Stop thief!

VL looks at a recent spike in climbing gear going missing

One of the enduring myths about Japan is that there is no petty crime. (That and the perhaps apocryphal and definitely distasteful tales of buying soiled underwear from vending machines.)

We’ve heard many versions of the ‘I left my wallet stuffed with yen on a train and got it all back’ story. The myth is explained by stating the Japanese mafia – the tatted-up and finger-amputated Yakuza – have enforced their will so strongly that there is almost no petty crime. The mob knew that the best way to keep their extortion and prostitution rackets going was to keep the streets clean.

Australia is not like that. We do have organised gangs but they do not stamp out petty crime. We have loads of crims and thugs and drongos and dropkicks and in true convict fashion they steal heaps of stuff.

No one is suggesting that gear thieves should get the Yakuza pinky treatment.

No one is suggesting that gear thieves should get the Yakuza pinky treatment.

Recently down in Victoria there has been a lot of gear ‘going missing’ (to use a passive euphemism). Amongst the list is; all the gear being stripped and taken from Debutantes & Centipedes (25) at Araps; ‘draws taken from the anchors of The Undertaker (25) at Araps; select gear cherry picked from Spurt Wall in the Gramps, where a person took some ‘draws but not all of them, and a rope bag but not the rope; a second incident on Debutantes & Centipedes where someone took only a yellow BD #2 cam and two ‘draws and left the rest of the route geared up; someone took a stuck nut from Golden Fleece (18) at Araps; and someone took a hangboard from the top of Dogger’s Gully.

There are potential shades of grey in some of these events so we will provide all the detail that we have. We don’t have access to the takers (if they are reading, please feel free to get in touch), the only accounts we have are those of the victims.

The story of the nut on Golden Fleece is not grey. It was left by a seconder who couldn’t get it out, the leader rapped the route and cleaned all the other gear but didn’t have a nut key. The leader left a rope hanging over the route and was going to go back up but was for a brief time with a mate and his family on Pedro (11), a nearby route. When a party started up Golden Fleece he yelled to them that it was his nut and he was going back up to get it, the leader of the second party yelled back, ‘Not anymore, it’s mine.’ He wasn’t joking, he took the nut. Maybe the guy thinks booty is a synonym for punishment and that possession is 9/10ths of the Law. Stealing.

The ‘draws from The Undertaker’s anchors were the only gear on the route. Two climbers had left them as they were trying to send it going ground up placing the gear. One of them sent, one didn’t, so they left the anchor ‘draws on and stripped the rest, planning on returning the next day. The next day the ‘draws were gone. The route sits on Castle Crag, a free-standing stack that has some classic easy routes going up it (though they finish at different anchors to The Undertaker). You can see The Undertaker’s anchors from the ground. Maybe whomever took them was a newbie who thought two anomalous ‘draws at the top of a crag were booty. Maybe they thought they signified ‘retreat with tails between legs’ and so were fair game. Maybe someone just wanted two ‘draws.

Dogger’s Gully is – as the name implies – a steep gully accessed from above and is home to some classic route-dogging. With lines like Henry Bolte (25), The Fortress (26) and Lord of the Rings (31) it’s not uncommon to find climbers dogging routes all over the place. Trouble is, it’s not the best crag for warming up. A climber was working on Slinkin’ Leopard (28) and in order to warm up he had a hangboard and theraband in a tree at the top entrance of the gully. This is up on the plateau above the gully, not at the wall itself. He left it hanging there, probably not the wisest move. Still we reckon the person who took it knows that they stole it.

The story of stripping all the gear from Debutantes & Centipedes is convoluted. Climbers who were working it turned up to find all the gear gone, a second climbing pair – let’s call them bumblies – on a nearby 14 heard the screaming and the swearing. They sheepishly said they had tried it but bailed at the first ‘draw, which they had somehow replaced with their own ‘draw and then lowered off. They claimed they asked an unidentified third party to get their ‘draw back only for that third party to strip all the gear and put it in the bumblies’ tent in the Pines. Do they get the benefit of the doubt because they spoke up or do we assume they wouldn’t have tried too hard to find the real owners and pocketed the gear? Suspect, but grey.

The cases of Spurt and the cherry-picking of Debutantes & Centipedes are odd. In both instances some person or persons took only part of the gear at each site as if they were selecting items, leaving the things they didn’t want. Here we think it is safe to assume the worst of the takers. Stealing.

Part of the problem is that booty is an ambiguous term.

You are not a bushranger.

You are not a bushranger.

The difference between booty and stealing is like art, we may not always be able to describe it perfectly but we know what it is when we see it. Some situations are cut and dried – a single piece left in the middle of a lonely pitch is probably booty, but if there is a rope still hanging over the route it’s not booty. People don’t bail leaving ‘draws on an anchor that they could have easily threaded – not booty. If the entire route is geared up – it’s not booty. If someone has stashed their rope and ‘draws at the base of the cliff, they are coming back tomorrow – not booty.

It is possible that some people have a Winner Takes All view of booty and that might be partly a product of mythical ethics that never actually existed – that everything is about onsight, ground-up ascents and so any gear that is on the wall is fair game. There is also a reward mechanism at play with booty, a sense of achievement and superiority as if you have earnt the piece because you got it out when someone else didn’t.

Part of the problem is that people like to steal things.

When it is easy for people to undertake acts of petty dishonesty, they have a greater propensity to do so. Taking climbing gear is often like taking candy from a baby.

When the chances of being caught are decreased the chance that someone will steal increases. At the crag there is rarely someone watching so the chance of getting caught is low.

You could argue that there should be a Leave no Trace ethic and that nothing should be left at the crag at all. We hope that people who believe this are not clipping bolts or using fixed anchors.

We reckon everyone who took this stuff knew what they were doing and so they are living in moral turpitude. They knew that they were stealing it, some cases are blatant, some there is a little more space for interpretation. Lucky for them the psychology of stealing is well documented and one of the most interesting findings is that petty acts of dishonesty can coexist with the belief that the person is honest, i.e. small time cheaters can still think about themselves as good people.

One thing is for sure, as more people get into climbing, more of this stuff will happen, ethics will be misunderstood, bad eggs will blatantly nick stuff. We hope that the Yakuza don’t get involved
Simon Madden


2 thoughts on “Stop thief!

  1. Antoine

    Great article again. We had our fair share at Coolum cave and wondering if the sunny coast teenager can really aid climb his way up to tread and steal 😉
    They leave no trace argument is a bit weak. We all know our sports will leave a trace, the key is to minimise our impact.
    I really enjoy this piece, more ethical debate would be great.

    You guys are Rad,
    Keep on the good work

    Antoine M

  2. cj

    Booty people are awesome. But leave EVERY sport climb equipped. The leavers at Dial-a-lama were pinched a couple days ago, this is bad cuz the links are going. its not booty up there people! Everyone wants a free lunch but it works both ways in climbing. Let me put it succinctly: Booty is an archaic and ill advised mode of perceiving (semi)- fixed gear. Trad ethics more importantly espouse fair means and camaraderie.


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