The most recent controversy to emerge is David Lama's return to Cerro Torre. Having already run into a hornet's nest of controversy regarding the placement of bolts and leaving equipment on the mountain, Lama still wants (needs?) to finish his free ascent of the Compressor Route. Having pledged to avoid the excesses of the first trip, he has now announced that if necessary he will get to the summit and rappel down to place any needed gear. This is according to Colin Haley's excellent blog post on the topic.
Naturally, given such a controversial backstory, this latest move has even spawned an online petition, with over 800 signatures at last count, urging Lama's sponsors to "Stop their Support of his Bolting Actions on Cerro Torre."
At some point I am wondering when somebody, besides myself, is going to see that the nub of the controversy is not Lama's alleged intention to "rap-bolt" Cerro Torre. After all suppose he aided up and put in the bolts on lead? This distinction was not enough for some in California in the early 80s who chided John Bachar for using hooks to put in the bolts on the Bachar-Yerian instead of from non-aid drilling stances. No the Lama spectacle is about something else.
It seems to me that there is an instinctual understanding out there that we are truly at the end of the frontier phase of climbing. Not everything has been climbed, but now everything can be climbed. It is not the murder of the impossible as Messner puts it but more like Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols. The belief in the "shining mountain," to borrow Pete Boardman's phrase is no longer sustainable, or at least not in the current context of late-phase alpinism. I think there is a kind of despair out there at the recognition of the truth of this.
Do I think Lama is behaving appropriately? Not particularly. But I think the whole project of a "free ascent" of an immense wind-buffeted rime-encrusted spire seems petty and media-driven in the first place. What is missing is not adventure but purpose. We are at the saturation point, squeezing what we can out of the most spectacular walls and summits while we can. What does a "first ascent" mean when anything can be climbed, even by so-called "fair means?" That is a debate that successive generations will have to deal with in real terms, not merely hypothetical ones. It is the legacy the present is leaving to the future.