Trad is Rad…Or is It?

Sitting outside at a popular Moab watering hole, I couldn’t help but laugh. The shirt was clever enough, on the front, “trad is rad”, on the back “your moma’s a sport climber,” but that wasn’t it. What made me chuckle was that this guy was probably just in Indian Creek, thinking he was climbing some rad trad. And maybe he was, but probably like the rest of us he was sport climbing on gear. This got me thinking how a “sport” route has come to mean a bolted climb, and a “trad” route is one that is protected with gear, while I would instead argue that it’s more about style than the type of protection. Hear me out and see what you think.

Generally, sport climbs are considered to be those that are well protected, with a focus on movement and little worry about your gear. People often project sport routes, and hangdogging and other such tactics are the norm. As such, most sport climbing takes place on bolted routes where the fear factor is low and the fun factor is high. I say most, because Indian Creek is a prime example of an area where you can go sport climbing on gear. Most of the time, the gear is bomber, the falls are clean and people regularly employ sport tactics to redpoint routes. Which is why the climbing there is so darn fun, it’s a completely different style than most bolted areas, but it’s a safe place to push your limits.

On the flip side, trad climbing is generally more adventurous, about casting off into the unknown and conquering your fears, perhaps above dubious gear. Think runout climbs in Eldo. You can’t hangdog through that 5.10 R section, you actually have to step up and fire it or you might take a big (and potentially serious) fall. And contrary to popular opinion, trad routes can indeed be protected entirely by bolts. Joshua Tree and City of Rocks are two examples that come to mind of areas where you can climb a bolted route that requires a very trad mindset. When it’s 20 feet between bolts and a fall would send you tumbling down a granite slab, you’ve got to be dialed in, both physically and mentally to complete the climb. Again, there’s no dogging up this one, it’s do, or fly.

Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules to this stuff, and there are of course some “rad” trad climbs at Indian Creek, but I do think it’s way more about style than the gear used to protect the climb. I suppose I mostly just don’t agree with the us versus them mentality the t-shirt was promoting, and felt the need to level the playing field a little. You sport climb but I trad climb, so I’m rad. Sure you are, as you place another #1 Camalot at waist level and yell take. Let’s all go out and just have some fun, however we choose.

11 Responses to Trad is Rad…Or is It?

  1. interesting… you have a way of making things very complicated. in my country, every route that you can climb and then get lowered down (30-35 m routes according to the standard rope lengths) is considered a sport route. everything else is not (we call them long routes or multi-pitch). bolts have nothing to do with it, they are usually placed in all routes. routes without bolts are called technical routes. however, a concept of a bolted route is very loose around here, and you’ll often find a few hundred meters of rock with say two or three bolts per pitch. lovely :D

    accordingly, sport climbers are people who seldom or never climb multi-pitch. everyone else is considered a serious climber or/and an alpinist. except for real climbers or alpinists who excessively relish beer and marijuana and then other real climbers or alpinists accuse them of being reckless and call them sport climbers because it’s humiliating. HA!

    yesnonsenseplease May 25, 2010 at 11:39 pm
    • interesting… you have a way of making things very complicated.

      Well, that’s America for you!

      BJ Sbarra May 25, 2010 at 11:53 pm
  2. For a guy who doesn’t want to cast aspersions on climbers, you certainly made some assumptions about someone climbing at Indian Creek, just because it was Indian Creek.
    I’ve climbed at Indian Creek, and I liked the placements on some of the cracks I did…but not all placements were easy, and, unlike sport, you have to hang on with one hand to make those placements AND THEN the clip.
    Indian Creek has thin cracks, and overhanging cracks that are freaking HARD to hang on while placing gear. Also? there is only so many pieces of gear you can buy/carry, so you often tend to run it out rather than run out of gear.

    I climb both trad and sport, and I’ve done long, hard sport routes, and loooooooooooooooooong hard gear routes.

    In my mind, gear is harder, and gear routes take you to wilder places (in general) with greater chance of injury and lower chances of immediate rescue. Hence, it is more “rad”. That’s my 2 cents.

    It’s like that saying, “It isn’t rocket science”. Well, the rocket scientist have to have a saying, right? They say, “It isn’t brain surgery”. The brain surgeons have a saying, “It isn’t quantum physics”. I don’t know what the quantum physicists say….I think they just hum.

    In our world, the pecking order of ‘radness’ is
    Sport climbing < Trad climbing < Hard Alpine climbing < Free soloing.

