Posted on 13. Nov, 2009 by in News

Dreamtime, the classic Fred Nicole V14 in Cresciano, CH is considered by many to be the best boulder problem in the world. As I reported earlier, a crucial hold has broken. It seems from the pictures that it would be easy to glue the hold back on, and this raises an obvious and important ethical question. Should the broken hold on Dreamtime be glued back on? And if so, who is to take responsibility for such an action?

For the most part, boulderers find chipping abhorrent, although in an interview from, Timy Fairfield admits the following:

And what would you tell your detractors if they were to say, ‘Hey, you chipped that damn hold?!’
The first thing I would say is, if you’re against abortion don’t have one. It still isn’t illegal to chip. Don’t impose your philosophy on me. The rock is indifferent: it doesn’t care if it has a hole from piton a bolt carving roadcuts, or a chipped pocket. I feel as if climbers get too caught up in the ethics of the route and the rock insofar as the climb and don’t think about the bigger picture.

This brings up a whole other topic of discussion, but was related enough that I thought to post it here. I love talking with Timy and climbing with him, but on this point we shall agree to disagree. I think his stance represents an outlier.

Gluing on the other hand remains more of a grey issue. Many “classic” problems have been glued or reinforced, including Midnight Lightning, Crown of Aragorn, Dark Waters, The Spectre etc etc. Slapshot was glued into non-existance by John Sherman. I have always felt that one of the most interesting aspects of climbing is that we have to adapt ourselves to the “indifferent” medium, as Timy puts it. By adding a hold, or changing the nature of the climb with glue, are we taking away that indifference, and adding our own expectations? Or is glue just another point of “aid”, no different than sticky rubber climbing shoes, chalk, crashpads? Does it matter? I personally would prefer to see Dreamtime left alone, but if someone glued it, it wouldn’t stop me from climbing on it. Thoughts?


46 Responses to “Ethics”

  1. sockhands

    13. Nov, 2009

    some say dreamtime’s holds were already ‘improved’ since fred’s FA. also, a post-FAglue that choss pile up so we can all be fully sickened by ourselves.

  2. Andy Mann

    13. Nov, 2009

    Looks like it still goes…found this on 8a this morning.

    “Hi guys, these pictures are mine, I found it like this last Tuesday with Akito Matsushima, the day was perfect and we were pretty sad… We worked out the moves again and Akito managed to do the jump, I also managed to do the last part hooking behind the border (you don’t have the foothold anymore)

    It all seems more difficult, but still possible. I found the jump really harder as I’m tall and now I have the right foot too near to the left hand… ehehehe.

    Please don’t glue back anything, It would be a bad work as some small pieces of rock dropped all around the missing hold. It would become more positive and ugly to see anyway….

    It seems we have a new challenge here.”
    -Michele Caminati

  3. sockhands

    13. Nov, 2009

    some say dreamtime’s holds were already ‘improved’ since fred’s FA. also, a post-FA stand start was ‘added.’ glue that choss pile up so we can all be fully sickened by the frankenstein reflection of own loathesome selves that it has become.

    dreams are made by humans and dreams destroy humans… and the world we live in.

    that which we most covet, we most taint with the foul stench of humanity.

    or maybe just explode the block to hell and sell the pieces in area tourist shops rather than keeping it on artificial lifesupport, a mere shell of itself, stripped of all dignity.

    this motivational message was brought to you by billable hours!

  4. Mathieu

    13. Nov, 2009

    I don’t know. I’m usually against gluing holds back, but Dreamtime is such a classic. I guess we’ll have to see if it still goes and if it does, let it alone.

    Also, I definitly don’t agree with timy’s point of view. Chipping isn’t illegal, but it’s a kind informal norm among climbers. If you want to trangress it, well live with the consequences.

  5. sidepull

    13. Nov, 2009


    I agree that Timy’s philosophy is an outlier. His argument is a bit backwards: climbers worry about ethics to be focused on the bigger picture.

    It would be interesting to find out if the hold just broke off, or it was broken. There have been mumblings about Dreamtime being chipped/comfortized and that’s what led to the depreciation in grade.

