WoS / PTPP, part XXV (continued from XXIV )


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Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2006 - 05:35pm PT
As I recall.... I think "we" thought climbing on the Apron was a little light in the PA's too.... maybe it was just a slab thing afterall.

Trad climber
Aug 7, 2006 - 05:40pm PT
I think it really comes down to having respect for the rock, especially the sacred stone. Free climbing has way less impact(less holes, less bolts ect..) than Aid.
If your going to damage the rock and leave scars shouldn't it be a natural line or at least something that future climbers will enjoy and use?

Big Wall climber
the Southwest
Aug 7, 2006 - 05:46pm PT
Re: manufactured vs. natural difficulty.

It appears that Wings of Steel involves manufactured difficulty, up to 20 percent from what we can gather by the statements by MSmith. Comparisons have been made to the manufactured difficulty as practiced by one of the greatest big wall climbers of all time, namely Jim Bridwell. But notable is that many other first ascentionists of the era were purists who eschewed "enhancements" on the rock to maintain difficulty.

Arguably, there is a difference between enhancing a hook placement to link two A4 seams on an overhanging piece of rock, as Bridwell often did, and enhancing hooks repeatedly on a slab. Regardless, hooking standards of the era on vertical and less-than-vertical rock are exemplified not by Bridwell, but by routes put up by Steve Grossman and Charles Cole: Jolly Rodger, True Nose, and Turning Point, probably Space, too, to name a few testpieces. On such routes, from what I understand, no chisel was ever used to enhance the rock during long, difficult hooking sections.

The repeated sound of metal on rock could have been heard by valley climbing locals at the time when Wings of Steel was being established; perhaps this was the cause of some of the reaction (and also the source of the rivet ladder rumors). Given the sacred nature of the big stone to many, I can understand where the concern about the route came from at the time.

In any case, it appears to me that to climb the second ascent of WOS (and exemplfying one of the problems of manufactured difficulty on a first ascent), one has to come to grips with some philosophic issues, and may have to resort to the same techniques employed by the first ascent; namely, to carry a chisel on lead while climbing and be prepared to use it. For many, this may be considered a lowering of personal ethic.

As Ammon pointed out, while on lead, to find the one placement amoung a choice of possibly dozens of possibilities within reach (most of which will fail, and lead to a whipper), takes much more time and effort than the alternative of reaching up at an optimum level and whacking off some crystal, or the tip of a tiny exfoliation, to make a placement with known qualities (based on the level of enhancement).

The ethical framework employed by Pete Z. and Ammon may answer some questions of the difficulty of their attempts. If one was prepared to use a chisel on lead, as the first ascentionists did, would the route still be considered as difficult as it now appears?


Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
Aug 7, 2006 - 05:48pm PT
Cool! Thanks, Russ, bilbo, tarbuster, darod, etc... Just trying to get an idea of the thinking of the day, guys. I dunno, throw my own thoughts in, mix it up a bit. Fvck, I dunno.

I really appreciate everyone's posts.

Great story, healjye! Thanks.

Deuce's post wasn't there yet Edit: Thanks for the post, Deuce! Always well thought out.

I will need to go back through the threads and read about the enhancements, for sure. It's all been so long ago that this started, and so much has gone back and forth, etc. From my personal conversations with Richard and Mark, I was under the understanding that they had really done much enhancing at all, and when there was, even at the time, you would have been hard pressed to tell where it was, it was minute. I can understand, certainly, how folks then would have been quite pissed when thinking about how *anyone* would get up that slab without drilling it into submission and then hearing constant hammering on top of that.

I know Mark is around, and Richard should be back around tomorrow or Wednesday. Hopefully, they can clarify more on the enhancing, as well as things they may have said that seem contradictory.

right here, right now
Aug 7, 2006 - 05:54pm PT
Hey All,
It seems like we might be getting somewhere here.
I have emailed Richard and invited him to talk with me, extemporaneously.

To sort of get into Healyje's thing, always in good candor I might add, I see that if we'd had a really good way to collectively, simultaneously, and accurately view WOS at the time, this comparative aspect with hard free may likely have held water.
That is just a guess.
Aid and free however were simply not viewed similarly at that time. Stonemaster and pre-Stonemaster bolt routes on blank multi pitch faces were well accepted. Drilling "Had" to be done from natural stances.

