The Black Bean

I’ve been fighting a head cold this week: just enough to make me tired, but not enough to not be bored in the process of resting. So, in no small part inspired by the comments earlier this week, I’ve been watching a lot of climbing videos.

This is a good one.

Be sure to stick with it to see the huge whipper at the very end. Petit was one of the leading sport climbers in the early 90s, and it’s neat to see him, at age 40, coming around to pursue the more holistic, mental side of climbing.

It’s also rewarding to see high-level trad being practiced on limestone. In the 90s and oughts, it seemed like the trad and sport debate had reached a point of equilibrium, with rock type (linked inextricably to the heritage of the area) dictating the approach. Trad was the law of the land on crack systems, and on face routes where the rock lent itself to horizontal breaks (Gunks, Looking Glass in NC, T-Wall). Most limestone and many sandstone areas seemed to be bolted as a matter of course. There’s an argument to be made, though not I still think a very good one, for entirely bolting routes which would otherwise take only a few pieces of gear. This was widespread at areas like the New and Red River Gorges. I also got a surprisingly amount of pushback at the Red for several all-trad face first ascents, and some older routes in the same genre I climbed and subsequently recommended. Some folks didn’t see the point in turning what could be a bolted 5.8 into a tough 5.10 R just because it could be climbed on gear (hunting out which pockets would take a bomber cam on the onsight caused the grade bump, I can recall a few 60 foot routes which took an hour to lead ground up). By the time I moved to Iowa for college I had largely given up proselytizing, and contented myself with climbing many of the routes at Iowas small limestone crags on gear, from fully bolted routes at Wild Iowa to obscure ground up first ascents at Pictured Rocks and Palisades-Kepler. It never occurred to most climbers that you could get good gear on that rock, and in the view of the majority limestone climbing continued to equal sport climbing, only.

Which is why it’s great to see one of the standard bearers at the height of sport climbing leading the charge to trad climb a hard route in the single most iconic sport crag on the planet. And even better to see him speculate, albeit briefly, about what it would have been like had the first ascentionists not defaulted to bolts with no apparent self-examination. Anyone who has done first ascents at popular areas knows, or should know, that there contributions are enduring, and that laziness can have a lasting impact.

It is also worth recalling that Verm, way back in 1995, had it right.

2 responses to “The Black Bean”

  1. Dave,

    If you are dusting off the cams this summer, you might as well take them to some of the finest granite in North America and it’s less than 4 hours from your house… the Bugaboos. The Bugs are easily one of the most beautiful big wall/alpine areas anywhere. To think what Conrad Kain pulled off 100 years ago up there is amazing. Just make sure you get there before September as the weather turns for the worse, Patagonia style. Spent nearly five straight days in a tent while slush fell ceaselessly from the sky.

    Have fun,


  2. His movements are incredibly smooth and precise. It is like watching Ryan Leach ride. It almost seems completely choreographed, but how could he remember so many moves in sequence, and how would you practice them?

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