Here are two prevous posts discussing the history and legitimacy of headpointing and some of the issues with The Path.
Someone once said, If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where your going.
Headpointing came about in the UK because of the strict anti-bolting ethic on grit and the UK mountain crags. The notion of no-bolts evolved during a time when adventure and traditional climbing were the only climbing options available. With a seemingly endless number of obvious gear routes, the no-bolts ethic seemed like a good idea as it preserved the natural lines and promoted the adventure spirit prominent at the time. Fast-forward a few decades. Suddenly all the obvious gear lines have been done and all that is left are the blank faces between the real gear routes. In North America this period coincided with the introduction of sport climbing tactics borrowed from Europe and the evolution of sport climbing. In the UK however, dogma prevented the use of bolts and the only option available to many climbers was rehearsing the remaining lines on top-rope, finding the gear on rappel and after extensive practice leading the route. Eventually climbers in the UK realized these tactics were dissimilar to traditional gear climbing and the term headpointing was devised to distinguish this climbing style from traditional ground up gear routes. In the UK headpointing allowed for new route activity to continue while preserving a no-bolt ethic. In North America, we were somewhat more open-minded than our UK friends. After a brief bolting war period in the late 80s and early 90s, things settled down with almost everyone agreeing that obvious crack lines should be left as traditional gear ascents while blank featureless faces are fair game for bolts and top-down tactics.
This approach had two significant benefits. First, it served the needs two very different climbing user groups by preserving ground-up traditional gear climbing while allowing for bolted routes. Secondly and more importantly, it maximized the use of a finite resource - the rock. Only a certain type of rock is ideal for ground up traditional climbing. The ethic in North America of not bolting cracks preserves this limited rock feature. Sport climbing also requires a specific rock type (primarily featureless faces lacking in obvious protection). Unfortunately, headpointing takes these sections of stone and wastes them on a climbing style that is not understood or accepted in North America. To be clear, i am not talking about difficult crack lines that are rehearsed before being redpointed (eg. Cobra Crack, La Zebree.) Although these routes were rehearsed before being successfully redpointed, they can eventually be climbed in the ground-up onsight style prized in North America. These routes are difficult but the lines do not require headpoint tactics to find the holds, unlock the movement and figure out the gear. Headpoint routes attempt to impose traditional protection practices on routes lacking substantial gear and obvious movement by employing extensive sport climbing tactics such as top rope rehearsal, figuring the gear on top rope and route finding on tope rope. The final product is some bastard child of traditional and sport climbing contributing little to most existing North American crags.
With climbing maturing as a sport, first ascentionists need to consider what their routes add to an area. Just as bolting a crack line removes the opportunity for someone to experience traditional climbing, headpointing in North America eliminates what could be a significant sport line.
Sonnie is a very talented climber with an incredible tick-list of hard climbs.
Is the The Path a difficult route?
Does it add to the local climbing scene?
I don’t know.
You had asked some questions about one of my previous posts. Been out of town and just thought i would respond. Your questions are below in red followed by my response.
a) You seem to imply that headpoint routes are a waste of time in north america. IE since few people do it, why not just throw bolts on there? Part of me agrees with this and part of me doesn’t. I probably won’t ever climb 14+ or E9 or whatever trad, and I love sport climbing, but on the other hand, the value of something it seems to me is not dependent on how many people are into it. EG In Squamish, there are lots of folks who would like to add bolts to some of the friction classics cos they have huge runouts. But leaving them preserves an important experience for those who want to work for it and a historical fact. So…are you suggesting that numbers shoudl run the show regarding elite routes?
b) Are you perhaps mischaracterising headpoint route sending a bit? While it is true that headpointing is a bastard climbing child, the extreme risk and focus which are part of the experience make it an entirely unique thing. It’s nto sport climbing, and it’s nto on-sight trad climbing. Seb Grieve for example has talked about the meditative timelessness of grit sends. While obviously 90% of climbers are going to be quite reluctant to push the boat out that far, the existence of headpoint routes is important for the 10% who do, because, in the long run, it is the avante-garde, so to speak, who change things for the rest of us.
I thought these issues might crop up. The problem with headpointing is that it actually marginalizes true adventure routes done in the ground up style like the Squamish friction slabs you mention. Although not as difficult as many headpioint routes, the first ascentionists actually risked more by venturing onto unknown territory and drilling on lead without knowing the ultimate outcome of the line. A better example might be the Bachar-Yerian in Tuolumne. Done onsight and drilled on lead off hooks, the 500-foot route contains only nine bolts and exemplifies the ideals valued in North American traditional climbing. Although the grade is only 11c the accomplishment in my opinion is more significant than any rehearsed headpoint ascent. Future parties wishing to repeat the route, experience the same exploration and commitment as the first ascentionists.
Proponents of headpointing say it allows for routes with increased physical difficulty and mental commitment. Unfortunately, employing sport climbing tactics results in a bastard route that is neither as hard as the most cutting edge sport routes and is arguably less committing than true ground up ascents. Headpoint routes are simply elaborate gymnastic routines attempted only when the climber is positive they can execute the line without falling. As such, there is no adventure as the outcome is almost assured and arguably less commitment than the more moderate slab climbs you mentioned. The argument has been made that headpointing is only the first step and climbers in the future will improve on the style eventually climbing the routes onsight. This may be true with real crack lines and some of the more obvious traditionally protected face routes but most headpoint routes require gear that can only be found while hanging on toprope and fiddling with marginal placements. The most egregious example of this that I have heard of, exists on a route in the UK called Nightmayor. This very sparsely protected E8 requires a number three WC Rock to be slotted in the back of a two-finger pocket to protect the crux. Good luck finding this hidden placement during the onsight. To make things more interesting, a DMM or BD nut will not fit! Without relatively obvious protection, headpoint routes will not see onsight attempts as climbers will not be able to find the gear.
I’m all for pushing the boat out and having standards move forward, but I would rather see this energy be placed in real gear/trad routes rather than contrived trad toprope adventures.
When describing headpointing, the famous British climber Adrian Berry said, “Getting to the top is everything. How you do it is nothing”.
Sounds like a step backwards to me.