American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Freedom, With Boundaries

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Freedom, With Boundaries

The following is condensed from an opening address to the delegates of the Innsbruck Congress.

Tom Frost

During the golden age of Yosemite big wall climbing in the 1960s, we loved the movement, the beauty of the creation, and the depth of our companionship. Those El Cap climbs changed my life. They changed who I was.

The golden age was all about style. We did not have any concerns about regulations, over-use, worn out routes, topos, or public opinion. We were very mindful of the example of our pioneer predecessors, but we felt free to do as we saw fit.

El Cap in the 1960s was a blank page waiting to be written upon. But life always has two opposing views—and so it was in the beginning of the golden age. One view emerged which supported style and preservation. The motto was, “leave no trace.” These proponents believed, “It isn’t getting to the top that counts, it’s the way you do it.” This mentality shaped character. Climbing became an internal game. It was based on responsibility.

The opposing view was not about style or responsibility. Its foundation was entitlement. These climbers were not concerned about how they climbed, nor about the environment, or about future climbers. Getting to the top was the goal. Theirs was an external game.

The clean climbing revolution of the 1970s replaced the use of pitons with nuts, runners, and spring-loaded cams. This switch to clean climbing saved our cracks.

In the 1980s, the arrival of sport climbing opened climbing on previously unprotectable walls with the use of artificial protection. This type of climbing inflamed the existing conflict among climbers between “leave no trace” and “do what you want.”

The rise of gym climbing in the 1970s popularized the sport. Climbing no longer is an obscure sport done by a few, with makeshift equipment, in remote places. In 2002 climbing is big business, highly visible, extremely popular, diversified, unmanaged, and highly scrutinized. We are here today to address these issues.

We now live in a mobile, ravenous information age. This has afforded many with much, and greatly shrunk the world. It has created a subculture of wanna-bes, seeking instant gratification with little or no accountability. This group has invaded climbing. They act like unmanaged youth: I want it, I take it, I walk away from it, and there are no consequences.

To increase awareness we must become conversant with: The Problem, The Cause, The Solution, and The Implementation. The skills we need for this task, both during this conference and after the “Tyrol Declaration” is completed, are: Identification, Listening, Communication, Understanding, Education, Negotiation, and Respect. The groups we need to reach are these: All climbers of every type, land managers, governments, outdoor organizations, adventure-sport businesses, and environmentalists.

Crafting a document that outlines freedom governed by boundaries has always been a challenge. Yet, I believe this convention will find its way through the issues and present a set of guidelines that will stand as a firm foundation and ensure the continuation of climbing for generations.

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