    But whatever caused the breakage, I agree with leaving it, rather than gluing it. Rock will change. I have a problem with proactively changing it to make things climbable. I don’t have a problem with things just breaking. It presents a new problem and a new challenge.

    The more interesting question is who should decide. I think the editor at 8a thinks that’s his god-given right. But, sarcasm aside, I have no idea.

  6. Rocco

    13. Nov, 2009

    I also would prefer to see it left alone. However, I do believe that the local developers of the area (and maybe even as specific as the person who discovered the problem, or the first ascentionist. Call Fred?) should make the final call. I feel as though the people who are at the forefront of development in any given area set the precedent for the ethics specific to that area. My personal belief is that chipping, gluing, torching, landing alteration (besides to curb erosion), have no place in rock climbing. As you said, Jamie, I feel that one of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of climbing is the process of learning to adapt to the uncontrollable circumstances presented (conditions, rock types, landings, etc) presented by Mother Nature in their purest form possible.

  7. Chipsanddip

    13. Nov, 2009

    Well, I guess I’ll be second (behind Jamie) to give an opinion (if you can call it that). The problem with this issue is that there are always two sides to each argument. One might say, “by leaving the climb as is we are not forcing nature to adapt to us.” In response another might say, “why did that hold break in the first place? Was it not by the prying of human fingers on this fractured piece of stone?”
    Then again someone may say, “by not putting this hold back in its original place we are changing the nature of the problem from what it would have been if humans had never shown up and chalked the shit out it in the first place.” Again in response, “isn’t the act of placing the hold back in its natural place with glue completely un-natural.”
    Personally, if it was in my local bouldering area I would look and see if the break made the climb lose its classification as a “GREAT PROBLEM” (if it was even that to begin with). If so then I would discuss it with the other locals in the area, particularly the first ascentionist, to see if it would be ok to glue the hold back in place. If the break didn’t make the problem loose its “CLASSIC” status but just made it harder, not impossible but harder, I would probably say leave it.
    To me it seems to be more of an issue of local ethics and the status (classic/complete choss fuck) that climb is put in post break and not an issue of nature.

  8. Tiago mendigo

    13. Nov, 2009

    The broken hold maybe will turn the climb impossible, for now. The way things are going with many kids sending everything, I think that will be better to leave it alone. Glueing hold are a bad thing to me, because we open space to strange things that can destroy classic boulders. In this case I don’t know if the broken hold make it “impossible”, but I believe that is something that only time will tell. Alltought, Sometimes glue can be helpfull on making some fragile holds don’t brake. It’s a complicated matter, but I would not glue it never… Anyway, I think the climbing ethics can’t be generealizated to a worldwide scale, leaving the ethics to the local climbers. Sorry for the bad english… CLIIMB HARD!

  9. joe morgan

    13. Nov, 2009

    i have never glued anything at my local crags of Tram and Black Mt. but i have been tempted. i climbed a very pretty pure arete line on a huge hanging piece of granite from the sit. the key sit hold broke off, and was given to me to decide what to do with it. i went up and did the sit moves sans hold. so i threw the hold away.

    someone should try dreamtime w/out the hold. see if it goes. betcha it doth.

  10. peter b

    13. Nov, 2009

    “The first thing I would say is, if you’re against abortion don’t have one. It still isn’t illegal to chip. Don’t impose your philosophy on me. The rock is indifferent: it doesn’t care if it has a hole from piton a bolt carving roadcuts, or a chipped pocket. I feel as if climbers get too caught up in the ethics of the route and the rock insofar as the climb and don’t think about the bigger picture.”

    Timy Fairfield’s position is riddled with contradictions and worse. The rock may be indifferent but it is at the heart of the pursuit of climbing. No clearer example of “imposing” a philosophy can be found than by chipping holds. He has things perfectly reversed when he says that climbers concerned with ethics “don’t think about the bigger picture.” Given what he said in that interview and in other outlets, I cannot think of a worse source for guidance on this question, except as a negative example. I would not agree to disagree here.

