The hammer was for the bolts and pins. It was only by chance we used it on the dirt. It was only by luck.
Last May, in Namibia, I, along with Peter Doucette, Kate Rutherford, Gabe Rogel, and Chris Alstrin, was packing up gear to be used on a new route up a granite face. Thus far, our total rock altercation rate for the trip was zero. Our total plant altercation was around a half-dozen pricker bushes that we had tossed over our shoulders when climbing. We had no way of knowing it then, but we were about to enter a multi-day bush/plant/dirt-clearing marathon, with only ourselves, our nut tools, and our TAM TAM hammer.
Before picking up the TAM TAM.... and I thought it was bad then. The author does a little crackscaping. Photo: Peter Doucette
The current Petzl catalog has a story about our trip. It had been out about two months when I got an email from a concerned reader. She’d read about us ripping bushes out of the crack that became Southern Crossing, and she was not pleased with the potential environmental repercussions. “Did you stop and think,” she asked, “to pick a different climb?”
Meanwhile, the film of our trip, Waypoint Namibia, was/is touring with the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival — the largest enviro film fest in the United States. In it, there are several minutes of footage of said dirt clearing. And then, in the end, there is footage of us in a perfectly clean crack.
Other times, it's clear your using something for its intended purpose... Photo: Majka Burhardt
Climbers can be great environmentalists. Most of us likely are. But climbing, at its root, does change an environment, especially rock climbing. I never truly understood this until I put up new routes. Barring perfect circumstances, to put up a route—even on the cleanest of rock faces, requires some modification. Usually, when crack climbing, that means tugging out some plants here and there, or getting rid of teetering blocks. Sometimes, if you are climbing a route that you never expect anyone to do again, you can do the minimum. Other times, when you have a hunch that what you are doing might be repeated, you owe it to those who'll follow you to engage in route stewardship.
For those who do go after you, they will likely never be covered in as much detritus as you. That is the privilege of going first; you get to eat dirt. For the first day of climbing, Peter and I ate a lot of it as we perched on precarious stances, trying to free the route while cleaning. By day two, we had to bring out the TAM TAM. I didn’t even think of using it. My nut tool was getting rejected by the dirt that 100% filled the crack we were trying to climb, so Peter suggested the hammer. Neither of us talked about going down; this route was going to be good. It already was. And it was worth it. Usually, people don’t hammer dirt. For those who do — try the TAM TAM. The two different head sizes were key. No lying.
The TAM TAM. A versatile tool. Photo: petzl.com
Putting up new routes is not for everyone—sometimes it’s not for me. But there is something to be said for it at some point in a climbing career. Something about the appreciation you gain for the work of others. Because at some point, when not eating dirt to gain access to a climb, it’s nice to know you could be.