The revolution failed!
Published in Desnivel #300, June 2011
Up on a mountain, life becomes real and timeless. While you try to figure out how you’ll make the next move, the rest of the world drops away and you experience the raw intensity of the moment. Sometimes I wonder if modern climbers still have time to live in such a timeless fashion...
What we see today is far from the idealized world of a few outsiders and adventurers pursuing their dreams. Climbing has instead evolved to become a trendy sport, and modern climbers seek public success and sponsorship contracts instead of philosophic inspiration. This new business-oriented evolution has led to superficial competitive thinking, and everybody runs and jumps from record to record, ultimately getting nowhere. Nobody seems to realize that too many records sooner or later become meaningless and boring. The question is, do money and public acclaim justify every last thing, even the selling out of our unique world, of our freedom to be ourselves?
In my early days, climbing meant being young, wild, and free. My climbing world was something like a parallel universe—a universe of freedom, of self-discovery, meditation, and transformation. The sport’s deep spiritual aspects took precedence over narrow-minded competitive thinking. My search for intense moments has always been a personal challenge to myself, and I lived each day following spontaneous decisions. It was important to move beyond established concepts and be different, reinventing how we climbed. Exploring new routes without bolts or aid was the true path, the logical evolution. But only a handful climbers were open-minded enough to align with this concept.
Then the new sport-climbing movement spread across Europe, transforming climbing into a mass activity thanks to the elimination of risk. One positive result was that it finally brought a clear definition of free climbing. At this point I strongly believed that super-hard routes with minimal protection would be the next logical step in the mountains. But things happened otherwise: The new sport-climbing mentality did not improve style in mountain climbing, as I had expected. On the contrary, it justified anew the use of bolts! The new sport-oriented climbers didn’t strive for the best possible style, but instead for the highest possible grades at the cost of style. After all these years the establishment still rules. The revolution has failed!
My impression is that society's "value grid" has changed. Competitiveness, which you describe here so clearly, often implies that the goal is not experience itself, but how that experience compares to others. Along with this comes "story telling", whereas the goal is the telling of the experience and not the experience. Clearly both competitiveness and story telling have been part of human experience since ancient times but today, because of the immediacy with which technology allows us to share anything we do, they are present as the experience happens in a much clearer and distinct way.
This change of priorities appears to have resulted in lesser appreciation for the present moment, with climbing often becoming an activity driven by ulterior motives. It is as if the experience of a moment could not possibly be worthy all by itself, needing to conceal extrinsic reasons either in the form of competition or story telling to be meritorious.
Perhaps I am naive to think that this is a modern problem, and likely it is something that dates as far back as the concept of "self", but clearly technology, because of how easily we can share what we do, has exacerbated it.
I certainly don't think I am immune to this, but undoubtedly I remember my happiest climbing moments as those that were lived with no ulterior motives in mind.
I read Your commentaries with interest. Though I did lots of not bolted, sometimes not at all protected ice- rock and mixed climbs I was happy about the one or other bolt in some routes of the Bolivian Andes (were I live). In the sports climbing areas of La Paz I see exactly the competitive, from time to time narrow minded aspects You described every time I go there. Going out into the Andes with its wild, challenging places far beyond every days life is indeed a separate reality. But the training for hard routes in the Andes takes place on bolted sport- routes with competitive character. I think it should be possible to accept both. I got bitten in the hand by a dog in a La Paz- sports climbing place yesterday, I have to pay for climbing since sports climbing recently became highly popular there. It s hard for me to accept those things that don t fit in my understanding of climbing- I m trying though, because other people think different about climbing than I do. These are the aspects and limitations free spirits have to live with when climbing becomes more popular! It s possible to deal with it (which is not the same than I totally agree with certain things!).
Best wishes from Bolivia
schöne Seite von dir. Schöne Fotos. Kann dir nur beipflichten, alles was deine Ansichten betrifft. Kommerz beim Klettern etc. Hoffe die Zeit bringt die alten Werte wieder zurück. Walter Bonatti
hatte Recht. Hoffe ich komme diesen Sommer an die Marmolada !
tolle Seite, tolle Aufnahmen.
Du hast schon recht mit deinen kritischen Aussagen.
Ich beneide niemanden um seine (ihre) 9a-Route, aber ich beneide euch um eure geile Zeit.