To bolt is NOT to be

French style in India 
 
  The first time we arrived in Hampi with a rope and gear it was the mid nineties and we were quite surprised when someone told us about a 'routes book' in a general store on the main bazaar. We went to the tiny shop to find a funny little man called Rajaram who seemed delighted to see us and handed us the book like it was the most precious thing in the whole world. He had a sugar cane juice machine also so we sat drinking one rupee juices reading the book trying to work out where the best routes were. It was exciting and it felt like we should go and repeat everything out of respect for the pioneers before trying new routes. We had come with trad gear but I was not anti bolts even though it did feel a bit strange here for some reason. The last time I had stayed for three months with just shoes and chalk but I had seen some bolts on my wanders and had mixed feelings.


 We were happy when we left the shop to go and do some classics but the routes we found were actually too depressing to really enjoy and made me feel guilty to have to say to the locals that I’m a climber. I had liked Isabelle Patissiere as she was an inspiration for more women to start climbing. With pictures of her everywhere in the climbing mags and pictures of Hampi it would get more people psyched. 

 Psyched for what though? Oh my goddess.
 

 The first route we located was a striking line on a steep arête overlooking the main bazaar called Nandi image and given 7a+. The start was okay on slabby rock but as it progressed up the steep arête it turned ugly. The bolts were so close together that you couldn’t actually fall anywhere and there was dried glue that had oozed out of almost every hold. So many flakes had been re-attached but some still moved as if they would break again. It was a bad glue job and then came the crux, a semi blank metre of rock but wait, a totally alien hold has been glued into the middle of the blankness. Then the top with chipped flakes and yet more glue to re-repair them and somehow turn it into a posing romp for the benefit of the cameras. The climb was almost totally made of glue and badly placed bolts to finish at an ugly chain below the top somehow persuading you to avoid the nice top out, probably the best bit of the route. As it was glorified with a nice picture in the 'routes book' people went to do this route and would surely think Hampi rock is terrible and full of loose flakes. Round the corner we found a very short French 6b with 2 bolts and a big chipped hold in the middle. On the other side of the same boulder more chipped and glued back flakes. The same year these routes were done she had just won everything in the sport climbing competition circuit so was the 'best female climber in the world' in that way. It was a terrible climbing statement from the champion and hard to understand. I had to ask myself, is this the future of Hampi?  
 

 The next route we went to do was a 7b+ very near to the main road on the famous Sister stone and it looked like a great line with not too many flakes. A left to right diagonal on a pumpy steep groove with decent holds then suddenly the groove ran out. I was quite enjoying it to the hard looking crux and spied a possible hold in the blankness. I could hardly believe what I found. No enhancements or improvements here just a nice juicy finger jug chiselled out of blank rock. It was no coincidence that when you crossed through on the said hold and pulled the move you looked really cool and stylish in a sexy French way. Not me particularly but Isabelle la belle champion du monde might have looked quite good. Especially as nobody would see the glue or chipped holds in the photos for the mags.

 I was scared by this European mentality especially after staying in  Tonsai beach in Thailand where those ethics were established to get the maximum number of good sport climbs out of that crag. Chipping, glue and retro bolting was okay because no locals were there to see and it’s consumer holiday climbing after all. Almost every 'classic route' on Tonsai crag was created with chipped holds and fast rottting bolts by the short sighted French and American pioneers. Would the same thing happen here in India? Probably yes, I thought, as it had already been started like that by the French so on that track. 



County ethics in Asia?
  

 I’d started climbing in Northumberland where ethics are very strong and if you didn’t follow them you’d have the local hardmen Bob Smith, John Earl and their mates to answer to. It was simple. No bolts, no chipping, no wire brushing, no glue and even top roping was frowned upon. Some people broke the last rule but never the others. We loved the fact that to tick anything hard you would have to climb on sight and be risking sprained ankles, smashed wrists or broken legs. It was all part of the fun and much the same ethics when we went to the lakes and on the grit in Yorkshire. Now here in India I could think of Hampi rocks in a very similar way as Northumberland or grit as the size and character of the routes is similar. Boulder problems, bolder problems and short routes. 

 Climbing and working in Asia full time and with just a meagre rack I was mostly stuck with sport climbing in Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong for a couple of years. Then while in Singapore I decided to invest in some new wires and cams to go back to India. So now I would always be able to climb everywhere I went if there was any decent rock. Back in Hampi with gear my partner and I started to find some great routes on faces protectable with thin cracks and breaks. Soon enough we had done as many trad routes as there were existing sport climbs. But if other climbers came bolting what could I do? Ask them nicely not to chip and get some trad gear? I even tried to change my own mind to accept that the two styles could co-exist but that didn’t work. In my heart I just didn’t want Hampi to become a consumable sport climbing destination. 



