To Hatch a Talented Complainer

I recently dipped into a blog by climber John Appleby: ‘To Hatch a Crow‘, and came across him espousing the merits of stripping vegetation from mountain cliffs whilst at the same time taking issue with winter climbers who climb rock routes such as Great Corner – a vegetated summer E2 on Llech Ddu which received its first winter ascent in January. There’s not many things in climbing that I dislike but one thing that winds me up is closed-minded superior attitudes amongst climbers; unfortunately sometimes found amongst some Brits who predominantly climb one style, usually trad. You probably know someone.. Great Corner in winter makes a classic mixed climb – three contrasting pitches giving excellent varied mixed climbing on a wild cliff – in short one of the best at its grade in Wales. It won’t receive ‘that many’ winter ascents because it is both reasonably difficult whilst also not coming into winter condition very often. In summer it rarely receives ascents due to it being a relatively long walk-in (for rock climbers in North Wales) to a route which is ‘good but not ‘that’ good’ on an often damp, cold and vegetated cliff. That said it’s obviously a very good – but not great – rock route. I think it would be fair to say Great Corner would be seen as a good candidate for both summer and winter ascents in the eyes of those climbers who participate in both genres. I recently re-visited the cliff to climb another new winter route with a very well-known all-round climber, who seemed to think Great Corner looked excellent in its winter clothes.

The blog is here:

Decide for yourself. The point that stands out for me is the author’s contradictory views on how the mountain environment should be respected by climbers depending on which ‘camp’ the climber belongs to – summer trad or winter trad:

  • On the one hand he’s enthusiastic about stripping vegetation from damp north-facing mountain cliffs in order to keep rarely-climbed rock routes in a climbable state for summer ascents.
  • On the other hand, he shows a complete disregard for winter climbers attempting those same routes on the grounds that this may ‘damage’ the route by scratching the rock on ‘acknowledged classic summer routes’.

Bullshit gif

The great irony, and it’s a bit worrying, is that deliberate stripping of vegetation is the last thing that should be happening on high mountain cliffs because they are the habitat of fragile and rare flora. This is the biggest reason winter climbers in the North Wales are constantly reminded – by the conservation bodies and BMC – not to climb turfy winter routes unless they are solidly frozen; it’s more than just a self-preservation thing, although that’s the first thing in my mind if I’m honest (unfrozen turf placements failing easily). I’m not suggesting either camp is rocking with the angels here; but the blog author’s blinkered assumptions demand to be challenged. Who’s really doing the damage here, and who’s respecting their wild surroundings more? Those who think it’s OK to strip vegetated mountain cliffs of their vegetation in order to maintain artificially cleaned lines for rock climbing, – or winter climbers making an ascent, in solidly frozen conditions, of what nature has placed in front of them?
A guide has been produced, aimed at climbers, by the CCW / BMC, here:

More obviously (I hope), telling people they shouldn’t be winter climbing a vegetated route on a damp mountain cliff and that instead we should be spending days hanging on ropes cleaning routes like this just so that they are made temporarily appealing for the occasional summer E2 leader to have their fun on, is such a fucked-up discriminatory idea.

The hypocrisy is clear and I think probably stems in part from the unquestioned activities of climbers over the last half century. I certainly don’t want to lose huge numbers of rock climbs to vegetation, however some battles are worth fighting whilst others aren’t. The reasons to be careful on Llech Ddu are clear, this isn’t a bit of grass on a once-popular but neglected Tremadog VS.

When Nick and I climbed Great Corner earlier this winter the first pitch consisted of perfect mixed climbing up a 35m snowed-up turfy corner; bridging and delicately front-pointing up on small frozen turf blobs with axes in good frozen sticks in the back of the corner. It surprised me to find out yesterday that the blog author’s friend had spent numerous days last summer stripping the vegetation out of that first pitch (and in the process neglecting to clear up the masses of his unsightly static rope left hanging from the cliff).

Thankfully he gave up his destruction before ruining an acknowledged classic winter route. 🙂

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