Route Developing Faux Pas

After eleven years of living in Colorado, I finally filled in a big empty spot on the map: I went to Shelf Road. I was there with a group of students on a week long trip, and we climbed a truckload of pitches. Being on so many different routes, I got to thinking about the mistakes that developers can make when putting up a new climb, and while most were just fine, occasionally you’d wonder why the anchor was out right, or the bolt hard to clip, or if that thin flake was really solid.

When it comes to developing sport climbs, everyone loves to be a critic, but few actually put the work in to create something of their own, and as such, it’s easy to write people off when they don’t like something you’ve done with a climb. However, there are three big mistakes that can detract from the overall experience of climb, all of which are avoidable or easy to correct.

#1 – Anchors in the Wrong Place

We’ve all been there, chillin’ at a good stance, the last bolt below your feet, the anchor just out of reach, guarded by climbing that’s a little more exciting than you were hoping for. Or maybe you end up following the line of weakness out left, only to be forced into an awkward sequence back right to the chains. This seems to mostly be a relic from an older time, when climbers had the notion that you had to push a route as high as possible, regardless of what that meant for the climbing. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in hard-to-clip anchors, or cruxes that are out of character with the rest of the route, and chances are the climb would be much more fun if the anchors were at that good stance, instead of adding some contrived difficulty. But I guess that’s why they call it a first ascent. You get there first, you decide on the method of ascent. Regardless, if the FA, or community, will consent to it, it’s pretty easy to put the anchor in a better spot.

#2 – Bolts in the Wrong Place

Maybe second only to a hard-to-clip anchor on the suckiness scale are hard-to-clip bolts. Sometimes bolts are placed high to keep you off a ledge, and sometimes it’s a reality of climbing on choss that bolts just can’t go where you want them to. But sometimes bolts are simply in the wrong place, like the middle of a crux. But that’s OK, because the good news is it’s easy to pull it out, patch the hole, and place it where it should be! Taking the time to correct these mistakes makes the route that much better, and not doing so is just lazy. I recently straightened out the bolt line on a long sport climb that is destined to become popular, and the end result is a much better route that might be the best of it’s grade in the area. Had I left it in its original state, people would have probably commented that it was a good route, but too bad the bolting sucked!

#3 – Not Enough Cleaning

In the excitement of opening up a new climb, it’s easy to want to rush through the process, get it bolted so it’s ready for the public, and move on to the next thing. But there’s nothing worse than climbing a route that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned, whether it be too much dirt on the holds, or loose blocks that weren’t trundled. Brushing sucks, and going home at the end of the day with so much funk in your eyes that you can’t see straight is never fun, but people will appreciate a climb so much more if its buffed out as much as possible before you open it to the public. And I’ll usually approach anything that looks loose on a new climb with an added degree of caution, but it sure would be nice to know that the developer gave it their all to clean anything dangerous off the climb.

Those are the big ones I can think of, did I miss anything?

5 Responses to Route Developing Faux Pas

  1. Both the anchors and bad bolting one drive me crazy. They definitely can tarnish a really good climb.

    My biggest peeve with the anchors, isn’t necessarily overly-high ones. I started using a 70m rope a long time ago for this reason. It’s when they place them back in a crevice, over a ledge, or non exposed area. You get massive rope drag drying to belay over a ledge or around a corner and any sort of pendulum motion brings scary thoughts. There’s no way you should be able to accidentally have bad anchor placement.

    Bad bolting can usually be fixed with experience or not bolting on rap which most younger climbers would consider insane. Also, don’t let the guy that’s 7ft tall decide where the bolts should go, let the girl that’s 5ft show you where they need to go. I generally give bad bolting the benefit of doubt. I’ve bolted routes myself after climbing them 10 or more times, and then decided I would like them elsewhere. It’s sometimes the nature of the beast.

    Personally, cleaning is a touchy subject with me. Dirt and obvious lose features are a given. But the line can be, and is often, quickly crossed when someone gets over-zealous with a hammer, and makes a route much more difficult than it should be. I think falsely removing features is just as bad as chipping in holds.

    The only other ones I can think of is bolting routes just a few feet apart or bolting cracks. I don’t think I need to get into these as the discussion is obvious and usually leads to some colorful wording.

    Jestep May 8, 2012 at 9:14 am
  2. Ha… I wasn’t aware people were still into sport climbing. That’s interesting man, that’s interesting.

    Kevin L. May 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm
  3. Bad bolting can suck but what I really don’t like are bad bolts themselves. It amazes me that there are people placing bad bolts today. For example, the first bolt on Hang Em High in Rifle is in a super hollow flake. You can literally see the flake. Maybe it’s not going to come off if someone falls on it once, twice, even twenty times but that’s a big maybe and a pretty big mistake, in my opinion. And, I know, if you’re climbing that route you’re probably not going to fall, ever, at the first bolt, but what if you slip or who knows what. If the first bolt pulls, with the flake, you’re going to take a massive, ugly digger and land in the road and get run over by an ATVer pulling a massive 5th wheel camper and 6 dirt bikes with his dually diesel truck. Okay, now I’m having a little fun with it, but seriously, how hard is it to just put bolts in good rock?

    Nice picture by the way, which illustrates my point.

    Mike May 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm
  4. You are complaining about cleaning? Climbing in Colorado is like staying in a 5 star hotel. Come and climb in the mid west some time and see what dirty climbing is really like. I have used hard dirt as hand and foot holds, you don’t even need to chalk up. Just use common sense, clean as you go.

    doug May 10, 2012 at 10:49 am
    • Lol that ain’t joke should start calling the MidWest “The Dirty” of climbing

      Cory September 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm
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