1970s Bolt protected run-out slab climbing

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Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 30, 2006 - 05:04pm PT
The threads on Middle and Lower Rock slab climbs, Jeff’s clean climbing threads, and the love-fest on the Ground Up thread got me to thinking more concretely about the whole Yosemite bolt protected slab climbing ethic. A good number of the participants in bolt protected, run-out slab climbing post on ST and their comments on the style make the conversation more interesting than it might otherwise be.

Several reasons have been given for why climbers ran-out these routes: ego, lack of money, dusting off lesser lights, fear of retribution, ‘Murdering the Impossible,’ and bolts not being a part of ‘clean climbing’ have been offered up. Some have more credence than others. But for whatever the reasons, the style certainly took hold and defined a generation of climbers.

As a basic starting point, the bias is to take the rock on its own terms and limit bolt placements. As Rick says, placing a bolt was a slippery slope towards 'Murdering the impossible.' My only point of difference with Rick's statement is about bolts not being part of 'clean climbing.' I adopted the stance early that bolts were 'clean,’ but it is pretty clear that this is a minority opinion. However, I don't think anyone really disputed claims that bolts are clean relative to pins as long as they did not 'murder the impossible.' What I think is interesting and surprising is that so many of us had the same attitude about bolt protection—we were all drinking the same water, so to speak (maybe Kool-Aid).

We didn’t really have any direct mentors, at least in Yosemite, for the style that we adopted for Middle face routes, at least not the way we did for crack climbing or wall climbing. It did not really come indirectly from the earlier generations either, I don't think. Pratt and Sacherer are the only guys that I know had a reputation for consistently taking long run outs on hard free, but none of us younger climbers were around in their heyday. Also, most everyone who was around then thought Pratt and Sacherer were at the fringes of talent and maybe also sensibility (at least in the case of Sacherer.) Kamps may have been a common point of reference for the guys from Southern California, but I don't think he espoused any strong point of view off the rock that would have had a big influence on climbers from Northern California or other areas.

There were plenty of indirect role models for adopting bold climbing styles in a general way. Klemens’ and Bridwell’s off-widths in 1970-72 were necessarily run-out, but neither participated in the new face climbs. At the same time, the wall climbers were following the same sort of path on hard aid. Jim and Kim pushed hard on ‘The Aquarian Wall.’ Charlie ran it out on ‘The Shield.’ Jimmy did the same on ‘Cosmos.’

The run-out routes are all slabs of one sort or another—the Glacier Point Apron, the NE face of Middle, the North Face Apron of Middle, the slabs under Royal Arches, and lots of the faces in Tuolumne Meadows. It seems obvious, but the run-out style is pretty much limited to a particular type of rock—if there are cracks everywhere, it is moot point, and if it is super steep you cannot drill from natural stances. (John Bachar’s drilling from hooks seems like a special case of combining run-out free with aid assisted drilling.)

In the early 70s there was just a general sense that if there was only the possibility for bolt protection, that you were obligated to push the lead a little harder. How we all reached more or less the same conclusion across disparate groups is sort of a mystery. But, I don't know of anyone of us who didn't approach slab climbing the same way. For sure, some of us were criticized at the time for pushing too far—be it for laziness, limited bolts to place, or willfully excesses.

Since everyone doing first ascents was following the same style, there was also probably a self selection process--if you didn't find it interesting to run out your leads, then you probably didn't work on new routes on Middle and the other slabs in the Valley or in the Meadows. (I picked the word ‘interesting’ purposefully, and truthfully too, I think.) I think that most of us believed that climbing was partly a matter of physical skill and strength, but also hugely dependent on mental stillness: focusing on the metal aspects of the climbing led to big increases in the climbing standards in the early 70s. The mental stillness came in all shapes and sizes--from Zen practice, to Bridwell’s logical analysis, to Pratt's utter calmness, to Mark Klemens capability to just become calmer when it got harder before reverting to his never ending sarcasm. Everyone worked to that goal of mental stillness. Whimpering or whooping were not part of the culture—however, razzing someone on lead, up to a point, was okay—manufactured difficulty so to speak—“So, you think you got your mind under control? Well, let’s see if you can ignore this!”

