Sunday, June 1, 2008

East Slabs of Sugarloaf: A climbers Civic Duty

My second trip to these impressive slabs, but this time I brought my rope-soloing gear, and something else: In a response to my posting on, a climber mentioned that many of the old bolts on this slab needed replacing. I happen to have three bolts that were left to me by Charlie Cundiff, a former Las Cruces hard-man and excellent adventurer. My goal was to climb the route mentioned in the on-line post and replace some of the bolts.

This was my first multi-pitched rope-solo, and one of the great joys I found about this technique is the opportunity to climb each pitch twice. The first pitch I led by meandering in from the left where there was good protection, and then past the first (and only) bolt I meandered to the right where I found a little more protection before zagging back to the left to the anchors. I hung my pack at the anchor, rappelled down and cleaned my gear, but now on top-rope, I didn't hesitate to climb directly up to my pack. >>

The second pitch I also meandered to the right, looking for protection. I probably strayed too far because I ended up at the belay for the next route over. Directly to my left about 30ft was the anchor I was supposed to be heading for, but I hadn't seen any protection that direction. No matter, I set my anchor and traversed over to the "right" anchor before rappelling down. The correct route it turns out is almost un-protecable. There was a single old button-head bolt about 60ft below the anchor, and 80 ft above the lower anchor. And that was it. The second anchor also had old and suspicous looking bolts, one of which had a piece of aluminum angle for a hanger. I rummaged through my ruck-sack, and pulled out the tools I thought I needed to replace a bolt: crow-bar, hammer, a pair of pitons of different widths.

The basic premise is to wedge the pitons under the bolt until it starts coming out. At which point try to pry it out the rest of the way. I spent a good half hour on my first try, hammering those pitons in from every angle and trying in vain to use my little crowbar. I managed to get the bolt out about 1/2", but at that point I was ready to give up. One other tool I'll need to look into is a "funk-ness" device. This is basically a stout metal wire that you attach to your hammer and the bolt, and then swing the hammer out to put force on the bolt. I tried this with some cord I had, but the cord was too elastic to be effective. Eventually I simply whacked the head of the bolt off. This done, I spent another 1/2hr drilling a new hole and installing my new bolt. It is now wonder why climbers do not do this often, it is hot, sweaty and tiresome work, and takes up lots of your climbing day. But on a pitch with only a single bolt for protection, why take chances on an old button-head? I finally finished climbing up the pitch to the anchor, where I set to work on the bolt with the aluminum hanger (shown above). This one went faster because the aluminum was soft enough where the hanger yielded around the head of the bolt (note to self, avoid aluminum hangers) and once the hanger was off, I pounded the button-head in until it was flush with the rock and drilled my new bolt.

As you can see, I didn't replace the old 1/4" stud. I was starting to worry about time, and the anchor now has one good bolt, so it's that much safer.

The third pitch wasn't all that great, but the fourth pitch was beautiful: a pair of splitter cracks surmounting a 10 ft head-wall. I led up the right hand one, ~5.8, set my anchor and enjoyed the left-hand crack on top-rope. The left-hand being the harder of the two, involved a thin finger/finger tips crack in a right facing corner. It only lasted for about two strenuous moves, but they were a nice challenge compared to the rest of the climb, probably weighing in around 5.9.

Overall I made four pitches feel like 8 pitches of climbing (finishing of the last pitch solo, easy slab) and was exhausted. More about the climb at . More about my exhaustion at The Hobsonian.