Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Chipping' in Leavenworth

A recent Facebook post by Seattle coaching guru Tyson Schoene brought to a lot of people's attention what Leavenworth locals/regulars have been noticing for the past couple years: a lot of problems are strangely changing, oftentimes in ways that make them easier.  Tyson mentioned the two most oft-cited examples: The Cotton Pony and The Sail.  Both problems changed significantly two or three years ago, The Sail losing a hold (sort of), and The Cotton Pony gaining one (sort of). 

The Sail, Pre-Break

On The Sail, the blocky part of the right-hand crimp that was the target of the crux move broke off, leaving a slightly smaller, slightly more positive edge about an inch lower.  The move's still hard, but it's a little easier.  And one would never know from reading the guidebook, asking for beta, or even seeing a pre-break video of the climb.

Jamie Chong Crushing the Cotton Pony Pre-Foothold

The Cotton Pony 'miraculously' gained a solid, one-pad foothold a few inches lower than the crumbly little left-foot edge most shorter climbers used for the dyno.  The foothold gives just a little extra  push in the right direction, and as with The Sail, the movement remains the same, just subtly easier.  Also like The Sail, the change is subtle, but noticeable.

While people can be quick to point to these and other examples of changing problems as Chipping, the reality is a lot more grey, both from a factual sense, as in what actually happened, and in a moral sense, as in what does it mean.  I am by no means the first, or the thousandth person to opine on the issue, and I essentially agree with the views of prominent climbers/commentators like Jamie Emerson, (see also, also, also...), Dave Graham, Deadpoint Magazine, etc.  But on granite - especially on Leavenworth's flaky, crumbly granite - the factual aspect around a changed problem is often a lot more grey than black and white.  When describing problems in the guidebook I've been working on, I've found it helpful to think of these problems in three general categories: Chipped problems, Suspect problems, and Naturally Broken problems.

Chipped Problems have clearly been intentionally altered with the purpose of making them easier or harder, or simply vanadlizing them.  Chipped climbs are something that nearly all climbers find completely repugnant (with a few notable exceptions like Timy Fairfield and by tacit acceptance, Peter Beal), which is why we react to the subject so emotionally, and why events like last year's Ivan Greene chipping scandal are so shocking.  It's also why we all get so emotional and shocked when we learn of Chipped Problems in our own backyard - we wonder why anyone would think this was okay. 

Suspect Problems are less clear; the problems seem changed, sometimes dramatically, but it's hard to tell whether the changes were due to natural wear-and-tear, aggressive finger-scraping or plastic-brushing, or whether a screwdriver or paint stripper was used to remove flakes or crumbles.  These problems are often described as Chipped, but the perpetrator might have altered the rock unwittingly (e.g., crumbling thumbholds on The Peephole) or innocently (e.g., a gumbie scraping away grainy rock with a wire brush or screwdriver).  Suspect problems are the new-school chipping.

Nautrally Broken Problems are inadvertently broken by a climber during the regular course of climbing.  It seems safe to say that close to 100% of climbers find changes under these circumstances to be unfortunate but unavoidable and thus morally acceptable (think Dreamtime, 'Pipsqueak,' The Knocking Room, and a thousand others I can't think of right now).

These categories attempt to describe the factual circumstances behind a problem's change.  People will have different opinions about the moral aspect of things, but for what it's worth, I personally disapprove of both Chipped and Suspect problems.  While Suspect problems somehow seem less outrageous than Chipped ones, I feel very strongly that people should never take a metal implement to an established boulder problem.  

To turn to the two problems that are often cited as examples of Chipping, I see them as grey areas.   I see The Sail's breakage as possibly Naturally Broken and possibly Suspect, but not Chipped.  I see The Cotton Pony's new foot as Suspect; if I were to wage a guess, I imagine that some idiot from out of town used a screwdriver to increase the size of a pre-existing foot chip -- something I wouldn't do, but also something that doesn't make me as angry as drilling or chiseling (or for that matter, even screwdriver-ing a handhold) would. 

I wrote this post to clarify that while The Sail and The Cotton Pony are by no means the only problems in Leavenworth that have changed recently, it's not as if someone has been going around Chipping new holds into Leavenworth's classics.  Here's a non-exhaustive list of other problems that have changed recently, along with my perception of the changes at issue.  All changes listed have occurred since the publication of Central Washington Bouldering unless noted:

Superman / God is in the Details, Mad Meadows (left-hand Superman start hold suspect)
Dirty Dude Low, Lonely Fish (right start hold naturally broken)
The Lonely Fish, Lonely Fish (crimp traverse rail suspect)
101 Ways to Fling Poo, Twisted Tree (third crimp naturally broken)
420 Moderate, 420 Boulder (historically chipped)
The Prism, The Sword (former second hold naturally broken)
Resurrection / Low, The Sword (left stand start hold chipped/suspect)
Zorro, The Sword (former finger-bucket naturally broken)
Musashi, Egg Rock (start hold naturally broken)
Epoxy Flake, Fuzz Wall (glued-on flake 'naturally' broken)

The Whirlpool, Jenny Craig (second hold naturally broken)
Finished Product, Jenny Craig (start hold naturally broken)
Caveman Cole, Swiftwater (second hold chipped)
Swiftwater Cave Center-Right Link, Swiftwater (historically chipped)
Immortal Techniques a.k.a. Immoral Techniques, Swiftwater (right start hold suspect)

Full Time Night Woman, Mountain Home Road (low start and feet chipped/suspect)

I present this list not to alarm people or somehow make it seem like altering rock is somehow accepted in Washington, but to raise awareness about the prevalence of what I've termed Suspect problems.  Washington climbers should be most concerned not about blatant chipping in Leavenworth, as Tyson's post would suggest, but more about the steady creep of wire brushes, screwdrivers, paint scrapers, etc. being used to subtly enhance established problems.  I would ask the community to adopt a bright-line rule that metal implements should never be used in regard to established boulder problems, and to enforce this rule by educating newer climbers, policing each other, and calling out those who intentionally alter the rock in order to prevent it from happening again.  As the abundance of responses and discussions Tyson's post engendered can attest, we obviously care about this issue.  We just have to do something about it.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info! As a newbie climber, I find myself checking your blog for photos/beta that CWB doesn't contain.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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