Slipping into a sportland

 
 Jerry Moffat had come and made the route Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god) with bolts also putting top rope bolts on Hampi sunset plateau. Everybody, especially children from Hampi went to see him try his Hanuman route as it was near to the village. Along with Isabelle he was also world champion but more influential than her as he was the 'best climber in the world.' These were the people at the very top of the climbing game after all so in a place like India they could create the ethics to be followed in the whole country. Everybody would think this is what rock climbing always has to be like. On Cloggy in Wales he had actually removed a bolt making an ethical point. He had said, “bolts have no place on Cloggy” so now by placing them was he saying “bolts DO have a place on Hampi granite.” I thought people were going to emulate Jerry and Isabelle for sure. I was right.
 

The Spanish climbers had even put a bolt at the side of a 6a protectable crack which made me cringe. I immediately went to solo it. Indian climbers would come and put 3 bolts in 20 foot walls that would be E3 or E4 in England. Germans would even start to put bolts on the holy Rishimuk mountain and then the huge German strongman Thomas Willenburg turned up to start bolting as well. He put 2 bolts in his test piece boulder problem which confused everyone as it had a decent landing and was only 15 feet high. It was called Devi maker and he gave it route 8c or font 8b. Half the bolt routes in Hampi were being named after Indian gods which seemed strange to me. Devi, Shiva, Hanuman, Nandi. Do those gods really need drilled safety bolts?


Against the grain

  Silly me, how old fashioned and backwards and wasn’t I was missing the boat. I thought Hampi should be like Bowden doors or Cloggy where nobody would dream of placing bolts let alone chip and use glue on holds. Suddenly the French style was all the rage and everybody wanted safety bolts and chains. It seemed like climbing was slipping like a landslide along with mainstream society into an ultra conservative nanny era of health and safety. Suddenly the adoption of French style was something catching the mind of almost all the best climbers in the world. Now climbing itself had been sucked in by mass consumer culture and spat out as a nice safe product just like almost everything else which is any good.

 It had been just me, my partner Joolz and the occasional short time British visitors finding good solo and trad routes in Hampi and I thought this was the best way forward for the place as well as bouldering. I'd write them in the new routes book with the French grade and British grades and hope somebody noticed the new natural style and go to repeat them. There were all types of cracks, walls and arêtes coming to hand up to E6 with so much potential and bolts just didn’t feel right. I thought it looks very much like climbers from other countries are trying to own the rocks in India. To claim them as being more special for us than anybody else  seemed arrogant and superior.

 I now wanted to leave the rocks as I found them, not mark them to say,‘look these rocks are for climbers you know.’ Like a dog pissing to mark it’s ground but paint and bolts don’t go away like piss! You are marking your ground for a very long time. Everybody would see the mess and start to hate the foreign climbers I thought, ending up in restrictions maybe even a ban. All climbers would be cast into the same box also. Look what they do! they would say. As UNESCO got their teeth into the place with security guards posted everywhere these worries about restrictions would start coming true.

Sporty ambitions

 When the next season came we approached the crux point of the matter. A German team arrived with a heavy duty drill gifted to them from ‘Big Thomas’ and some serious German quality ‘paint pens’ that people use for graffiti. I cringed at the idea of every boulder and route having something painted at the start. Nobody did it in the UK but I knew very well that everywhere in Europe it was considered normal and fine. They wanted to do 100 sport climbs in the season then painted circuits and a guide book they told me. This was a big ambition and my heart sank for the future of the place. But the drill needed a spare part which Big Thomas was sending over from Germany. They would have to wait a bit longer for the onslaught to begin it seemed.


 I could see how keen they were though as they started painting boulder problems with numbered arrows. The mentality was obvious; they wanted every route big or small to be visible to everyone. If not with bolts for a route then at least with paint for boulders. I was becoming more and more irritated and asked them to please not paint or put bolts on problems or routes I’d done but they couldn’t agree. How would they know if I had done it or not? they said. After a few days they couldn’t wait any longer and out came the old hand drill and hammer. Just up on Rishimukh plateau was an 8 metre high wall which they had top roped and declared a 6c+ and would now put 2 bolts in it. That night we were in the café and the news was that putting bolts here is such hard work by hand with the old crap drill that the job would have to be finished in stages.

