Taking a break from a trad climbing

"When I talk about my desire and psyche for competitions disappearing, I must stress that that is very personal to me and is not meant to criticise or undermine competition climbing as a venture."

Nice words from Mina Leslie Wujastyk on making the decision to step away from competition climbing.

I made a similar decision a year or so ago. In many ways I think it was made a few years prior but I'll get to that. I've essentially quit trad climbing. Kind of ironic/amusing considering it's the most common discipline of climbing in Ireland! Still though, it's a decision I'm very comfortable with and like Mina, am psyched to see other people getting enjoyment out of trad.

 

What happened? Essentially, I think a couple of accidents over the years (which I alluded to in this post*) made the question the whole point of the risk I, and other people, were putting on themselves while trad climbing. I've heard numerous discussions to argue that trad gear is so good nowadays that it is completely safe (Hazel Findlay's interview on the Enormocast, again, stands out for this) but having seen numerous incidents, and numerous near misses (many of which were more scary for the fact that the lead climber themselves didn't, and doesn't, seem to have been aware of the implications of what could have happened - I can think of a few people, well known on the Irish scene who fit this bill), I have been left with a lingering doubt and an ever-present fear that I can't seem to shake (and I don't seem interested at present in attempting to shake).

A younger self solo-ing in Dalkey quarry, E1 and no idea of the name (I've never really cared for names on forgettable routes). Glad to see I had sense to wear a helmet, especially after the last link!

A younger self solo-ing in Dalkey quarry, E1 and no idea of the name (I've never really cared for names on forgettable routes). Glad to see I had sense to wear a helmet, especially after the last link!

My first ever outdoor experience was trad climbing in Dalkey quarry - I was just sent up an easy route on lead after only a single seconding experience. My second ever lead was in Wales a couple of months later - the first day I led a VS multi-pitch, the second day we went up to do a 5-pitch HS (or was it VS?). Anyway, long story short, we ended up getting lost and it has since transpired, I climbed my first E1 on lead. I remember spending the whole time having to calm the voices in my head telling me I was insane, especially after I dropped a large hex and watched it free-fall a few pitches before clattering into the skree field below. I vividly remember climbing onto the ledge at the top of the pitch and lying there for a couple of minutes recovering (from the physical as well as mental exertion). Interesting introduction, even then my young mind was questioning the logic. But of course, the folly of youth, not to mention have a strong confidence in my own ideas and thoughts meant I followed the trend, of which was solely trad climbing.

Over the years, my skill and fitness developed, eventually leading up to a decent level. But in between I'd watched some nasty incidents (some caused by gear ripping, others through poor judgement on the part of the climber - either through lack of skill or physical capability for the level they were attempting, or just blind ignorance). My physical and mental capabilities also went up progressively - following my planned life-long approach to progress and love of climbing.

Additionally, over the years I traveled more and got my eyes opened by different attitudes and ethics - I'm lucky enough to have climbed in over 20 countries now.And every once in a while, I'd return to do some trad routes in Ireland, finding the difficulty easier and easier (I vividly remember a period of time after doing an E5 and getting loads of compliments from some climbers on the scene, and being so disappointed because I hadn't even gotten a warm-up from it.....) but my questions over gear increasing. I'm one of those people that was largely brought up on the mindset of do-not-fall when trad climbing. It has that blessing and curse - my physical capacity keeps going up(!) to ensure I can recover anywhere (and realistically, as Alex Megos has just proved, to be the absolute best trad climber is going to take a sport climbers fitness), but I never learned to test gear. I also watched some first ascents of new routes and wondered what was the whole point - risking your neck to get your name in a guidebook?! Seems insane to me, no?

 

So, progressively it dawned on me that I love climbing for various reasons (love of movement, the outdoors, an excuse to travel, gorgeous lines, the fun of meeting new people, etc) but not for the risk that is supplied from much of trad. And I'm now primarily a sport climber and boulderer. Don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid of taking big falls (anyone who got to see me take the 10-15+ metre whippers off various sport routes will attest to that - I also bet a lot of trad climbers wouldn't be taking it....) but I don't accept the risk of trad gear in many situations. I'm still game for trad climbing on big multi-pitches but after seeing what gravity and hard ground will do to a human, I'm stepping away from single-pitch trad.

 

Anyway, like I said, I have the utmost admiration for the many people who love and get so much out of trad climbing. And if it's what gets you excited, I sure hope you keep it up - I've stayed with sport climbing and traveling because they're what get me excited in the mornings - and pursue your passion. But if it involves single-pitch trad, I won't see you there :)

 

 

*Accidents (all seen while trad climbing):

  • One bad head injury a year after starting. First on scene.
  • A young teenager who fell around 15 metres (unroped) onto a boulder. First on scene.
  • A climber falling 15 metres, stripping all gear. 1st on scene.
  • Friend getting hit in back by microwaved size block and spinal injuries
  • Various accidents of people landing on deck, etc.
Neal McQuaid