Thursday, 12 September 2013

Positive / Negative

Recently I have been involved in a colossal UKC debate on retro-bolting established trad routes in Ratho Quarry, without any warning, consultation nor attempt to make them more climbable as trad routes:

I have generally avoided arguments, discussions, bitching and trolling on UKC for a long time now, so stepping back into the pit has been a bit of a shock.

I'm not sure how much detail I need to go into here as the principles of UK climbing heritage and a trad / sport climbing balance are as blindingly obvious as the pro-uncontested-retro-bolting arguments are fallacious. Normally the whole "try to convince people on a forum the sky is blue and water is wet" interaction is something I'd get bored with a lot quicker, but in this case there is something personal at stake:

See the crosses next to the routes? 
1 cross is "quite like to climb it"
 2 crosses is "definitely want to climb it"

Having climbed Wally 3 a couple of years ago, I looked a few metres to the right, saw Wally 2, got inspired and fully intended to lead it at some point. Of course I kinda got a bit distracted with going to Skye and Glen Nevis and Creag Dubh and Dunkeld and the Aberdeen coast and Caithness and Gairloch and Reiff and Ardmair and Sheigra and Orkney and somehow didn't retain such a devoted focus on Central Belt quarries, preferring to leave them for a shorter day at some unspecified time in the future (having no idea there was a retro-bolting threat).

Then it's retro-bolted, then my inspiration is denied, then I look closer at the issues at stake and responses presented, and start to take the issue a lot more seriously - because it's not just about my personal inspirations, it's about the whole issue of retro-bolting and sport impinging on trad - and get involved in the "discussion". I'd never been convinced by the "thin end of the wedge" argument, but here it was, actually occurring, getting incrementally thicker as the bolts spread from new sport routes to "dirty" trad routes to "bold" trad routes, to things I wanted to fucking CLIMB.

And therein lies what I am posting about, the dichotomy. Climbing, the activity and the community, the purity of the rock and the incomprehensibility of some of the people.

Being involved in this furore has been often a fairly NEGATIVE experience. I have been arguing vigorously, partly because I strongly believe in the principles I am standing up for, and partly because, of course, SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET. Quite a lot of people are wrong actually, but the negativity doesn't come from that alone - because some of the "other side" are engaging in intelligent and balanced debate - but from related nonsense, such as:

  • Blind acceptance of retro-bolting without any engaging in the issues at stake.
  • Persistent ignoring of arguments and blatant twisting of people's posts.
  • Obvious pointless trolling with later pretences at being seriously involved.
  • Lies about what climbing people claim to do and other people's motivations.
  • Persistent personal insults and snide jibes instead of proper discussion.
All of this of course only serves to weaken the pro-retro-bolting case, and make me more determined to persist against it, and more hostile to some of the people involved. Having one's determination strengthened is good, but not when it's catalysed by negativity - I feel like Ken bloody Wilson, but not even I am quite *that* belligerent. Then again, there is progress, with one route repaired and two to go.

A positive result after some negative interactions

At the same time I have been fortunate enough to get out a fair bit to a variety of crags and had POSITIVE experiences of hanging out with some cool people (a mix of relaxed climbers and hardcore veterans, all of whom - PJ, GR, NM, TF, RD, IS, AM - acknowledge the pressures of sport climbing popularity whilst rejecting uncontested retro-bolting) and simply climbing at:

  • Little O Wall - very cool new trad crag at Aberdeen. Could have been bolted but it's obviously trad suitable so it wasn't and has been a hotbed of mid-grade trad activity.
  • Brin Rock - having done the good trad and excellent bouldering here, I had an exciting day pushing myself on the sport.
  • The Mound - nice little sport-climbing stop off en-route to Thurso, in an area of cool conglomerate crags.
  • Yesnaby -great Reiff-esque sea-cliff trad, amenable but intense.
  • Old Man Of Hoy - proper rambly rubbly adventure with more fixed gear and most sport crags.
  • Moy Rock - an even better sport climbing stop off en-route back. What a great mid-grade crag this is, just feels so nice pottering and pebble-pulling there.
  • Ratho Quarry - got straight on one of the old but now-cleaned trad routes as soon as it was rightly debolted. Really enjoyable climbing the whole way.
  • Cambusbarron - got on some harder challenges at another Central Belt dolerite quarry. No threat of retro-bolts here yet, just ace trad.

A purely positive experience of a cool trad route

And that is something that gets lost in this. We're all climbers, doing something we love - well, I bloody well hope so, *I* certainly am. I don't want to argue, I don't want to see routes trashed, I don't want any of the hostile bullshit. I just want to keep enjoying climbing....but then again that is why I'm arguing, I'm arguing for that positive experience of climbing as it now stands in Scotland and the UK, without it getting spoilt by changing unduly without balance and perspective.

Off to Ratho wall soon, to go training...

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