Blowtorching holds to dry them. This is a practice that was largely unknown to me until my trip to Sweden this last September. Here’s a little backstory. I was invited to come climb in Vastervik, Sweden for the International Boulder Meet by the Tourism Bureau. I had seen some photos and video of the area in the past and the quality and quantity of the rock and lines looked enticing enough to make the trip worthwhile. Out of the 10 day trip, we encountered a few wet days. Nothing out of the ordinary for Sweden. After the rain, the crew was motivated to climb so we ventured out to the boulders. After finding a few of the top outs wet and some of the holds were dripping, we were supplied with blow torches to speed up the drying process. With no prior experience with the ethics of blowtorching and with a crew of people also engaging in the practice, I dried a few holds in this manner. It was an isolated incident and I have never used a blowtorch since. At the time I had no reason to believe that it could be damaging to the rock. The holds that we dried didn’t break or show any signs of damage afterwards. If I had known otherwise, I definitely would not have used it. It is most certainly not worth damaging rock just to get an extra day of climbing. Unfortunately, out of the number of people using the blowtorch, of course, I was caught on camera. And the following has ensued:
https://vimeo.com/52712636 (Comments Section)
Following the aggressive and sometimes unnecessarily harsh response from some members of the climbing community and some time to reflect, I feel the need to respond to this issue in a public manner. But first, I want to publicly apologize for my actions and agree that the practice of blowtorching rock is not an acceptable practice. That being said, this particular issue and the way it was handled and responded to by the online climbing community brings up a variety of questions and concerns that I have:
1. Ethically, how does the blowtorching of rock compare to chipping, manufacturing, comfortizing, and gluing of holds (practices that have frequently taken place in the past and continue to be practiced by the leading role models of climbing)?
2. As a climbing culture, supposedly more connected than ever via the internet, how have we progressed to the point of being so quick to judge and ridicule others, whom we’ve never met, purely from information gathered from blogs and videos?
3. The amount of unnecessarily negative comments that continually get posted on climbing message boards world wide is continuing to increase. As a climbing professional who has received his fair share of “hate” mail/comments, am I expected to spend my free time sorting through the potential issues that warrant a response?
4. Are professional climbers required to assume the responsibility of ”setting a consistent example for others” even when there isn’t a shared set of global ethics? Seems like a lot to assume. For example,would Alex Honnold be held partly responsible for the death of a free soloist who was inspired by his accomplishments in that realm?
5. As a community, is it possible for us to agree on a shared set of ethics in regards to the development of new lines and the care and maintenance of existing ones?
6. As climbing continues to grow, is it possible for us to adapt to the exponentially increasing changes in our climbing environment? I certainly hope so. But how do we ensure that we adapt in a positive, constructive manner prior to catastrophe? For example, the increased traffic of less knowledgeable, “new” climbers to our outdoor areas. New ethics will come into play and how do they get circulated?
And on a more philosophical note…
7. Moving forward can we observe the world around us day by day without making quick judgements, but instead, constantly try to see things from another’s perpective? Just because we have arrived at our own set of conclusions in one way, doesn’t mean someone else’s experiences haven’t led them down a different path filled with different conclusions that in their mind are rightly justified.
I’m looking forward to hearing some responses. But please, keep it constructive.