Change of Seasons, Change of Mind

Fall is in full swing, and new routes are falling like frost-kissed leaves as cold conditions return to Northern Arizona.  With the vibrant and beautiful changing of the seasons, I’ve also made changes, specifically to my style of route development.

Jeff Snyder and Darren Mabe on The Green Knight, Volunteer Canyon AZ.  Photo Blake McCord

Jeff Snyder and Darren Mabe on The Green Knight, Volunteer Canyon AZ. Photo Blake McCord

In the past, I’ve put up routes completely for myself.  Lines that inspire me, rock that feels good to my skin, and movement that fits my body define my routes.  I climbed every route I could find with a minimum of fixed gear, placing bolts only when there was no gear at all to protect difficult climbing.  RP’s, horizontal sliders, two-lobe cams, I placed it and considered it an acceptable level of risk.

Joel Unema and Jeff Snyder on Pack Mentality, Volunteer Canyon AZ.  Photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema and Jeff Snyder on Pack Mentality, Volunteer Canyon AZ. Photo Blake McCord

While I was able to establish some difficult (for me) climbs relying on marginal gear, I always had the luxury of inspecting the route, cleaning holds and placements, and becoming intimately familiar with each finicky placement.

As another sending season rolls around, I look back at a set of incredibly fun climbs that are unrepeated and un-attempted (by anyone else or me).

Zach Harrison on Nightwalker, Volunteer Canyon AZ.  Photo Blake McCord

Zach Harrison on Nightwalker, Volunteer Canyon AZ. Photo Blake McCord

There’s a value to bold climbing, but leaving a slew of difficult-to-protect, potentially R-rated routes does considerably more to feed the ego than provide for the climbing community.

This season, I’ve begun sending new routes… my style… pushing myself physically and mentally on difficult moves over tricky, specific, and small gear, but adding a few bolts after the first ascent to make the climb more accessible and more fun!

I’ve found great support in most of the climbing community for this new style of development, but have received some criticism from a few.

Blake McCord on the FA of Seamingly Binary, Volunteer Canyon, AZ.  Photo Tamara Hastie

Blake McCord on the FA of Seamingly Binary, Volunteer Canyon, AZ. Photo Tamara Hastie

The support and criticisms have made me think about rock climbing and wonder;

What is the Point?

To me it boils down to personal challenge.  Climbing means so much to me because it confronts me with my own personal challenge.  I choose the level of difficulty and risk that I’m willing to open myself to, then rope up and find out what I’m capable of.

Joel Unema developing new rock in Northern Arizona.  Photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema developing new rock in Northern Arizona. Photo Blake McCord

Putting up routes with incredibly specific and tiny gear is the perfect challenge for me, but leaves climbs only a few are interested in trying.  I am seeking to leave routes appealing to more climbers by leaving the climbs in a state where they can be attempted on-sight by a capable gear climber with a modern rack.

Jeff Snyder on the Kraken, Whitetail Canyon, AZ.  Photo Blake McCord

Blake McCord on the Kraken, Whitetail Canyon, AZ. Photo Blake McCord

I will leave run-out sections with safe falls, and the climbs may demand small gear.

I won’t place a bolt near bomber gear, and I won’t leave climbs relying on a string of placements that *might* hold, even when placed perfectly.

Rock climbing is never safe, so I’m not intending to leave “safe” routes.  I intend to establish climbs with a quality of protection and level of risk in line with Northern Arizona standards that climbers are accustomed to.

The legacy I want to leave is one of contribution to the community, not an ego-driven set of run-out obscurities.

Joel Unema and Jeff Snyder on Pack Mentality, Volunteer Canyon AZ.  Photo Blake McCord

Joel Unema and Jeff Snyder on Pack Mentality, Volunteer Canyon AZ. Photo Blake McCord

I plan to gradually add bolts to a few of the routes I’ve established in the past, but leave a couple of true test-pieces without bolts.  There’s a place for R-rated routes, and a value in bold climbing, but I’d rather it be the exception than the norm.

Thanks to Blake McCord and Tamara Hastie for the great photos.  Thanks so much to Blake, Jeff Snyder, Dave Bloom, Darren Mabe, JJ Schlick, and Wade Forrest, among many others for developing great routes and inspiring me to be better.

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One thought on “Change of Seasons, Change of Mind

  1. Way to go. I saw a photo of Matt Segal trying a new route in China. He placed micro gear behind a thin flake and the flake broke when he fell. That was ego driven to the nth degree.

    I did the same on some FA’s I’ve done. I was desperate and hoping I really didn’t have to depend on the gear. Like you I thought about my friends to follow.

    Thanks for your concern for those who will follow. I wish more folks were as considerate.

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