Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chipping vs Cleaning

About a week ago a video was posted on and it has gotten a lot of attention and seems to be causing a bit of a kerfuffle. The video was taken surreptitiously and shows a climber using an assortment of tools to create a hold on what would otherwise be a blank roof. The climber in the video is clearly chipping as the tactics used can in no way be interpreted as “cleaning”.  Needless to say, people are riled up and there are hundreds of comments sparked by the video that run the gambit from hateful slander to actual support what is being done.

As a climber I am personally appalled by what I see in the video.  There are many that agree with me but there are also a surprising number that seem to excuse chipping as a necessary part of development.  Here are a few comments....

the "aftermath" pictures look like a professionally cleaned boulder problem to me. i see no artificial holds chiseled into the rock nor any evidence of holds being glued on.”

I have been out with climbers "developing" climbing areas all over the world and it always included a great deal of cleaning away loose flakes of rocks, sometimes of considerable size. Not a professional climber myself, i was always under the impression this serves to make the route more safe for the following climbers, not even for their personal benefit. Who wants to have a foothold break away while they are doing a tricky move, or have a huge flake of rock falling down on them?”

So can any route developer honestly tell me that they never enhanced a hold..."comfortized" especially developing out in west (Wyoming)? I think bouldering is different though.”

If you want harder climbs, chisel your own.”

This is the same tired sport/trad argument that's been going on for 40 years. This is what climbing has become. [climber] didn't invent cleaning routes. Most of your heroes cleaned or drilled routes.”

Protecting the interests of climbers by cleaning a route of debris and dangerous flakes is a function of development. Ask some real climbers.”

This video has brought the issue of chipping to the forefront and reignited the old debate of where one draws the line when cleaning new routes. As an active developer I understand the necessity of cleaning away debris and prying away loose rock but think it should be done minimally and without taking liberties to “create” something. I've walked away from amazing lines that almost go, left flexing flakes that don't pose a threat, and avoid beautiful boulders that are a bit chossy. I try not to tread into any “grey area” when developing but feel that many other developers today are taking it too far. The “grey area” between chipping and cleaning seems to have broadened so it now includes filing edges, gluing, comfortizing holds, and prying flakes with hairline cracks.  Over the last year I've had multiple conversations with climbers that defend practices I had previously assumed to be clearly manufacturing and I get the feeling more and more people are pushing the limits of “aggressive cleaning”. 

Most disconcerting to me is that the climbing community seems to have tacitly accepted the manufacturing of routes/problems.  Folks line up to climb obviously chipped/glued problems and there are many areas where the most popular climbs are blatantly modified. Those people manufacturing climbs aren't going to stop as long as the rest of the community continues to climb on their chipped/glued routes and tout them as top quality.  

I of course could go on and on discussing finer points of an issue pertaining to a pursuit that is pretty pointless in itself, but I won't do that. I'll spare those that have bothered to read this far and simply leave you with my favorite of the 300 or so comments I bothered to read.

It is a huge disservice to the our climbing community to turn this series of events into a circus. This can be so much more than that; a catalyst of awareness and positive change. We, as a cohesive unit, need to come to grips with the fact that this is happening, and it is not just being done by the one person in the video, but many more. We need to take this information and make a conscious effort to decide what our moral boundaries are, and then educate the climbers of the present and future about what is acceptable and not acceptable. This could be on a regional level, it could be on a national level, but either way the discussion needs to happen. Like it or not, our sport is growing, and we need to manage these sorts of things or our opportunity to climb outdoors will be put in serious jeopardy”

Amen to that.


I'd love to hear folks thoughts.  Also, there was a small article also on deadpoint about the issue that is worth the read for those interested in the discussion.  

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