    Chipping serves no purpose whatsoever except to highlight the chipper’s weakness. Reinforcing holds is a questionable measure but at least it respects the original form of the climb. Reattaching is crossing a boundary and I speak from personal experience.

    Leave Dreamtime alone as it is.

  11. matt

    13. Nov, 2009

    i think it should stand as be. if the problem got harder, so be it. go climb it and record a new send on the scorecard with “mainly chipped/glued”. However, i do believe that if this hold broke to make the problem easier, it would be glued back on (by someone) to preserve the difficulty of the problem.

  12. Trent H.

    13. Nov, 2009

    All good points, as usual, Jamie.

    I have always felt that when holds break, it is simply the result of the types of erosive forces that created the boulders in the first place. As such, we should accept the ‘new’ problem as not only natural, but as an exciting challenge. So often, we try to modify the rock to fulfill our own expectations of what the problem or route should look like. In my experience, problems whose ‘critical’ holds have broken are generally just as good afterwards…

  13. Blackford

    13. Nov, 2009

    I’ll never glue. It always looks like shit.
    I’ll still climb a glued problem or route though.

  14. yosh

    13. Nov, 2009

    All boulders are destined to crumble into dust.

  15. ange

    13. Nov, 2009

    in response to timy’s statement–i feel that this logic is flawed. “if you’re against abortion, don’t have one”. fair enough. but with chipping, you are affecting a medium permanently that other individuals have a right to enjoy as well (unless of course the boulder is on your property, etc.). with abortion, you are making a decision about your own body. the rock is public, in most cases, so this abortion argument seems irrelevant.

  16. Justin

    13. Nov, 2009

    I’m amazed that people would even consider gluing the hold back on. This isn’t some moderate everyman’s problem that has suddenly been torn away from the masses.

    Nothing respects the original more than to allow it to become a testpiece again instead of a manufactured travesty.

  17. mervo

    13. Nov, 2009

    leave it alone, climb harder. while i don’t always agree with Peter, in this instance, he is dead on.

  18. sockhands

    13. Nov, 2009

    my actual response is: if it still goes, leave it alone. the vast majority of folks seem to agree with this.

    if a hold is flexing and its loss will likely make the climb impossible, then i am not against reinforcing it.

    it’s like a living being… if you can sustain its life, do so. if it has died, let it stay dead. otherwise, it will start to feast on human flesh, creating even more zombies.

    somehow this would also happen with stones.

  19. Andre Di Felice

    13. Nov, 2009

    GLUE THE #$%K OUT OF IT!!!

  20. Chuck

    13. Nov, 2009

    I discussed this with Fred this evening and he expressed interest that the hold not be glued back.

  21. BC

    13. Nov, 2009

    wasn’t it already gjued? GLUE IT

  22. Nietzsche

    13. Nov, 2009

    @ ange: I think the public/private distinction that is drawn between rock/abortion is somewhat nebulous for the reason being that to say that someone should not glue impedes upon the choice of others impedes upon someone’s individual choice to glue or not glue. It seems obvious that there is a fear that someone sometime would want to glue the hold back on and maybe this fear is legitimate or illegitimate (after all most climbers don’t bolt gym holds on walls to make climbs easier). Democratic decision (which is what I think counts as public here), like capitalism, is often a race to the bottom and so I think there is something contradictory when we have discussion about Ethics.

    Namely ethics are singular actions that individuals are responsible for and morality is that which inculcates cultures. However, useful this point is, I’m not sure but it points to how the individual and the community relate in making decisions, often, if not always, in violence to one another.

    @ Matt: Does a broken hold really mean that the climb has been chipped? I don’t think so. I always thought that chipping was an intentional activity that had to be decided upon.

  23. B3

    14. Nov, 2009

    I don’t know that ethics are specific to individuals, Nietzsche. For example, the ethics of a business transaction (on a large scale) would not involve the individual, but two businesses or perhaps medical ethics would dictate the actions of a doctor, (her/him acting as all doctors would) not as an individual.

