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piz : )
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Over the last fall and winter I began working another crack that was NOT my style. I have the tendency to choose things to climb that are difficult for me because I want to get better as a climber. Climbing things that I am already good at no longer makes me feel like I have accomplished anything, more like, “yeah, well I am good at that and I should be able to do it and as a matter of fact why didn’t I climb that thing faster”. But I digress.
So at the local crag and at the main wall, I was able to put in anchors and top rope the route that (someone had drilled and placed an old bolt at the very start and apparently never finished.) I cleaned the route, knocked off all the loose edges (just from climbing it), brushed the sand out of it and now it is as good as it will be.
The rock however is good enough to climb on (with minor breaks here and there still occurring) but the inside of the thin seam the rock quality is very poor. The gear that I have to use on the crack are the smallest camming units available and due to the rock quality inside, I was always concerned about what would happen if/when I finally had the courage to lead the route. The climbing is challenging enough where I won’t be able to sew it up and there will be a big run out way over the last good piece that will create a fall where I will hit the ground. There is also another place on the top half of the route that will create another fall that will put the leader close to the ground, if not hitting the ground.
So, I worked the route and worked it last year and a cold front stopped me short of ever leading it. This year finally came and I have been able to try it once again and it feels just as challenging as last year. But I was making great links on it and finally was ready for the first official known non aid lead of the crack.
I set up a top rope, spent about 45 minutes preplacing gear, (because just plugging and going will in no way be safe) I made 3 equalized piece anchors in the seam in multiple places on the route with the two smallest cam sizes, and then lead the route on the preplaced gear with the top rope attached to me, so that if/when I fell, it would let me take a huge fall but not hit the ground. This was in order to test to see how all the gear would do under real conditions.
To make a long story short, the gear blew, on falls as short as just 4 feet over the pieces. I broke a 0 metolius cam and the others just ripped right on out due to the soft rock.
So, even though I really don’t want to place bolts on the route, I know that the only way that it will be safe to lead is to add two. That way you can still place gear in between and it might or might not fail and you would still not deck. The climber would still take big falls, but it wouldn’t mean hospitalization.
I just wanted to illustrate this situation because a lot of people think that folks just throw bolts in mindlessly and without thought and consideration. There are many first ascensionist that work this way. It is often newer route equippers that may have a poorly placed or over bolted a climb. I place bolts when necessary and this situation is certainly the case.
I have asked many climbers what they would do and I have received many similar responses, (put in the bolts) with very few saying to just commit to getting hurt. For every person that I had try the route, the response was 100% put in the bolts. They all learned that the rock just isn’t that safe or solid. For those that look at it from the ground they aren’t sure. It is one of those cracks that surprises you big time once you start attempting to climb it and then actually look closely at it’s innards.
The bottom line is that no bolt is placed without a lot of thought.
I have personally thought and talked about this scenario for about a year now.
piz : )