Thursday, March 24, 2011

Slippery Slopes and Thoughtless Acts

Climbing ethics are a slippery slope. For this reason I seldom choose to discuss them on the internet. It's very easy to snipe at people from afar; it's difficult to do the same thing in person. As climbers, everything we do at the cliffs mars the rock in some way or involves tools that make climbing easier. Short of staying inside at home, you'd have to barefoot free solo without chalk to claim you have high ethical standards as a climber. Well, do you have standards that high? Neither do I.

So, since we've all admitted that we have "less-than-pure" ethical standards let's get on with it. I would guess that 99% of the climbers out there agree that fixed points of protection (bolts) aren't necessary when a leader can place good gear in cracks to keep falls safe and reasonable. Many climbs have runout sections though. These stretches of rock can be protected by bolts. If and how these bolts are placed (frequency, location, type of bolt) is generally determined by the first ascent party.

Sometimes a route is nearly a sport route and the first ascensionist will choose to bolt the entire route so that climber's don't have to carry an entire rack only to place one piece of gear (this is ok in some areas). Other times, like in the case of Farley Ledge, mixed bolt/traditional routes have a yellow first bolt indicating that the climber should bring a rack to protect the unbolted stretches of rock.

When a route protects well with gear and has already been lead on gear why would someone else choose to add bolts to this route?  Anyone? Anyone? I encountered this scenario about two weeks ago and I wanted to put some photos out there with a few descriptions. Perhaps I can elicit a sensible explanation for this from someone.

Bolt #1

I skipped this one. It's close to the ground, and to me it made sense to gain a ledge ten feet up to place my first gear.

Bolt #2

This #3 Camalot is placed in a horizontal, and while it's a little shallow it is very solid. Notice the bolt 30cm above the cam placement on the slab.

Bolt #3

Here I have a red C3 (#1) placed in a deep horizontal. I'd bet the farm on this one.  Notice the bolt just above. Also make note of the abundance of cracks of varying depth all over the place.

Bolt #4

Here I placed two pieces just for kicks. Both are good so pick your poison, just don't clip the bolt next to the crack between the two pieces

Bolt #5

Again I placed two pieces. The lower gold camalot (#2) is shallow, but should be more than adequate. The gray C4 (#.4) is more than adequate on it's own. If you're having trouble spotting the bolt it's just left of my bomber gray cam in the deep crack.

Bolt #6

We can haul my subcompact car up from the parking lot off these babies. Purple and Green C4's offer stellar protection through the crux bulge. The bolt is just to the right of the really good purple cam if your eyesight or judgment is bad. Mine's not so I'll help you out.


Ahh, the anchor is real kick in the pants. Six bolts protect the climb yet the bolter chose to place only one bolt on the anchor backing up the tree. The tree alone is fine for a while. It's about 5-6 inches in diameter and has good webbing around it. However, the webbing will eventually girdle and kill the tree. Bolts are often a better long-term choice than trees in many cases. Why just one when you've already placed six? Don't cheap out on us now.

The Takeaway

I'm not a bolt chopper. I've even placed my share of them, but never on someone else's routes. Chopping bolts doesn't accomplish anything and it definitely places climbers in real danger. Placing needless bolts is a waste of time and money though. It deprives future climbers of necessary skills that they can use climbing at other areas.

Placing bolts well requires careful thought and consideration. It's not a process that should be taken lightly or executed quickly and thoughtlessly. Well bolted routes can help define a climbing area as outstanding while poorly bolted routes destine those routes and the area to obscurity.

More than anything else, this is food for thought. We're on the cusp of a bolt revolution. How this bolting is executed by current individuals will set the stage for future climbers. Let's hope it gets done well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It seems fitting that my ice climbing should begin and end at Cannon this season. My rock climbing season just began there too.

Omega is an ephemeral ice line, and one of the hardest "classic" lines in the northeast. It's also a rare former, and there's a good chance, if you have a regular 9-5 job you haven't done it. I'm one of the many who's never climbed it. When Omega comes in an attentive ice climber will drop whatever else they're doing and run for the cliff with the whole kitchen sink in tow, ready for anything.

This season I was almost attentive enough to be there in time. Last week, after one of those torrential cold rainstorms, where the temperature hovered near freezing the whole time, things froze in a hurry. Several lines on Cannon that have never come in before, and may never come in again formed. I was busy. Then it rained again. This second rainstorm, late last week, most likely had a net negative impact on things, even though it was a similar weather event to the prior rainstorm. The forecast last week made this past Tuesday seem like the day to go though. Michael and I made tentative plans for Tuesday and went about our our own businesses. By Sunday things were looking a bit warmer for Tuesday. Even though Monday was now looking like the better day it was going to have to be Tuesday. I was tired from a weekend of guiding and too much driving.  It's funny, just when you think you understand mountain weather you realize you don't know much at all.

