Modern Masculinity


The line may have gone free without any bolts. I tried the insecure start moves again. If I blew the delicate mantle I’d slam into the ledge below, grate over the slab and factor two straight on to the belay. My belayer grumbled quietly as my legs shook. Out came the drill and holding it over my head, one handed, an expansion bolt went into most secure looking rock.

Up in the crux another bolt had already gone in on rap. The ever-fine style line was blurring further.

Trying to author a new route in a somewhat respectable style is always tricky. With this route I’d been walking an interesting line, attempting to climb something that is hard for me, predominately goes on gear and yet is a worthy addition to one of my favorite crags. I could create a horror show, but would it ever get climbed again?

I’m reminded of a Woody Allen quote when I think about bolting;

“In making movies, you have to think about the audience, or you’re just making movies for yourself. It’s artistic masturbation.You’re a narcissist.” – Hollywood Ending

Is it weird to retrobolt one slab route because its 10 m long and easy to access and then put up a 60 m slab with two bolts just afterwards?

To me it’s not. They both have clearly defined audiences. Who really needs to climb a very dangerous 10 m grade 13? The same rock could hold a great climb for beginners to learn the art of slab climbing.

rap bolting
The author coming to terms with rap bolting in order to produce a quality route for leaders at the grade.

60 metres of harder climbing with some potential to place small gear that leads to the top of a buttress, different story. Maybe it’s just that I feel new routes should be lead ground up where they can, but once the bolts are in, the experience is made intrinsically different.

Rap bolting maybe produce a better quality route, but it removes the potential for a good style first ascent. Why does the style of a route have to be rigid? Why not let it start bold and if the quality of the climbing demands it be allowed to be cleaned and rebolted for consumption? Equally, a noted bold line shouldn’t be bolted. If the routes on the slab wall were grade 21 with two bolts, i’d have no desire to rebolt them. A climber at that grade has learnt to make decision whilst leading, and should be aware of what is and isn’t a sport route.

But.

If a line takes gear then why does it need to be bolted? At the current rate of rebolting, trad routes are becoming a very limited resource in Sydney and it’s surrounds. The majority of rebolting seems to be being executed by climbers who have already even climbed the routes in a bold style years ago. Someone asked me to explain why this made me so mad recently.

Sam explained to them what I couldn’t articulate. The retro bolting of lines which take gear or have good enough landing and are lower enough that they might be bouldered is not acceptable. It robs current and future climbers of a place to progress, building their on sighting and head pointing skills close to home. Yet I’ve rebolted slabs, that will never take any gear, but were bolted on lead, boldly years ago. The distinction is small, but present. It’s hard to understand what is right and wrong, let alone explain it.

And so we get back where we started, on pitch two of my variation to “Big Bird”.  Four bolts made the route not only possible, but highly repeatable.

After a through couple of days brushing, the route had been cleaned of lichen but remained slippery. 6 months of wind and rain removed all the dirt and left the route a lot easier. It went down smoothly under the baking sun, an anticlimax almost. The exposure was reduced by being so familiar with that place, that climb. I’m happy to have authored a new route worth climbing, and can’t wait for the next one.

The route name stemmed from conversation on the drive to the crag, about balance and progress. We didn’t have any buffalo to go hunt, so we climbed a rock. That and a little bit of that feeling that you get on a safe but terrifying pitch, look down and remind yourself that everything is okay.

Find the Route Description Here. Now let’s stop worrying about ethics, and go climb. Get on it.

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