The whole process of assessing the choice of moving to the next stance and looking at a longer fall versus putting in a bolt was an essential part of the climbing, as essential as actually doing the moves. This is the main characteristic of this style of slab climbing; otherwise we would have sewn them up with bolts. John makes this point very well when he says that he would have gone bouldering if he just wanted to do the hardest moves.

Run-out style slab climbing might also lead, logically, to hard free soloing, but the early 70 to mid-70s group I am referring to did not really move in that direction. In any case, climbing moved quickly to hang-dogging and ‘working’ new routes. While this style was responsible for huge increases in free climbing standards on steep crack climbs it is hard to do 30 feet out on a slab. In this retrospective light, bolting on rappel is the application of hang-dogging style to steep face routes—where only the difficulty of the moves themselves matters and the added risk of a long fall is eliminated.

So it may be the case that long run-outs on face are just a little historical style island, overtaken by hang-dogging, previewing, and sport climbing. Certainly the talk about ‘fixing’ these routes by adding more protection is the antithesis of the run-out style. Run-out slab climbing combines both hard rock climbing with a requirement to do it a long way above protection. Everyone has seen strong climbers be reduced to pulp a long way out on lead. Run-out style celebrated that possibility by mastering it. And lots of 70s climbers participated.

I searched through the first ascents to see who was involved and when. The earliest antecedents seem to be Apron climbs—Coonyard, Goodrich Pinnacle, the Mouth, Patio Pinnacle, etc—were all run-out, bolt protected face climbs. Lots of 60s climbers participated in the first ascents of these routes with Ken Boche and his partners seeming to take a large share of the ‘R’ rated routes.

The interesting part is what happens after Ray Jardine and Rik Rieder climbed Paradise Lost on Middle in 1972. From then on the slab routes on the Glacier Point Apron, Middle NE face and North Face Apron, and the Arches area were being done by the new kids. There are almost no 60s climbers on the list.

Some of the high points: In 1972, there is spate of new routes on the Glacier Point Apron by Rieder, Falkenstein, Carrington, Long, Harrison, Briedenbach—mostly Southern California kids.

In 1973, the NE face of Middle and the North face Apron get new run-out slab routes by Worrall, Meyers, Breedlove, Clevenger, Fosburg, and Long, along with more development of more Glacier Point Apron routes by Chapman and Barry. More of the same follows in 1974 with some new names.

Also in 1974, Long, Accomazzo and Harrison climb ‘Greasy but Groovy’ on the Arches slabs.

In 1975, Meyers, Long, Worrall, Chapman, and Kauk finish ‘Mother Earth.’

In 1976 Accomazzo, Harrison, Yablonski, and East put up three new routes on the East face slabs of Lower Rock.

In these five seasons, bolt protected, run-out slab climbing had extended the Glacier Point Apron style to four new slabs and had defined a new generation of free climbers.

All in all a pretty stellar list of climbers.

Here is question for climbers who are more current: Has run-out slab climbing continued?

PS: A special thanks to Ed Hartouni for his data base of Yosemite first ascents.

Melissa

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 05:12pm PT
Nice points, Roger.

I've been on a handful of the old bold routes, and I can't recall many fantastic drilling stances that were passed up once very run out. It's seemed to me as a spectator (who is far more often than not on the dull end for these adventures...and who always is when it's not an unusually 'moderate' pitch!) that the run out must have been dictated by as much by the sensibility of climbing on to a better drilling stance as it was by any philosophy about pushing as far as one could. In that way, the rock seemed to still be dictating where a bolt could go and when it was better to just keep climbing skillfully.

What say you guys who doing the do...?
Largo

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 05:18pm PT
"In 1975, Meyers, Long, Worral, Chapman, and Kauk finish ‘Mother Earth.’"

Actually, Roger, George M. and Kevin W. were on the 1975 attempt that ended on the ledge. Chapman, Kauk and I finished it off the next year. I'm not sure why George and Kevin weren't along--that might heve been owing to my impatients back then to every wait for anything.

Also, I think the route that really kicked off the whole open face climbing craze on Middle was Stoner's Highway (I think in '72). There must have been ten people involved in various stages of that project because we didn't know what we were doing and route-finding was hit and miss. So it took us many tries and we took whoever was willing.

