Friday, 16 November 2018

What's in a name?

Arni Strapcans: Original Image-Photographer unknown?
It has been suggested that routes with boring names should be omitted from future guidebooks. Alternatively, routes with names such as "Straight Crack" or "North-East Climb" will be exchanged for more intriguing options such as "Outer Plasmic Membrane", "Rupert Bear Goes Hiking", or even "Bimbo The Lorry Drivers Gulch Eliminate". ("Exploding" is an optional extra applicable to all route names.) Names will be reappointed by a qualified body of verbal diarrhoea sufferers on a three-yearly basis. All British route names will be placed in a lottery barrel in a heavily guarded room at the BMC head-quarters in Manchester, then drawn out at random and reappointed to completely different routes. By this method, classic routes will not get over-polished because nobody will know where they are.

Consequently, chalk will be rendered unnecessary, and the more congested routes will be relieved as traffic gets more evenly distributed over all the crags from Land's End to John O' Groats. Every decade, all the names will be discarded and replaced by a completely new set—to prevent boredom, of course, and also to provide permanent employment for guidebook writers (a profession which was beginning to look increasingly insecure owing to the worsening new-crag and line shortages. Who cares what a route is called? Does it matter? What difference would it make if White Slab was called "The Orange Throated Gonk"? Would it be any worse a route? Well, a name certainly does have a predominant influence on the first impression given by a route description, and therefore a well chosen name may well even enhance the existing character of a route. The honour of naming a climb is given exclusively to the first ascensionist, who apparently has the right to call his route whatever he likes, whether relevant or not.

A route name might be merely functional—pinpointing a feature or features encountered on the rock face. On the other hand, a little imagination might be employed and something more entertaining might evolve. Therefore the simple role of naming and describing a route can provide an amusing literary side to climbing which can only come as an enrichment to an activity which is becoming increasingly categorised. But in the '50s British climbers realised that if they were going to rate by European standards in the Alps and elsewhere, they would need a thorough knowledge of pegging. Hence, not wishing to undermine the free-climbing tradition, they set about catching up with the continentals by smashing to bits what were then the less popular crags — especially on limestone, which had not really been accepted as a free-climbing medium. The idea initially was that of practice for bigger things elsewhere. 

The very nature of this type of ascent gave little motive for consideration of a route beyond the desire to practise. Consequently, little attention was paid to its potential value as an addition to the wealth of British climbs. Times have changed, unscaled rock is becoming increasingly scarce. Consequently, areas of rock once taken solely by pegging-practice routes are rapidly getting overlapped by free-climbs, often of the highest quality and difficulty. Surely this totally different outlook can no longer be compared with its shady predecessor. And the renaming of areas of rock is highly commendable as a blunt rejection of the low values which no longer apply. Yet perhaps this harsh wipe-out of the past is a far too insensitive attitude, as there are several pegging routes which hold a lot of historical value, and even quality, in themselves,.Routes such as the Main Overhang at Kilnsey stand out as milestones in the development of British climbing and their mode of attack is still far from obsolete—as can be seen by the tactics of ascent which still seem necessary for scaling impasses on the huge remote rock walls of Patagonia, Baffin Island and elsewhere. Maybe a compromise of some sort is the logical answer. 

If an aid route is climbed without aid but along the very same line, should it be renamed?  * What does the name apply to? Is it the line, or is it a reference to a particular climbing experience? If a name is given as an indicator of the line, its significance is unchanged by the new method of ascent, and a renaming may be difficult to justify. However, modern free versions of old aid routes frequently merely overlap at certain points and the lines of ascent, though close, may be significantly different. Where this situation arises, it would be quite false to apply the old name to both routes. Nevertheless, the matter is a delicate one, and points of view will inevitably clash. The final decision, of course, has to rest with the guide-book writers, who will, I hope, take account of current trends and opinions rather than stand doggedly by their own personal ideology. 

Arni Strapcans : First Published in Crags 3.

Editors' Note.—( Crags Editor) People are very sensitive. We had a quick dig in the ribs at some folk in 'Crags' 1 and look what happens. Harness Can-straps sends us 50,000 words which have to be typed-up, Vesta Bincroft is now wandering around every climb muttering the words "Here Steve Bancroft is climbing this 10 foot crack before an unknown crowd". 

* See Paul Ross's 'The Great Overhang' and Pete Livesey's 'Footless Crow'.