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FRB Archived Interview
Steve Dieckhoff
The other side of the story regarding the ethics of
bolting in Boulder Canyon - 2002

steve1 steve2 steve3 steve4 steve5

FRB: Steve, you are well known in
          the Boulder area but some people
          might not have heard of you.
          Who is Steve Dieckhoff?

Steve: Being a climber is a large part of who I am. I am also an artist/painter who works with oils and with watercolor. I used to play a lot of tournament chess. I'm a carpenter. Climbing, though, is a passion because I had a bad hip socket from birth and I couldn't run or play any sports that stressed it. I grew up in Wisconsin where sports were a big thing-particularly football. Climbing was something that I could do so I poured myself into it. It shapes my thinking.

FRB: How did you get into climbing?

Steve: I got into climbing when I went to Prescott College in 1970. Climbing was part of freshman orientation. I had broken my arm a month before and it was in a sling because the doctor cut the cast off before I went out to Arizona. I did a 5.3 on a toprope and was hooked.

FRB: Do you boulder?

Steve: I don't boulder much because I have an artificial hip now ('Elvis') and jumping or falling on it could damage it beyond repair. I have some problems I like to do because I enjoy them and I don't fall off them but I don't really push myself bouldering. I like to go soloing which is sort of like long, easy bouldering. I don't solo close to my on-sight leading limit like Derek did though, I stay below 5.11- and am very selective.

FRB: Do you think bouldering is
          a valid pursuit?

Steve: Oh I think bouldering is a very pure expression of the sport. I am continually impressed by what people are able to do. I think highball bouldering will bring about a renaissance in 'trad' climbing. I also think bouldering is the form of climbing that is most suitable for a television market and I'm surprised ESPN hasn't caught on.

FRB: You've been climbing a long time.
          What do you think of the changes
          you've seen in the climbing world?

Steve: Well, I've seen a lot of changes. When I began we were taught to place pins while leading free climbs and then came the 'clean climbing' revolution. It wasn't easy to swop our well-driven pins for those manky nuts. I belayed Henry Barber while he freed an aid route in Prescott. In my mind he did for free-climbing what Jimi Hendrix did for playing the guitar. I actually saw Hendrix in concert which tells you how old I really am! Of course there are some disturbing changes too. More and more climbers are very new to the sport and they tend to learn indoors. That's fine. I like gyms. Some really good people own and work in gyms. Creating an outdoor gym from a crag is totally wrong though. Indoor gyms can change the routes but real rock should be treated with more respect. New climbers can easily fail to learn good habits. Ugliness proliferates.

FRB: Should the FlatIrons be closed
          to climbing?

Steve: I hope the Flatirons aren't closed to climbing. I still think that climbing can take place with environmental responsibility. I think that as society becomes denser and therefore more stressful there is a real cultural need for places close by where people can have an adventure of some sort. It's a pressure-release valve for society. The Flatirons are a Mountain Park not a wilderness area but I think they are a park where wildness can be cultivated.

FRB: OK! Let's get down to it!
          What is going on in Boulder Canyon?

Steve: I think some people put up some good routes but they didn't know when to quit. I think we should cultivate some wildness, to use that phrase again, and not just turn every crag into an outdoor gym. I am categorically opposed to chipping and manufacturing holds, which they call 'enhancement'. I know all the arguments against it have been made many times. If 5.15 will be climbed someday then why not 10 minutes from Boulder? Because it's already been chipped. Why take that piece of rock and destroy the challenge for someone else? One chipped hold is like one cancer cell-one cancer cell doesn't kill you but it spreads. Placing bolts next to A1 protection is also a blight on climbing. I am not opposed to sport climbing by any means but I think bolts should be used more minimally, not where good natural clean protection is available and rarely where the climbing is several grades easier than the crux. I think the standards have slipped quite far in Boulder Canyon and elsewhere and it's because of sheer laziness on everybody's part. When **** * said that he decided that "Boulder Canyon was an 'ethics-free zone', that was the last straw. Because of the canyon's long history and because so many crags there were subjected to 'saturation-bolting' and 'hold-manufacturing' and 'route-squeezing' something had to be done. If I complained I was told to 'go somewhere else' which makes it sound as though the only people with 'rights' are the people with the drills and chisels. We decided to unscrew some bolts. Only by showing that we are serious is there any chance at all of turning this around and getting to some balance.

