Robbing the Sport

posted by dpm on 01/05/2011


It’s been almost a week since a video was posted online of a misguided, sad little man stealing quickdraws from two routes in Smith Rock, Oregon. If you haven’t seen the video you’re light years behind in the exciting world of online climbing media. Perhaps you were enjoying the holidays away from the internet with your family or maybe you were on a climbing road trip to a sunny destination. Either way you’ll have to catch up by watching the video before reading the following post.
The reaction of the thief and the upstanding manner in which the situation was handled by local climbers was somewhat predictable. What was only slightly less predictable was the amount of controversy that followed in online climbing forums. In just four major forums, as of 1/4/11, there were over 600 posts regarding the incident and page views were in the tens of thousands. You could sift through the pages and read the endless drivel here: Supertopo, UKClimbing,, Mountainproject.  Or you could just let me sum it up for you as they are essentially all the same.
The thread starts out innocently enough by someone posting the link to Smith Rock local, thief-confronter and filmer Ian Caldwell’s Vimeo page, where the video originated. The tagline is generally something along the lines of “Thief caught red-handed at Smith Rock” or some other inane, unprovocative phrase. This photo accompanies each original post:
Screen image from the video.  
Then a few people chime in to talk about how he got off too easy and how if it had been them they would have done any number of unspeakable things to the culprit including but not limited to:
Make him eat his own beard, pound the crap out of him, break his legs, neck punch him, burn his hat and hold him down to shave his stupid hipster beard, pierce a biner through his septum, general torture, pull out his fingernails with pliers, let the air out of his car tires and throw his license plate away, throw a rock through his windshield, string him up, tie him off and let him get hungry, and my personal favorite; crimp his face in.
This general mockery is lighthearted and accompanied by a number of creative and brilliant names for the draw thief including but, again, not limited to:
Draw stealing leprechaun, thieving hipster, Freddie Kruger’s son, douche bag (many times from many different sources as well as variations on the douche theme like slimy douche), skanky dirt muffin, Keebler elf, klepto-gumby, hippie thief, proper weirdo, scumbag, Chucky, neck-beard ginger, greenie prancer, serial pikey, idiot outcast, Lucky Charms dude, Christmas crack fairy, and my personal favorite and most spot on; Hans Klopek (from the cult comedy The Burbs). 
This name-calling is accompanied by the laugh-out-loud visual references seen throughout.
Hans Klopek from The Burbs
Soon after, someone, usually anonymous, usually a 5.5 top-roper, sometimes 15 years of age, but always clueless, pipes up and says, “Hey, I know stealing is wrong but if you leave your stuff hanging around the crag you can expect it to be gone. I know that if I saw a bunch of quickdraws hanging I’d take ‘em too. Booty!”
One of the many Leprechaun images
At this point the thread takes a turn for the worse and heads dramatically downhill. Forum posters choose sides and defend their beliefs religiously. That’s right, blind faith without logic, reason or regard for social norms. All of a sudden one band of posters is claiming that it’s not stealing since the draws were left there. They are ‘abandoned property’ and up for grabs to anyone. The other team tries to explain that in sport climbing it often takes weeks to complete a project and that fixed draws are the norm.
More Leprechaun images
Then someone else points out that sending a route with the draws hanging is actually a pink-point and doesn’t even qualify as real rock climbing. It is also pointed out at this time that sport climbers are lazy and should just clean their draws off the route at the end of the day. Then someone else posts a picture of the severely overhanging Motherlode at the Red River Gorge with a phrase such as “Clean this on the way down you slab-climbing noob.” 
The Madness Cave: Unequivocally hard to clean draws on the way down.  photo: Mt.Project
The noob defends himself by saying, in so many words, that he is a purist and would never climb in an area as ‘ugly’ as the Motherlode, not because he can’t but because he doesn’t want to due to his high ethical standards of what rock climbs should look like. This goes on and on. 
The following video was posted on Mountainproject by a guy named Pat Erley. It sums up the debate quite succinctly:
The truth is that there is no debate.  Put more accurately, there was a debate, in 1986! It’s since been hashed out. Like it or not, sport climbing is a sport and like any sport there are rules. These rules may not be written down like other sports but they exist nonetheless. The rules of sport climbing are that fixed draws are allowed. Every high-end sport climbing ascent of the past 20 years has taken place on pre-hung draws. But the same rules do not apply to all types of climbing.
Comparing sport climbing to alpinism or wilderness trad climbing is like comparing football to baseball. They are both climbing/ball sports right? But they are played in different arenas. You simply cannot try to bring the rules of leave-no-trace wilderness climbing to a sport climbing area. Walking into Smith Rock, the birthplace of American sport climbing, and relying on antiquated, misplaced ethics to justify the removal of fixed gear is akin to a linebacker walking onto a basketball court in cleats and complaining that the floor is slippery.
If you don’t like the rules then take your ball and go home, but if you’re climbing at Smith, Rifle, the Red River Gorge, or any of the thousands of sport climbing areas throughout the world, it is common courtesy to respect the local ethic. Yeah I know, sport climbers are lazy and should take their stuff home at the end of the day.  Climbing routes with fixed draws makes it easier and shouldn’t count.  
Well, it would also be harder to run a four-minute mile without shoes (I believe Rich Simpson has done this), or catch a baseball in the outfield without a glove on. It would be harder to dunk a basketball if the hoop was 12 feet high and it would be much harder to play ice hockey without skates on. These are the rules we’ve designed for ourselves. 
I’m sure you have your own opinion on the issue but guess what? It doesn’t matter. You can post it on any number of internet climbing forums and stir the pot as much as you like but when it comes down to brass tacks the norms of sport climbing have already been established. We need to realize that we are just an insignificant participant in a sport that has been evolving for hundreds of years. So to those that still believe that stealing fixed gear is their right, go ahead and do it if you must but be aware that if you get caught any number of unspeakable things may happen to you including, but not limited to….    
-Mike Williams
The draw stealing Leprechaun in conjunction with a beautiful poem by Pat Erley. 
Well, obviously we have a leprechaun in Smith Rocks.
He’s climbin’ up your routes and he’s snatchin’ your draws up
Hide your draws, hide your rope, hide your draws, hide your rope
and hide your cams too cause he’s snatchin’ everything out here

You don’t have to come and confess, we have you on video
We gonna find you! We gonna find you!
So run and tell that, run and tell that
Home boy, home boy, home boy!

-Pat Erley,