With Mike Lechlinski at the helm, I was putting up very run out, 3 pitch free routes in the CA needles in '82 or '83: sometimes hanging from hooks to drill. Bachar had paved the way for that, but with the advent of Bachar Yerian which was very new. At this time 2006, I really see zero difference between choosing to do big run outs on hooks or on fingers: sheesh look at dry tooling?!

I feel that Matt, someone apparently not from my generation, has a very important grasp of WOS contextually speaking.
Deuce definitely has the cred to comment on accepted aid practices during the period in question, lots of it.

After all of it, I have tried to bring some clarity and equanimity to the items at hand and rather than bolster any argument, I have strived for understanding.

I really can't speak for "my" community at large because they have not collectively granted me that voice, but I feel "we" collectively owed those WOS guys some fair analysis and consideration. I was at the '82 SAR meeting and exposed to their recount of their route and I was impressed with their availability to a dialog, independent of right/wrong/acceptance or otherwise.

Richard and Mark are part of our community, part of the grand narrative: as climbers we can do well do mend our fractious ways. It is good training for survival as a species on a global scale.

Youch: good luck with the notion brought forth in that last sentence everyone.

Roy McClenahan


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Aug 7, 2006 - 06:05pm PT
The ethical framework employed by Pete Z. and Ammon may answer some questions of the difficulty of their attempts. If one was prepared to use a chisel on lead, as the first ascentionists did, would the route still be considered as difficult as it now appears?

Seems to me that would depend on whether the original hook placements were worn, blown, or - like the routes at Whitehorse - simply hard too hard to see a second time. But I believe what I'm hearing from Ammon and Pete is that, first or second ascent, traveling that stretch of stone in any approximation of the way the FA party did is consistently hard, runout, and tedious.

Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Aug 7, 2006 - 06:20pm PT
healyje wrote:
"It was definitely not my cup of tea, but it was theirs and had they come to the Valley it's hard for me to believe they too wouldn't have been instantly drawn to WOS and no doubt tried to figure out if it might be possible to free it."

and Nefarius wrote:
"If it made sense, as things got harder on cracks, to start to aid your way up a route, then why not a slab as it became featureless enough to prevent free climbing."

TB beat me to it, but you cannot conveniently ignore the fact that the accepted standard in the valley for all the old-school hard free slab routes, which were bolted ground up, and from stances. how are you gonna do that on WoS? no offense to these comments (or any others), but if we are gonna compare aiding slab to freeing slab, then let's be sure to compare them honestly.

i am no expert on when which things were introduced and where, but i have to think that we would have seen the same contempt for some guys to come in from nowhere to rap bolt a free line on that slab, or even just drill from hooks for pitch after pitch after pitch, in the name of free climbing.
honestly, could you even get away w/ that today? probably not!

again, wouldn't you think that the locals would want these guys to climb some other stuff to get a feeling for what would be acceptable? (i.e. in the case of this comparison, wouldn't it be reasonable for 'locals' to want an aspiring FA team who planned to put up fee slab routes to climb some existing stuff, to see how a free climb that was bolted only from stances on lead would be different than one drilled from hooks, so that they could be exposed to the local standards before they went off and drilled from hooks?).

nefarius wrote:
"I was under the understanding that they had really done much enhancing at all, and when there was, even at the time, you would have been hard pressed to tell where it was, it was minute"

i don't think it's possible to overstate the potential offensiveness, to some, of the idea that some small enhancements are ok, especially when layered into a situation where the slab has no natural features for any protection so all the protection is drilled, these guys are on their 1st el cap route ever, and it's 1982.

as i said in the previous thread:
it's not as if nobody told them that they didn't like their choice of a line and the style that climbing it required, and yet they turned their noses up at "those local as#@&%es" and went about their business as they saw fit- ok fine- but don't now come cry that no one liked their choice of a line and the style that climbing it required- whatever- i don't see how they get to complain about it now, TS.

and what about shitting on those ropes? ok that's f*#ked up, but to them, so was conquering el cap w/ a drill, and they were defending her, in their minds.

i for one, 25 years later, am not prepared to say that anyone was right or anyone was wrong, but i feel like it might be fair to say that you guys chose your own path, despite what "the community" (whom you now wish to rely upon for the unknown past dirty details and eventually the future redemption you seek) was telling you, and telling you loud and clear.

