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Rad

thoughts on multi-pitch first ascent styles

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Some people asked about Mile High Club. Here are a few thoughts on developing rock routes, including MHC. My views have grown out of 25 years of climbing and 10 years of doing first ascents. These opinions are my own. My partners have their own views that may or may not be the same as mine.

 

It is very rare for route developers to share their philosophy or defend their work because it’s easy for armchair quarterbacks to throw anonymous internet stones. Some will probably drive this thread into spray. That’s OK. I’ve got my helmet strapped down tightly. Hopefully others will find something interesting. So here goes:

 

One might consider two questions in evaluating rock climb first ascents:

 

A – What is the type of protection? It could be: 1 - Removable protection (called trad by many); 2 - fixed protection (including bolts and pitons); or 3 – a combination of fixed and removable protection (mixed).

 

B – Was the first ascent ground-up or top-down? This seems binary, but it’s not always that simple.

 

By multiplying these we might define six types of rock routes. Each has pros and cons. We have all types in Washington, and often several different types within one climbing area (e.g. Darrington, Index, X38, WA Pass, Leavenworth). I’ve done five types of first ascents. Each was the result of thoughtful consideration for the route itself, the style of the area, the views of my partners, and other factors.

 

Ironically, the style that people respect the most, ground-up trad, is actually the easiest to do. Walk up to a wall, find a line, climb and protect as you go up, end at the top, walk away. Often there is very little cleaning done along the way. When you go ground-up you tend to take the path of least resistance, and because you don’t know what’s above you may wander around to link good climbing sections. You may miss the best climbing altogether.

 

Bolts placed ground-up are often put in places that don’t make sense for parties that follow. They are typically placed from a good stance, which can mean a hook or a ledge or other feature. In a number of cases, bolts on ground-up routes occur from a rest stance AFTER the hard moves. Bolts may be placed in locations that provide sparse and/or poor protection for subsequent climbers.

 

Placing pitons doesn't make sense to me. They protect the first ascensionist and those who follow for a few years, perhaps decades, but they damage the rock as much or more than bolts and degrade over time until they are eventually useless.

 

Trad protection is viewed by some as morally superior to bolts when cracks or other protectable features are available. To a large extent I agree. On certain cliffs, however, including the Mile High buttress, cracks are mainly found behind blocks in varying states of attachment to the wall. A lead fall on a cam places far more outward force on a block than one can generate with a hammer or short crowbar, so blocks that seem safe during route development could be levered off the wall and injure or kill the climber and/or belayer and/or cut the team’s rope if a cam is placed behind them. Experienced leaders may spot such hazards and avoid them, but not everyone is that savvy.

 

Mile High Club has a few sections that could be protected by removable gear by an experienced leader. Other sections that look like protectable cracks are behind blocks of varying size that couldn’t be easily pried off using a hammer but might explode off the wall if a leader placed a cam behind them and fell on it. We could have developed a mixed route with mostly bolts and a few trad placements. I advocated that if the vast majority of the route was going to need bolts to be safely climbed AND an inexperienced leader with a trad rack might place cams in spots that would endanger themselves and others, as noted above, then bolting the whole thing would be the best way to go. That’s what we did. If you don’t like the bolts don’t clip them.

 

My goals for Mile High Club were:

#1 – Develop an outstanding route that follows the best quality climbing to the Mile High Summit.

#2 – Make the route safe for climbers who follow us, including those who are new to alpine climbing.

#3 – Open a route that people will climb and enjoy for decades to come.

 

Mile High Club has seen about ten repeats in the past ten days. Feedback from those who’ve climbed the route has been positive (feel free to PM constructive criticism). If you don’t want to climb a bolted alpine route that could attract fledgling mountain rock climbers I suggest you go climb Fire on the Mountain on Sloan that Blake and I put up in 2009. It’s an amazing 5.10+ trad ground-up alpine rock route to an outstanding peak. You’re very unlikely to have to wait in line because it’s only seen a handful of ascents in the past 6 years. Why? Perhaps because it’s a 5.10+ trad alpine rock route several hours away from a trailhead that’s not super close.

