Saturday, 12 November 2016

A matter of values.

There was another minor retro-bolting debacle at Ratho Quarry. Ho hum. I didn't even notice it until B pointed it out during a mutual sieging session on the notoriously addictive grey stamina circuit at TCA, and once I did, I didn't feel it enriched my life in any way. Basically Buz put up a new 7b or c or something up an old Robbie Philips / Lincoln / Small project that included two bolts in an old, starred E3, and an "enhanced" hold. There are many things to say about this of varying lack of interest, such as Smally popping his head out of his dark horse's stable to condemn the matter, Buz once again thinking he could get away with it by not having any public consultation and present it as a fait d'accompli, and the usual myopic morons (and an off-target McGeek) throwing a spanner into the works with such red herrings as dismissing anti-retro-bolting concerns because apparently approving a lower-off on Pettifar's Wall to avoid the grim and created-by-the-M8 extension earth cornice is "hypocritical". What, as hypocritical as abseil points at the Cromlech, Martin Crocker suggesting pre-placed belay ropes in the Rhinnogs, an abseil chain at Sharpnose, recommended pre-placed belay ropes at Carn Gowla, bolt lowers before the unclimbable shale band at Anglezarke?? It takes a special kind of fucking imbecile to think that lower-offs are incompatible with trad climbing, but the Scottish sport climbing scene seems to attracts such idiots like flies around dogshit.

The upshot of it all is that - ignoring the chipped hold / heavily cleaned break for now, something probably quite similar to the ""heavily cleaned"" holds on John McCain F6b (I'm quite proud of my UKC factual analysis "If you want man-made routes, the ones inside the arena are usually better") - it boils down to one bolt that should have been placed 2' to one side, making the 7c a bit more run out on 6b ground and the bolt suitably off-route for the E3, something which is quite bloody obvious and would have avoided all the fuss if Buz had actually bothered to consult a selection of the climbing public rather than just Ratho Wall regulars. SIGH.

What is of more interest is discussing this with Craig on a trip over to inspect the nonsense, get rained off, and enjoy those man-made routes inside the arena (a particularly nice red 7a with slopers). He - possibly with his mind addled by the ominous and imminent onset of "Scottish Winter Season" - whilst not supporting retro-bolting, expressed a more relaxed attitude to the ethics of the situation because (forgive me Craig if I paraphrase this wrong) "they are just grotty quarries and local training crags". Obviously this is fallacious reasoning as a reductio ad absurdum would see Master's Edge etc bolted, but his further explanation was that size, grandeur and the beauty of the mountain environment are what he truly values in rock climbing, and even I am forced to admit that for all their 3 star qualities, Shear Fear and Wally 1 don't really have those.

This highlights an interesting difference in values. The ethical side isn't of much debate - good trad climbs are good trad climbs and shouldn't be fucked with without a lot of due consideration and consultation. But what makes climbs really mean something to someone?? Ben Moon or was it Malc "didn't climb to be in beautiful places", and I don't either. I climb to have beautiful trad experiences and that can be finally committing above the skyhooks and RPs on crisp dolerite edges in the mid-December sun on Wally 2, despite being sandwiched in by the monstrous fire escape, the EICA arena, and the distant hum of the M8, or it can be slotting in the next satisfying jam (#16 in a series of 40) on the soaring Whispering Crack, alone with PJ, the mid-summer sun and the endless serenity of the ocean and distant Hebrides. Of course, I like beautiful places, but the main value of my rock-climbing doesn't depend on that, it depends on the intrinsic quality of the climbs themselves, and the surroundings are an enhancement.

Similarly, for me size isn't everything. According to some people you "can't have 3 star boulder problems". Funny that, I thought I'd done hundreds of them (including a couple of national class problems in a grotty local training quarry). At once extreme, climbing is still just Training For The Greater Ranges, the bigger and grander the better, irrespective of the actual climbing qualities of the climb. At the other extreme, climbing is now just cross-training for the Beastmaker and it all boils down to the move, the challenge, the incremental progression. I'm somewhere in-between, but I do errrr towards the joy of movement and technicality and the quality of the climb rather than the setting, context, history etc. So yes, Wally 1 is brilliant whether it's in Ratho or Reiff, the laybacking on Shear Fear is great 10m above a quarry floor or 100m above a mountain hillside, Nijinski is as unjustifiable to ruin by top-roping adjacent to a carpark as it would be high on a Yorkshire moor - these experiences all have value.

Of course, by Craig's values, stricter ethics should apply to the mountains and wilderness and presumably Tunnel Wall and Creag Nan Cadhag and the wee crag beyond Ardmair should be de-bolted. Coel already advocated that for Creag Nan Cadhag, and they may have a point - not necessarily one I agree with, but it's always nice to have people taking stronger ethical stances, maybe doing so will keep the Ratho-style nonsense at bay.

 A very trad climb with a bolted lower-off in a grotty quarry.
A convenient bolted sport climb in a wild beautiful environment.

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