Predicting the future of climbing ain't easy



  • Thread title aside, I am not going to do any predicting here, but rather note a prediction made some time ago by one of the best, and savviest, climbers ever.

    Most of you probably know that Doug Scott was a badass Himalayan climber. Surviving a night out just below the summit after the first ascent of the SW face of Everest. Almost not surviving the descent from the Ogre. Etc Etc.

    He was also a gifted rock climber with big wall climbs on El Cap and first ascents on the big walls of Baffin Island. On top of which, he was a student of climbing history and a good writer. His 1974 book Big Wall Climbing was, for the day, not only a comprehensive (and well illustrated) history of the climbing of big rock faces worldwide, but also a terrific how-to manual.

    All of which is preamble to the fact that if anyone in 1974 was in a position to look into the future of big wall climbing, it was Doug.

    And yet, on re-reading Big Wall Climbing (it's cold, wet and windy up here, and nights are long) I was struck by how wrong he was in a pair of his predictions.

    His section on big wall climbing in remote areas focuses mostly on Baffin Island and Patagonia. In concluding his discussion of Baffin, he notes that on his most recent expedition (1973), he discovered that the Canadian government had created a new National Park there, and begged climbers worldwide to lobby for its removal. Why? Because making it a park, and putting in a hut at Summit Lake, would surely spell the end. It would soon be overrun with tourists, and become just another example of the destruction of beautiful wilderness.

    Shifting his focus 8,000 miles to the south, he detailed the climbing to date in the Fitzroy and Paine regions of Patagonia, and concluded that, while photographs might make it appear to be a big rock paradise, the horrible weather would prevent more than a very few climbers ever going there.

    50 years of hindsight makes it clear that even the wisest, most experienced, best positioned of us can get things totally wrong. Auyuittuq National Park encloses only a tiny fraction of the mountains of Baffin Island, and even within that tiny fraction, tourism is... well, just ask your next-door neighbor how much she fancies a trip there. You might or might not encounter a few other climbers during your time there, but tourists won't be an issue.

    Patagonia, on the other hand, has become an international climbing mecca. I don't know about tourists, but you are sure going to encounter more than one or two other climbers.

    Photo below is of the 4,000 ft east side of Mt Asgard. Doug's 1972 route goes up the left-hand lobe at the base, and then onward to the summit.

    East side of Mt. Asgard.jpg


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