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Top Climber Gets In On Rockies Drytool Ethics Debate

A drytool crag ethics debate that started on the Canadian Rockies Ice Climbing Facebook page continued for a number of days with some big names contributing to the conversation.

The crag in question is El Dorado on the eastern edges of Grotto Mountain in the Bow Valley. Mostly established by top climber Raphael Slawinski, one of Canada’s most accomplished alpine climbers, with the intention of being a drytool crag that did not have power-drilled pockets or tick marks. Last week, accomplished ice and mixed climber Will Gadd added tick marks to some holds, which led to the online discussion about drytool ethics.

Every drytool crag offers something different and ethics about how to treat them seem to differ from place to place. At the Playground, also on Grotto, the holds have been heavily manufactured and added to obvious spots. This creates a predictable and safe training area, which many climbers spend hours doing laps.

After many back-and-forth comments on social media, it seems climbers are split on whether or not tick marks should be allowed at drytool crags.

There are a number of drytool crags in the Rockies that have little to no ice, including The Drive In, Playground, Alcatraz, Eldorado, Tool Shed and The Temple. The grades are often given a D instead of an M, such as D4, as the M is reserved for mixed routes with rock and ice.

One of the points made by Gadd was, “In steep sport drytooling the holds can literally be anywhere that someone has beaten them in, and the possibilities are way, way larger because a pick is so much smaller than a hand. And there may be only two little 1/8 blind divots in eight vertical feet of climbing, which means you end up hanging there and searching endlessly, which is annoying.

“You’re also hanging two feet lower relative to the holds, which makes them really blind on overhanging terrain. Steep sport drytooling onsight or even second go without tick marks is like trying to screw together different bolts and nuts of various sizes while hanging one-handed… On sport routes the movement is everything, but on unticked steep drytool routes like the roof routes at Eldo it’s only about the movement once you find the blind chipped holds.”

After a few days of mostly civil discussions about drytool ethics at El Dorado and other crags, Slawinski wrote a blog detailing his take on the crag which he developed.

Slawinski gives a brief history of the sport, the development of drytool crags and the potential future: “It all started in the mid 1990s, with ten-metre routes in places like Grotto Canyon and Haffner Creek, and multi-pitch lines like the Real Big Drip and Stairway to Heaven. To begin with, the pioneers bolted rock that had enough holds to make it climbable.

“As drytooling gained in popularity, popular crags began to resemble practice targets, with bullet holes worn into soft limestone by steel picks. From there, it was a short step to using a power drill to fabricate holds. While drilled pockets for rock climbing have gone the way of eighties’ lycra, they have become an accepted part of drytooling. Nowadays, blending practices from rock climbing’s past and present, most top-end drytooling crags and routes in the Rockies are both heavily drilled and tick-marked with chalk.”

Slawinski and Gadd have different approaches to drytooling, each with strong climbers who back both. Slawinski noted that bold Scottish climber Greg Boswell, who enjoys both natural and drilled drytool climbing, appreciated the style of climbing at El Dorado. Top French climber Jeff Mercier also visited El Dorado and enjoyed the no-tick, no-drilled pockets climbing.

“A few years ago Greg Boswell, one of the best mixed climbers in the world, visited El Dorado,” wrote Slawinski. “In true British style he tried to on-sight every route he got on. On one of the M-double-digit extensions he fell when a tool, hooked blindly over the lip of a roof, popped. Had the route been drilled and ticked, he would likely have flashed it – he’s plenty strong enough. But just going tic-tac-toe from hold to obvious hold would’ve been beside the point. Greg liked the challenge of a less manicured crag, blown on-sight and all.”

Read Slawinski’s blog post titled Vive la différence! here for his take on his crag and drytooling and a topo to El Dorado.

Watch Mercier Send Powerdab D13