Recently there was a post on B3 Bouldering titled The Ethics of Development which discussed the recent (re)discovery of a bouldering area near the summit of Mount Evans. Jon Glassberg and others have been climbing there and in a manner similar to what happened at, well just about every Colorado alpine bouldering area (re)discovered in the past 10 years, found some new problems, gave the place a new name, made some video, etc. and gave bored climbers in the Boulder area something "new" to discuss. A tweak on this iteration is that Jon Glassberg and Jordan Shipman are making a little film about this area and included a series of interviews with local climbers (myself included) about the issue of secret areas and whether they should be shared with a larger community.
Now in case my segment winds up on the cutting room floor, I would summarize my remarks as follows; that primarily "developers" should respect the natural (especially biological) community above everything else, that they should respect the rules in place on any public land, and that they should stay away from private land unless they can negotiate with a landowner for access. The rest of the petty drama, discussed at excruciating length in Jamie's post, was in my view mostly meaningless chatter. And recently another episode that happened recently underlines this even more.
Monique Forestier, an Australian climber was working on what looks like an excellent crack climb (she writes about it on her blog) when she was beaten to the first ascent by another climber Zac Vertrees, something she was upset enough to complain about on her blog. Apparently because she had invested time in cleaning the crack and there was even a piton at the base with a tag (!) to mark, well what, exactly? Apparently it's regarded in Australia as customary to tag a natural crack line because I have never heard of such a thing in the US or anywhere else. While it may be courteous to respect another climber's efforts on a route, especially if she found the line herself and bolted it, that doesn't appear to be the case here, and I am not sure that cleaning a crack is quite the same.
I am sure there is more back story to this and whether that will emerge in due course is neither here nor there. What is interesting to me is the possibility that really, we need to have a discussion about first ascents and whether they matter anymore. I am more and more convinced they do not. At the highest levels of the sport, it seems clear that it is actually a safer bet for publicity purposes to do a fast repeat of a known quantity than a drawn-out siege of a new problem or route since the former is seen as measurable and the latter could be anything. Then there is the problematic notion of the first ascent with the arrival of sport climbing where installing a route for sure took a lot of work and money but in the end did it really matter who redpointed it first?
I think it is abundantly obvious that for most rock formations out there, some way exists to climb them, especially if you install bolts. If it's a crack it is going to go free, if there are holds of any kind, they will be connected. We really have reached that point in climbing where, if an FA is going to mean anything, there will have to be rules attached to sort out who "deserves" to do it, rules such as ground-up free, no bolts, etc, that we jettisoned back in the late 1980s and for good reason.
Maybe it is time to abandon not just the rules but the entire idea of the first ascent as an obsolete holdover when climbing emerged from mountaineering's own imperialist origins. Instead can we focus on making climbing areas sustainable and respectful of the natural environment and surrounding ecosystem? That was a remarkably absent topic in the B3 post, making it seem as though all that mattered in "developing" an area was that all the names got spelled right. Climbing is not about possession anymore. We need to liberate ourselves from this notion and figure out new ways of giving credit where credit is due. The two recent debates I mentioned above indicate that time may be far off in the future.