 

At the end of the day, route development is not a consensus activity. It is done by highly motivated individuals or teams that have passion and vision and are willing to invest huge amounts of time, work, and money to create something for others.

We hope you enjoy the route.

Rad

 

Edited by Rad
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This comment seemed very elitist and misguided to me:

 

“Perhaps a mixed line on such a route might have discouraged eager folks with less experience from perhaps getting in over their heads up there.”

 

If this comment comes from genuine concern for the safety of newbie alpine climbers please skip the next paragraph.

 

Implicit in this comment is the idea that sport climbers don't belong in the mountains, they don't deserve to be there, and that the mountains are the exclusive domain of wise, tough men who eat nails for breakfast. Get over yourselves. I, for one, am happy to share the mountains with anyone who wants to be there. The next generation may start in the gym, but they are going to push the envelope in the trad/alpine world. Just look at LeClerc, Caldwell, Lama, Honnold.

 

We all started out as “folks with less experience”. Most of us got ourselves “over our heads” at one point or another. Otherwise we wouldn’t have grown and developed as climbers.

 

Much of our effort on MHC focused on removing loose rock that might have harmed people. I really hope no one gets hurt or dies, but it's possible people will. There is no such thing as complete safety in the mountains. I believe that climbers must be empowered to make their own choices and accept the consequences of their own actions. That's part of what makes climbing so rich. Why should we try to deny people that experience or protect them from it?

 

If this route, in addition to being a ton of fun, can give new climbers a taste of the magic and inspiration of the mountains that would be cool. If it also provides a stepping stone in their path to being able to think for themselves and take responsibility for the safety of themselves, their partners, and other teams around them that's even better.

Edited by Rad

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Rad, thank you for you and Darin's labor of love to put up a new route like this for our climbing community. I've got 10+ years trad experience, and prefer trad most of the time, but after climbing MHC yesterday, I believe your decision was 100% the right one. Sure, I could have placed a cam or two per pitch, but based on the rock type and crack configuration, safety and longevity would have certainly been an issue at some point. In a state with such endless mountain adventures, it's fantastic to have options. And MHC presents another great option for teaching, learning, or just having a fun, low(ish)-stress day out. I really do think that the majority of climbers will agree and approve of your methods. Don't let anyone detract from your great new addition! And Fire on the Mountain has been on my list for a while... hoping to get on it next summer!

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I haven't climbed MHC and probably won't before it snows but it's on my short list. Thank you for all of your hard work!

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"Any man who inflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.” - H. L. Mencken. :)

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Sounds like you did a good job and were thoughtful about those who follow. If you wound up with a great route after a bunch of work, my congrats to you! Over 40 years climbing here, I can't bitch about your skreed at all, but it's a "people who live in glass houses" thing for me. :-) One of the best multi-pitch routes in this area was "worked" top down for many of the pitches, is a mix of bolts, pins and pro. No one was "notified" or told about that style so as to avoid ignorant and pointless "bolting ethics police" type of criticisms. No one who has climbed it since has complained and the route is very popular and stays clean.

 

 

 

On certain cliffs, however, including the Mile High buttress, cracks are mainly found behind blocks in varying states of attachment to the wall. A lead fall on a cam places far more outward force on a block than one can generate with a hammer or short crowbar, so blocks that seem safe during route development could be levered off the wall and injure or kill the climber and/or belayer and/or cut the team’s rope if a cam is placed behind them. Experienced leaders may spot such hazards and avoid them, but not everyone is that savvy.

Yup, each area is different, some have cracks that are just loose flakes on a massive scale and thus layed fallow and untouched forever till someone showed up with bolts....

 

Ivan_on_lead_P4_Tower_Rock.jpg

 

 

some have no cracks or bolts won't hold:-)

(following Plaidmans on the Talon - Tomahawk photo below)

Tomahawk_small.jpg

 

(Leading the FA of the Old Witch below)

Top_of_the_side_pinnacle.jpg

 

 

That added, each area is different, and I think it's incumbent on us to respect the history, TRADition and ethics of each area. It's also nice to lay out your own vision for a brand new area so that it is inclusive and thoughtful for those who follow. Do you have a link to your route/description Rad? The name alone wants to make me climb it. Mmmmmmm "Mile High Club" and "Mile high buttress", I'm in love with those names.....wow. Pictures?

