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Redtag Drag

Progress or respect in first ascents?

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I have been climbing since 1998, and the moments that stand out to me are when I put more effort, hard work and time into a climb than I had ever done previously. Drilling, cleaning, figuring out the beta and eventually redpointing such routes as Stockboy’s Revenge (5.14c), Benign Intervention (5.14b), or my first 5.14a, Insectophobe in Minnesota, have all provided an immense satisfaction that I don’t get out of simply repeating an established climb.

One common ethical stipulation I hear tossed around sport-climbing circles is “Don’t redtag routes.” Why? Why not place a red string or “tag” on the first bolt of an unclimbed project that says, “Hey, I bolted and cleaned this line, so please stay off it until I send.”

According to some, the problem with redtagging is that it stifles progress in climbing. They say that delaying the inevitable redpoint of hard projects until the one selfish redtagger completes the ascent for himself holds back what’s possible for future generations. Who cares, they ask, who does the route first or last?

Well, redtagging might stifle progress in climbing … if everything was redtagged. Of course, most routes aren’t redtagged. The people who are taking the time and money to establish new cliffs, walls and lines are doing more to progress the sport than others, even if they’re not strong enough to dispatch with their project in under five tries.

I have officially redtagged one route: it’s at Rogers Canyon in Laramie, Wyoming, and it was the first climb that I ever bolted. It is not redtagged anymore because I don’t have time for it. You are entirely welcome to try for the first ascent.

I have mixed feelings about redtagging. For the most part, I don’t really like it. In the past, I’ve given freshly bolted routes away to the first person that seemed interested. For example, I gave Koyyanisquatsi (5.13c) in Rifle to Alex Honnold, because he asked nicely and also I was preoccupied with other projects.

Most recently I asked Dave Graham and Joe Kinder not to climb on a route that I bolted in 2007 at Rifle’s Bauhaus wall and was extremely close to sending.     The line is among the best and most difficult in the canyon. I had been looking to bolt this line ever since I first started coming to Rifle about eight years ago. The work I put into this and other routes at the Bauhaus cost me lots of hardware, time away from work and gas money; altogether, approximately $2,000 over three months.

However, I have not been able to get out to Rifle this year. Summer school, the soaring price of gas and a nerve injury in my back from training have kept me here in Denver. I wasn’t actively pursuing a redpoint, and in fact I had no idea when I would be free to get out there next. I realized I was standing on shaky ground, yet I persisted in asking that Graham, Kinder and also Daniel Woods stay away from it.

Does this make me a hypocrite? Perhaps, but I really didn’t feel as if I owned the rights to this climb. I was just asking for some compassion and respect. Yet in the end, I surrendered the route. Graham, with his eminent talents, quickly sent. He named it Girl Talk. I can only assume that this name is a personal shot, referring to my petty childishness in not wanting others on the climb.

Most issues are not black and white, and if those climbers who espouse their so-called “ethics” were to take some philosophy classes, they would realize how specious and self-serving their arguments really are. Redtagging should be regarded on a case-by-case basis, not universally dismissed as bogus. In my opinion it is justifiable in certain situations.

Perhaps what I really should do is stop writing and train harder. I love to climb. I love to put up routes. And occasionally, I still might ask people to give me some more time on a project.

Andy Raether is currently at the Spot training for whatever lies ahead.