Rock Climbing Style

Rock Climbing Style

No, this blog is not about what to wear when going climbing, although recently at our local crag I have seen some despicable throw backs to the 70s – in my bitter opinion headbands should only be worn to prevent bleeding from a headwound. By style I mean the ethics or method a climber adheres to, to get from the bottom to the top of a climb.


Many think modern climbing was born in Yosemite Valley in the USA out of the rivalries between climbers like Warren Harding and Royal Robbins whose differing approaches have shaped the evolution of climbing up to today. If you haven’t seen Valley Uprising, Royal Robbins embodied the traditional and purist camp by using protection only in weaknesses in the rock, whereas Harding more or less stuck two fingers up to the status quo and drilled expansion bolts into everything.


While Harding’s’ actions at the time lead to outrage many would see this as the first developments of sport climbing now common place around the world. It has added a new dimension to the sport – trad climbing and sport climbing are more popular than ever and both give totally different experiences.


Although today the majority of climbers’ attitudes to the style and morality of climbing is much more relaxed this has not always been the case. In the 80’s and early 90’s for a climber to count a free ascent as valid if a they fell on the route the climber would lower to the ground, pull their rope through and start again ‘ground up’. Some even suggested closing one’s eyes while lowering down as if looking from any other perspective other than on the ground before completing the route was unsporting. Clearly climbing itself wasn’t nearly masochistic enough for climbers during this period. Not only that, but a subdivision of Redpointing - ‘Pinkpointing’ was invented to define whether the quickdraws were preplaced before attempting the route. This then gave way to Yo-yoing where the climber lowers down but does not pull the rope through so that they are essentially on top rope until they reach their last piece of protection or bolt.


In this period the ideal of abseiling into a route and repeatedly practicing the crux moves over and over until it was dialled would have been met with the same outrage that Warren Harding faced years ago. Although I think most of the attitudes of this time were verging on OCD, it is ultimately for the individual climber to decide how they want to go about their climbing – these types of arguments usually crop up at the leading edge of the sport where big egos are competing to be named the best. However, there is one more argument that bubbled up in the late 80’s / early 90’s which deserves a mention.


At the time Wolfgang Gullich was on a rampage putting up some of the hardest routes in Europe. Being one of the first people to specifically train hard for rock climbing meant that his finger and upper body strength was on a level above his peers. On returning to one of his previous first ascents he found that the crux hold had been vandalised with either a drill or pick to make the move easier. In response Gullich cemented up the hold altogether, then repeated the route using a different and an even more strenuous sequence of moves – pretty badass.


This obviously left no question of how he felt about people ‘improving’ a route by physically changing the rocks’ holds and structure but it is also a shame that to prove it he had to alter the natural state of the route for a second time. It’s a paradox. Overall, my view is that people shouldn’t go around hammering the holds on routes as it takes from the achievement of anyone who has climbed the route previously and the discovery of the first ascensionist. If taken to its extreme every route would become a boring ladder of holds positioned however we like. Just build an indoor wall it’s far easier!


Part of any extreme sport is about discovery, whether it’s finding a new wave to surf or a new couloir to ski down. For me at least, this aspect should always be out of our control and in the hands of nature, we didn’t put the rock and mountains there in the first place. On top of that climbing is a unique sport due to the very fact that rock is the closest thing to permanent that we can experience. With climbing, as long as there isn’t a rock fall or hold that breaks off you can always come back the next day or week or year and it’ll more or less be the same. Unlike other sports you can’t rely on your opponent changing their game or eventually making a mistake, it’s always the same. Again, if climbers just decided ‘this is too hard, lets carve a hold in here’, all that would be lost.


30 years ago, the idea of abseiling into a route and repeatedly practicing the crux moves over and over until it was dialled would have been met with the same outrage that Warren Harding faced in Yosemite.  But without today methods some of the most ridiculous and unbelievably difficult climbs may never been completed. It’s inevitable that in another 30 years climbers will look back a wonder what we were all thinking now, unless perhaps there’s some sort of zombie apocalypse or another comet hits us like the dinosaurs – whatever it is I’m sure Trump will have something to do with it. Maybe rock climbers will be the only humans to survive by climbing into caves on the cliffs.


I’m under no illusion there’s probably nothing concrete to be taken away from all this, probably best not to worry about it all and just go climbing.


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