What Makes a Climb "Classic"?


It's not often I have to remind myself to do something so natural. Yet I was so focused on my walking on egg shells type movement, that I found myself holding my breath like I was attempting some sort of world record. With a reluctant hiss, I released the air trapped in my lungs through tightly pursed lips, hoping that the act wouldn’t send me careening off the razor thin rock edges I was standing on.

As I danced in slow motion across the steep and sloping granite slab with no apparent hand or foot holds, I thought about my best and closest friend...the sticky rubber on the bottom of my climbing shoes. The only thing keeping me from sliding off this seemingly featureless climb was the friction between my climbing shoes and the near invisible edges that I was tiptoeing across. Finally I found a decent crimper for my left hand that felt good enough to be able to take some of the weight off of my feet. This brief respite from my hyper focused state allowed thoughts to creep into my head that made me wonder why I was climbing this "classic" route.

Scenarios like that have played out for me many times on various kinds of climbs. Whether I'm slinking across a technical slab or grunting my way up an off-width crack, I've always wondered how these "classic" climbs have earned this distinguishing descriptor that move them to the top of our tick lists. Is it just because they were done first? Were they the most obvious line up the wall? Or have they just stood the test of time as a test piece of the area?

If you have a good guide book then someone else has done the homework for you and has probably written a short history on these climbs, with explanations as to who established them and what they brought to the climbing community or to that particular area. For example there is an infamously classic slab climb established by the Stone Masters of the the 70's called Valhalla (5.11a) in Idyllwild, California. The story behind this climb is that the first ascentionists wanted it to be a rite of passage type climb, so they kept egging on the guy who put up the first couple bolts...making the first bolt about 20 feet off the ground and the next one another 10-15 feet higher. The runout nature of the climb, combined with the difficulty of an old school 5.11 made this an instant classic and people still get respect today for finishing it.

So is that what makes a climb classic? Something that has been around for a while and is now considered almost a rite of passage for the area? Maybe.

What do you think?