Michael and I met at the parking area at 6 a.m. just as it was getting light out. We packed our kits for the day and headed off up the hill. As we rounded the buttress below Omega we were greeted by top-to-bottom ice. The lowest 100 feet of ice was little more than snow stuck to the rock and held in place by a bit of ice. It was easy to bypass this section via the rock buttress on the right. We were at the base of the "real" climbing shortly. It was then that the sun finally rounded the hillside across the notch and began to heat things up.

I started up the pitch in the blazing morning sunlight. The high was forecasted to be 26 but it was already much warmer in the sun.  Water began to run almost immediately and a barrage of small icicles from above began to rain down. After a few tries I coaxed myself through some initial rock bulges (M5-ish and way R-rated - I didn't have a full selection of pins for the job) and stepped left to the ice. I clipped a ratty pin nest and continued up rotten but climbable ice. Higher I placed two half driven 10cm screws and topped the bulge out. Another ratty gear anchor beefed up with a cam provided a nice respite from the scary climbing below. The ice was pretty rotten and already a bit delaminated. Michael followed the pitch quickly but the sun's effect was ultimately too strong for our liking. If there's one thing I've learned from experiences at the Catskills and Lake Willoughby this season it is that weakly supported ice can stick around a long time. All it takes is a little human touch to bring it all down. We decided to rappel before anything really spooky happened.

Safely back on the ground Michael and I began coiling the ropes to head over towards the Black Dike and Whitney Gilman. Halfway through our coil job a large portion of one of the climbs above (Line of Fire and Firing Line, I think) collapsed and sent us running for shelter. By this time only an hour or so after sunrise many of the smears in the Big Wall section had already disappeared.

Michael, exercising good judgment, suggested we use the warm sunlight to our advantage and take a lap on the Whitney-Gilman Ridge. I'd almost forgotten how much more laid back rock climbing is than ice climbing. The climbing, dry rock with occasional patches of snow and ice on the ledges, was more reminiscent of early summer alpine climbing in the Cascades or Alaska than New Hampshire. Warm rock and strong direct sunlight even allowed us to climb without gloves for most of the way.

A few hours later we topped out and were surprised to find that the trail off the top wasn't even packed. I guess a lack of ice at Cannon for most of the winter has kept climbers away. The trail, or lack thereof, was a good reminder that spring isn't totally here yet. We felt like moose trying to walk through inconsistent snow. He's up and walking. Now he's down. Up... and down. Still it was pleasant to be outside enjoying the sun and knowing that we were safe, sound and headed for coffee, beer and food.

With the exception of a few more guided days up in the ravines on Mt. Washington I'm going to be shelving my gear for the season. While I'm sad to see such a prolific season go I'm also excited for warm weather, rock climbing, and working on some of the website projects I've put on hold. Winter is so fleeting and such an awful time to waste.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Parallel Universe

I stumbled upon a buried treasure the other day. It's quite a funny story really. At the trailhead prior to climbing I went to "use the facilities" at a nice viewpoint. Pretty sweet actually. Anyways, I'm looking out across the clove and I spot a cliff in the woods with some very pretty pillars. Having never been to this cliff I thought I might as well go check this out.

So, on Thursday I went out to this cliff and my mind was utterly blown to bits. There are probably 15 ice lines of all grades ranging from 70'-120' in the woods. How is it possible that we've missed this cliff? How come no one goes here?

I don't want to totally blow the lid off yet but if you're motivated you should go. If you have a GPS here's the UTM:  0575767E 4664517N. Sorry for the cryptic response. I'll write more later. For now just go if you have the chance! Get there before the season ends and have fun.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Erosion Control

Winter is loosening it's icy grip on the Catskills but conditions over this past week have been surprisingly good. Sunny things are looking a bit baked and this weekend's forecasted rain may do some damage but I think we have at least one more good week left.

All winter I've been working with Chris Beauchamp establishing lines on the upper cliff in the Hellhole. Recently though, I've been busy with other things. Life happens I guess. Chris has kept at it though, shooting photos and cleaning new lines. We did his new one this week. He was gracious enough to let me have first go at the route on Wednesday. Two straight days of rest left me feeling pretty good and it was nice to walk right up and send first go. I guess climbing lots overhung mixed routes does make you fit (it's seems like a pretty specific type of fitness though).

This new line is call Erosion Control and finds a way to break the lower steep section in order to climb the large corner system that dominates the center of the cliff. The steep start (your body is horizontal and heel/toe hooking is mandatory) leads to secure climbing up the overhung lower wall. The rest is a romp to the icicle up the right trending ramp.

Chris has an eye for new lines and makes sure they're cleaned up well before he calls it a "route". This one's worth jumping on, especially if you're a gunkie and know how to keep that body tension through big overhangs. Have fun out there while there's still ice to climb...