"Segal Extols Traditional Ethics in Boulder Canyon" is the headline at Alpinist.com today as Matt Segal did the second free ascent of China Doll (13d/14a) in Dream Canyon. Not sure why this is noteworthy at this point but the last part of the article runs as follows:
"An ethical question that has emerged for Segal after traditionally freeing sport cracks is the removal of bolts. One day while Segal was working China Doll, Bob Horan, the original route's first ascensionist, was cragging in the area. They discussed chopping the bolts, and Horan agreed with Segal that they should be removed. Horan described how he had started working the route on traditional gear but later decided more people would climb it if he drilled bolts. Neither Horan nor Segal has immediate plans to chop China Doll's bolts, but both believe that doing so would speak a strong message to future generations: bolting cracks is unnecessary."
Well... it would certainly send (speak?) a message of some kind which I'm guessing is if somebody, for whatever reason, maybe even working a route on toprope to wire the moves and gear, decides they have a different vision of what constitutes hard or dangerous climbing but doesn't have the vision to find their own climb to express it on, well they can vandalize a climb that is already established.
The Alpinist has long lauded traditional climbing over sport climbing and fair enough but to include a little note that appears to justify bolt removal is crossing the line from reportage to activism. Rock and Ice, perhaps trying to attract viewers to its remarkably weak website, even has a poll on the topic in their Forum section. Will we be reading soon about the route-that-should-be-chopped-of-the-month? And maybe the land managers will be interested in the revival of an old (and tired) controversy and close the canyon down to climbing for a while. Maybe...
It seems clear that many routes in Dream Canyon or Boulder Canyon in general could be top-roped first and then led clean or even led ground-up clean. But so what? And if removing hardware sends a message who is it being sent to exactly? There is not exactly a host of China Doll quality steep cracks waiting to be bolted in the canyon. Or anywhere else on the Front Range for that matter. Horan bolted the pitch because at the time he felt it was too hard and poorly protected to lead safely ground-up on gear and for most climbers it will always stay that way.
So congratulations to everyone who has bypassed the bolts on China Doll. Now it's time to stop picking through the scraps of the past and find an original climb that really sends a message about what it takes to be a great climber. It has been quite a while since that has happened along the Front Range. Tommy Caldwell's The Honeymoon's Over on the Diamond is a good benchmark from, oh, 2001 and still unrepeated... That's a second ascent that's been waiting a while. And by the way, there are a few bolts on it too. Are they really necessary? Any takers?