The crazy English gang 

 
  I’d heard about a so called ‘crazy English gang’ who had arrived in Hampi village and were spotted soloing things on a crag I’d done a few trad routes on. I went to locate them and soon found them all sitting at a rooftop restaurant in Hampi. There was Leo Houlding, Patch Hammond, Ed Douglas, Ray Wood and some other guy. I would hang around with them for the next few days and wanted to show them some of the climbs I’d found and new areas also.
 

 When we were at Rishimukh plateau I told Leo about the Germans plan to bolt up all the rocks in Hampi and showed him the 6c+ which was almost half bolted already but with no hangers. I already knew he was into bold climbing and also didn’t much like consumer style sport climbing. The route was above a sloping slab which was not really a good landing. He bouldered out the crux first try but then seemed reluctant to commit himself to the 2nd crux and the top out so started looking for a way out. Straight down was not ideal but he was at a good hold so he swung in a big arc rightwards letting go at just the right time and landed like a cat on the steep slab. We sat for a few minutes looking at it and soon he was ready to try again. This time he was serious about it and didn’t look for a way out at all but was totally focused on the moves. It was ‘not allowed’ to fall at the top and we were all quiet but he cruised it. E5? I asked him when he got down. Yes E5 6b he said. “Harrowing top out” Patch had said but I didn’t think it looked that bad as there were edges. I remembered it and would enjoy going to solo it the next season when I was a bit stronger. He called it ‘Datura root’ which is a powerful psychoactive plant sometimes used by sadhus for the purpose of meditation. 


 At Cosmic cave half an hour later everybody did the classic high Cosmic crimp and liked it. They also liked that I’d done it 5 years before without a pad. I knew that the trad attitude they had was possibly giving me some leverage against the bolters and was forming my plan already. Then we were at the top for the sunset. From where we were sat all the big blocks on the North side of Cosmic cave were visible and Leo was impressed. There could be a lot of E6’s and E7’s on those walls he was saying and I had to agree.
 While listening to him it was reminding me and sparking my imagination about the next natural possibilities. I had done some good routes and solos already but I would have to be better to do some of those walls at Cosmic cave. Leo will leave soon maybe never to return and then if I don’t do them the Germans will bolt them all. I was getting irritated thinking about it, but I had to show them that they are possible without bolts. I wished the English gang were staying for longer to leave some E7’s and 8’s but it was not to be. They had a tight schedule.
 

English ethics - British tactics

 That night while telling the Germans about the route being done solo I got an Idea. The German gang and I were all staying across the river on the island at that time and the British gang were in Hampi proper so not there to support me. Using British tactics I informed them of the facts as I saw them.“Now that it’s been done cleanly by Leo you can’t put bolts in!” Silence for a bit then, “we can’t?” They didn’t really understand English ethics but somehow seemed to stubbornly agree with the logic of it so now I was forming the master plan. 
 Every time they wanted to bolt a route I would try and solo or trad climb it first. It might end in a sprained ankle or broken legs but never mind, if it worked out they wouldn’t be able to put bolts on anything which had been done cleanly first. Because Leo was Leo they had agreed but now I'd tricked them and they would have to stick to the same rules for me also. 
 
 When the spare parts for the BIG drill from BIG Thomas arrived I was getting more psyched soloing things all round the Hampi island. Somehow the maverick English team had inspired me even more to try and keep some type of natural ethic in Hampi. I made sure one of the German team was always with me to see and remember what they can’t bolt. In the evening I would try to make maps of the boulders not to paint and the routes not to bolt. I could tell I was starting to piss them off. ‘We will paint and bolt any rock we want!’ I was aggressively informed. 

 Maybe some climbers would agree with them and they may also think that all rocks belong to climbers first and foremost but I just couldn’t go along with it. We are not even from this place, indeed not even this country. I thought we have to be more careful and discreet avoiding chipping and bolting especially in public places. We are making climbers look like selfish scared egotistic idiots. 


 I had to ask them what they wanted to bolt now that they had the power drill going. They knew what I was up to already and didn’t want to tell me. ‘Nothing Pil, we are just going to put top rope bolts in the forest department cliff first.’ I went the next day and saw them messing about with the drill at the top and climbed up the E3 wall directly beneath where the top rope bolt would be. Then we were all standing at the top but they were looking a bit miffed. What’s wrong? It’s not working. Oh dear, It’s broken again! I was looking and scratching my head, trying not to laugh. A lucky timeful intervention by cosmic forces to make sure Hampi would be bolt free? Maybe it was sabotage by the real monkey god Hanuman? The big drill from big Thomas wasn’t working properly anyway. 


