My preferred option and one most people can relate to is an onsight after a bit of a tussle. People I aspired to were the likes of Pete Whillance and Douggie Hall and although training and projecting are in vogue nowadays I thought the people who had decided to hang out in cellars and on the odd sport crag had effectively given up climbing (teenage view obvs).
In the late 90s there were a few climbers who were really pushing the boat out in onsight climbing, Ian Vickers, Leo Houlding, Patch Hammond, Ben Bransby, Craig Parnaby, Lucy Creamer and Glenda Huxter to name some. In 2000 I onsighted my first 3 E7s and it felt like the biggest mental breakthrough I’d had in climbing and a friend, Stuart Wood used to wind up a well known Lakeland ‘E9 climber’ who hadn’t attempted to climb routes of this level in this style at the time.
Nowadays I enjoy my time on the abseil rope checking stuff out as much as when onsighting, although I was chuffed with my correct guess of Nick Bullock top roping down the Lleyn. The ethics in climbing are up to you and new routes particularly often need cleaning and checked to make sure you aren’t going to die on them. That being said it seems that nowadays a top rope is often the rule rather than the exception with many good climbers I know who have done a load of E8s and 9s in recent years but they haven’t climbed a route above E5 on an onsight in the same period. This might be prudent as a lot less can go wrong on a route you’ve worked but it can also be rather misleading as punters like Niall Grimes just thinks everyone’s doing new routes without any inspection which is rarely the case. I've also made the mistake of sending friends up onsight on routes I've checked out on abseil before climbing, telling poor Ryan he'd piss one and the you realise how inefficient, tiring and dangerous it is when you're going slowly on bold and strenuous terrain and are struggling to place blind, small RPS blindly before committing to 6c moves above. Sorry Ryan.
The odd first ascent of an E7 I’ve onsighted, many more ground up with friends, some routes have involved down aiding to check the gear and holds(like Nightmare Inauguration- done day before Trump got in) , on routes like Moonrise Kingdom I onsighted the first half at around E7 but checked the last half by abseil. I did think about leaving my high point on the onsight on Moonrise Kingdom thereby leaving the rest as a challenge for a future climber, I knew Adam Long would like this, but the desire for a new route on this impressive wall took precedent and the style of ascent was the absolute best I could have managed to do it in.
Another time I got close to onsighting the first ascent of a new E7 6c, falling at the lip of a ten metre roof before lowering and climbing it in the next 2 goes, leaving the gear in from my onsight attempt and I was pretty chuffed with the style of ascent. I was down St Govans and explained what I’d done to an old school climber who implied I’d yoyo’d it which I thought was remarkably clueless as there wont have been that many ground up E7 first ascents in the UK, courtesy of Dawes, Arran, Vickers et al.
Pembroke particularly was where I have been pleased with the ethic of ascents for most routes (bar a brief aiding exercise with Oli Grounsel- a friend had got hurt and needed helicoptered out, doesn’t do anyones head any good), never having abseil inspected a route in Pembroke until last year and actually had aspirations to try and onsight all of the ones in the Leap. I had the three E8s and an esoteric E5 left but as it transpired the bloody E5 shut me down in a pitiful thread grab!. I never would have onsighted Chupacabra anyway and Nothing to Fear is rather death defying now most of its pegs have gone.
There has been much discussion about in-situ kit on sea cliffs and elsewhere and how it should be stripped out and climbed without. My personal view on this is that its bollox, unless the protection is so poor as its certain to fail on body weight. Some routes wouldn’t exist without the in-situ gear, climbs like The Bells, the Bells, Subterranean, Chicama, and a ton of truly amazing climbs in Pembroke. Without certain pegs and threads some climbs would become so dangerous they’d only get an ascent from someone keen on headpointing them. For an onsight climber the in-situ gear can offer a potential lifeline to aim for and also show the way to go, and for onsighting on unchalked technical routes going off routes is a real risk and easily done on some routes. My personal view for routes which get headpointed then have gear stripped is its slightly poor form and when people replace gear, for instance the peg low down in Barbarossa it can resurrect the popularity of a climb (its never going to be Christmas Crack on Stanage).
Having an environmental ethic, like a climbing ethic is a personal option although one that is considerably more important. People often don’t like to voice what people should/could be doing to help mitigate climate change as they may be denounced as a hypocrite and Extinction Rebellion rightly say they aren’t after individuals making big changes, but after the government telling the truth and doing something about it.
Being realistic about climate change we are set in for worst case scenarios atm, warmer wetter winters, more flooding, droughts, change in weather pattern distribution and big increases in immigration. If you have money possibly the biggest change you can do is move it to an ethical bank. But individual change is certainly pissing into the wind atm, so if you have ideas about getting your government to do something about climate change I’d do so, now, as David Attenborough isn’t joking about ‘great civil unrest’.
I’ll leave this ramble on ethics on a lighter note:
UKs worst climbers on ethics:
- Calum: Seconding routes French free and saying he’s done them, wish I’d used this trick on Dawn Wall behind Ondra.
- Birks: All but Jim, Daves like Seb but with a longer top rope, Bill said E9 might be E11 when its not and Will-where to start with Will, stealing routes, toilet matters and vandalism! Bunch of hillbillies.
- Dezroy, Bullock: Fashion, greater ranges, Dorys & victimisation!
- Macleod: Top ropes, boulders too much and could be inspiring kids into ket.
- Barrows, Buys, Doyle: Kneepads and ‘bored time’!
- Hazel and the wideboys: Fly everywhere for crack.
- Bransby: Skiing and fry ups.
- Niall and JR: They don’t want you to know what style they did that E6 of Dave Peggs at Thorn Crag. Why the secrecy?
- Adam Long: Cyberbullying and once top roped Peace of Mind
- Reeves, Greenwood, Glaister: Rockfax
- Tom Livingstone: Banging on and trips to greater ranges.