FRB: Do you think The Sport Park
          should be removed?

Steve: I think all bolts on routes that have manufactured holds should be removed and camouflaged. I think it's the only way to stop the malignant growth of chipping. It is the only way to sent the message that it will not be tolerated. It's a harsh example but in the long run it could save a lot of other routes, not just here but elsewhere. If we don't do this we are just hypocritical. If routes don't have manufactured holds they should stay.

FRB: How about the Ice climbing.
          Do you think it should be monitored
          or controlled in any way?
          (in Boulder Canyon)?

Steve: I'm not an ice-climber (because of 'Elvis') so it's not my battle. In general I would think that popular areas on public land so close to cities will need some sort of monitoring. The land managers have concerns that climbers have to take seriously. Personally I like to see the ice-climbing and I hope some sort of ice-farming venue could be worked out. It fits into my 'cultivating wildness' philosophy because it seems pretty wild to me!

FRB: Isn't chopping and/or removing
         a route destructive and therefore
         should be frowned upon?

Steve: 'Chopping' isn't generally an accurate term because chisels aren't used anymore. With modern technology bolts can be removed and camouflaged well. Returning the rock to virtually it's original condition doesn't seem destructive to me.

FRB: There's still new Sport routes
          going up in Boulder Canyon.
          What are your thoughts on the
          ethics of the first ascentionists?

Steve: I've spoken with one person, Peter Beal, who wants to bolt a project on Frisky Cliff. He told me that he is opposed to chipping and that the bolts wouldn't supersede natural protection. I told him that I couldn't speak for anyone else but that as far as I was concerned it was fine, and wished him luck. Other than that I don't know the specifics about other bolting.

FRB: What direction or trend would
          you like to see in climbing?

Steve: Last summer Matt Samet 'head-pointed' a couple new things on Bell Buttress that are hard but they must be safer than some of his highball boulder problems. Anyone wishing to repeat them can also toprope them first (though the direct finish to Epiphany could use a fixed anchor) if they wish. They are left in a clean condition for an on-sight attempt and I would think there are people out there who would be interested in that challenge, particularly since none of them feature a ground-fall. The line that 'The Purpose' takes is possible without bolts. It would require the kind of creativity that the British climbers use on Gritstone and, in fact, I think that if it was on grit it would've been done 20 years ago. The more natural line, coming across from The Grand Inquisitor, was head-pointed by Pete Takeda and received an on-sight from Matt Samet on a hot afternoon in July. It was also led from the ground up by Cameron Tague and Chad Gready. The line was studied for years as a traditional route and some exploration of parts it had been done on the lead. These are the kind of routes that will define 'quality' in the future. The bouldering being done today prepares people to return to the traditional style of clean climbing and see it as not only thrilling and memorable but reasonable if you are willing to calculate the risks.

FRB: Climbing/bouldering is destructive
          to the environment, what should be
          done to mitigate the impact?

Steve: Yes, there is environmental impact. I think we have to stop thinking of land managers as adversaries and start asking them how we can mitigate our impact. They are usually in their careers because they enjoy outdoor activities too. They will probably have some good ideas. And sometimes we have to sacrifice a climb or a boulder problem. There are some things that should only be climbed in the imagination.

FRB: Do you think bolts should be
          banned in boulder?

Steve: Well, bolts have been accepted as a part of climbing for decades. I think bolting should be done with a Minimalist philosophy.

FRB: Why is having a bolt close to
          natural gear such a bad thing?

Steve: It trivializes the route for people who are competent at that level and it teaches laziness and bad habits to those who aspire to that level. Wanting to do a climb and coming back later when you're a better climber can give you some of your best days on the rock. Clipping a bolt and wallowing around hoping to get lucky isn't really climbing. People say that is 'elitist' but I'm 49 with an artificial hip so obviously it's an 'elite' that's open to anyone. I don't think I'm an elite climber by any stretch of the imagination.

FRB: Have you ever placed a bolt?

Steve: I think I've placed 14 bolts in 31 years. Most of them I added to routes after I had done without them and I added the bolts to protect crux sections that didn't take clean gear. I can be criticized for that but those were community decisions that I felt fine about.

