been developing problems at Lost Lake in Oregon, and he’s been finding the locals’ approach to be more groomed than what he’s used to in Josh. Landings need to be comfortized, and rock needs to be thoroughly cleaned.

To make this a really long blog post, but to address FA bouldering behavior, I have to comment on what went down when Troy Mayr and I decided to start rap-bolting in the late 80’s in socal. After we returned from the 87?? Snowbird world cup, we both decided that we would begin route development from the top down, instead of what both of us had done in the past: ground up bolting. I had spent a few years bolting face climbs in what I viewed as pure ground up style. That means no aid gear what-so-ever to place a bolt. Troy starting bolting with Charles Cole a bit later than me and had established La Cholla and the first pitch of Mamunia in Josh along with another standout route at Suicide Rocks (I can’t remember the route).

The community consensus at that time in socal was NO RAP-BOLTING. Previous rap-bolted routes had been chopped. We, instead, took a cue from Christian Griffith, Jimmy Surette, and Chris Hill: if you chop it we will rebolt it. Period; well illustrated with the establishment of Paris Girl, Eldorado Canyon, CO. The confrontations were heated, but in the end, all the worries were never realized. Only a moderate number of lines were established, some quite stupid, but in the end, it wasn’t the doom of climbing as many thought. Of course, I’m not saying gluing is the same as rap bolting, but it does illustrate that consensus isn’t always the only acceptable path.

The reality is that people will do what they want to do regardless of the community viewpoint or consensus. After this happens, and if all the facts are revealed, the practice in question will either cease or continue. If it’s lame, it basically stops cold. With regard to gluing, it hasn’t stopped cold, which means there must be some justification of it on the fringes of action. One may not agree with it, but the fact is it also hasn’t flourished either. It happens now and then, get’s questioned, then our lives march on. Some will be hard core sticklers of rules while others will bend them now and then.

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~ by r. mulligan on 2014/10/24.

3 Responses to “Adamantium low… and thoughts on FA behavior.”

  1. While it is different from the BM glue conundrum, developing at Lost Lake has presented with a grey area in terms of the way I like to approach bouldering. Most lines at LL have required a decent amount of work to make them climbable and a few have required that I rap, which means that pre-inspection is unavoidable. Having my ethos cultivated in the high deserts of California gave me the desire of doing lines exclusively from the ground up which made this top-down approach a tough pill to swallow, in the end I feel the lines that got done in this fashion were worth the compromise but I hate getting that close to rehearsal (another post on this topic?)

    In terms of the landing “improvements”, I appreciate the sentiment but I feel that 99% of them are unwarranted for several reasons. I got a slap on the wrist from 2 people out there for this and their reasoning was something along the lines of “we need to make this safe and accessible for other people”. I found this quite odd as I am in no way responsible for another climbers actions.

    I could go on a rant about so many things right now but I already feel bad about the LL tangent. Lets get a “Head-pointing: the downfall of American Bouldering” post rolling 🙂

  2. For the record, having been relatively involved in the development of LL this past summer, I want to make a couple notes. First, that the extreme manicuring of landing areas and removal of tons of rock to expose some of the mediocre problems was mostly the philosophy of a single individual. His ethics and philosophy were imparted to others, who mimicked him. I take a more conservative approach – preferring to break trail where appropriate rather than build steps, protect things by carrying more pads and maybe moving a few choice rocks rather than altering the entire landscape, and leaving boulders that would have to be dug out the way they are – buried.

    I think for a long time in Portland the notion has been that because we have so little, we should make the best of it by digging new lines out and making everything really accessible. On the one hand it’s unearthed some of the best lines around. But on the other hand, it’s unsightly, dabby, and it makes the transition from gym to rock easy (which it shouldn’t be, in my opinion – another topic..) I think it’s an irresponsible philosophy and I mostly disagree with it. The outdoors are a limited resource and we are the only arbiters of right, wrong, okay, not okay. It’s not a playground where an adult will come by and fix our mess. Especially at places like LL, we’re a major user group (within that particular acreage, the only user group) and these things eventually get noticed.

    And in the end? A lot of people visited LL when it had inertia this summer, but mostly people didn’t want to brush the easy stuff that had been ignored by the voracious developer in the vanguard. So they stay in the gym… making the preponderance of excessive landing and trail work all the more redundant. At 2 hours from a major population center, the majority of visitors will be motivated climbers who expect to work and be rewarded. Those people can clean the problems and bring enough pads by themselves. No need to pave the trails.

    Just my two cents..

    • Thanks, JF. I appreciate the clarification with regards to LL. Hopefully the extreme landscape grooming will subside and people will do as you say and bring more pads, and in the process learn to pad smart and spot well. Good practices and open dialogue are the best approach, and I think without the high brow preaching and judgements, we all can help educate each other. Unlike your situation where one person starts a wave of practices amongst bouldering FA’ists, this gluing action at Black is a one off situation where the actors spent considerable time trying to decide on the best option. Whether it was right or wrong isn’t so important as having the community learn from the facts with each person judging for themselves. I think it would have been more constructive if the BM authors would have just reported the facts and stated their opinions.

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