"Modes of Ascent"
-- <excerpted from the book "Face Climbing" by John Long>
Prior to around 1975, there was only one way to climb. There were
rare exceptions, but normally, you scaled the route on your first or
second try. If you couldn't make it and were a real hardhead, you'd
give it a couple more tries. Otherwise, you rapped off and came back
when you were feeling stronger. Flashing a route is still the preferred
mode- that is, walking up to a route you have never seen before,
putting on the rack and leading to the top, placing all the pro and not
resorting to shenanigan. But this mode is an impossible and
impractical one for the really "gruesome" climbs. When the
inconceivably hard climbs first were bagged, climbers were forced to
start "working" the route, spending days, even weeks, falling up the
cliff. Yet, even these days when anything goes, an ascent is not
considered "free" until the climber can scale the route, bottom to top,
without falling. sounds like a black-and-white affair doesn't it? In
practice, however, the means by which a climber eventually leads the
pitch may involve the most dazzling chicanery. That acknowledged, a
loose set of terms have evolved that explain exactly what means were
used. Even the most ardent "hangdogger" won't argue that the means can
make all the difference!
Look at it this way. I have a Japanese friend named Otani, who is
one of the world's great adventurers. I first me him on the North Pole
in 1989. If you peruse the logbook of the Polar Adventurers, you'll
see both our names, alongside the names of 80 other hale folk who've
made it to the top of the world. At a glance, our credentials would
appear the same, for Otani and I have both gained the pole at virtually
the same time. The fact is, however, that I flew most of the way
there, then cruised the last miles on a 100 horsepower snowmobile,
smoking cigars and drinking Auavit. Otani had just spent the longest
two months of his life battling northward bull-*** 15 wayward
curs, fleeing polar bears with gnashing teeth, braving melting ice,
vicious storms and thin rations. So, you see, the means by which we
both got to latitude zero tells two real, but separate tales - one of
a remarkable adventurer, the other of a ringer who thieved his way onto
the pole and into the logbook. The same disparities apply to many of
the new-wave face climbs as well. What's important is how the climber
went about his business.
Note that, while the end has often come to justify the means of
ascent, the closer a climber comes to justify the means of ascent, the
closer a climber comes to realizing the OLD ethics - to performing the
on-sight flash - the more celebrated his/her effort is considered. So
it's safe to say that the mode of ascent will remain important to
climbers, as it should.
Russ Walling and I put our heads together and came up with the
following thoughts on the various modes of ascent:
Definition of Terms:
Onsight Free Solo:
Angus McGillicuddy has never been to Mt. Hogwash. Walking along
the base, Angus spots a line of bolts up an overhanging schist
intrusion. He fancies the look of the route, laces up his boots, blows
his nose, chalks up and gapes at several girls from the Swedish Sport
Climbing Team, who are limbering up and changing into bright-colored
lycra tights. Psyched, Angus winks, spits into his palms, then solos
up the schist intrusion.
Angus has been to Mt. Roughage several times. On two occasions,
he's climbed the "Watercloset", a difficult route that follows a basalt
intrusion via chancy dynamics. Angus has it in his mind to solo the
"Watercloset". Now at the base, he laces up, touches his toes, exhales
hard, then solos the route.
Angus has been coming to Mt. Peatmoss for 11 years. He's lead
"Compost" 50 times, toproped it 70 times, and also on a toprope, has
worked the crux bit over and over till he knows it better that the hair
on his palms. Now he plans to solo "Compost", an intricate razor job
up a monzonite intrusion. At the base, he flexes his guns, flexes his
back, flexes his loins, jumps onto "Compost" and solos it in six
Onsight Flash or a Vue:
Angus has never been to Mt. Basura. One route, "The Offal", takes a
loose line up a steep albeit trashy intrusion. Angus racks up and
leads "The Offal" straight off, placing all the gear. He takes no
falls, nor a single rest on the line.
