It’s been interesting seeing the Farrletter debate rumbling on on UKC. Of course, there’s no real new ground being covered, and the usual sweeping statements and entrenched views (of which I’m probably just as guilty) but it’s interesting to see it being used as a proxy for a discussion about the general placement of bolts in Scotland. Of course it’s not quite the same, as Farrletter is about retro-bolting trad routes. With this and the long awaited publication of the SMC’s Scottish Sport Climbs guide it seems like the lid is being lifted on the lesser known Scottish sport crags, of which there are quite a few, and which I wouldn’t be surprised if some found a little controversial.
I definitely feel in the midst of an ethical quandary, and I’m starting to see how my own views have been shaped and might be different from others. I only started climbing in 2004, and spent my learning years climbing with members of Edinburgh Uni Mountaineering Club. As far as I was concerned it was all about trad, mountains, winter, exploration and dare I say it, danger. Sport climbing was dull, safe and convenient. With adventurous climbing you don’t have to be very good to still have amazing, challenging experiences. As time passed and I got a bit better I started to realise that sport climbing had a place. To me, easy sport is pretty boring unless it takes in stunning ground or covers funky rock formations, but battling hard on routes is great, and I’d probably list successful redpoints as some of my most rewarding climbing experiences. And let’s not forget, punters like me need easy sport routes to warm up on!
I’m realising this is a fairly out of date and idealistic view, but I still think trad should hold sway over sport. If a new crag is being developed, I’d like to think folk would try to get some trad lines out of it before deciding it’s too hard, too steep or too bold and firing up the drill. And if it is too hard/steep/bold, I’d like to think they’d have a quick think about what others might like to do – some folk love that stuff. I might be wrong, but I’ve got the feeling that in some circumstances it’s been a case of finders-keepers, with who-ever makes the first move dictating the future of a crag, rather than the result of an open discussion. Of course, as UKC shows us, an open discussion doesn't really lead anywhere. So perhaps we’re all screwed!
I can totally understand the other side of the fence: there are loads of quality established trad crags of all shapes and sizes and no-one is going to bolt them; if a crag hasn’t already been developed for trad, it’s probably for good reason; there’s clearly a growing demand for sport climbing. My only concern (being a tree-hugging hippy) is that all these arguments are based on current demands and fashions, rather than the potential long-term effects. Placing bolts is a pretty irreversible change to the nature of a crag, so my feeling is that it shouldn't be done lightly.
Finally, I’ll qualify all this by saying that I clearly don’t care enough either way as I’m neither involved in bolting or in chopping. I'm the worst kind of arse that'll happily clip your bolt but then write about it on the internet. I guess it would just be cool if those that are involved had a quick think about the wider effects of their actions before wielding the drill or chisel.
Right that was all a bit serious, I'm off bouldering.