JL

Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 30, 2006 - 05:34pm PT
Melissa, I think that the paucity of stances is part of it, but I also know that we all passed up opportunities to place bolts. Maybe once a leader had set a standard for climbing xx feet out up to a certain grade, at lower grades the leader wouldn't stop to put bolts in. I can think of a couple of cases where this has had the unfortunate effect of allowing the crux to be well protected while other parts of the climb are very run-out.

John, I am taking the data from the guides, Mother Earth has such a complicated history and in some ways has two parts--the lower slab climbing and the upper part. I think it breaks the record of most number of partners.

Stoner's would have been one of my picks for kicking off the slab craze, but you guys climbed it in 1973, according to the guide, a year after Ray and Rik did Paradise Lost and in the same year the Kevin, George and I climbed 'Freewheeling' as the first route on the North Face Apron. In any case there were lots of the same core climbers who had done run-out routes on the Apron in 1972. My own interest in Middle was triggered by finding the CPoF, which Jim and I reconnoitered in 1972. We returned the following year to climb the first eight pitches. However, expect for the 8th pitch traverse to the Kor-Beck, there is no slab climbing or bolts.

By the way, Stoner's is a great route as I remember it.


Roger
JuanDeFuca

Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Nov 30, 2006 - 05:35pm PT
I have backed off a few of the f*#king boltless things called climbs on Lower Middle. I hate the Stonemasters.

JDF
bachar

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:24pm PT
Don't know 'bout you guys but I always thought Robbins' runouts in Tuolumne were pretty stout. After doing some of those climbs I felt pretty whimpy if I didn't run it out either - seemed like the standard was set pretty high and we all had to "step up" - if you didn't you'd be accused of being a "lightweight" or something. JB
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:28pm PT
Yeah, I've looked at the Bachar-Yerian and nearly crapped myself. That, John, is an impressive and bold route. Royal would be impressed I'm sure.

Juan, I think Largo and company would take that as quite the compliment. I'm sure you meant it that way.
G_Gnome

Boulder climber
Sick Midget Land
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:34pm PT
While I wasn't putting routes up in the valley and meadows at that time, I was putting slab routes up in Josh with Dave Hauser. And while we didn't meet or even strive for the audacity of some of the routes in the meadows, we did try to maintain some standards. I think that is a lot of it too, standards, and pride of course. Nobody wanted to be considered too light and so things got stretched some. Some of our routes, like Loose Lady, were probably considered pretty closely spaced for the time but as a result get climbed a lot today. Others like EBGBs were a little more run and have earned some respect. In our case while pride pushed the space between bolts, both fear, and an understanding that we were bolting for others kept them from getting too far apart. Then of course, maybe one of the most important ingredients is the pain associated with standing on edges long enough to drill a hole. Add in the occassional "I can't stop anywhere" and some routes got more run out.

Roger, I think you are leaving a hell of an unnecessary gap in history by jumping straight to rapped sport bolting. Lots of slab routes got put up in between and I think that as the climbing got harder the bolts got closer together. Once it got to the point where you were "working" a route in order to just climb it, taking 50, 40 or even 30 foot leader falls over and over just wasn't reasonable. Some of the hardest slab routes were put up in this time period and most are quite well bolted unless the climbing hit an easy section. There was lots of hooking going on in this period too so it wasn't as painful to place a bolt so we were a lot less inclined to run it out to avoid the pain. Oh, and let's not forget the Bosch coming into use which made even ground up bolt placement much quicker.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:35pm PT
Roger Breedlove (not his porn name) wrote

"Here is question for climbers who are more current: Has run-out slab climbing continued? "

Runout slab climbing in the valley is virtually dead except for a few freaks like myself, Shaggy, Ben and some old guys who show up with knee pads from time to time.

Stoners gets done most of all. If you see somebody on Stoners, there's a 70% chance they are foreigners and the best guess would be Brits. (Those guys have Bullocks) or climbers going below their grade (seen Hans up there)

Stoners has been rebolted, not retrobolted, but the first 4 pitches or so are only runout enough to be spicy, not super dangerous like most of the rest of those routes. A few fixed pins have Fallen out but dicey nuts and aliens seem to work ok. (Stoner's second pitch crux, bring some small stuff and a screamer)

The DNB gets ascents too.

