Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cheating in Climbing

The interweb is abuzz recently with items that touch on the issues of cheating in climbing. Jamie Emerson started off with a post on steroids and then followed up with a discussion of Evil Backwards being altered and made easier than the V14 it started out as. Andrew Bisharat, in his post on "Climbers Who Cheat,"  asks the question 'Is dropping weight in order to succeed on a hard ascent “cheating”?' And so on...

While I would not make the argument that cheating doesn't exist in climbing, I wonder if these kinds of questions start being asked in earnest when the bird of inspiration has alighted on another tree so to speak. I am beginning to feel this is happening in climbing to some extent. Aspects of these "controversies" are all too reminiscent of the old days of sport climbing in the late 80s and 1990s when the default modes of suspicion and envy suppressed progress in climbing in the US to a shockingly obvious degree, especially relative to Europe.

The scene in Colorado can be remarkably supportive and beneficial to be part of. It can also be remarkably envious, divisive, and fractious at times. Standards tend to rise when the first situation is in effect. They tend to stagnate when the second one is operative. Ethical squabbles in particular distract from the real struggle which is finding and solving interesting and important challenges on the rocks. In the realm of bouldering, Colorado, over the past decade, saw a period of genuine inspiration and achievement, as Jamie Emerson has eloquently described in his new guide.  But that wave is now subsiding. The pickings are getting slimmer and farther apart and the scene is changing and evolving yet again. To see climbers obsessing over the fragments of the past or dissecting the finer points of "cheating" is dispiriting to say the least. It might be time to ask how we can move on instead of trying to scrape one more morsel from the carcass. Bisharat is correct in his essay when he argues "...the real meaning and purpose and spiritual fulfillment is found in the struggle, not in the ends." Choosing which struggle can be the hardest part.

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