Articles - Beginners' Guide: Rock Climbing Ethics
Jamie Maddison - Posted on 16 Feb 2010
Preservation.Rocks are big, hard and generally unmoveable (unless you’re very unlucky). Consequently they tend to project quite a tough-man image; that nothing the climber can do is going to hurt it in any way. This sadly is not the case, and human beings can have quite a devastating cumulative effect on a given crag. Consequently the climbing world tries to follow several key rules to help maintain our rock environments in conditions we ourselves would like to climb them in:
No Chipping – On no account must a climber ever attempt to chip, or in any way create an artificial hold on rock (one that was not there before). Not only does it leave hideously obvious scars on the cliff face, it also ruins the challenge for those of greater ability.
No Gardening – No trimming or removing of indigenous vegetation, as a considerable number of cliff faces contain rare species of flora.
(A group of climbers preparing an abseil whilst enjoying their beautiful surroundings)
Access to such special areas can often be won or lost depending on how climbers treat such precious environments.
Taking Litter Home – A pretty self-explanatory rule to help keep our climbing environments clean, enjoyable places to return to.
The Style of Ascent.The other section of climbing ethics revolves around what one considers to be a ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ ascent. A rock can be climbed in many different ways by many different people. Some climbers may for instance get to the top only after a prolonged rest on their gear, whilst others manage the whole climb without any rests at all. If there were no guidelines or ethics in climbing, both ascents would be considered of equal worth, which would be an obvious injustice to the skill of the second climber.
Climbing styles then, are like the rules of team sports; they establish the boundaries and restrictions that make the game fun in the first place. Below is a basic list of the main types of climbing styles:
The Clean Ascent – An ascent is considered ‘clean’ if the climber manages to get from the bottom of the rock to the top under their own power, without resorting to any form of aid (i.e resting on the rope, pulling on gear or climbing up the rope).
Lead - It is generally considered a more impressive ascent if the climber manages the route without the security of an overhead rope. This is because the leader has to cope with considerably more mental pressure concerning run outs, falls and possible injury, as well as the added physical strain of placing gear.
Seconded/Top Roped - Considered less impressive than a lead due to the physical security of the rope. On a top-rope one can thus perform moves you would otherwise never dare to do if you were on lead. This is not to say all top-rope or seconded ascents are meaningless. Indeed, some audaciously difficult routes have been considered complete by a top rope ascent (For example, Chimaera on Southern Sandstone).
Onsight/Redpoint – This refers to how the route was climbed; an onsight is where the attempter has never climbed the problem before and has no previous knowledge of the moves. It is considered the purest form of ascent. Redpointing by contrast is where the moves are worked, either by a previous attempt or by specific practice of certain sequences on the climb.
Dogged – Least impressive is the dogged ascent. A ‘dog’ refers to any artificial rest (i.e on gear), the use of placements to aid upward progress, or a fall taken by the climber. If any of the above happen, climbing style dictates that the route has to be relead from the beginning to count as a clean ascent.
(Dave Roberts taking a rest on Superdirect (E1 5c) at Little Tor, The Gower)
If you have any questions or queries about the vast complexities of climbing ethics and styles, why not put a post up on our forum pages?