When it's labor day weekend and I don't want to see a soul, I go slab climbing. I never see another party on the Cathedral Apron, Arches Apron, or on R rated Apron Routes.

Kinda Sad. It might come back into fashion someday, but maybe not. Some of those routes aren't much different than soloing. I'm not advocating it but most folks ain't going back there unless they get sanitized to the Stoner's level of run-out

Peace

karl

Greg Barnes

climber
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:39pm PT
Roger, you ask/state "How we all reached more or less the same conclusion across disparate groups is sort of a mystery."

I'd say it's no mystery at all. It's just hard to stop and drill. Even if you find a route with great stances every 15 feet, if you want to climb face routes on slabby granite with a hand drill, and get the route done in anything approaching reasonable time, you just run it out.

And the highest concentration of very runout routes tend to be on rock with no good stances to drill from. A good number of Tuolumne routes were pretty well protected even in the '70s - at least when the climbing got hard and there were stances.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:46pm PT
One time I was waiting for a too-long line for Central Pillar and I noticed a seamingly OK bolted slab route just right. I started up and it got harder. I took a couple falls but kept going until I reached the final bolt before the final runout to the anchors.

It's looked Impossible! I had to bail.

Later it turned out to be "Rainbow Bridge" 11d or 12a in the guidebook I think.

That turns out to be a stiff grade for that kinda climbing.

Hangdogged my way up Perfect Master (11d/12a?) once. Slab climbing at a certain level loses it's fun!

Funny how in the other thread, small features become gynormous landmarks, like the hole on Greasy but Groovy.

There is a pointy hold on the second pitch of Misty B that is the size of the pointy end of a toothpick, but it stands out clearly in my mind and remember virtually mantleing the thing on a couple trips

Peace

Karl
Melissa

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 06:55pm PT
There has been another party on Rambler 2 of the 3 times that I've climbed at the Arches Terrace area. Once there was a party on the Arches Terrace too.

I've seen people on one of the slab routes at GPA one of the two times I climbed there.

I saw a party on Stoner's last year (they were Aussies...and they bailed after pitch 3).

None of the above were people that I knew...just people who wanted to check out the climbs. I see even more people that I don't know on routes that seem incredibly scarey/obscure in Tuolumne.

I did see someone on Powell Reid once, but that was an oldster guide and his son.

People do the DNB all the time. If Supertopo had done the topo for the N. But in instead of the DNB people would probably do that instead.

I've seen people on some of the random 1 pitch stuff at the base of the N. But. area.

I think that your impression that only 'Shaggy and Ben' are doing these routes is skewed a little towards just knowing about who you know.

I'm not trying to say that these routes are popular...just that they aren't totally off the radar for all but locals and oldsters.
Greg Barnes

climber
Nov 30, 2006 - 07:06pm PT
Yeah, there's also a good number of climbers on the 5.10 slabs on Stately Pleasure dome in Tuolumne. Not a lot, but not insignificant either.

And if you want to see what JB is talking about with Robbins, check out Grey Ghost on DAFF - whoaa! I replaced the bolt a few years back, so it's good to go...
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 30, 2006 - 07:10pm PT
I created, and helped create, a few slab climbs at Squamish in the later 1970s. Mostly "true" slab climbs - fairly low angle, but only micro-features. Not like the Cathedrals.

Generally we only put in bolts where we could, and sometimes not even then. We were well aware of the adventure ethic - only weenies put in lots of bolts, and no one would have dreamed of rap bolting or rap cleaning. The climbs were often a bit licheny, which added to the fun - both cleaning them off a bit while leading, and wondering what lay ahead. It took at least ten minutes to drill a 1/4" x 1 1/2" hole for a Rawl bolt - I saw Daryl do it once, anyway. Usually more like twenty minutes. A delicate art - nothing like standing on tippy toe on minuscule holds for twenty minutes, getting a bolt in.

So it was a combination of community standards, and simply what was possible. Though even if it had been possible to place more bolts, we probably wouldn't have.