  24. Crafty

    14. Nov, 2009

    As the move has already been done again, I say leave the climb as it is in it’s current state. If little flakes have broken off around the broken hold, then gluing is unlikely to return it to something close to it’s original state.

    Game over man, game over.

    As for the abortion argument, you are making a choice that could affect the lives of others (the experience of knowing the person that could develop), so I don’t know that the abortion argument is a perfect analogy to chipping.

    I will, however, concede that there are certain possible climbs that will likely never be done (without some incredible jump in technology or adoption of some high-tech new tool in a climbers arsenal) in which chipping could, possibly, create an enjoyable climb that otherwise would not exist.

    This is, however, a slippery slope to go down. Once one allows one hold to be manufactured, what happens next? who’s to say what is acceptable chipping and unacceptable? And how does one prevent already established problems from being altered?

  25. Nietzsche

    14. Nov, 2009

    The point of ethics and individuals is that ethics are based on decisions that individuals make and morality is based on what people do in a social context. Of course ethics have implications on others, but my point is that ethics and morality often conflict on the basis of the relationship between the individual and the social.

    Again, morality is what everyone does and considers “proper.” Something akin to how I once heard you describe “the Swiss way.” No one decides what is moral, it is done. Ethics have more bearing on who the individual chooses to be. Ethics tells us about a person’s character, morality tells about what is socially valued.

    In the scenario of the chipping morality would play out as the status quo. Something which defines what an “outlier” is as you have put it. Ethics plays along the lines of the responsibility of the individual to make that choice. Again, of course, the intersections between ethics and morality are infinite, but nevertheless the dictums from which they stem diverse.

    The end of the Genealogy of Morals is something like this point.

  26. greasy enchiladas

    14. Nov, 2009

    What is the consensus over chipping on man made boulders such as some of those Montholithic boulders sprinkled around the front range?

  27. Eli

    14. Nov, 2009

    @Peter. Right on. I remember reading that interview with Timy and being shocked at his stance. If you can’t do a move, leave it for someone else, there’s a lot of rock out there.

    On Dreamtime, I would probably glue it if I the gaps could be filled such that the hold didn’t get better.

  28. Andy Mann

    14. Nov, 2009

    If the move goes, leave it be.

  29. slabydno

    15. Nov, 2009

    I think they should bolt it back on and videotape it, then post the video on the internet, like that climb at rumbling bald.

  30. adam s.

    15. Nov, 2009

    who gives a shit it’s a stupid boulder problem. lots more where that came from. like we’re really doing something. we’re doing nothing. bouldering is akin to knitting in that it’s main function is a way to fill the unbearable gaps in time that plague everyone alive. knitting is also a decent forearm workout. a small sliver of rock has peeled away from an insignificant slightly larger piece of rock which has been frequented by insignificant beings in an insignificant quest to find significance. glue it and have an abortion on the same day, end result, nothing.

  31. greasy enchiladas

    15. Nov, 2009

    pissy, pissy eh adam s.?

  32. Timpson

    15. Nov, 2009

    first time commenting here…

    a. Can somebody provide the source for that Timy Fairfield quote? I want to read more of that ridicilous stance of his.

    b. I agree with Peter B that Timy has the idea exactly backwards, and would add to his assessment that such behavior and actions are undeniably and obviously selfish. I’ve climbed on some of his routes and boulder problems, yes, some of the chipped ones. And I’d have to say….not impressed. Not impressed with the ethics. Impressed with his ability and his psyche? Yes.

    c. Leave Dreamtime as is. We’ve been told the new moves go, leave them for the climbers with the talent to pull them.

    d. And finally, a new question. Should a problem like Dreamtime, with it’s significance to Bouldering, be given more attention and argument than a mediocre V6 on Flagstaff mountain that doesn’t have elite climbers flying in from other countries and continents to climb on it?

  33. B3

    15. Nov, 2009

    I proved a link in the post, if you click on the word interview.

