Wings of Steel - Part IV


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Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
May 1, 2006 - 01:06am PT
So, Pete, if I respond to the flaming posts, am I being "defensive?" Would you advocate that I just ignore some of the most recent, uhhh, "material"? Honestly. It's been the weekend, and I'm waiting for some other reasonable person to spring to our defense with the OBVIOUS response: "Get real! You mean to claim that a few batheads makes the route a botch, and THAT is proof of the FA team's 'hubris'???" But, I'm not hearing it, so, I'll offer up the explanation that should help a reasonable person relax a bit and take my face off of their own heavy bag!

I mean, really, "treating El Cap like it was God's gift to us"??? Maybe the thing I should do instead is to start listing the litany of ridiculous things I've seen on other routes put up by famous and respected guys, and then we'll see if an entire route and FA team can be fairly judged according to MAYBE a dozen "batheads" (I think less). I honestly don't know what this supposed "mess" of batheads is about.

To do over again, the one thing Mark and I would really have done differently is to use stainless cables on everything, and I agree that the batheads were not the best tactic, and we would probably have just bathooked those spots. But, again, people have been moaning about batHOOKING too. So, I guess that when we dropped the rivets, our ready-critics would have just advocated "climb over" at that point (of course, they have been advocating "climb over" from the minute we touched the rock), because rapping back to the ground to get those rivets would have then had our critics accusing us of "seiging" the route.

We made a judgment call to go on and try to make do, and we agree that it probably would have been better to use bathooks, but really nothing we would have done was going to make people happy. So the real question now is whether the use of a dozen (or less) batheads instead of bathooks is this quantum leap of stupidity and "hubris" that a couple of people are now trying to make it out to be. I guess, given what I've seen on other routes, it's pretty clear to me that we will always be held to a different standard of evaluation by some, while, hopefully others have also seen enough imperfections on other routes to recognize that this bathead thing is just another tempest in a teapot to justify decades of antagonism.

It would be nice if somebody unbiased could give the route a go and give a report. Honestly, though, my only goal in these forums has been to be as forthright as I can be (given, I hope, a little charity in the realization that it has been well over two decades since we climbed the route). Perhaps the general ethical discussions I have hoped for, absent flames, just cannot take place.

We have never claimed that WoS was a "perfect" route, or that it was a "great" route, or that we were some "great" team for slowly working our way up it. All we have ever claimed is that it was NOT the rivet ladder it was slandered to be, which was the initial justification on the part of the Valley Boys for treating us the way they did. I don't believe that it is now "hubris" to say that a few batheads are not the great atrocity that they are being cast as, and I don't believe that trying to set the record straight in a book was "hubris" either.

Regarding any "hubris" people think they see in the book, people should keep in mind that an author usually has no control over how a book gets its cover, the blurbs that are associated with it, the marketing tactics, or anything else that makes a publisher think they are going to make money! Anybody who's had a book published can attest to the helpless feeling you have as you watch many of your best passages (and often the most explanatory ones)get trashed on the "cutting room floor," other people decide what the cover is going to look like and what it's going to say, and so on. AND, this takes place after you've signed a contract that let's them (within reason, and that's ferociously difficult to argue, as I can attest) do whatever they want to make their best efforts to make money on the book. For a publisher, the most basic, most bottom line is that a book is about money, not ideas.

BTW, IF there are any batheads lower than the fifth anchor, that's VERY strange to me, since I'm about 99% sure that we dropped the rivet bag and stone from the fifth anchor bivy. Interestingly, Slater never commented on finding any batheads, and my only recollection of placing any was in the seventh pitch. Futhermore, I know for a fact that I didn't place any in the third pitch, because much of that pitch just was a rivet ladder, and it was our first pitch upon leaving the ground for the "final push" (that sounds pretty funny, actually). The point is that we had lots of rivets when we did the third and fourth pitches, and the fifth pitch was about 80% in a series of copperhead seams. So, I don't believe that any batheads below the fifth anchor are ours, and I am quite surprised to hear of a "mess" of them in the third and fourth pitches. That's the honest truth, so believe what you want about that point.

I would fully expect a team to find a "few" higher up, like in the seventh and perhaps eighth pitches, but I have no account for any lower down, and, again, it's a little hard to see how Slater would have gotten to the fifth anchor without any mention of them.

For Ammon, again, I say as I have said before, ALL holes drilled perpedicular to the rock (like a bathook, bathead, rivet, or bolt) were counted as "holes". If we used it like a "rivet," then it counted as a "hole".

If the batheads are broken off now, that is something of a pain for the second ascent team, but certainly no more of a pain than the many, many rusted out, single-strand or no-strand heads in trenched slots or in the only usable pockets that I have found on other routes. Remember that WoS is now OLD, and the idea that you're simply going to go up there and find everything in "trade-route" condition is fairly unreasonable. So, the next ascent team will have to do some upgrades to make the ascent. A speed ascent attempt on a route this old and unclimbed seems suspiciously like "hubris" to me. Just the AGE of the route alone would make success on such an attempt seem extremely unlikely. See, the word "hubris" is pretty easy to bandy about, yet it is an extremely provocative gesture!

