How can one new route spawn 150,000 words of controversy?
Last night, the SuperTopo.com thread about Growing Up, a 2000' line on Yosemite's Half Dome South Face, clocked its 2000th post, with little sign of deceleration. The central issue is the first ascensionists' top-down inspection and bolting of the upper half of the route; anathema to a small but distinguished group of US climbers who still believe all pioneering - especially on the hallowed granite of Yosemite - should be ground-up.
The route is not the first in Yosemite to be established top-down, but is provocative for its location: parallel to one of Yosemite's most notoriously-bold routes, Southern Belle. This 5.12 X horror went unrepeated for nineteen years, with one attempt resulting in a bad accident. Even the prodigious soloist, Dean Potter, who bagged the repeat with Leo Houlding in 2006, is reported to having been scared on it.
The Growing Up team launched up crack systems for 1000' to where the granite face blanks out, but then switched to a top-down approach to ensure the route continued up the most-climbable proximate slab features, arguing that Yosemite had too many “road to nowhere” bolted lines resulting from ground-up attempts. Of course, a side-product of the 'rap-bolting' is that the bolt-spacing isn't constrained by available drilling stances, so the route is far less bold than the sections of Southern Belle on similar terrain. Though the dimensions of the debate are superficially rather simple - does the end justify the means, or is style more important? – our American cousins' ability to find nuances of argument within that seem near-endless. One example of the detail that muddies the water for many: Southern Belle was top-down retro-bolted (but with original run-outs intact!) after its first ascent.
Growing Up, completed in summer 2007, had actually gone unremarked for some months. Scott Cosgrove, who made the first free ascent of Southern Belle, started the SuperTopo thread after reading a Rock and Ice article about the climb: “I've been in Mexico working for four months and away from all this, can anyone tell me if this is true?.... Please tell me, I read it all wrong”. Since then a long list of Yosemite legends including John Bachar, Doug Robinson, Steve Schneider, Randy Leavitt, Tom Higgins, and unknown pundits alike have jumped in to take sides.
Keen students of climbing cyberspace might expect a thread of this length to have lurched severely off-topic long before "P2K" (the 2000th post). Surprisingly this isn't the case, with seemingly-compelling diversions - like the resemblance of Sarah Watson, one of the first ascensionists, to Kelly Clarkson, or the other FAer, Sean Jones, being bitten by a rattlesnake - only responsible for a handful of the posts. The thread is also notable for being reasonably good-natured, though a few bolt-chopping threats have surfaced. In fact, in a brief pause reminiscent of WW1's Christmas Truce, all protagonists forgot their differences to take aim instead at Andrew Bisharat (a Rock and Ice editor capable of Perrinesque eloquence when on form) who'd ridiculed the forum's self-absorption on the magazine's website.
Anyone aspiring to read the whole thread must now choose between a daunting onsight or dipping in randomly. Some of the thread's best is buried surprisingly deep within. For instance around the 1800 mark is both the topo of the route and this simple line from Randy Leavitt:
“For me, I plan to (hopefully) climb Growing Up because I suspect it is a fantastic route.”
You can read Doug Robinson's account of Growing Up at rockandice.com