Trad climber
South Side Billburg
Aug 7, 2006 - 06:28pm PT
From Turbuster:

"Richard and Mark are part of our community, part of the grand narrative: as climbers we can do well do mend our fractious ways. It is good training for survival as a species on a global scale."

That's big. If half of us get a solid grip on this concept, we would be really getting somewhere.

Thanks Roy.


Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
Aug 7, 2006 - 06:42pm PT
Well, we have to remember that we are talking about El Cap here. It *is* 1982. People didn't come to pioneer free routes on El Cap then. Period.

Honestly, I don't know when bolting while on a hook, rather than a stance, became OK. I know it was bachar who made this break through happen and that's about it. I think it was on the bachar/yerian, but am probably wrong. Short of that, the route (WoS) was done ground up, obviously.

I'm still just trying to figure out why things (change) didn't carry over from one genre to another. Still. Nit-picking won't get the question answered. Neither will side-stepping it. It's a general question, so bear with me. But if it was OK to climb a slab free, and use a few bolts, then why not to aid a slab and use a few more bolts, as there is a direct mirror of this when dealing with cracks or features. It was OK to use an almost same number of bolts, per pitch, on an aid crack once it got above the current ability of free climbers. On top of all the gear being placed to get there, some of which was left as protection.

I'm sure I'm not voicing this right or getting my point across. *sigh* screw it.

Edit: OK, took a break and thought about what I'm trying to say a bit more.

I guess, in the simplest tersm, I'm asking why was it OK to aid a crack, but not to aid a slab?

So, bachar walks up to a climb and says, that's fvckin' rad! The climbing is extremely hard, I know I can do it, but it can't be bolted on stance or it's too dangerous, or whatever. He makes a move, eventually it's accepted/acceptable. Why wouldn't this translate over to slabs? It's acceptable to bolt on a hook now, be it a slab or a face.

With this in mind, it would seem that Mark and Richard were simply ahead of their time, convinced the route would go, and stewards of change. No different than JB. So that brings us back to them being newcomers and not having paid their dues, thus it wasn't acceptable.

Again, sorry, Just trying to figure things out, reason, etc... Really not trying to offend anyone.


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Aug 7, 2006 - 06:58pm PT

Again, part of my "upbringing" was pretty much everything we touched locally was a first ascent and because of that my partner and I went out of our way to not use guides and not talk to the locals prior to climbing when we rolled into a new place - our idea was and is to try to approach a place the way it was before it was ever climbed, eyeball it, pick a line that caught our eye, and do our thing. All the better if it turned out to be an FA, but cool if not; I just love scoping out stone on my own - on some levels and to some extent I don't care what the locals do or have done and knowing that stuff simply contaminates that "walk up to an unknown rock" experience. I love meeting everyone and learning all that stuff after I've had my fill of climbs and epics, but typically not when I first roll in and try to do my thing...

And just a note: even though I'm using those examples I'm not contrasting or comparing free vs. aid or attempting to join that sub-conversation. My point is simply that people arrive at stone with different vision, experience, perceptions, and approaches. You might disagree with them but responding with gross disrespect after only inferring what's going on without knowing the facts is less than standup. And a years long lynchmob / vendetta is even more embarassing. In this case it seems like a lesson that had been learned by the previous generation in the Valley and apparently had to be learned all over again by this one. Too bad they didn't object in the style of the previous generation - by trying to climb the route...

Tar: "Richard and Mark are part of our community, part of the grand narrative: as climbers we can do well do mend our fractious ways. It is good training for survival as a species on a global scale."

Darod: That's big. If half of us get a solid grip on this concept, we would be really getting somewhere.

Thanks Roy.

I'll second that thanks...

Aug 7, 2006 - 07:15pm PT
Nefarious some might not consider standing on hooks to place bolts on free climbs a, "break through". I mean no disrespect to Bachar.. This really speaks to that sort of elitism that was around then and now. In alot of ways as was already stated, the narliest climbers of the day really weren't so much a part of that as perhaps the cronies one notch down on the skill level were. At any rate what is implied is, if Bachar(subsitute any other hard man/woman climber of the day) did it, it must be ok. Perhaps the corallary of that may be even more significant...if you aren't a hard man/woman then maybe its not ok. Like I said I mean no disrespect to Bachar but if he decided to duct tape his unit, climb naked and every time he got a little sketched(not that he ever did, how would I know)on a free solo, think of his last conquest and use that duct taped unit as a piece of pro...I'm not jumpin on that band wagon.. but then again all I'd be able to climb would be thin cracks, not my thing.

right here, right now
Aug 7, 2006 - 07:16pm PT
On that one my guess would be that large slabs were thought to be relegated to the realm of free climbing possibility and typically left as such.

