Wednesday, June 02, 2010

David Lama, Red Bull, Patagonia

Last winter a 19-year old Austrian youth, David Lama, went to Patagonia to try to free the Compressor Route. The actions of his film team and their guides have caused an international furor. For those not in the know, the Compressor Route was the scene of a complete debacle when Cesare Maestri bolted (bad style) his way up a big face on Cerro Torre, an amazing mountain in Patagonia. Maestri first claimed to have climbed the mountain using "fair" means, but few believe him, so he went back and blasted it with bolts.

Anyhow, Lama, a 19-year old prodigy, decides to free the route. Cool, that's a neat idea. But a film team gets involved and things get sticky for Lama when his film team and their guides add about 60 bolts to the climb, and leaves fixed ropes hanging all over it for months. If you're a climber you understand that this is really bad style on many levels. The climbing world has of course gone on a rampage against Lama and one of his and my sponsors, Red Bull. Lama hired some local guides to remove the ropes and some of the garbage, but the bolts are there. Lama hasn't helped his cause by declaring that he did "nothing wrong." Maybe he didn't put the bolts in, but his team did, and an athlete is responsible for what happens on his trip. Period. Ultimately the athlete has the power and the responsibility on any sponsored trip.

Without knowing Lama or exactly what really went on, I'm still very unhappy about this. Adding that many bolts to an existing route just isn't at all cool. In fact, I'm incensed about it. It isn't Red Bull's fault directly, but they did bankroll the trip--along with Lama's other sponsors. Much of the climbing world is rabidly pissed off at Red Bull. I don't think that's completely fair, but hell, I'm upset by this both as a climber and that one of my sponsors helped pay for this junk show. What's the best course of action for me as both a climber and Red Bull athlete?

First, I've contacted Lama directly. He's 19, and I bet many of us can remember that age and comment, "Yep, did some stupid stuff." I can imagine Lama arriving in Patagonia with a film crew, a few European guides (they are reportedly the ones who did the bolting for the film crew, the bolts weren't for Lama's climbing), and some bad weather. The Austrian guides want safe rigging for the film crew in the sketchy weather, bolts are safe, bad decisions are made in the interest of time. Lama may not even have really seen the repercussions of this; he's focused on climbing, not filming or rigging, and he's 19 so if an older guide is making decisions about safety and rigging he might just defer, or perhaps just not even get the issue (his statement shows he clearly doesn't get the issue actually). Still, as climber, you're responsible for what goes on on your trips. Lama is responsible for those bolts, and like it or not, so by extension are Red Bull and Lama's other sponsors.

Second, I've contacted a few of the people directly involved to see what the best possible solution is from their perspective (Rolo, Red Bull). Red Bull has always been one of the best companies I've ever worked with in terms of respecting what their athletes want to do. I walked away on a very expensive climbing project at one point because it just wasn't the right thing to be doing in terms of safety, and Red Bull stood by me for that. They tend to trust their athletes a lot, which is great but they certainly wouldn't condone something they knew was wrong. I'm sure this is causing some waves back at the world HQ in Austria. When athletes do something stupid--or great--sponsors have to deal with it. At the moment I'm most annoyed at the older European guides on the trip, they really, really should have known better and shown some leadership.

When I get all the first-hand information back from those involved I'll try to contribute in some positive way to getting the best outcome for this cluster, it's just not right. I'll post up here when I have some more information.


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Will. I look forward to reading your next post on this subject.

Anonymous said...

That Red Bull is a sponsor for the obscure sports and participants that we enjoy is a good thing. Their desire to help push the limits of possible has been encouraged by all. To say that European standards are different might be an understatement. They may have thought they were turning the route into a via-ferette thing for future comercial value. No matter how I look at this there is a high level of suck. "We'll be back in the morning to help clean up after the party. Sure. Help's in the mail, and I won't.............." A Red Bull mess. Let's hope they use better judgement in the future and make good on a huge F#@$ up.

Anonymous said...

People around Boulder are already boycotting Red Bull and calling it Red Bolt instead... Thanks for sharing your thoughts Will.

Anonymous said...

The damage is done. As is often the case, fame (a young climber's desire to make a name for himself) and fortune (Red Bull's desire to sell expensive sugar & caffeine water) trumped common decency. Even the old-timer guides succumbed to the siren call of a Red Bull paycheck.

Of course, not all Red Bull events turn out like this. Fortunately, common sense generally prevails--if for no other reason than screwing up is generally bad for fame, fortune, and the sponsor's bottom line.

It's worth noting that you, Will, would probably not have posted this incident in your blog if you weren't sponsored by Red Bull. Implicated, you are.

