The Adrenalist

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How Clean Climbing Changed Rock Climbing Forever



There was a time before the cam and the stopper – pieces of gear used by climbers as protection in the event of a fall – when climbers all carried hammers and an array of pitons. Any time that a crevice appeared and climbers sought an anchor in the rock, out came the hammer and in went a piton. This left the beautiful rock faces that took eons to form scarred forever, without any way of being repaired to their natural state. It was then that the “clean climbing” movement changed the course of rock climbing history: an effort by climbers, spearheaded by the likes of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Robinson, among others, to bring the leave-no-trace ethic of backpacking to cliffs around the world.

Instead of hammering iron spikes into El Capitan and Half Dome, they championed the use of removable clean climbing gear like stoppers, and later cams. These devices were more complicated and expensive than the iron pitons Chouinard hammered out in his workshop, but they would preserve the perfect natural mountain lines he and their ilk held as sacred. Today, the use of clean climbing protection is the standard, and the idea of leaving no trace but chalk marks on a route is held as the highest ideal of alpinism and rock climbing.

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