I was paging through the Rifle Mountain Park guidebook this grey November Veterans day, already regretting the snowfall that will transform our balmy rock into an icy purgatory and will take a second sun to make right again, when a fact struck me.
In my Newton/apple moment, I realized that of the 400 or so routes that hopscotch up the walls of Rifle, a canyon second only to Yosemite in international acclaim (for America), 90 percent of the climbs were established by weekend warriors, the common man.
These are guys and gals who take the game seriously, but not so much that they can pay the bills by doing it exclusively. Some are semi-pros who might get spotted shoes or a rope, but they are the teachers, doctors, carpenters, salesmen, physical or mental therapists, chefs, waiters and waitresses, shop owners, gear reps and the like who spend their free time bolting, cleaning then struggling with the most important task of naming, almost all of the routes almost all of us climb. The paycheck for them is an occasional mention in a guidebook or a smile from a happy repeater.
Pros, those rare paid-to-climb people who would seemingly have nothing but free time to spend on first ascents, aren’t route developers. Instead, they make headlines by romping up established lines faster or in better style, or do more of them in a day or solo. For them, developing a crag would be like a pro football player sodding the field.
There are exceptions, naturally. Ondra at Flatanger, Sharma at Oliana, Edlinger at Ceuse are most notable, and the routes they have done at these areas moved the upper end of the scale, pulling our own standards along, as iron to a magnet.
My observation holds true for most every area. The Gunks. Eldo. Smith. JT. Etc. Even Yosemite’s historied walls were first climbed by climbers who didn’t make a dime from it, but who worked jobs, saved then spent their earnings up on the hot granite. Frank Sacherer was a physicist. Kor a bricklayer. Harding a surveyor. Robbins ran his climbing shop. Chouinard made carabiners and pins. All this, of course, was when there wasn’t money to be made by climbing, but even today when there is funding, the workers building the infrastructure do it for other reasons.
In the issue of Rock and Ice that is at press right now, for instance, we show off Devil’s Head, a region of spectacular granite outcrops near Denver. The 800-odd climbs in this vast area were largely if not entirely bolted on weekends, holidays and after hours by climbers who love the sport and expect nothing in return other than a sunny day on the rock with a few good friends.
Hard to imagine a better reward.
Note: I’d like to recognize Dave Pegg, who passed on Saturday [November 8, 2014]. Dave was a Very Serious Climber and one of those people who climbed hard and put his heart into maintaining Rifle so we could all enjoy it. You can read more about Dave here.
Also read Dave Pegg, King Rifle, Has Died