Vicente Marino said...

i think the same, the damage is done. A lot was talked about fair means in climbing (Declaration of Tirol) to watch this disaster and feel fine about it. I feel anger, I´m from argentina and i feel that mountain is my everest in terms of climbing. Hear that a bounch of european guides (!!!) took a route established as the "most difficult normal route" for a very difficult mountain set a new ladder of bolts just to film a climber make me furious.
The damage is done and that route will never be the same again...
I sign my opinion...

Will Gadd said...

Anon 3:56--

Of course I wouldn't have posted up if I weren't sponsored by Red Bull, that's the point. I'm not just "implicated," I'm wearing a helmet with a logo on it, and I care about what that logo stands for. So I'll try to get first-hand information and sort out what actually happened. I am sure Red Bull HQ didn't tell the guides to drill holes in Cerro Torre, that was a decision made by those on the spot, and it was wrong.

Now it's time to see what can or should be done about it, and I don't presume to know that, I await word from Rolo and others with more knowledge than me.

Will Gadd said...

Hi Vicenete, I agree. I also think it's the local people who have to say what makes most sense, not us thousands of kilometers away.

Anonymous said...

"..and I care about what that logo stands for."

LOL! It stands for shit! At best, Red Bull is nothing more than over-caffeinated sugar water sold to a gaggle of wanna-be Will Gadd poseurs!

Not that I malign you for making a great life of climbing with your sponsorship money. It's been a good, and enviable, gig for you and your family. Nothing wrong with it--so long as you don't start declaring that the logo means anything other than what it is: marketing hype for expensive and unhealthy carbonated water.

James Hay said...

I read about this a couple of days ago and knew you were going to have something to say in response to this debacle. To take the most infamous and debated bolts on earth (Alpinist) and add even more was asking for trouble. I agree there should have been more leadership and thought put into this. This one is far from over.

cipher said...

Will, this isn't the first time that Lama has left locals pissed off at him. I was climbing in the Peak District in the UK earlier this year when Lama was part of Team Mammut's visit - they left tick marks visible from space all over the classic testpieces at crags like Burbage (these were later cleaned off, after they left, by someone Mammut hired in response to the outcry at this behaviour).

While this is in no way similar in terms of scale, it shows a complete lack of respect for locals.

E9 Climbing said...

Will what a great way of dealing with this. I have thought of commenting on this issue on my blog as I got quite pissed when friends returned from Patagonia and told me about it.

Have to add that "the talk of the town" in Chalten in December was that David was adding bolts for climbing as well. As that was not possible to confirm at the time I did not write about it.

I'd just like to lift my hat for you and give you cred for you sticking out your neck (biting the hand that feed you in worst case) on this one and standing firm for what we all know is the only way to push forward, by fair means not at the price of style.

David Falt

Kim Graves said...

Hi Will,

I was going to ask you about this, but then said to myself “Nah, he’s a mensch. He’ll post up about it soon enough.”

My problem with Red Bull is that this is not the first time. See link
A corporate culture whose product has little socially redeeming value (cigarettes, soda pop, etc.) must be by necessity all about marketing. Red Bull needs these shots in order to sell their product. And because of this necessity there is little incentive to put rules in place so these sorts of things don’t happen. It seems easy to blame the guides and film crew. But Red Bull hired these guys and like any employer they are responsible for their employee’s actions. It is Red Bulls responsibility to put rules in place for their employees that says “no environmental damage.”

Second: Since I’m 15 years older than you I first started climbing before the commercialization of climbing. There were no guides making a living climbing. There were no sponsored athletes. Indeed “sport” climbing didn’t exist so bolts were largely unknown except in rescue situations. There were no videos or magazines with color glossy photographs. It is the commercialization of our sport and outdoor sports in general that has led us to these sorts of excesses. That and the erosion of personal ethics in the name of “pushing the grade.” As Marc Twight said, “Bolts? Not in my bag!” It’s a slippery slope, Will, when we allow environmental damage in some cases but not in others.

Third: Let me just add that I in no way begrudge you making a living by wearing a silly helmet. If you can do it, more power too you. But given it is your living, could you say no if Red Bull said “bolt this line and climb it wearing our helmet?” I believe, because indeed you are a mensch, that you would say no. But that would be a “hard no” if I was in your shoes.

Best, Kim

Reedster said...

Anon from Boulder said, "People around Boulder are already boycotting Red Bull and calling it Red Bolt instead..."

LOL. I'm sure Red Bull is shaking in their boots. Red Bull doesn't make money off people who follow this sort of thing. They make money off the "Extreme Dudes" who buy cases of the stuff to help overcome their morning hangovers, afternoon sleepiness and to add to their Vodka at night.

Anonymous said...

chopping 60 of Llamas bolts on his routes at his home turf should settle the score. The best lessons are hard learned.

Charles Miske said...

This is already a controversial route, so just about anything anyone does to it will be controversial. It's sad that anything anyone does to alter it either way will also be justified for proving points as well.