 

 

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If we’re being honest, ground-up first ascensionists value their own experience more highly than that of climbers who may follow them. Occasionally, ground-up routes become classics, but that’s very unusual. Many are rarely climbed and others are unrepeated.

 

The bullshit meter is redlining on this one.

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If we’re being honest, ground-up first ascensionists value their own experience more highly than that of climbers who may follow them. Occasionally, ground-up routes become classics, but that’s very unusual. Many are rarely climbed and others are unrepeated.

 

The bullshit meter is redlining on this one.

 

Tell me about it...

 

Here's my totally unsolicited opinion of no value:

 

Kurt said: "That said, the route is not without hazards and should be viewed as an alpine climb."

 

From Rad's Knee Jerk:

 

"Implicit in this comment is the idea that sport climbers don't belong in the mountains, they don't deserve to be there, and that the mountains are the exclusive domain of wise, tough men who eat nails for breakfast. Get over yourselves. I, for one, am happy to share the mountains with anyone who wants to be there. The next generation may start in the gym, but they are going to push the envelope in the trad/alpine world. Just look at LeClerc, Caldwell, Lama, Honnold."

 

Actually, implicit in the comment I made was: "Perhaps a mixed line on such a route might have discouraged eager folks with less experience from perhaps getting in over their heads up there. Pretty committing location for alpine sport climbing, in my humble, unsolicited opinion".

 

I don't know where you got all of the rest, or why your panties got in such a bunch, but whatever.

 

ANAM is full of people who "got in over their heads". A newly minted and already crowded (deservedly so, it seems) fully bolted "alpine climb" is perhaps not the best place to learn the new skills and attitudes that gym climbing, or sport climbing at the crag, does not and cannot prepare you for. 8 pitches, 5 teams in a day, rapping off in the dark, rockfall in an approach gully, loose rock on route. All these are objective hazards present on many popular alpine climbs, sure. My point was that I feel that a fully bolted alpine climb could have the undesired effect of luring the inexperienced up and onto a challenging route with objective hazards in a committing location.

 

It's your route. You put it up. It's your legacy. You choose to fully bolt it. You also promoted it here and encouraged others to give it a try. Simple fact is that I am concerned that some of the people who may take you up on your offer might not have the requisite skill set to meet the challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

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If we’re being honest, ground-up first ascensionists value their own experience more highly than that of climbers who may follow them. Occasionally, ground-up routes become classics, but that’s very unusual. Many are rarely climbed and others are unrepeated.

 

 

yes all those classic ground up beckey routes are never done

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I remember in the infinite bliss debate, that no new routes were done in the alpine wilderness top down bolted. In fact this is the first one I have heard about since then, there maybe are more but haven’t heard of any. My only concern is as it becomes more and more accepted every tom dick and harry will start rappelling steep mountains walls and bolting, And then start “working” the route until it “goes” or until it doesn’t “go” and is left abandoned or until the next generation tries it. And it kinda sounds strange but in my mind if we continue to support top down wilderness routes it will only be a matter of time before its common place.(which some climbers may not care about?) and Maybe I’m being A bit paranoid but…maybe not

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I think routes like this take pressure off other multi-pitch crags, like Snow Creek Wall for example. Rad and Darin are actually doing a great service to us all by filling the increasing demand for routes. More power to them. We need more route setters. People willing to shell out their own money and valuable time off to expand the climbing field.

 

Climbing isn't getting any less popular.

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Route setters? ok. I think there's plenty of routes out there. If climbers wanna flock to only a hand full of routes in the cascades that's there problem

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If climbers wanna flock to only a hand full of routes in the cascades that's there problem

 

Crowding becomes everyone's problem.

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Agree or disagree with the style, first I say hats off to Rad for sharing his rationales and wanting to start a discussion.