  34. Carlos

    16. Nov, 2009

    In regards to the broken hold, I feel as though it should remain disconnected from the boulder. I do not believe in chipping or glueing.
    In response to the Timmy interview, I definitely feel like people should either read the whole interview, or the whole interview should have been posted. After reading the whole interview I definitely had a new respect for him even though I disagree with his “ethics” on chipping and glueing. It is a bit unfair to only post that piece of the interview when the rest of it explained his response a little bit more.

    Since I am posting, I would like to tell you how great I think your blog is Jamie. I visit it several times a week and look forward to every update. Keep up the good work.

  35. B3

    16. Nov, 2009

    Again, if you click on the word interview, which is highlighted in green, you can read the whole thing.

  36. Blake

    16. Nov, 2009

    I would love to hear Fred Nicole’s opinion on this issue…Afterall he is the first ascentionist

  37. Adrian

    17. Nov, 2009

    Blake, see Chuck’s reply above for Fred’s position on the matter.

  38. Timpson

    18. Nov, 2009

    I felt it would be responsible and fair to Timy to read the entire interview, so I did just that, twice. Between the interview and the two limited interactions I’ve had with Timy I definately have proper respect for his accomplishments, and furthermore, as a person. We share the same stances on several issues and share some of the same environmental practices such as driving bio-fueled vehicles and practicing responsible eating habits supporting local food producers. I do recommend reading the entire interview. I still disagree with the chipping ethics in particular, and would refer to Peter b’s post, specifically: “No clearer example of “imposing” a philosophy can be found than by chipping holds.” …. Well said.

  39. dp

    21. Nov, 2009

    more clear than nazi germany or the holy crusades for sure

  40. chuffer

    22. Nov, 2009

    I tried a boulder problem for 2 years. I was not good enough to climb it at the time. Then it broke. And it was another 4 years before I was strong enough to do the new, harder sequence. I DID climb the boulder problem. It was just harder. How is Dreamtime any different?

  41. chuffer

    24. Nov, 2009

    ^ apparently, there is another chuffer in the world

  42. Ed Keller

    03. Dec, 2009

    @ Nietzsche- I appreciate your point. I was going to post something along those lines but go one step further: ethics has NOTHING to do with right and wrong. Your historical namesake was substantially responsible, at least in western culture/philosophy, for arguing that we’re ‘beyond good and evil’; ethics is only about what people/animals/systems can do to others or have done to them. According to this reasoning, the entire discussion in climbing is primarily a moral argument.

    Indeed, I have always found that debate over “morals mistaken for ethics” to be a really weak aspect of climbing culture. I have a passion for fine points, which is IMHO about all we have – climbing being one of the truly useless sports [I say that in the same manner I’d say that love is a useless emotion- with irony, and triple entendre, because I love passionately…] And in the middle of absolute uselessness- the beauty of a sport that does nothing but refine arbitrary lines of success- we can either become fanatics about the ‘right’ way to pursue it [weak and violent, IMHO] or maintain that passion while experimenting with alternate ways to pursue our passion.

    I recently watched Jim Jarmusch’s film ‘The Limits of Control’. In it a character rephrases a quote many will be familiar with: ‘Nothing is true, everything is imagined’. I thought this was a great way to reinvigorate the idea of ‘permission’ which is how that quote usually ends.

    Back in the late 80s with a number of other East Coast climbers I spent some years climbing and setting routes in Kingston- that illstarred / rumored quarry where almost every route is drilled and/or chipped. In the midst of a discussion about what we were doing at Kingston, one way to resolve the dilemma was to simply argue that since it was an old quarry we were free from the restrictions we would have encountered in other areas.

    Another argument was our knowledge that many classic sport routes in both France and the States had been ‘cleaned’,
    one way or another.

    Another argument was, as Russ Clune put it- [Russ was very active there in the 90s]: the place is a bit of a choss pile and
    not really a destination. We loved our drilled out toxic dump, but not many others would.
    So: ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’. [the second line of this quote, for those of you who only got partway
    through Mr Crowley, actually goes ‘Love is the law, love under will’. There’s a puzzle for us, eh?

    The broader question became oriented around a search for skill, for me at least. Was the route well set? were the holds and sequences
    sculpted with imagination? Was the SACRIFICE of a bit of rock worth the return?