Most hard nailing at that “late” date was typically considered above what was free climbable and perhaps thought free climbable at a much later date.

Then of course what follows is why not let the wings guys aid something so others can free climb it later.
Sounds good now.

Clearly the response was atrocious per the fecal vandalism.
Chopping, well that was going on quite a lot all over the place.

Nevertheless per going into a local area and doing things, when you're talking the application of bolts things could get sticky. Bolting always had a fairly strict set of locally accepted and well-known norms. For instance: no bolting in the Gunks, very little bolting or none El Dorado, plenty of ground-up bolting at Suicide.

Any time anybody places a bolt anywhere they can come under ridicule.
Here in Boulder Canyon Colorado even as recent as the last few years we have had trad climbers in uproar over rap bolting.
It goes on and on.

I'm with you man.
On sight, maybe no report.
Fresh experience.
Go get a bite to eat.


Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Aug 7, 2006 - 07:30pm PT
hey healyje, i get what you are saying, and i even like the way it sounds when you say it, but the simple fact is that approach will serve you better in some instances than others.

crude and exagerated examples of this would be to suggest that you take your sly stallone bolt gun out to delicate arch and establish some clip-ups for the tourists, or go nail your way up anything at indian creek, or drill/chisel some pockets into (intentionally blank) so it wouldn't be such a scary clip.

doing what you want, where you want, when you want is just fine, so long as it's not exactly the thing someone there doesn't want you to do. that said, i'm not defending the other side either.

my thing is that you just cannot obsolve these guys of their own responsibility, 25 years later, never having been there in person for the show, just because their ropes smell funny and now everyone bolts everything w/out even a 2nd thought.

as i said before, if this route was visionarty, it was envisioning a time when people might no be offended by the idea of bolting a line up the slab.

having considered the above free climbing comparisons a bit, here is another question:

which would have more percieved value if established in 2006, and which would be more readily accepted by today's climbing community (and yosemite locals in particular)?

1) WoS- were it put up today in exactly the same manner, just 25 years later-


2) a difficult "test-piece" free route on the same line up the slab, also established in 2006, which was either rap bolted or drilled from hooks (and would that distinction matter?), w/ well camoflaged bomber protection bolts every 10 feet or so, and well equipt for rappeling from any point.

keep in mind that nobody has repeated the route in all these years, and of those who have been on it, ammon has already called the climbing "tedious", while pete, a veteran of dozens of el cap routes, has no interest in earnestly attempting the 2nd ascent of WoS.


Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Aug 7, 2006 - 07:33pm PT
"Nevertheless per going into a local area and doing things, when you're talking the application of bolts things could get sticky."

I hear you loud and clear on this one Roy and this is also where I don't have the local history or knowledge. It just seems to this outsider like a lot of hammers, drills, and chisels were flying in general in the Valley during that period and certainly to me (an old originally anti-chalk LNT freak) the distinctions involved with the ethics of their various application was and is occasionally strange, blurry, and difficult to keep straight.

At most smaller crags it's more a black/white, yes/no bolt decision versus a fine grained rainbow of greys involving flakes, crystals, chisels, prying, rivets, divots, holes, etc. - simultaenously a veritable cornucopia and minefield interesting a peculiar things one can do to a really, really big rock.

Monument Manor
Aug 7, 2006 - 07:57pm PT
The decline of style began with the introduction of the rope and continues to this day. There was a huge hue and cry when Bachar used hooks to establish a "free climb" So much so he rated it 5.11 A1 and considered it "mixed" and proposed a style rating. At the same time others in the Meadows were "freeing" bolt ladders ( that they themselves established ) . Which is the better style - obvious - Bachars' style was more dangerous, hence,better.

Big Wall climber
Fresno, CA
Aug 7, 2006 - 07:58pm PT
Matt -- I hear what you're saying, man. I think you pose a totally legit question too.

