Creator of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, Talks About The State of Climbing

Yvon Chouinard is one of the pioneers of rock climbing, both in America and worldwide. He spoke with Smithsonian

Yvon Chouinard

Magazine recently to discuss the state of rock climbing, and the state of the crags themselves. He cited a lack of respect for the rock and a general overload of climbers on rock climbing venues in Europe and the United States.

He did mention that there are untouched cliffs to be found in the world, if you have the intestinal fortitude (and cold-weather gear) to visit Antarctica.

What do you think about what he said? Is he just being nostalgic for the good old days or should climbers make an effort to be more respectful?

Today, hundreds of thousands of climbers scale walls around the world. I asked Chouinard if this—the growing popularity of climbing—is good for the world, good for people and maybe even good for the rock.

“It would be good because it’s getting people outdoors and into natural places,” he said—except that, inevitably, the Earth’s great walls have suffered. “Today, you go up a route that people climbed in the 1920s using hemp ropes and pitons, and there’ll be a bolt every 15 feet—and next to a crack. It’s really unfortunate.”

Modern climbing has become commercialized, too, and increasingly competitive. Sponsorships and financial motivation to break records or just gain glory may push climbers beyond their own limits. “And that,” Chouinard said, “can kill you.”

Long ago, Chouinard and his contemporaries committed themselves to an unofficial set of climbing ethics, which foremost mandate that a cliff be left as nature made it; for the next climber, so went the idea, there should be no evidence of a prior climber’s passage. “If you’re going up a route that’s been climbed without gear a thousand times and you’re putting bolts into the rock, you’re ruining the whole experience for the next person,” Chouinard explained. He cites what he calls the “manifest destiny idea, especially in Europe,” about “conquering the mountain and making it easier for the next person.” By such a process, Chouinard says, the magic is all but lost as cabins and cable cars are built on its slopes.

via Smithsonian Mag