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.