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Opinion: Not Retro-Bolting Is Irresponsible. A Doctor Sounds Off.

To leave a poorly protected, dangerous line without simple updates ... is sort of like saying we shouldn't fix poorly designed roads or traffic intersections.

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Editors’s note: The following is a reader’s opinion, and is not endorsed by Climbing. We welcome ideas for submissions with the goal of offering readers a robust mix of positions from outside Climbing. Please submit opinion queries to queries@climbing.com.

Regarding your article,Retro-Bolt Snake Dike? Peter Croft, John Long Think So, Others Debate“:

To claim that a first ascensionist has the rights to direct the safety and accessibility of a line on a cliff or a boulder in perpetuity—even beyond death—is just absurd.  Did the first ascensionist create the rock?  HE had nothing to do with it.  Note, I use the word “HE” with intent, because all of your panelists are men.  Sure, they far outweigh women in the history of climbing.  But history is just that: “history.”  And if we cannot adapt the “rules of the game” as times change, then, well, we are simply stuck in the past.  Anachronistic machismo unfortunately permeates this entire discussion.  No panelist here represents the counter-arguments.  A female perspective-or even a younger male voice—would be beneficial.

To not attempt to mitigate risks with simple interventions simply because there are other unmitigable risks, like rock fall, as Takeda mentions, really makes no sense. It is just plain stupid.

Furthermore, there are contradictions throughout the piece.  Those involved want to keep ridiculously unsafe routes protected “as is” but they simultaneously support the creation of well-protected climbs moving forward.  They all love the “plaisir climbs,” because, well, who wouldn’t?  Why not add bolts to Snake Dike painted a different color so that one can choose not to clip them if they want the “thrill” of the first ascensionists’ style?  To leave a poorly protected, dangerous line without simple updates that would be stupid-easy to add—and that could save lives and limbs and thousands of dollars in rescue money —is sort of like saying we shouldn’t fix poorly designed roads or traffic intersections.

Just let those who are not paying attention pay the price, they say.  Well as a physician-climber, I don’t want to be the duty-driven first responder who has to help rescue these injured climbers when I am simply out enjoying a day of climbing.  Think about things from a public health perspective for a minute.  To not attempt to mitigate risks with simple interventions simply because there are other unmitigable risks, like rock fall, as Takeda mentions, really makes no sense.  It is just plain stupid.

Also Read

Dr. Sam Miller: “As a physician-climber, I don’t want to be the duty-driven first responder who has to help rescue these injured climbers when I am simply out enjoying a day of climbing.”

You may argue: people shouldn’t get on said line if they can’t take the heat.  But as Croft mentions, guidebooks and even Mountain Project comments, as detailed as they can be, often fail to tell the full truth. I for one have been subject to the unfortunate folly of getting on the five star 5.10 in a new area only to find that it really is 5.11+/12- (due to grade inflation), horribly protected, and has death fall potential 30 feet above a boulder field.  Sure, there is a thrill involved.  Yes, I have avoided injury and have still sent the route.  Admittedly, it feels like an even higher accomplishment because of the danger factor.  But do I ever climb these climbs twice?  Do I recommend them to others I care about?  Do I support this practice, in general?  Absolutely not.  That is irresponsible, machismo-driven thinking.

Have a considered counterpoint? Send your comments to queries@climbing.com. Comments may be edited for clarity and brevity.