It does seem ironic though, since much of Europe apparently doesn't have the same clean climbing ethic and there are a lot of bolts there, that European guides would be bolting a line to prove it could be done free.

Unknown said...

There has been a long running debate over bolting in general and Lama's crew definitely was in the wrong. I say his crew due to the simple fact that they were all there to shoot his achievement. Personally, I don't know Lama but I do know the way in which youth tends to be a huge factor in the "shoot first" equation.

As for Red Bull, I am a marketer and know that by design they are after what no one else has, the image to put their logo on. I have seen first hand Red Bull steal shoot and event ideas from talent that was not marketing savvy. I can't say that they are all bad, but I am not surprised.

Thanks Will, for giving us your perspective and holding those involved accountable for their actions and utter lack of forethought.

Lesson learned: Think before you bolt! If you need to get an angle for your shot do it the right way. There will always be another day to achieve your goals safely, and respectfully!

Anonymous said...

Why does anyone expect Red Bull to be a "good company"? Their product is garbage, with no positive nutritional, social, or other benefits. Their marketing is not even remotely Earth-friendly. Compared to the carbon footprint of their auto racing teams, aircraft acrobatics, airline-hopping climbers, etc. a few bolts doesn't amount to even a drop in the environmental bucket. Whining about a handful of bolts is like complaining that the CEO of BP didn't use an ashtray for his cigarette ashes!

Anonymous said...

Hi. First of all, i would set the fact that i had portered some gear for the filming crwe this last season in El Chaltén, Patagonia. I DO KNOW, that we have carried lots and lots of things up to "Nipo nino", one of the base camps in Cerro Torre. And I also know that the amount of porters hired for taking the things back to town was ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. Later on, I knew that there were around 75 kg of stuff hidden below the snow in a point that the crew marked on their GPS, and that also, that amount of material HAVE BEEN recovered by the same 4 guys that the crew hired for extracting all the fixed ropes on the wall, up to the shoulder and through the traverse. All those things were carried by those very same guys back to town, adding a considerable load to each one of them, who was already carrying something like 40 kg ON THE WALL.
Would not been a simple idea, given the fact that they knew how much things were about to be recovered, to send some extra guys?, is it too much expensive for RB?. Is it neccessary for a crew of guides to set up a fixed rope with 1 bolt every 10 meters?, what would happen if any of us, any south american climber, go on an expedition and get involved in one of this cruel and anti-environment-responsability attitudes / crimes against any of their most significative mountains?... The lack of respect seems to be at the order of the day... Greetings.

Will Gadd said...

Anon from Argentina who portered gear, would you please email me directly?

Thank you for your direct info, this is important to me, and I really hope to receive an email from you.

-Will Gadd

Unknown said...

Unreal. And this kid did an article with Messner. I wonder what he's saying now. Steve House is calling this "Red Bull goes BP" on facebook. I have to agree. These tactics are just plain wrong.

Dale Remsberg said...


Kind of a side note but guides have been making a living as guides for well over a hundred years.

Will- Thanks for responding to this and I look forward to the updates as they come!


Unknown said...

Interesting to read your perspective, Will. Thanks for bringing this up. You were the 1st person who came to mind when I saw that Red Bull was associated with this fiasco by sponsoring this Lama character (who quite frankly I've never heard of before).

I hope that you are able to get through to Red Bull and help that understand what a big deal this is. Corporations need to be responsible if they expect respect.

Looking forward to your follow up posts, Will!

Anonymous said...

Big fuckin deal -- twenty years from now you'll be an old fart and so will Llama and the new boys will love the route with its additional safety.

It does nothing to the mountain -- if you don't like the bolts don't clip them, assuming you or any other arrogant snots even get on the route.

You and the rest here come off as whiny elitists with more criticism than creativity.

So what. 60 bolts and meanwhile Gulf oil spews on and you sound like a blown out drill rig yourself.

Knoll Christian said...

"...if you don't like the bolts don't clip them, ..."
I really can't read this silly sentence again. You don't seem to understand a simple thing about the climbing-spirit.

And creativity simply can't be defined as putting bolts where others have climbed without.
Creativity can be other way round - chop bolts off and climb it without(e.g Greenspit).

Nevertheless I'm still missing a clear statement of Lama. As he's not just the sportclimbing guy, but really pulling of bold alpine climbing first ascents I really thought that he has got the spirit. Therefore it would be really interesting to know where and by whom the bolts had been placed exactly...

Unknown said...

"if you don't like the bolts don't clip them, assuming you or any other arrogant snots even get on the route."

pssssst, the bolts are not "on the route"

i love it when people with a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts make belligerent comments!

anyway, thanks for the level headed commentary Will, it's a refreshing change from the ignorant anonyfest that always seems to follow major online discussions.

Anonymous said...

Well baby Knoll and Little Peter, let's just call this anon-a-fest a peer review of the climbing spirit.

