To Chip Or Not To Be by Erik Durgin

Jun 4 • Dirtbagging • 1842 Views • No Comments on To Chip Or Not To Be by Erik Durgin

Editor’s note: after learning of a new chipped route at our local crag here in Durango, the Golf Wall, The Climbing Zine contacted the creator of the route, and asked him to explain his actions, this is his full reply: 

The often heated topic of chipping is nothing new. We’ve all heard the same old arguments time and time again; “stealing from the future” and “not solving the puzzle that nature provides” or “chipping a route to dumb it down to your level”. It is very much in vogue these days to openly hate on any chipped route and those who do the dirty work. With the practice being so passionately opposed by the masses, why is it that new routes continue to be established with chipped holds and existing routes with chipped holds continue to be climbed day after day by hundreds of people?

by Erik Durgin

There are several factors that need to be examined. First: we all desperately want to look and sound “cool” like our climbing hero’s. As a young buck I avidly opposed chipping because my idols Dave Graham and Joe Kinder did. I would mindlessly regurgitate the words I read in magazines and heard in videos without ever thinking critically about the subject for myself. My “aha” moment as Oprah would call it came at the tender age of 23 when I spent two months climbing in Spain and France. I was climbing in the world famous Siurana and was blown away by the quality and more importantly, the consistency of the routes. Every day I found myself saying “this is the best route ever!” One day I was looking through the guide book and noticed that every once and a while, maybe one in twenty, a routes name was followed by the word “natural”. Surely this couldn’t mean what I was thinking, so I asked a nearby Spaniard.  Sure enough, if a routes name was followed by the word natural it meant that the route had no chipped or glued holds. “you’re telling me that 95% of these routes are chipped”?! I asked the Spaniard. To which he replied “of course, why do you think they’re so good”?

Back in the states, I was working my way into the 5.13- range and everywhere I went it was the same story. Most routes I climbed were chipped, glued, comfortized or in some way enhanced from their natural state. It was clear that I either had to except hold enhancement as a necessary evil of hard sport climbing or live in a state of righteous hypocrisy, no different than those awful people who openly hate the oil industry but have no problem driving their gas guzzling pickups to Indian creek every weekend.

Second: The majority of people who oppose chipping have never attempted to bolt a hard route of their own and are unaware of the realities. The chances of finding a 70’ chunk of stone with just enough feature to not only be climbable but also provide fun movement and an enjoyable experience is slim to none.  A common misconception is that chipping is only done to make a climb easier. This does happen occasionally and is very unfortunate. However, more often than not, chipping is done to make a route better, harder, more consistent or simply to connect blank sections of rock to the natural features. Sure, the all natural climbs that have fun, consistent movement from bottom to top are the “king lines” but they can’t all be king lines. Many routes wouldn’t exist, at any level of difficulty without chipped or otherwise enhanced holds. And then there’s those unpleasant “one move wonder” routes. You know the ones. When the entire difficulty of the route is defined by one or two moves, the rest of the climbing being a non issue. Those kinds of routes suck and are rarely popular. Personally, I would take a chipped route with flowing consistent difficulty over a natural one move wonder any day and I believe that most people who climb 5.12+ and up would agree.

Third: Most people are either unaware of or turn a blind eye to the fact that the majority of 5.12+ and up routes in the world are chipped or enhanced in some way. That includes Trad climbing. Many hard traditional routes are only made possible by climbing on “pin scars”. Without decades of pounding steel into the thin cracks these routes would not be possible as free climbs. So, if the majority of hard climbing in the world has chipped holds than how can that be “stealing from the future” as many people argue? The “future” being young climbers who will work their way through the grades and eventually push the level of difficulty to new heights. Without all the existing hard routes for these youngsters to work through their progress would be slowed to a halt. Once they have reached the highest level of difficulty it will be up to them to decide how to move forth.

I love developing new routes. I do it for myself and for the Durango climbing community that I love so dearly. I want everyone to have access to fun, hard routes of every style and angle. Having a plethora of hard routes to try keeps us motivated to push harder and achieve new levels. I love seeing a fellow climber work hard to send a route, celebrate and then move on to the next challenge. Without new route development there is no “next challenge”. This is one of many reasons why I decided to chip a hold on a project at Golf Wall that I bolted with a friend.

We bolted the project almost two years ago. At the time, we were concerned about one blank section that might not go. After a few days of effort it became clear that we had a decision to make. Other than the 4’ blank section, the project was awesome, very difficult and definitely represented the “next challenge” or next level for the Golf Wall and Durango climbing in general. Unfortunately, in its natural state, the route didn’t quite go. I knew that if one hold was chipped just a little bit the route would be possible, giving Durango a wild new project with difficulty unmatched by any established route in the area. For me, the choice was simple. My partner, on the other hand, was not so sure. The project sat untouched for almost a year. I hate leaving a bolting project unfinished. A project should be fully cleaned, safely bolted and open for business or the bolts should be removed. Abandoning bolts on an unclimbable project is hardly a step above littering, in my opinion. This year, determined to finish what we started, I was either going to chip a hold and open the project to the public or remove the bolts altogether. My partner gave me his blessing and I went to work.

Let it be known that I believe this sort of thing is on a route by route and crag by crag basis. Golf Wall is a glued up, chipped out choss factory… and we love it! The strongest ethic surrounding Golf Wall Wall, above all else, is to have a good time. If the project were at East Animas it would be an entirely different story.  I believe I made the right choice and stand by it. I fully accept that there will be people who want to string me up for such atrocities and I understand that point of view, but I don’t do it for them. I do it for those who love to go big, set high goals and devote 110% to accomplish their dreams. The ones who will never stop reaching for the next level.  And in the years to come, when I see the smiling face of someone lowering off the route after a hard fought victory, I will know it was totally worth it.

Read our reply: A Chip Off The Old Block, Is Chipping Acceptable? 

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