Opinion: Frisco climbing route stirs classic controversy

Online flame war over bolts on Mt. Royal

A photo by STAN WAGON shows the upper face of the now-controversial Royal Flush route.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A climbing route on Frisco’s very own Mt. Royal has triggered an intense debate on a climbing website, with comments breaking down along predictable lines. The route was established and bolted by local climbing guide Peter Krainz together with Tim Toula in 2009. It’s described as a traditional 20-pitch, 5.9 (Grade III) climb covering 1,500 vertical feet.

Initial feedback from complimented the pair for the hard work they put into establishing the route, but a subsequent comment thread turned nasty and sarcastic, with some self-proclaimed climbing purists claiming that there are too many bolts in the wall, calling the route unethical. Others responded that they don’t see a problem with the bolts in a semi-urban setting, where trucks roar past on a four-lane interstate highway.

While many climbers have a live and let live attitude about life, others take the issue of bolting very seriously, even quoting semi-spiritual soundbites from Yvon Chouinard in their argument against the bolts.

If you’re not familiar with the climbing world, here’s what’s at issue for some of the people involved in the debate: Some people think that it’s better to use removable pieces of gear that can be wedged into cracks to provide anchors for ropes and carabiners. Other people think it’s OK to drill a few holes into the rock and bolt permanent anchors into place.

The debate is not unique to Summit County. It rages on wherever there is a climbable wall, sometimes to the point that people will go out and remove the bolts that other climbers have placed. In some cases, a misplaced sense of localism and self-righteous indignation seems to be the motivating factor’ in other comments, it’s probably just boredom and the desire to perpetuate an online flame war.

It  seems a bit ludicrous to make an environmental issue over a few tiny holes in a rock face when global warming is devastating local forests on a massive scale, when developers are filling acres of wetlands to build new big-box stores, and when ski resorts can clear cut tens of thousands of trees to build new ski runs. We need to pick our environmental fights carefully. Then again, both sides make some interesting points in this debate, and after I read the thread, I wasn’t sure what to think.

Here are a few quotes to give you a taste of the debate:

  • “I have to side with Rowdy on this one. I think that this route is really fun and enjoyable. I just don’t understand why so many bolts needed to be used. Yes, some areas need to be protected by bolts on some of the slab climbing. Do you really need bolts next to legitimate crack systems? As a local Summit County climber, who was born and raised in Silverthorne, I am very protective of these mountains. It just seems silly to me that people can defend the bolts. Remember what Yvon Chouinard said …. ‘No longer can we assume the Earth’s resources are limitless; that there are ranges of unclimbed peaks extending endlessly beyond the horizon. Mountains are finite, and despite their massive appearance, they are fragile. ‘Mad bolters are among the worst offenders of the alpine environment. Young climbers must learn that bolting is done as a substitute for climbing. Guides, climbing schools and established climbers have a heavy responsibility here.‘As we enter this new era of mountaineering, re-examine your motives for climbing. Employ restraint and good judgment. Remember the rock, the other climbers — climb clean.’ ”
    –“A Word” written by Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost (1974).'”


  • “I am happy that it has sparked interest in this community to get people to climb that never would of climbed what happens to be a cool peak with good rock in their own backyard. Many folks are enjoying the line and are grateful and thankful there was a route like this that was accessible for them. Why does everything have to be a hard core testpiece? Do you have any idea how much work it takes to put up a route like that? I am sure it was more work cleaning than bolting. I’m psyched I can chuck a 2 hour lap up Royal for sunsets now. Sara and Rowdy, when is the last time you climbed Royal before this route was added, and which line did you take?If you want to climb some of my routes, I will gladly hand you a topo, but they are deep in the remote regions of the world on some big pieces of stone and plenty of firsties in RMNP if you want local. You can go climb one of my routes in RMNP before you judge my style, but I am sure you might whimper a bit.”


  • “In the 12 years I’ve lived here, I have climbed, scrambled, soloed, in all seasons Including winter, on the west face of Mt. Royal. I have climbed directly on or near “Royal Flush” as it’s now known, in its present bolted state three times now. Many portions of the route have obviously been climbed before. I.e. the rusty ring piton on pitch “18”, the quarter inch at the base of the “Great Dihedral”. The webbing I found likely just a couple years old at the top of pitch “8” etc.
  • Yes, it’s a great route! I appreciate all the work it takes to install all this hardware. I have no problem with reasonably placed bolts… too many, too little, no big deal. But this is clearly excessive … The route is WAY OVER BOLTED. Truely ask yourselves WHY? What are the reasons, motives, of three guides being involved with the installation of all this hardware?
  • Let’s be honest. This is unnecessary, and ethically wrong. Especially in the mountains. And it matters. And from IFMGA guides? What a great place to teach gear placements, good judgment of ability, respect for those who went before and who will in the future and leave no trace and environmental preservation. You can say “just don’t clip the bolts”, but the permanent damage to the rock and the individual unspoiled experience and adventure has been taken away forever.

See the entire thread here.


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