 The next season when everyone came back I was even more determined. By then after 6 months concentrating on climbing in Australia I had become stronger and more focused also. Some traddist British climbers came and backed me up doing some solo boulder routes and repeats also. Eventually after more natural ascents of potential sport climbs like Mental Mantel E5, Durga path E6 and Ecstasy tree E6 on the island we managed to reach some sort of agreement. For the long term and regular climbers in Hampi it was now very simple. No bolts.

  Paint on some boulders started to appear here and there and I was just developing an area called Setwee the next hill from the island. Out of about 70 boulders I’d done on Setwee hill some were absolute classics like Kundalini rising 7c, Boss boulder 7a+ and on the top plateau the Setwee crack 7b. I pleaded to the painters and prayed to Hanuman to intervene once again for them not to put arrows and numbers there.


Cosmic cave - natural paradise


  At Cosmic cave we would get about twenty bolder routes and not a single bolt.We would try to solo every climbable wall which was any good. Irresistible force E6 was great with the rockover crux at 30 feet above the hard granite shelf. On sight was the way for Cosmic moment E4, Crawling on rock E5, Pheel lucky direct E6, Cosmic flight E5, Cosmic crack E4, Chicken knows E5 Micro cosmic E4 Cosmic cat, Cosmic cobra. Cosmic cave was a brilliant solo/highball area now. I had been especially scared for this place to become full of bolts, paint, glue bags and ugly chain belays. It’s too beautiful, too special for that.

Unsporting

 
 Meanwhile on the sister stone the right hand sister suffered a big rockfall and a climber doing one of the sport routes reported being whistled down by security guards and told that to climb there a special permit was required. Had the rockfall been catalysed by the relentless banging and vibrations of the chippers and bolters? Then the ashram above the big boulder with Jerry’s bolted route 'Hanuman' started discharging the sewage directly down the small slab to the base of the route. So it was renamed toilet rock and nobody went near it. Then suddenly in 2 or 3 years from there being 20 rooms on the whole island there was more like 500 with new resorts everywhere. They built a barbed wire fence around the entire perimeter of Hampi island with an entrance gate where they wanted to charge people. That was my cue to leave the inreasingly touristy Hampi Island and find more new areas as well as get away from all the nonsense.

Keep it natural
 

  I was still paranoid that new people might come and make Hampi into a sport climbing centre like in Thailand. It seemed just ripe for it and just like on Tonsai the crags would be chipped, chained and glued into submission. A bit of me tried to be unattached and not care as I had now found and started developing good areas all over the place away from the Hampi island. I could be away from Unesco sites, sport climbers, barbed wire fences, glue heads and tourist ghettos. But I'd still have to come back sometimes and be ashamed to say I'm a climber. I’d always have those places to go to anyway but I wanted to try and put another nail in the coffin of sport climbing in Hampi. To keep it natural. 

 The final nail

  I made a plan with another traddist called Squib from the Isle of man to place and hammer the final death nail for sport climbing. It was the end of the season and there was still a ‘new route book’ which we encouraged everybody to see with lots of the new boulders and routes, sport or trad written inside from everybody who attended Hampi climbing. We prepared and put a page in it about bolting being not allowed and restricted here. I wanted to say that it was official which wasn't totally true but some people might  believe it. Cunningly I had got relative newcomer Squib to actually write it so people wouldn’t recognize my handwriting from all the previous written up trad routes. Now nobody would know it was anything to do with me and my anti bolt attitude. It worked.

  The next season after that it was time for everything to change.  It was almost time for the climbing scene to be totally revolutionized again. The crash pad boom was about to begin.
 I had brought the first crash pad to Hampi then Leo’s English group brought some but the very next season it was starting to get really popular and after a couple of years would take over almost completely from roped climbing as the reason for coming to Hampi. Anyway they have Badami to drill 140 km away, a place much more suited to becoming the 'sport climbing mecca' of India. But in Hampi the new ‘safe bouldering’ was possible now and the idea of bolts being banned written in the book was being believed and upheld. Bouldering wasn’t really big before except for the hardcore extremists but pads made it consumable and safe (if you want it to be). 
 

 2016
The UNESCO body with its team of 80 guards armed with whistles and sticks who patrol the sites of Hampi will try to ban climbing altogether. They have already banned it on Hemakuta sunset plateau and sister stone which were bolted and painted at the start.

When the Hampi Island gets banned and the remaining guest houses flattened by jcb’s who can we blame? The chippers, bolters and glue heads, yes of course, but most of all blame the misguided policies of ASI with assumed support from UNESCO and the forest department in it together with big business owners planning to profit on the complete lack of guest houses with their own new hotels.