posted by dpm on 04/18/2013
Drew Ruana in front of To Bolt or Not to Be just after the send. Photo: Christine Ruana/Facebook
13-year-old Drew Ruana has redpointed his fifth 5.14a rock climb with To Bolt or Not to Be at Smith Rock, Oregon. It's been almost exactly one year since Drew ticked his first 5.14 on a trip to the Red River Gorge, Kentucky when he sent God's Own Stone. Since then he's sent four more 5.14's at Smith Rock, Oregon: Chemical Ali, Mr. Yuk, Scarface, and now To Bolt or Not to Be. Though all impressive sends, To Bolt, America's first 5.14a, holds a special status in the minds of sport climbers. It is perhaps the most technically and mentally demanding route of the grade in America. Smith Rock local Ryan Palo summed it up, saying, "5.14 looks good on a scorecard, but this route is one to rest your laurels on. I've seen a lot of youngsters put down some impressive numbers in the last year in half. Although the grade is the same, what Drew just did is a huge step up in difficulty. It's routes like To Bolt that separate the good from the strong (though you have to be very strong as well)."
Click the image below to watch a great video that showcases the route, its significance, and Paige Claassen's impressive send from a few weeks ago.
Within hours of the footage below being posted on DPM, I received some messages regarding Drew's ascent of To Bolt or Not to Be. All express a similar tone: "Drew is an amazing climber and his ascent is remarkable but did he really send the true route?" The messages refer to what might be considered a slight transgression at minute 6:40 when Drew climbs a bit too far to the right and stems out into the corner of Sunshine Dihedral. This method takes some weight off the arms and eliminates a pump crux making a long reach out right to gain the first real shake at the 9th bolt. No one, including myself, wants to blatantly discredit Drew's ascent. The uncut footage was posted for all to see. This is the method that the route was climbed in. Some may consider it a legitimate ascent, and others may not. All seem to be in agreement that it wasn't an intentional method of 'cheating' and everyone agrees that Drew is an incredibly talented and capable climber with no need to exaggerate his ability. In the end, it will be up to Drew to decide if he is satisfied with the style of ascent.
It does bring up a larger question though regarding 'eliminates' or contrived sequences. In some cases, if you clip all the bolts and get to the top, it counts. When someone discovers a new way to do it that makes the route easier, the route simply gets downgraded and the new method is adopted. In other cases there are rules that determine the path of the route and transgressions from the rules are considered cheating. I can think of many cases at the Red River Gorge. For example, traversing to the sit down rest on Bohica is 'off,' while using the ledge rest on Paradise Lost is now 'on' but the route has been downgraded. Since these 'rules' aren't written down anywhere, it can be challenging for climbers, especially young ones, to know and understand them.
As a media source, it's our responsibility to provide factual information. This can be very difficult when much of what is reported is second hand info and furthermore based on the reporter's interpretation of a gray area such as the difference between a flash or true onsight. Fortunately, in this case we have video footage posted by the Ruana family, a testament to their honesty and integrity. The footage clearly shows a very talented climber making an ascent of To Bolt or Not to Be. Whether or not this ascent can be considered a true "send" of the line has been questioned and I believe it is our responsibility to at least recognize that the question has been raised.