Category Archives: Definitions

Climbing Ethics: Chipped, Hammered, and Bolted

From philosophical discussions to bolt-chopping wars, there are as many opinions about climbing ethics as there are climbers. While climbing in Yosemite last week, I had a realization that complicated my beliefs about climbing ethics. The old stone masters worked hard to establish one of the most iconic climbing areas in the world, but by today’s standards they would likely be met with criticism for altering routes all over Yosemite Valley. Standing on EL Cap Tower, I felt as far away from the everyday world as if I were standing on the moon. However, without the piton scars, bolts, and fixed equipment we used, I could not imagine how I could have arrived at such an amazing place. I owe tremendous gratitude to Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, and George Whitmore, who spent 47 days nailing their way up The Nose, using “seige tactics” to progress up the wall, setting fixed ropes and camps all the way to the summit. Without their assault on El Cap, it would not be possible for modern day climbers to dispatch the route in such short periods of time (from a few days to a few hours). The luxury of clean aid and free climbing … Continue reading

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Pothole Escapes: An Introduction

I recently ran across this highly illustrative portrait of a pothole escape from a Lake Powell canyon in Spring 2009, and I thought it a good example of this infamous canyon character, the Pothole. Potholes have a grand reputation in canyoneering for being some of the most intimidating and diabolical characters around. Back when Imlay and Heaps were scary, don’t-go-there canyons, tales of the freezing, dark, unknown potholes left many canyoneers (including me) more than nervous to go see for themselves. So… what exactly IS a pothole? As seen here, a pothole is basically a big hole in a canyon, drilled out to large proportions by gritty water over hundreds of years. In this particular case, the pothole is about 15 feet deep and perhaps 20 feet in diameter. Because the walls are very to completely smooth, it is typically impossible to climb your way out, leaving your creativity to overcome what brute strength and agility cannot. And thus comes forth the barrage of tricks: pack tosses, sand bags, partner hoists, stick clips, and other techniques ranging from medieval to genius. All the tricks and tools have one simple goal – getting out of the hole safely and efficiently. In … Continue reading

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