This is Angus' first trip to Mt. Gizmo. At the local pub, Angus runs
into Jack ***face, the local hardman. since Angus is buying, Jack
describes down to the last pinky lock the sequence for climbing "The
Honest Indonesian", an improbable Mt. Gizmo test piece following a
sketchy dun intrusion. With the sequence memorized, Angus flashes the
route the next afternoon.
It's been some years since Angus was last at Mt. Tallywacker. He
remembers trying the "Chamfered Luby" and failing miserably. The
successive lunges along the scarlet intrusion notwithstanding, he
remembers little about the route. But, Angus is a better climber that
he was 7 years ago and the next morning, he manhandles the "Chamfered
Luby" on his "first" try.
Angus has tried to climb "The Widget" on Mt. Sputnik for 5 years now.
He's aided it, toproped it, and studied it from a helicopter, (on
jumars with opera glasses of course). Finally he leads it, no falls,
placing the gear as he goes.
Angus has been trying to climb "The Bullwhip" on Mt. Mapelthorp for 10
years. He's gotten close, and after hosing the windgate intrusion with
Gumout, squeegeeing it clean, then buffing each hold with 600-grit
sand paper, he wants to try the lead once again. But first builds a
model of the route on his home climbing wall preworks all sequences
to a "T", then finally on the day of reckoning... he raps down the
route, places all the gear, then flashes the lead.
Angus has never tried "Intelligent Gas from Uranus" on Mt. Bachar. He
starts up the blank face between the two brown intrusions full of
intentions to make a flash ascent. Things go awry in a hurry, and Angus
is soon*** from the cord. He's quickly on a toprope, pulling
through the first two grim bits. Later, stumped at the crux, he
incorporates a side rope, one etrier and a 'come-along' belay. This
makes Angus feel like he's got the strength of 10 men as he works out
the crux. Within hours, he stands on the summit ready to rap down and
place the gear for a 'pink point' ascent the next day.
There are however other procedures that Angus sometimes employs in
his quest for the summit that are worth mentioning. For instance, he's
been known to 'hangdog'. That is, after he falls off his lead
attempt, he won't hesitate to hang on the rope, rest, then carry on,
When Angus first went to Mt. Pipedream, he didn't have time for
too many shenanigans, but he did want to bag "The Tijuana ***", a
nearly non-existent line of pockets along as ivory intrusion. To save
time, he rapped down to the crux, worked it out on toprope, then rapped
down to the deck and 'red pointed' the route. thus, Angus had 'speed
dogged' the route (also known as 'greyhounding').
At Mt. cameltoe, Angus desperately wanted to scale "The Man in the
Boat", but first wanted the beta. He sent his hapless buddy Shawn
O'Sean up to work out the moves while he watched smugly from below.
Shawn was 'seeing-eye doggin' for Angus, who was then set to try his
Also, at Mt. Cameltoe, Angus took a liking to "The Pipefitter". He
did not, however, like the looks of the first bolt, which was 30 feet
off the talus slope from hell below. Angus needed a 'coon dog' to go
up and fetch him that first clip. Shawn had already mounted "The
Pipefitter" 69 times before, and gladly 'coon dogged' for Angus. He
clipped the first bolt, lowered, then handed off the blunted sharp end
for Rover to take over in relative safety.
Angus encountered a similar situation at Mt. Hamstring. "The Rocky
Mountain Oyster", followed an overhanging intrusion and the first bolt,
way the hell up there, already had a quickdraw on it. Nobody's fool,
Angus took a long bight of rope, twirled it overhead like a lariat and
hurled it at the in situ quickdraw. the bight of rope hit the dogleg
biner at the gate and with a click!, Angus was clipped in! He named
this method the 'rodeo clip'.
Angus certainly is not one, but he's known a few "dog's asses".
These craven swine cannot accept defeat and alter an existing route to
make it easier for them to scale, placing additional bolts, chiseling
holds, etc: Starvation, thirst and financial ruin to them all!
Tim Schneider Honeywell Air Transport Systems Division
Ph: (602) 436-3078 PO Box 21111 MS M29D1 Phoenix, AZ 85036
Honeywell Spokesman... NOT!