Personally, I'd have to say that I'd think a free ascent of that slab would absolutely unreal! If someone could send that, I'd think they were the sh#t, for sure!

However, while I feel that the techniques required to do the route free would be incredible, I think the risk would wholly be the same, and this is the area (most frequently) used to judge aid lines. Wow! Difficult question! On the flip side, free routes are judged more on their skill requirement.

I think the risk of injury and fall is the same, IMO. I'd also very much respect an aid first ascent, ground up. It seems as if most people here have spoken, in one way or another, to say that they would agree that it's respectable, if not proud by today's standards. I really thitnk either type of ascent would shine in it's own right. Not sure I could say which I thought would be the proudest. However, I get what you're saying and I *would* be inclined to say that a free ascent of any aid line is super proud!

You pose a good question, Matt.

right here, right now
Aug 7, 2006 - 08:03pm PT
Yes HJ,
the tedious nature of the "rules" has alot to do with the admonition of knowing the local customs.

my sense of the nailing culture is that it had even more distinctions going on than the free modality.

here in the flatirons, bolting was banned; now it is allowed, but only after a detailed committe oversight.

hey i wanted to do a flatirons route ground up on sight and they would not let me!
-had to be rap placed, or ground up but with pre approved bolt placements. wahooey!

i like matt's scenarios; almost OT but not quite, and relevant for certain as an extension of the thought process in total.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Aug 7, 2006 - 08:13pm PT

I do also hear what you're saying, but in my case it would never have entered my mind to alter the rock anywhere I went and wasn't a local. And, as Roy says, there were a lot of rules around it all there and then so there is no small element of truth in your comments about their own responsibility in the matter. As for no one repeating the route, well, I think I covered my thoughts on that in previous posts even without raising the issue of an unfair stigma around the route which has likely kept folks well away from it over the years. Few people I know go out of their way to deliberately step in sh#t unless of course they like wading like Pete or are covered with teflon like Ammon.

My points more revolve around the fact that from what I can tell they've never had a problem owning their part in the matter at any level whereas I hear a lot of silence, technospeak, and just plain shuckin' and jive'n from the other side relative to the actual response, misinformation, slander, and media blackballing that took place during and long after the fact.

Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Aug 7, 2006 - 08:18pm PT
h- no arguments w/ that post.

tb- part of my point, i guess, is that the ethics of the climbing community serve topassively preserve the resource for everyone, sometimes through brash and unfriendly actions, true enough. the overall priority would be to keep things at the highest common denominator, rather than the lowest (not that WoS is/was either).

no one at the time wanted them to put that route up, and lookie here, no one has ever repeated it. nevertheless, that line is now taken up (as are any opportunities w/in a certain small distance, i suppose), the resource is diminished (to some small degree, at least) for future climbers, and the community, arguably, has not gained anything, other than to watch the standard be degraded as the "local bolting ethic" was diluted in practice, and perhaps a little more quickly than it would have w/out that climb being there.

so who has wronged whom?

(and i am not making judgements, just raising questions, again)
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Aug 7, 2006 - 08:20pm PT
John Middendorf - where on earth did you get the idea that WoS used a lot of hook enhancements? 20%?! Holy frig.

Ammon and I have both reported here that in the first two pitches [on both starts] that we saw no enhancements.

Please explain.

P.S. I have climbed Jolly Roger, and as the dedicated aid climber [my partner did the free stuff] I led all the hooking pitches. I don't remember seeing any enhanced hook placements on JR. What I can tell you is this - I saw no enhanced hook placements on Wings of Steel - they are all natural.

And on Wings of Steel, the hooking is hugely harder, sicker and more dangerous than on Jolly Roger.

Here is how I would rate what I saw on Wings:

Let's call the famous hooking pitches on Sea of Dreams as being H4. When I climbed the route, it had been enhanced, the hooks were good, but in several places I remember ten or eleven hooks in a row.

Jolly Roger is one rating harder in its hooking than the Sea. The hooks are natural, they are smaller and harder to use. The consequences of falling are more serious. Call it H5.

Now here's the thing - if Jolly Roger is one grade harder in its hooking than Sea of Dreams, then Wings of Steel is fully two grades harder in its hooking than Jolly Roger.

Honest! The hooking is sick, serious, and terrifying. You have to be a lot more sick and twisted than me to be able to climb it. No thanks, mate!
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