FRB: Have you ever done any
          first ascents in Eldorado?

Steve: I've done a few first-ascents in Eldo, some are memorable events like The Inderekt which I'd tried a couple of times before leading it. They were all from the ground up and it features a very committing move that I'd back down from repeatedly. I finally did it with Gary Ryan one August morning before the sun hit it (!) and it was our memorial to Derek Hersey. Rolando "Teetotaler" Garibotti hiked the 2nd ascent and nearly tasted beer as a reward! I'm proud of Saturnalia because I studied it since the mid-80's and I think it's a good way to finish after doing something like Inner Space. Last autumn I was in on two new routes on Upper Rincon that are around 5.10 R (x- ?) and both involve that 'calculated risk' element on beautiful lines. John Christie on-sighted Front-side Lip Smack after I checked it out on rappel. The Green Room was a more spontaneous on-sight although I had considered it beforehand. Given the situation with the FHRC we had no choice but to stick our necks out but it turned out all for the best. There are a few others here and there. I'll usually play with it in my head for a while before trying it because timing is critical.

FRB: Do you have any 'heroes'
          in climbing?

Steve: I have quite a few. John Dunne has to be mentioned for doing what he's doing as long as he's been doing it. The Brothers Huber have incredible spirit and are not slowed down by drinking watery American lager. Henry Barber gave me that image of free-climbing one afternoon that has stood the test of time. Rolando, who is Arthurian in his quest. Fritz Wiessner who must be on the all-century list. One of my first climbing partners, Charlie Lyon, was a great inspiration to me and shared most of my best-loved epics. The list goes on....

FRB: What are some of your favorite
          moments in your climbing?

Steve: One memory I return to often is climbing the Steck-Salathe route on Sentinel (in Yosemite) in 1974. Charlie Lyon and I were about to graduate and this climb was somewhat symbolic. The descent was visibly iced up but we went anyway. We climbed it fairly fast since we had these newly invented hexcentric nuts. I'll never forget the Gothic aura of being up there. On the descent Charlie 'skied' the ice chute in his EB's and I did an inadvertent thousand foot glissade and we made really good time. He and I also climbed the West Face of El Cap a couple years later before it was freed. We freed some pitches but in general took too long. I had a very exciting 'sunset death lead' where I invented the heel-hook to avoid taking a 70 footer, then had to lead the next pitch in complete darkness to reach a squeeze chimney where we bivyed. We topped out in a blizzard after 3 days and walked out via the Upper Yosemite Falls trail which took 7 hours. Miserable, miraculous, terror-filled experiences but great memories to have and a great partner to remember. My favorite partners are the ones I not only trust completely but I laugh the most with. John Christie and I have a lot of laughs. He is Scottish and never saw a weather forecast he didn't like. Thanks to him I get dragged out in miserable conditions and end up enjoying it.

FRB: Favorite routes?

Steve: Many routes! I've done Hair City in Eldo more than any other so it must be high on the list. I have several favorites (XM!) on the Bastille and not only because it has such a short approach. I love the Wisdom and have failed somehow on most of my attempts. The Naked Edge, certainly, and Psychosis and the Doub-Griffith are great. In the South Platte I'd say Wunsch's Dihedral on Cynical Pinnacle and The Standard Route on the Sunshine Wall. In Boulder Canyon The Grand Inquisitor on Bell Buttress used to be my favorite but now that someone put that stupid bolt ladder next to it, it just looks trashed.

FRB: What do you think is a good rack
          for climbing in Eldorado? The Flatirons?
          Colorado in general?

Steve: Big nuts. Well, seriously I'd just have to say it varies. Take time to study the route. No seriously I think it's good to have a lot of small stuff so you can find just the right piece for those tricky placements.

FRB: What nuggets of wisdom
          can you tell us?

Steve: Remember to breathe. Do a little clean aid to learn how the gear works. Climbing without a rope, like bouldering, helps you feel more comfortable when you're on a rope. Avoid epics with good planning but if you find yourself in one just keep telling yourself that it will all make a good story later. And, um, I forget.

FRB: Thanks for the interview Steve.

Steve: You're welcome.

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