Again, it seems that the route is being held to a higher standard than that of other routes. As I said, to do again, we would have used stainless cables, but almost nobody else was using stainless when we did WoS, and we didn't imagine that nobody would do the route for so long.

I think it was reasonable of us at the time to think that the few batheads would be no big deal at all to another ascent team, and that they would quickly get replaced by rivets and just be an utter non-issue. We honestly never imagined the insane level of ongoing scrutiny that every aspect of the route was going to get, and I defy you to find ANY, I repeat ANY, FA team who would make the efforts we have in these forums to tell the DETAILED truth as best we can remember it, so as to relieve the controversy.

For example, try asking Grossman about a bolt placed next to an (at most) A3 crack on the FA of Horse Play about 40-50 feet out from Truck Stop ledge. See how far you get. I could, honestly, begin a litany of such things. My point is that LOTS of imperfections and mistakes are made by everybody who does FAs, and to magnify ours just because we're willing to actually talk about them and try to help produce some clarity is pretty disengenuous.

At this point, I believe that anybody who can call the route a "botch" in the face of the bathead issue cannot be convinced of anything positive about the route no matter what. A reasonable person is going to say, "Crap, so they used ten or so batheads in a 1200 foot slab. Is that make or break?" It's just very hard for me to see how anybody can honestly make a big deal about this "revelation" about one of the many "imperfections" of the route. Surprise, guys, but PROBABLY your parents had sex after your were born too (along with their actual, genuine indiscretions). They were probably still reasonably good parents, which is all any parent can hope to be. "Imperfection" doesn't mean "botch," and it certainly doesn't mean or imply "rivet ladder" or "POS".

This is all a matter of perspective, so we'll see if this thread can find it again, and we'll be happy to keep trying to be helpful.

Oh, BTW, we feel no "rights" to the route at all (as if it would matter anyway), so nobody has to feel any desire to ask us what we think of replacing whatever they want with rivets, bolts, or an elevator. Make the route whatever you want on the next ascent, or chop it if you like. Regardless of what the route ever becomes, having done other routes since then, we now will always believe that the climbing on WoS was high-standard and worthwhile, particularly given the standards of the times, even in the face of what (few) mistakes we made while getting our slow behinds up it.

I'm so over it
May 1, 2006 - 01:42am PT
"pl a,,pmpm upi can buy ,y beer tpp~!~!!!" HAHAHAHAHA!

MSmith sez: "The character of WoS is quite dependent on the nature of the rivets. They must be body weight reliable or the climb would be unreasonably dangerous. Should they be replaced with machine heads that could hold falls, the opposite would happen."

Okay. So...y'all were ripping rivets in your repeated falls or what? Just curious. Just beating the horse.

Somebody please go up there. Preferably Ammon cuz I don't want to wait too long. hahahah Then again, Pete, your whole career has led you to this route: you can go up there and tape down like 30 hooks and drag bags all over the slab and take showers and somehow in the end smash the current speed record! LOL

Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
May 1, 2006 - 02:46am PT
Tom, thanks for the very enlightening explanation about what happens to zinc. Never understood that process before.

So, yeah, the rivets might well have to be replaced by now, and, as Mark says, that job will definitely affect the character of the route.

Of course, if one-day ascents are trying it, then perhaps things aren't so bad yet after all. Don't know how long ago the one-day attempt was or how long it takes for the process you described to become a significant issue.

Regarding the question about how the rivets were holding our falls, the farther out on a pitch you are the lower the impact force is going to be on a placement. Most of our falls were not right at anchors, and I think the farthest we were out from a rivet when falling was four top-looped hooks. We took longer falls caught by bolts. We weren't assuming the rivets to hold falls, but we found that they did hold the falls we were taking on them. I would say that the combination of location of falls taken (luck), rope-run over the slab and through placements (adding friction), and the brand new status of the rivets all contributed to them holding. All the way up the slab we weren't counting on any one of them holding any particular fall, and each time one did we were happily surprised.

To elcapfool, all I can say is: Wow! And, we've already had quite a lot of experience with people frothing at the mouth "right in our faces" about such things. If a few batheads (like have been used in countless other routes) can get you this worked up, then I submit that you never moved very far from your starting point after all (much less ever came "full circle")! Who are you, anyway? Care to share a name? I've probably had you "in my face" already, would be my guess.

To Ammon, saying "a pretty ghetto way to put up a route" makes it sound like we were batheading in place of rivets all the way up the route, in effect not using rivets at all. In fact we placed a few of them, higher on the slab, which means that these were the rare exception rather than the rule. This tactic was not the "way we put up the route."

Pete has been much more reasonable and charitable in his assessment of this issue!

Perhaps instead of being "surprised" that we "admit this" tactic, elcapfool should take our ever-willing honesty as something worthy of a little charity in considering the whole picture. If this tempest in a teapot justifies a route-chopping, then I suggest that you had better get your chisel out and get to work on a lot of classic routes (including the Sea) that have far worse indiscretions on them than ours. There is, for example, not a single place on WoS where we chopped flat ledges into a long, thin, vertical flake to create numerous hookable ledges out of nothing! And nobody is going to tell me that the FA team wasn't responsible for THIS tactic, because anybody who has been there can see that there's no evidence of getting up this section without those utterly CREATED ledges.