 

Here's the personal take of one climber who has never done an FA, happily clips bolts if they're there, and also likes the occasional lonely and committing line in the mountains: "alpine" 5.9/5.10 clip ups have a way of all feeling the same to me. I see pictures of this new route and I think, "oh, looks like Prime Rib, looks like Infinite Bliss, looks like Condomorphine Addiction."

 

These are far from my most memorable climbs. But I've done them, and I'm happy to have them be an exception to the rule of adventurous trad as the best way of reaching the summits of the Cascades.

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Many good points above. I made far too many generalizations, so I'll edit to remove some that really aren't relevant.

 

Yes, there are plenty of great ground up routes. MHC was bolted on rappel. It is not in wilderness. It is not as adventurous as trad routes of similar grade. It absolutely has alpine hazards and some of these, such as climber-induced rockfall, may be exacerbated by being popular.

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Good news: Starbucks will build a chalet at the top of pitch 3, place laminated copies of Freedom of the Hills at every belay station, and install blue LEDs to guide people up and down the route at night. They will launch an APP that allows you to book your route start times from your phone, order your pitch 3 coffee so it's ready when you get there, and have Siri talk you through rappelling at night. Caffeine plus LEDs plus Siri should get everyone down safely.

 

Until these are ready, climbers will be on their own. They should learn and practice multi-pitch anchor transitions, rappelling, and basic mountain safety before attempting this route. A simple mistake in the wrong place at the wrong time can kill you no matter how clever or experienced you are.

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If climbers wanna flock to only a hand full of routes in the cascades that's there problem

 

Crowding becomes everyone's problem.

maybe in a global environmentally stance of over using the wilderness but its really NOT my problem if climbers wanna flock to a handful of routes.

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Yes, there are plenty of great ground up routes. It is not in wilderness. It absolutely has alpine hazards and some of these, such as climber-induced rockfall, may be exacerbated by being popular.
And there are plenty of rap bolted sport climbs around also, there at rock climbing areas not in the mountains. I believe it is in the wilderness. as far as the safety concerns, if you travel in the mountains you should understand the risks, so is not an issue with me Edited by kukuzka1

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if hard-bodied 20-something females are flocking to your route, do the ethics even matter? :)

 

let's be honest brothers... :grin:

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if hard-bodied 20-something females are flocking to your route, do the ethics even matter? :)

 

let's be honest brothers... :grin:

 

Or enough people to keep it clean, so when you want to go climb your own route you put-up, you don't have to bring a big moss raper and face shield every time.

 

I used to care about how routes were put up, know I just want to climb good routes regardless, just so long as cracks stay unbolted.

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That added, each area is different, and I think it's incumbent on us to respect the history, TRADition and ethics of each area.

yes and the cascade mountains has an almost 100 year tradition of ground up FAs (minus a very few exceptions) and as more of these routes are done in this style, then we have changed the tradition. so when the next generations come, rap bolting will now be the an accepted tradition

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Were fucked anyways

We need more route setters.
dude I sent the yellow route on the NE face of stuie, its between the red route and the black/white route. was so rad! the route setter is sick, it finishes with this massive dyno to a knarly no hands stance to micro crimps. completely sick! sorry I just couldn't resist. no offence t-mark :brew:

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Hey Mike. Like it or not I would counter that in the last 25 years "Top Down Development" of alpine rock climbs has been used on a majority of significant new routes outside the Stuart Range and NCNP.

 

Doorish/Burdo free routes on Dolomite Tower.

Free version of TRL, Freedom or Death, Liberty & Injustice on Liberty Bell.

Hitchiker, Passenger, Mojo Rising on South Early.

Gato Negro across the valley.

Numerous free routes on Exfoliation Dome.

Numerous free routes on SQW and vicinity.

Infinite Bliss.

Edge of Space on SCW (thought I heard it, could be wrong)

 

IMO in the mountains you should go ground up where the rock quality allows it. Stuart Range and NCNP are perfect examples of that.

 

Personally I think there's a lot potential for high quality alpine rock routes on the lower elevation and more accessible peaks on the west side of the Cascades hiding underneath a layer of munge and superficial looseness. In those cases top down development is entirely reasonable.

 

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