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I keep running into self-designated “trad” [1] climbers at well-known sport crags. They make their disdain of this bastardization of their religion clear [2] but so many of their friends do it, and seem to have fun, they grit their teeth and give it a try. But never let you forget that this isn’t “real” climbing, and they’d rather be in Yosemite [3]. Even if they’ve never been to Yosemite.

Never mind that every single person in the last three decades who has pushed trad standards higher has been a serious sport climber. Start with Piana/Skinner (Hueco, Wild Iris), Hill (World Cup Champion), Huber(s) (possible first 9a), etc. etc. etc. [4]. Jeff Lowe, one of the finest alpinists ever, was the first person to bring a sport climbing comp to the US, fer crissakes.

Just this week, I heard “But they don’t know how to place gear.” Again. [5]

Sigh. You have trouble placing gear, because you are weak and don’t know how to climb. If one can climb 5.15, and onsight 5.14, and the highest standard of trad climbing is low 5.14 but mostly way (way) less, then placing gear on anything less than that is not the thing holding one back. Anyone that good can learn to place gear, better than you, inside a few days in Yosemite.

“But they don’t know how to climb cracks”. Sigh. Climbing 5.13 cracks (8a) is just not a big deal if you can hang onto 9a or V14.

The truly strange thing about all these “trad” people slumming about Europe is they don’t really know how to climb trad. At least as far as I can tell from watching them sport climb. Liebacking is a lost art. It seems like they’ve never been taught to stem. They’ve clearly never climbed in Tuolumne or Tahquitz, because footwork is completely missing. Watching them try to smear up a delicate slab is like watching a duck paddle up a hill. Underclings are a complete mystery to them.

They mostly can’t even clip a quickdraw efficiently. Talk about knowing how to place gear – that’s the simplest part of trad placements when you’re pumped out of your mind and about to whip – can you get the fucking rope into the fucking carabiner.

God help them, they don’t know how to manage a rope so it doesn’t get fucked up, the most basic skill of moving fast on a real trad route – mountain, alpine, or wall.

Though often they have a permanently attached daisy chain [7] and a belay knife just in case a sun-bleached sling shows up at the top of a sport anchor – they’re 100% equipped to 100% handle that situation 100% of the time. Never mind that that will never happen in Siurana or Ceuse where they are slumming.


[1] Mostly they are self-defined as “trad” climbers because they don’t do anything else, not because they do it particularly well.
[2] To wit: “Sport climbing is neither.”
[3] Which the sport-climbing of trad anyway. Come on. The Nose is a 15 minute hike from your #vanlife. They never say “I’d rather be in the Dolomites” (or Alps or Patagonia or Alaska) – you know, where there is serious real trad to be had. If you can pay your dues.
[4] Yes, all those folks had serious trad experience. But they got strong by sport-climbing.
[5] You know, despite the evidence of Ondra coming and making short work of the Dawn Wall [6]. And Verhoeven the Nose. And, and, and…
[6] Not that Ondra didn’t have some serious trad experience – this wasn’t his first rodeo. But come on. Aside from a rainstorm, he almost onsighted the Nose. With his dad. As a warmup.
[7] What’s a daisy chain, ahem, “personal anchor system (PAS)”, most useful for? Signaling that this a person with whom you don’t want to climb. See also: belay knife, rappel device (esp. figure 8), prussik, and gym card.