Human impact: Glue is a Sticky Subject
We previously talked about cleaning routes, and the sometimes blurry line between fixing problems and creating them. What many climbers see as an improvement to a route, non-climbers sometimes see as vandalism. Even among climbers there has been debate about where to draw the line. One sticky situation involves glue.
In the 1980s, when the climbing community was sorting out what they thought was acceptable, a practice of using glue on holds arose.
When a route developer starts scoping out a section of cliff for a new route, there are always some features and lines that are more aesthetically pleasing, more dramatic, and just scream out to be climbed.
In checking them out, developers sometimes would find holds that were loose, creaky, broken, or on the verge of breaking off. Sometimes that feature was a vital link between sections of climbable terrain. So they busted out the two-part epoxy, rapped down the cliff, and gooed the stuff behind, under, and around the feature to fortify it against breaking. Sometimes they'd add some local sand or dust to the epoxy to help the color blend in, and successfully hide the glue job. Sometimes they wouldn't. You could see a big swab of glue, like a giant wad of bubble gum, from 100 feet away.
Sometimes you'd go climb on that feature and it would break off, leaving only the glue to grab on and climb. That happened on a couple of crucial holds on the famous 5.14c Just Do It at Smith Rock in Oregon, for a time the hardest route in America and still one of the most sought-after climbs in the world. Traces of glue are still part of that route.
The practice of fortifying with discrete glue has seen more acceptance in Europe. Even some Americans figure no harm is done if the hold was already there as part of the route, and the glue job isn't brazenly modifying or changing the natural resource. And if well-concealed glue makes for a stellar route, then so much the better.
But when climbers glued or bolted on a hold that wasn't present before, the U.S. climbing community screamed “foul.” We’ll explore that idea next time.