Climbers from the American North Face team found themselves at the centre of controversy, following an incident on one of the most famous walls in Crimea.
The team was being chaperoned by the talented Russian Sergey Nefedov, who suggested to one of the Americans, Cedar Wright, that they attempt a new route together up the centre of the 300m-high, immaculate limestone wall of Morcheka.
Morcheka is one of the showpieces of Crimea rock and because the quality of climbing there is so high, the face has been intensively developed, now featuring around 22 routes.
Whilst well-documented local ethics at Morcheka allow aid climbing though blank sections, and a number of routes have short sections up to A3, the majority of the pitches are protected by natural gear, including pegs.
Bolts are allowed but they are kept to a minimum. Recently some routes have been free climbed at a high standard, not least by Sergey Nefedov.
Climbing in the Crimea is extensive (there are about 100 miles of cliff) and there are other walls where pure sport climbs exist and routes have been created using various styles.
However, what is completely taboo on the well-featured rock of Morcheka, a medium that has proven highly attractive to trad ciimbers, is the creation of routes from the top down.
Unfortunately, Nefedov and Wright went to the top of the wall and rap-bolted the line using a power drill.
Equally unfortunately, almost every pitch of the new route used a section of a pitch from an existing route, leading to areas of previously naturally-protected climbing being retro-bolted.
Then on the middle of the crux pitch of a classic mixed free and aid route named Skyway, they placed a bolt belay.
As Yuri Kruglov, a long-standing Crimea activist and guidebook writer, who has climbed comfortably up to E4 on several visits to North Wales, remarks; ”imagine a group of foreign climbers creating a new route on Suicide
Wall by abseiling from the top and in the process placing a bolt by the crux move of Capital Punishment”
Kruglov, who has been representing the Morcheka activists and wider Ukrainian climbing community in this polemic simply because he has a very good command of English, received a phone call from Wright asking if the American-Russian duo could place a bolt belay in the middle of pitch four of Kruglov’s own route, Skyway, as they were creating a new line joining Kruglov’s route on that pitch.
A few days later Kruglov discovered that the route had been completed, but had been climbed from the top down, involved the retro-bolting of three existing routes, and that the bolt belay on Skyway had already been placed when the phone call was made.
This certainly made Morcheka activists, many of whom are notable rock climbers and Greater Range mountaineers, irate.
However, they became incensed when they read on Nefedov’s blog that the route had, somewhat provocatively, been named Cold War.
After several days trying to negotiate directly with Nefedov, in which local activists asked for the bolts to be removed, Kruglov called Wright, who had now returned to Colorado.
It appears that Wright, who had been reliant on Nefedov for translation and local knowledge, knew nothing about the local ethics, nor was Cold War his choice of route name. It was embarrassing, as in the past Wright has put up routes in an adventurous style and ground up.
Speaking from America, Wright made an official statement apologising profusely to the Ukrainian climbing community for his actions, offering his admiration for the local traditions, and making it clear that future parties should respect the ground up approach.
North Face employee and “captain” of its team of athletes, Conrad Anker, has also formally apologised, noting “cliffs are limited and establishing routes per the local ethic helps preserve the terrain that defines our life as climbers”.
Wright stated that while the quality of free climbing on the line known as Cold War was amongst the best he has ever done in his life, on superb and unique limestone, and should be available to the climbing community, he was supportive of the proposal by local activists to remove all the bolts carefully and leave the line to be recreated, ground up, by a future party.
This is what eventually took place, more than 40 bolts being removed from the wall.
In the process the seven-member Ukraine clean-up team discovered two, 30m, sport routes at the base (again taboo on this unique cliff), which had been created by Nefedov. While removing these bolts (19) they discovered five drilled pockets for holds.
The dismantled line now awaits a party to re-establish it according to local traditions.
Morcheka climbers feel sorry for Wright and the North Face team for being dragged into such an unpleasant story without intention.
The Ukraine and, in particular, Morcheka climbing community have stressed that they welcome people from Russia, the United States and any other country to come and climb in their mountains, as long as they respect local ethics.
“Anyone is welcome to climb in Crimea but, please, bring no power drill”