Sport or adventure
What happened? I remember the runout above the #4 RP placement on "Slow Children" (an Index classic I did in 1983) like it was yesterday. Today's routes can't make that kind of memory. Now I start at the left edge of the crag and work my way right looking for a pump because there's no mental challenge to be had.

It was not the pump that attracted me to climbing. I began climbing to escape from the rehearsal and certainty of organized sport. Climbing was cool because I never knew what I'd have to do. I trained my skills as best I could then went to the crag to see exactly what I had. I wasn't sure I'd correctly estimated my ability or the rack or the weather until I was on top. I love the mountains because of what they demand of me, often my best.

Sport climbing traded away risk and resourcefulness for greater gymnastic difficulty and a good pump. It took me back to where I started: with each rehearsal I inched closer to a predictable outcome. Knowing all the moves on a route made it simpler to perfect them and to gain the strength required. It just took repetition, which eliminated uncertainty. And without that I see little difference between the hundred-yard dash and any 12a at any sport crag anywhere. The bolt homogenized many types of climbing experience into one type of climbing experience.

Instead of sport climbing I go bouldering. It's pure, and basically impossible to cheat. Bolts can't be used to manipulate the experience. Sure, I sometimes take a thicker crash pad but I still have to take the fall. For me, the cerebrally intense highball problem replaced the runout, which the drill destroyed a decade ago. Bouldering is simple. The dangerous problems are bracing enough to give me lasting memories, or nightmares.

Ice climbing is similarly pure. I hike to the base of a waterfall. It is in or out of condition. I am in or out condition. I choose whether I can deal with the riddle that nature presents or not. There's no way to frig it. On a deeper level, ice climbing helped me recover something I thought was gone forever. When I began climbing the rope symbolized trust. Sport climbing turned the rope into 60 meters of vague social contract. Ice and alpine routes reminded me why the rope is a sacred climbing icon; it signifies the unbreakable bond between partners. I like it that way, which is why I can't hook up with someone I don't know at the crag. I don't treat climbing as sport.

For me, climbing is adventure, and sometimes spiritual. My ethics and my respect for the mountains prevent me from enjoying the "numerical success" that characterizes climbing as a sport. I might not make history or become famous but I am getting what I want from climbing.

Are you?

Jonny Blitz


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