    Again, my two cents. ;-)

    Cheers.

    climbingguy May 26, 2010 at 6:22 am
    • @climbingguy – There’s no question it’s harder to hang on and place gear, and it’s a lot heavier carrying a set of cams, all I’m saying is the mindset of climbing in Indian Creek is much more “sport” oriented than trad. And once you climb there a lot, it’s pretty easy to fire the gear in quick, esp on redpoint when you know exactly which pieces go where. And most people I know do NOT run it out there, given the nature of the rock. Most find the appropriate gear they need and protect every body length or so. It’s my favorite place to climb in the world, so I’m not bagging on it in any way, just saying it’s really not all that trad, though it is rad!

      BJ Sbarra May 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm
  3. Climbing is full of words and phrases that draw out emotion, anger and conflict. Rap Bolted, Ground Up, PURE, “Sport climbing is neither”.

    Lets start with a true beginner in the gym. There are three options: Lead, TR and Boulder. In some gyms there are cracks so we have Crack vs Face. Going outside you have clipping bolts or placing gear.

    Then things start getting confusing. How do I explain to a friend who just started climbing that the bolted line we are about to climb is considered “trad” since it was done ground up, drilling on lead. Why do we choose to dwell so much on the past, the style, the decisions of the “amazing” First Ascentionist.

    I think people often find something they are good at and try to call it the holy grail. We have 5.7 “trad” leaders who bash on the 5.11 “sport” climbers. There are people who layback cracks since they haven’t learned how to jam. I think we all need to have fun and worry less about what is harder and what is cooler.

    I don’t think that “trad” climbing is always harder. Placing gear on lead does not need to be difficult and it gives you the advantage, at places like IC, to put gear in whenever you want. What “sport” route offers that type of protection?

    Is trad rad? I usually think about the style of a climb and the protection when I talk about trad vssport. Crack climbs are “trad” since they are rarely bolted. I agree that IC approaches some hybrid “sport-trad” since it is essentially trad climbing where you don’t have to be innovative with your protection. Is Levitation 29 a sport climb? The crux pitch is fully bolted? What about the Rainbow wall? A nice bolt at just about all of the hard parts… Yet you place gear on both routes… I hesitate to call climbs like Vahalla a sport route either despite the need for zero gear. Mental challenges play an important role in our discussion of style.

    Tricky question, no good answer.

    - Luke

    Luke May 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm
    • Well said, sir, well said.

      BJ Sbarra May 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm
  4. I like how you quickly you jumped to the conclusion the t-shirt guy was just in Indian Creek. Indian Creek isn’t the only place in the desert surrounding Moab, to place gear. How do you know he didn’t just finish the North Face of Casleton? I think the bigger issue at hand here is how the mention of “your momma’s a sport climber” really got under your skin and instantly had you making assumptions that may or may not be true.

    Also, who cares…climb what you like and like what you climb. I’m not up there for any sort of bragging right to anybody. I have no need to define what I climb and why I climb it. I do use the terms trad and sport to communicate with my partners what type of climbing I might be interested in for an afternoon. But when I mention Lone Peak Cirque to them I don’t need to define the type of climbing…the name alone has already done that.

    Brian June 7, 2010 at 4:23 pm
  5. @brian – you’re absolutely right, he could have been on any number of burly tower routes in the area, which are fully trad (and rad taboot!). Maybe he was in Indian Creek, and the point was really the idea that the two styles aren’t as exclusive as people want them to be. And don’t worry, it didn’t get under my skin, I just think the whole us versus them mentality that the shirt promotes, and which is so prevalent in American climbing, is such a waste of energy. I agree that you should just go out and climb whatever is fun, we are all so lucky to pursue this passion of ours!

    BJ Sbarra June 8, 2010 at 4:05 am
  6. I personally feel more comfortable on a crack climb (especially perfect splitters) where it is up to me where I’m placing gear, and not dependent on where bolts were placed. Of course there is always the possibility of a piece pulling, where as a bolt almost never will blow out. The ability to climb “trad” routes seems to get you to more interesting places than being strictly a “sport” climber. Therefor TRAD IS RAD! Cool site.

    Andy Roberts October 22, 2010 at 9:36 pm
  7. I personally feel more comfortable on a crack climb (especially perfect splitters) where it is up to me where I’m placing gear, and not dependent on where bolts were placed. Of course there is always the possibility of a piece pulling, where as a bolt almost never will blow out. The ability to climb “trad” routes seems to get you to more interesting places than being strictly a “sport” climber. Therefor TRAD IS RAD! Cool site.

    ukash October 13, 2014 at 7:55 pm
  8. I personally feel more comfortable on a crack climb (especially perfect splitters) where it is up to me where I’m placing gear, and not dependent on where bolts were placed. Of course there is always the possibility of a piece pulling, where as a bolt almost never will blow out. The ability to climb “trad” routes seems to get you to more interesting places than being strictly a “sport” climber. Therefor TRAD IS RAD! Cool site.

    www.gmail.com December 4, 2016 at 2:21 pm
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