I'm not sure if anyone visits this forum much any more but it's the best place for this anyway.
Recent events have got me thinking about closed projects (an unclimbed problem in which a climber - probably the one who found/cleaned it - requests that other climbers give him the opportunity to do the first ascent). I have written about closed projects before (http://boulderingireland.blogspot.ie/2012/01/projects-open-or-closed.html
). (Out of curiosity on posted on UKBouldering to get a sense of what the UK angle is on the subject http://ukbouldering.com/board/index.php/topic,25929.0.html
Just to be clear I don't think that any climber believes they 'own' a piece of rock, or that they have a' right' to it, or that no one else is 'allowed' climb on it. There are no hard and fast rules, this whole idea is based on informal agreement, there is no punishment for transgression.
Also the concept applies only really to new areas, I don't anyone would 'red tag' (this term comes from sport climbing where the climber who bolted the route would tie some red tape on the first bolt to signify a work in progress) an obvious gap at a well established crags.
I will first give a bit of background and then make some general points, I would be really keen to hear other people's opinions on this subject.In July 2011 I found a really nice problem in Glenmalure, probably the nicest I have ever found, a steep wall, about 30 degrees, with a few incut rails on it it, about 14 feet high (see photo above, Lee is on the sloper that marks the stand start, his left foot is on the starting hold of the sitter). I cleaned it up, built a landing and started working the moves. After a good bit of work I realised that the sitstart was beyond me and just focussed on the stand. I posted a video (http://boulderingireland.blogspot.ie/2013/01/working-proj.html) and a few shots but was vague on the exact location. I told a few people about it and implied that I wanted some time to get it done, I was satisfied that they would respect that. So four years later I still haven't done it, getting on it regularly but not all that often.
At the start of this year, aware that time was getting on, I made a plan to get it done and started training specifically (trying to loose a bit of weight, I built a model of it on my board, fingerboarding and doing core work) for it (don't laugh, I know lots of people could do it in their runners), my last session was in late April and I was getting close, I had done all the moves and linked a few. This video is from a session in late March of this year https://youtu.be/6nM6JY8SXHM and here is another one from early January 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V65SpCnvqS4
Two weeks later I broke my elbow mountain biking. A few days after the accident I get a message from John asking about it, I said that I was getting close and would like more time, he seemed ok with this. Then a few days ago I get another message saying that he has climbed it. It was a long message, spelling out his reasoning, which I won't paraphrase, he can post here if he wants.
I was very disappointed to hear that the problem has been climbed. John is a good guy, and I wasn't angry with him, more confused. Now I get that a lot of people will say big deal it's just boulder problem, who cares who does it first, and they might well have a point. But I do care who does it first, I can't really articulate very well why it's important to me but it is. I have spent a lot of time over the years searching for, cleaning, climbing and documenting new problems.
The line itself is really nice, quite unique for Wicklow, steep on small holds. And you might say that it was a shame for me to selfishly hoard this problem just to satisfy my own ego. Why can't everyone enjoy it? I suppose part of it is that I feel that the FA is some kind of a reward for finding the problem. Plus I don't think that there is suddenly going to dozens of climbers queueing up to do the problem, the interested party is maybe a half dozen people, their lives aren't somehow rendered incomplete because that haven't been able to climb it, and anyway there are many, many great unclimbed problems out there, plenty to go around (some of which I have found on my travels and shared with others).
Now I acknowledge that my attempts to climb it have gone on for a long time, maybe too long, and I really appreciate the patience of those who held off. And maybe the time had come to offer it up, especially considering I'm injured and likely won't be able to climb for 4 more months. I wasn't 100% comfortable with the idea of having this project closed for so long, believe me I would of loved to have done it years ago, but I suppose I felt that it's reasonably obscure, there is a low chance of someone just finding it 100% under their own steam.
Maybe in this regard I was lax, I told a few people about it, told them where it was. I was happy to do this as I trusted them. I documented some problems very close by. I even put up a video and a few photos of it. Maybe this was my mistake, if I had done everything I could to keep it hidden well then maybe things would be different. This is the main reason why I think closed projects aren't such a bad thing, they encourage the flow of information, or rather a lack of respect among climbers for each other's project creates a culture of secrecy. I shared information about other problems nearby, I tipped off Michael about what became Soul Revolution, Ireland's hardest problem, which is about 500m away from 'my' yoke, I documented the 45 degree wall in the second edition of the guide, these things mightn't have happened if I felt very that it was open season on the problem I found.
The other consequence of a world of open projects is that the best climbers get to hover up all the problems. I think it's fair to say that someone who has to work really hard for a long time to climb a problem will get more out of it then someone who does it easily in a few goes.
Also if you accept that some climbers value first ascents (even if you don't) and are prepared to put in effort (searching, cleaning etc.) to achieve them, in a world of open projects they risk having 'their' price taken from them, this could act as a disincentive to seeking out problems, which would be loss to the wider climbing community (even those who don't value FAs). So I don't think it's as simple as equating closed projects as good for the individual and open projects good for the community. (I have reposted an old article I wrote in 2008 about first ascents http://theshortspan.com/index.php/first-ascents-reposting-old-article-from-2008/
As for the idea of attaching zero value to a first ascent, I would imagine most climbers would disagree with that. They mean as much as you want to think they mean and they are potentially some sort of ego thing, but the idea of valuing first is a fundamental part of human nature I think.
If a climber wants to protect a FA in a new area and they can't trust other climbers to stay off it then the only alternative is to keep the whole area secret, this means that the community, rather then just having to keep off one problem, misses out on a whole area.
Within all this is the fact that closed projects aren't documented anywhere, and someone could quite innocently find a problem that some consider closed and climb it. Nothing that can be done about this.
I don't think that this whole thing is equivalent to the Germans rushing out at dawn to put their towels on the best deckchairs, I see it more about respecting the efforts of a fellow climber. Imagine someone spend the whole day arranging dominoes, is it right that they get to be the one to knock the first one over?
Lastly I'm not saying that every new problem should be a closed project, far from it, but in certain situations I think its worth considering the idea of giving someone the time to see out something that they started.