Chop The Bolts

"If it is good to say or do something, then it is even better to be criticized for having said or done it." Marcus Aurelius


Many people more in touch and invested in climbing than I have piped in publicly on the removal of many of the bolts from the S.E. Ridge of Cerro Torre. By way of an introduction here are links to a few of them.

I traded a lot of email on the subject but didn't bother to craft a screed of my own. However, since I think this is a human issue, with broad implications not confined to climbing, I have pasted some of the email content below. I think the act of placing the bolts was reprehensible. I think they should have been removed sooner. However, I don't think that many people recognized how their continued presence has affected the behavior of climbers, not only in Patagonia but also on mountains all over the world.

I first learned that Hayden and Jason chopped the bolts from a forum where I eagerly read the comments, expecting to see unanimous support. I didn't. When asked about the comments and those who made them I wrote:

They get angry when bolts are placed

They get angry when bolts are chopped

They are angry from the comfort of their keyboards, offices, homes ...from comfort

They are angry because they don't have the skill or courage to do something that will cause others to be angry

Hayden and Jason took out the trash. They may have tripped on their dicks afterward but such mistakes of youth always follow on the heels of great, brash achievement. I think this statement sums up the philosophy manifested in the act of chopping:

"As long as the hardware remained it was justification for the unreasonable use of bolts by others"

 And this philosophy is relevant to so much of life. The (bad) acts of others give us permission to also compromise our own values and ideals and we won't confront this slip in belief until someone comes along to expose us, to throw our own misbehavior or acceptance back into our faces. When they do, instead of honestly looking at ourselves, we attack them for exposing our failings ...

The human race should be destroyed.

Later a friend asked me if I would craft a public statement of some kind, and I declined. Mostly because I get sick when people who aren't currently relevant to a topic run their mouths for the sake of the attention. Instead I replied to him:

Ten years ago I would jump at the chance to join this fight. Hell, I would have brought the matches and gasoline. But I feel distant from climbing and the mountains these days,  even though they made me. Having grown up in the culture of climbing that I knew, and been mentored by the men who inspired and educated me, I never thought I would see the day that anyone would be "against" chopping those bolts. I am ashamed to have ever called myself a climber.

Further on, another friend made a case for the fact that one cannot erase the loss of virginity, that the mountain has been desecrated and could never be returned to a pristine state, with its shameful history forgotten even if the bolts were removed wholesale. To be sure, we cannot restore the virginity of this mountain. Her history - her violation - cannot be erased. Nor can it be changed but action now may help shape how future generations treat their relationships with all mountains.

For me the issue is indeed black or white - perhaps because it is easier than to explore that which is gray - but also because, in this case, I do not see a different way.

For me the most powerful and worst influence those bolts had and continue to have is this: that the ladder existed, that everyone accepted its existence and used it to their advantage, gave permission to all climbers to place bolts as if it was normal and required no self-interrogation before doing so. If one repeatedly rapes and it is accepted by peers and observers alike then rape loses its horror. People begin to speak of it in an intellectually lazy way, using language of acceptance, perhaps even deifying the rapist for having "liberated" them from such restricted thinking. After all, the mountains and how we relate to them are expressed with words like freedom and anarchy ... but for these concepts to coexist with mountains they must be tempered by responsibility, by intellectual curiosity, honesty and respect.

The permission Maestri granted to others with his actions must be examined. If leaving the bolt ladder in place would facilitate this conversation (it has not) then I would agree to using it as a means to guide future behavior. Instead, it took a radical action to cause discussion, and to expose one of the ugly secrets of alpinism. The omerta among normally ethical climbers is sickening but I believe it is powerful precisely because the ladder allows climbers who could never climb Cerro Torre without it to dream of one day doing so. To those without talent, who might not murder the impossible themselves but would gladly climb up the back of the corpse slain by someone else, that ladder is a symbol of hope. For this reason alone - that their hope is bound to a reduction of standards and manipulation of the natural challenge - the ladder should be removed.

If indeed we could agree that Hayden and Jason made the first ascent "by fair means" we now have a measure of how far into the future Maestri's robbery reached. It is one thing to chip a sport route to make it 5.14a instead of 5.14d because the robbery is fairly minor: not executed on a symbol of alpinism and challenge and human overcoming (like Cerro Torre is) but on a roadside cliff, and the robbery reaches perhaps one or two years into the future not two generations! The hubris is shocking. For this reason alone that ladder should have been removed long ago.

Maybe at some point the petition will exert some pressure. Maybe some other guys will remove the rest of the bolts. Maybe this sad chapter in the history of climbing will be an object lesson instead being a trade route that is ingrained deeper and deeper into the sport's collective consciousness of acceptance with every ascent or attempt. Maybe … but I doubt it. I simply do not believe in human race that much.

Mark Twight
Mark Twight