So, chop whatever you feel you must, but don't pretend like you are standing on some lofty moral high-ground. If there's anything that people respected about Harding it was his "go f*&ck your stupid rules" mentality, and having talked to him MANY times about it, his reason was always the same: even the best of the purists violate their own rules whenever it suits them! Robbins certainly did, and Harding pointed it out, and Robbins was probably the most impressive purist climbing has ever seen. Mark and I have never had Harding's mentality to the EXTENT that he had it, but we certainly have come to agree with his motivations for the way HE had it, because whoever you idolize in the climbing world, they HAVE violated the "rules" in many and in worse ways that we did on WoS. So, chop on, nameless elcapfool, but your frothing doesn't create morality out of the empty landscape of inconsistent ACTUAL practices.

Big Wall climber
El Cap
May 1, 2006 - 02:55am PT

Madbolter, maybe ghetto was a bad choice of words. I'm just trying to get the facts. I admit not reading every single post in one, two and three. I’m not criticizing you guys in anyway. Most of us have altered the rock and later regretted it.

It's all just curious to me and plan on checking it out for myself.

[edit] I hope it's badass-

Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
May 1, 2006 - 03:20am PT
I appreciate the post, Ammon. I've never felt attacked by you, btw, and I have gotten the impression that you're taking a reasonable perspective in general.

Problem I have with all this is not knowing when something should get some response and when something should just be let slide (and then misunderstood in any of many ways). I've been erring on the side of responding, and maybe that's itself an error. Sigh.

As I have said in past threads, I expect the route to be something between a "botch" and a "badass," probably much closer to "badass" than to "botch," given what all we've seen since WoS. But, at this point, I'll be happy enough to settle for an unbiased ascent that, like Slater's, just reports that it wasn't a botch as was slandered, and then maybe this whole thing can just go bye-bye.

Unlike Harding's public persona, I do care about the rules and about what the community thinks of my tiny contributions. Actually, Harding did too, although his public persona WAS cast iron on the subject.

Thanks again for the post, though, Ammon.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
May 1, 2006 - 04:39am PT
I don't know, but as a complete outsider with a long LNT history it's interesting how much turns in the Valley on what fills one once a hole is drilled - hook, head, rivet, bolt. Hmmmm, from the outside it looks like the "damage" is done once the hole goes in and opinions about what fills it (if anything and why) seem to range from the "whatever's on hand" practical to a near-fanatical stance where the distinction between [metal] forms starts getting a bit lost on me.

I am curious about these "batheads", though, and whether the "head" was all the way in the hole, flush, or sticking out some such that some sort of "forked" hook would simply slip over them...

Mountain climber
Portland, Oregon
May 2, 2006 - 04:30pm PT
Regarding rivet replacement and WoS, the majority of in-pitch holes are rivets. Change all of those to bolts and at least a couple of things happen. First, the commitment level of the climb goes way down. If El Cap had only one route, then making that route reasonably accessible to the masses would make some sense. But given that most El Cap routes are pretty accessible, preserving the commitment level of harder climbs is appropriate. Second, and maybe this is just me, it seems that rivets have a smaller footprint. Bolt hangers are visible with a good telescope from El Cap Meadow. They are very visible walking the base of the wall if you are looking. Our rivets go in a 5/8” deep hole and have a small rounded head that is roughly the color of the wall. Therefore, they probably have the smallest footprint short of a bat hook.

We chose Zamacs, in large part, as a statement against grade 8 machine bolts. A grade 8 machine bolt in a 1” hole is basically an anchor bolt. I’d be disappointed to see any hard aid route have its rivets or dowels replaced with these. We thought Zamacs were the best balance of small footprint and durability, something we did consider at the time. If experience has shown that they fail faster than other similar devices (I have no knowledge here), then a longer lasting device should be found to replace the WoS rivets, assuming they need replacement.

"Shouldn't an old rivet be replaced with something that is itself replaceable?"

Makes sense. What’s out there?

"One wonders if repeating these heading pitches will actually be harder and more time-consuming than the first ascent?!"

Probably yes. Because we used galvanized cable, every head on the route is certainly toast. Anyone who uses galvanized cable should be, well, better not pronounce a curse on myself.

"I am curious about these "batheads", though, and whether the "head" was all the way in the hole, flush, or sticking out some such that some sort of "forked" hook would simply slip over them..."

They weren’t Batcams™, nothing is sticking out to slip over. I’m not optimistic that any can successfully yanked out by the existing cable. Our apologies for having used them.
Matt M

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 2, 2006 - 05:04pm PT
I love this thread (s)! It's like the Supertopo version of In Search of Mallory on Everest! Mystery - "how high?" "what route?" etc etc
A proposed trip to "go find the truth!"

If report doesn't come back on this I'll be seriously disappointed. A book or at least a long article (alpinist - are you listening?) would be even better!

this is the supertopo circa 2002 that I remember - none of the political drivel
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