You guys sound like a super model's sycophants who are upset because she has decided to have children and you IMAGINE the ugliness of her stretch marks. Not that you'll ever see them as you are clearly not mature enough to make love to a super model.

The handful of stel and aluminum WAYYYYY up there out of your reach will not be nearly as ugly as the maze of sheep trails, climber trash, and carbon left in the air from your long flight down there. So the climbing spirit is surely not about the environment 'cause I see no outrage here about climbers' rather big mark on the environment.

Yea the climbing spirit is really about being bold but not stupid, about being pure but not inconvenienced.

I say take your outrage elsewhere. The battle of the bolts was fought before most of you whiners were born or maybe when you were still peeing your pants.

60 bolts in Patagonia on a route that's crusted up in ice. Wow. Sorry that your sex symbol's got stretch marks.

Go suck your thumb.

Unknown said...

wow. that was fantastic. top notch work son.

thanks for showing everyone how ignorant you really are!

Anonymous said...

I agree with several others here - this is not a debate about the impact on the rock, which is minimal in the grand scheme of things.

The debate is about breaking the unwritten rules of climbing. Like many cultural norms, the rules may be unwritten, but they are widely shared.Everyone knows them.

In my view two rules were broken: 1) You dont add bolts to existing lines. And, 2) the shared norm that underlies climbing is that we climb because it makes us feel intrinsically good. Lama and crew broke rule #2 and #1, which is a double whammy.

But, it was up to Lama to let the Red Bull crew in on the rules of the game. Since he apparently didn't, the blame should fall on him.

Anonymous said...

Red Bolt should pay to take them out. Basta. If not, it will be a (bad small chapter) of the climbing history. ´Nobody died´ don´t take it too serious please...
Bert Van Lint

BOX 18 said...

Better known these days for being part of formula one (not exactly great environmental credentials), Red Bull have hijacked someone else's sport for the sake of sexy promotional footage.
Ironic really that they are now going to make a huge mess of the place by chopping all these bolts - the crew get protected and then climbers have to put up with the prospect of staring at chopped bolt studs as they escape the teeth of a patagonian storm - the mess is made. Red Bull would be better to spend the money on some environmental restitution, rather than fly back out next year and launch another huge expedition to chop these things - how about funding something in the national park there or a contribution to the access fund!? They just need to abandon this project.

Lisa said...

After this, I will not be able to look at someone wearing a Red Bull sticker and respect what they are doing and what their ethics are. Disgraceful to leave so many scars on such a beautiful mountain for personal gain.

D Stephens said...

Fuck Red Bull and Mammut! You expect this kind of shite from a 19 year-old punk ass but those companies should know better than to pay for this disgrace.

Steve Edwards said...

This is interesting. How would a 19-year old sport climbing champion even know about Cerro Torre and be inspired enough to head there, on spec, with ideas about free climbing it? Methinks someone put him up to it.

Think about it. As a climber, if you knew any history (and I mean ANY history) you'd know about the Compressor Route's controversy. Why, of all the walls in the world, would you head to this place with a bunch of bolts? During the high season, during the few windows of good weather, someone is trying to climb that route pretty much all the time. So unless you'd already been on the route (which apperantly he hadn't) you'd be traveling a long way, with a lot of shit, to try and free climb something using any means possible, with no idea that it's actually possible and knowing full well that during any window of good weather you're going to be in the way of climbers taking their one shot (given the logistics of getting there) at one of the world's most famous summits, which is going to piss a lot of people off. Who would do this?

My jaded mind can't help but think it's a marketing idea. I'm not trying to absolve Lama from his actions. He signed on, which I think leads back to Will's point of being a brash 19-yo. But is he any more responsible than anyone one or funding this expedition?

I'm almost always in favor of those guys out there trying to do stuff that pushes the boundaries of the sport but this seems like about as ill-conceived an idea as I've ever heard of. It's as if someone was attempting to one up Maestri. It is simply bizarre

Steve Edwards said...

And, btw, what does "I've never heard of him" have to do with anything? I hear this all the time as a reason to discredit someone in climbing and it's often said about people with huge resumes. I'm not sure where people are getting their info but if you've not heard of David Lama you have not been paying attention.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a climber so I don't understand the problem. I thought climbers used bolts? Can someone explain please? Thanks, Matt.

Will Gadd said...

Anon 9:04--

Your comments begs for sarcasm; not to you, but because you comments how exactly how much this all really matters in the global scheme of life. Climbers don't actually climb all that much. Most of their time is spent arguing about climbing "ethics," which don't have anything to do with real "ethical" behaviour but are instead all about style based on different near-religious beliefs based on little but trying to be cooler than the next climber somehow.

Basically the same as the rest of life really.

Good comment, and one I'll remember.

viagra online said...

That Red Bull is a sponsor for the obscure sports and participants that we enjoy is a good thing.