|By Jerry W|
From: Rapid City, SD
May 22, 2011
Regarding the proposed addition of 3 bolts to Evergreen, I prefer that you not do so.
Different strokes for different folks… Climbing is not one thing to all climbers, or even to a single climber at all times. Personally, I enjoy the variety of experiences that different routes, established in various styles and on assorted types of rock offer. I have no interest in arguing for the superiority of one style over another – whatever that might mean. I will argue that each style, and each route, provides a particular experience. Modifying a route alters the experience. For whatever might be gained by modification, something else is surely lost. For whichever group of climbers a new opportunity is created via modification, there is another group who has had something taken from them.
From the proposal: “Evergreen is a very high quality route that has excellent rock, length, and quality of climbing. The theme behind the climbing at Rushmore has generally been to establish routes that are fun, safe, and of high quality that people want to climb again and again. (Phinney) The intent of the proposed additions is to open up the route to those climbers whom are climbing at that particular grade.” And this from Board member Jim Slichter’s Mountainproject.com post: “The Black Hills Climbing Coalition is proposing to add three bolts to this route to increase its safety and open it up to a typical 5.9 leader.” Safety is important. Who could possibly argue against safety!
How safe is “safe”? All climbing involves some risk. Just getting out of bed exposes a person to risk. At what point does action in the interest of safety so transform rock climbing as to make it unrecognizable, and uninteresting? Should we install permanent top-ropes on all routes? Should we fix ladders with safety cages to the rock?
Safe for whom? Jim Schlister’s post on Mountainproject.com soliciting comments on the proposed modification makes it clear, and implicitly acknowledges the thrust of my argument: “(…safe for the) typical 5.9 leader. “ , which I interpret to mean “the G-rated 5.9 leader.” The point I’m trying to make is that there is more than one kind of “5.9 leader”, and that if any climber will want to lead a PG, or R, or X-rated 5.9 climb, their choice to do so, and the routes that offer that experience, should all enjoy equal respect and protection among the climbing community as a whole. There is, especially in the Black Hills, enough rock to accommodate all tastes.
Is Evergreen unsafe in its present condition? I can’t claim to know its comprehensive history, and I invite comment from those whose knowledge is more complete. But to my knowledge, nobody has died in an attempt to climb this route. No one has suffered a crippling accident; spent a night or more in a hospital; taken a trip to the ER. The proposal to add bolts also cites Vern Phinney’s comment from his 1995 Rushmore area guidebook that development at Rushmore was done with the objective of creating routes that were “…fun, safe…”. If by citing his comments the Route Repair Committee is suggesting that Vern endorses their proposal, I would ask that rather than make this assumption, they contact Vern for his input. I’m not sure that Vern’s comments should carry any greater weight than any other climber’s, but as anyone who has a copy of his book knows, Vern gave the route two stars on a three-star scale (four-star scale if you count the many routes that were given none), and did not add a PG or R or X qualifier to it as he did to several other routes. Per Vern, the two-star rating indicates that a route is “…worth doing several times.” I’ll conclude from this that Vern liked Evergreen and did not think it was unsafe – just the way that it is. And as far as Vern and his book go, I’ll quote from page 5: “Each climber must accept responsibility for understanding the essentials of safe rock climbing. It is essential that anyone using this guide has the basic understanding of the risks involved in the sport of rock climbing and accepts those risks!!” Right on, Vern!
Rock climbing entails risk. That risk is managed by the individual climber and part of that risk management involves an assessment of one’s skills as related to the challenges of a particular route, and a consequent decision either to climb, or not climb, that route.
Thank you, Mike Engle, for your vision, determination, generosity, and hard work in making the many fine contributions through route development that I and many other climbers have benefitted from for so long. And to all route developers everywhere: Sa-lute! The first time I did Evergreen I’d never even seen Phinney’s book, never heard of Mike Engle, and certainly had no conception of the circumstances surrounding the establishment of Evergreen, or Mike’s motivation for putting it in the way that he did. All I knew was that someone told me that it was good and that I should try it. It’s clear from the ground that there’s more than a body length between some of the bolts. I was told that it was 5.9 – mention of the ponderous “plus” was omitted (Phinney says the “plus” denotes a climb that some might find “substantially harder than indicated.”) Any competent climber is going to examine as best is possible a route before deciding to do it. And once that decision is made in the affirmative, the climber might have to choose again and again whether or not to continue or bail. When I climbed Evergreen that day, I was sometimes scared; thought I might take a long fall and get banged up. The route offered a substantial mental challenge as well as the physical one. Confronting that mental challenge is, in my opinion, fundamental to the climbing experience, and surmounting it provides the richest reward in climbing. I know that others feel differently, but like I said earlier, different strokes for different folks; enough rock to accommodate all tastes. I will not advocate removing bolts from a route to enhance the mental challenge it presents. I hope those who eschew climbing’s more significant mental challenges will similarly abstain from altering any route in an effort to subdue them.
Mike is quoted as saying that he thinks it’s selfish for a climber who is competent at 5.12 to put in a run-out 5.9. Insofar as the first ascensionist will dictate the style that a route is climbed in for all who follow, all route development is selfish. In establishing Evergreen in the way that he did, Mike might be accused of doing a disservice to a certain segment of the climbing community, but certainly not to all climbers. For many, and for a long time now, Evergreen has been an excellent route. A favorite at its grade and in its style – just the way it is. Thanks again, Mike.