Human Impact: Where no Hold has Gone Before
Most climbers favor the idea of cleaning a route, though many land managers don’t. There also are mixed feelings about firming up some existing holds with glue. But when it comes to modifying a natural cliff by gluing on some new holds -- that’s a good way to turn the U.S. climbing community into an angry mob of villagers with pitchforks and torches.
When this subject came under hot debate in the 1980s, it was clear that some proponents had good motivations. There would be an insurmountable blank section between two beautiful expanses of rock with climbable features. All that was needed for a five-star route, thought the eager route developer, were just a few holds to bridge the gap.
In one case a beautiful, clean, featureless roof sat in an obscure gulley at Smith Rock in Oregon until one route builder came along and bolted on a whole series of holds -- like the ones that bolt on in the climbing gym -- rendering the roof climbable. His defense was that no one went up there anyway, the roof was unclimbable, so we might as well get some use out of it. Needless to say, that wasn't popular with the rest of the locals.
There’s one major problem with the argument that "it's the only way it would every get climbed" -- it often turns out to be wrong. We’ve seen many lines that generations of climbers swore would never be climbed because they were too hard or too featureless, but then a new generation of stronger, better climbers comes along and conquers the route in good style, with no modifications or vandalism. The rock is never really "featureless." It's just a matter of how little a feature you are capable of pulling on. And some of the new generation of climbers can do some amazing things.
The climbing community in the United States has had very little tolerance for modifications of the natural cliff. Such holds were generally pulled off or unbolted. It’s not the same story in Europe, as we’ll see next time.