    And let’s remember ‘not to take ourselves too seriously, nor too lightly’ [F. Nietzsche again….] since,
    in climbing, the amount of change we create on the rock by cleaning, or even bolting and drilling, is so utterly trivial in
    comparison to the ecological devastation taking place worldwide due to industries out of control, due to wars…
    To wit: folks, just take a look at the Amazon jungle on Google Earth sometime, and then tell me that every bolt ever placed,
    every hold EVER chipped, glued, customized or chiseled off, means anything at all. Or go to Beijing and walk around for a few
    days on a high pollution day, and talk to me about bouldering ‘ethics’. Let’s keep things in perspective.

    All the passion and energy expended in climbing, if it really is to be for an ethical cause, would be better directed
    toward saving our ecosystems from rampant industry and the real evils of human presence.

    With this said: I vote to leave Dreamtime in its new state, if Caminati says it’ll go.

  43. B3

    03. Dec, 2009

    Thanks every one for participating but in particular great points Ed and Nietsche, thanks for contributing!

  44. wyclimber

    14. Dec, 2009

    I am not sure the ‘classic’ nature or the high difficulty of Dreamtime elevate it ethically above other climbs as some have stated. In a related event we had a local 2 star V6 that I FA’d years back break this past summer. The hold in question had a great knob on the left side allowing for an outward pull which lead to its demise under the strength and weight of a larger more powerful climber. It left a perfect crisp square 3/4 pad edge making the move possible but harder. I re-sent the problem and felt it to be harder and actually better than in its original state. Unfortunately, I left the broken hold at the base of the climb instead of chucking it into the woods. A friend of mine who was unable to do the problem in its new state glued it back on and re-sent it in its new old? state. The glue he used is quite strong and even if I pried it off it would probably break in a different spot leaving who knows what sort of fracture. This set off a whirlwind of discussion amongst the regular boulderers raising many issues of which have been discussed in this thread. In the end we have the problem back in its original state save for a tiny bit of glue peeking out around the fracture site and I have the only memory of sending it in its broken state. I would have prefered that it stayed broken, I liked it better that way, but no one asked me. Also its one less amendment I will have to make to a future guidebook.

  45. GM

    06. Jan, 2010

    Well, this discussion gives new light on my understanding of that old man who said he got to be hundred because he never had sat on a rock – all his life.

    I always saw my potential modest contribution to discussions in this rocky field through shoe’s color coding. “Ships, shoes, slivers and sharp colors”, would have been my unique entry to the world of critical ethics in rock climbing.

    I think one should not glue in the intent to repair (put things back as they were – impossible).

    But one should feel free to create climbing sculptures of glue and little pieces of rock (or does this already happen?). Or mixes of blue holds and limestone. Or relics with pieces of fake bone: “So and so broke their leg and arm in this move…” and etc.
    Build new walls that defy the limits of natural, artificial, crumbling…and chipping! And then run before the property owner’s gun.

    And the reason for the naive fundamentalism (aren’t all fundamentalisms naive because of either ignorance or overload of understanding? I am channeling ignorance, certainly.) is that any classic (in any field: film, photography, etc) necessarily changes overtime. “Edges” naturally crumble out of classics and are constantly being viewed in that new light – one should be able to read how a “fallen edge” is part of the history of the reading of a subject. That is history on a classic: how many new differences time has made onto the classic but also how many great qualities a classic still has to withstand time.

    Child climbers now can levitate and fly backwards, in so many new ways to dance around the history of these movement shaping problems. Let erosion – “natural” in some cases includes “man” – smooth out the way for new gestures to be created.

    Call me Garcia Marquez X

  46. Jon

    25. Jul, 2010

    Gluing a hold obviously detracts from the purity of a line. If there are two lines next to each other with equal movement, uniqueness and aesthetic, the non-glued line is better.

    That being said, many classic problems are glued and they kick ass. Like First Overhang. Others are reinforced, like Hagan’s…thank god, that problems rules but would’ve broken years ago with college freshman climbing in the rain.

    Glued hold are like dating a woman with a boob job.

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