As in Yosemite, the "easier" pitches of difficult slab climbs often have few bolts - there seems a light year of difference between 5.8 or 5.9 slab, and 5.11, if you're doing the latter. Though the slab grading system is overly compressed - many supposed 5.11 slabs should probably be upgraded.

As the climbs became cleaner due to traffic, and with the advent of sticky rubber, some additional stances became possible. People ask "Why didn't you put in a bolt in at point X"? and you can only say "With the equipment then, I couldn't have stopped".

Scott Flavelle introduced the use of bat hooks for bolting slab routes at Squamish, on Dream On in 1976. No real stances, so go to the first possible spot, put in a fast bat hook (Leeper pointy hook), then use it for aid while drilling the real bolt. Still not a convenient thing to do, and more than a few whoppers resulted.

The fine art of falling on slabs will have to have its own thread.
AKDOG

Mountain climber
Anchorage, AK
Nov 30, 2006 - 07:22pm PT
I have been on some slab routes where the 1st ascent party could have definitely placed more bolts if they wanted too, probably had more to do with the pain in the arse of hand drilling and not wanting to be “whimpy” than lack of stances. Kudos to the old ethics, but at times these routes are just plane scary for a pretender.
I remember leading a route on Fairview Dome that had a pitch with one bolt, nothing like finding yourself in a sea of knobs way run out and looking over and spotting that lone bolt 20 feet to the left and below you.
I still love the old school slab climbing but am chicken enough and old enough now to appreciate a good sport route where you have to count your quick draws to make sure you have enough before you start up.
aldude

climber
Monument Manor
Nov 30, 2006 - 07:45pm PT
Karl - if you like those routes go check out the " Gnar Gnar " 12a? @ the very toe of DNB. Old school baby!!
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Nov 30, 2006 - 07:52pm PT
As a basic starting point, the bias is to take the rock on its own terms and limit bolt placements. As Rick says, placing a bolt was a slippery slope towards 'Murdering the impossible.' My only point of difference with Rick's statement is about bolts not being part of 'clean climbing.' I adopted the stance early that bolts were 'clean.’ It is pretty clear that this is a minority opinion. However, I don't think anyone really disputed claims that bolts are clean relative to pins as long as they did not 'murder the impossible.' What I think it is interesting and surprising that so many of us had the same attitude about bolt protection—we were all drinking the same water, so to speak (maybe Kool-Aid).

A long ways from the Valley, and not only on slabs or at leading-edge grades, other climbers around this early-to-mid-70s time were drinking similar water. It found different expression depending on local conditions -- but particularly in the ethic that prized hammerless (no pitons or bolts, and pre-Friends) onsight first ascents of free routes in Nevada, Colorado, the Northeast and elsewhere. Hard vertical climbing with tiny-wires protection, I think, grew from much the same spirit as the run-out slab climbs of the Valley.
Nate D

climber
San Francisco
Nov 30, 2006 - 08:05pm PT
Thanks for posting these observations/opinions Roger.

If your question about the current generation is if there are any doing run-out slab FAs - I'm absolutely no authority, but I'd say yes and no. Yes, in that run-outs happen, but no, in that maybe the run-out is later rap-drilled by the same party to make the route more reasonable/enjoyable/responsible (all subjective terms, of course).

I reckon ablegable, Ed, Greg, ksolem, and others have far more insight on the current state of ground-up slab climbing...

Also hoping that LongAgo will chime in eventually. :)
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 08:25pm PT
Long Ago just chimed in here

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.html?topic_id=283058&msg=287184#msg287184

Peace

Karl

Al, I'm too heavy and too light and too old for that stuff now. And too young to die still!

Melissa

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Nov 30, 2006 - 08:36pm PT
"If your question about the current generation is if there are any doing run-out slab FAs - I'm absolutely no authority, but I'd say yes and no. Yes, in that run-outs happen, but no, in that maybe the run-out is later rap-drilled by the same party to make the route more reasonable/enjoyable/responsible (all subjective terms, of course)."

The word responsible is making me cringe.

I'm not saying no one ever decides a route would be 'better' with a different protection scheme, but I don't know anyone who does potentially scarey ground up stance drilled faces in Yosemite that prefers as a matter of course to return in short order and retrobolt it on rappel.
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