Advice for trad first ascents?


Original Post
David Kerkeslager · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 30

On a hike Wednesday in Northern PA I found a set of very nice cliffs, which was surprising because I had already scanned the area on Mountain Project and it hadn't turned anything up. The cliffs are about 40 feet tall and, at least in the area I explored, contained about 250 feet of curving cliffside, including a 50 ft long boulder that had split off the main cliff. The area is full of crumbly layered stone, but these cliffs are smooth and seem to be much harder, so my hypothesis is they were exposed when the surrounding soft rock was eroded away. Particularly of note are some ceilings which look super difficult.

Most of the climbs would be sport climbs, but I'm not really stoked about doing a bunch of bolting yet. However, on the initial face there are two nice cracks. The one that interests me is a wide finger crack which runs from bottom nearly to the top, with a few supporting face holds around it. I'm thinking this might be within my capabilities as a trad lead and it might be a chance to get my first first ascent.

I'm confident I can work out with the rangers whether climbing there is legal, but I'm wondering if there's any technical guidance on ascending a route for the first time on trad gear safely?

Obviously choss is a big concern. My interest in this climb is particularly because the crack itself looks very solid and if I jam a bunch of cams in deep I'm pretty confident they'd hold. At least at ground level, the crack didn't crumble at all when I jammed in it. The face holds I tried are a mixed bag. The lasts 4 feet of the climb return to the crumbly rock that's typical of the area, but at 4 feet down there's a small ledge I can stand on and a 5inch thick tree I can sling that I think would catch a fall. I'm thinking I could walk up and use a broom at the top to knock off the most egregious loose rock before sending. I do however want to lead this without TRing it first. And of course all of this is dependent on me rehabbing my ankle injury and getting strong enough again to do the climb!

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 10,980

This may seem like a dick comment but in all seriousness...If you have to ask these questions...you should just top rope it.

Why so determined to do a FA trad lead anyway? Don't let your balls get in the way of your brain.

TomCaldwell · · Clemson, S.C. · Joined Jun 2009 · Points: 2,443

The internet shouldn't be a replacement for a strong mentor. If you tell someone you respect and has been doing FA's in the local community about some new all gear FA's, I'm sure they will be happy to join you. Since nobody but you has seen the rock, it is hard to advise you at all. The rock could be a lot worse than you think. Talking to the rangers may not be the first step you want to take. A lack of understanding/appreciation on their part could get it shut down before you even start. Talk to your local climbing coalition and maybe the regional person for your area from Access Fund.

Jaren Watson · · Boise, Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 1,195

I think toproping it might be wiser, but not because you're asking questions. Smart people ask questions.

Rather, if the rock is as chossy, or chossier, than you suspect, the risk of pulling loose a brain-rattling block is higher than I personally would be comfortable with unless I had a chance to tr and clean.

Of course, my comfort level isn't the issue here.

I hope it works out the way you'd like!

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120
Jaren Watson wrote:

I think toproping it might be wiser, but not because you're asking questions. Smart people ask questions.

Rather, if the rock is as chossy, or chossier, than you suspect, the risk of pulling loose a brain-rattling block is higher than I personally would be comfortable with unless I had a chance to tr and clean.

Of course, my comfort level isn't the issue here.

I hope it works out the way you'd like!

Jaren, just a question from a noob?

Wouldn't rapping down to look and clean be better? Top rope keeps the rope up, but how does that lessen the rock fall potential, for both climbers?

OP, if it was me, highly unlikely, I'd be hitting up a local who has been around forever. They will know the rock and can eyeball the thing with you. You might even discover they climbed it 20 years back, gain a friend, and hear all the inside stories. That's my experience with an FA here. Super nice guy, too.

Best, OLH

Jaren Watson · · Boise, Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 1,195
Old lady H wrote:

Jaren, just a question from a noob?

Wouldn't rapping down to look and clean be better? Top rope keeps the rope up, but how does that lessen the rock fall potential, for both climbers?

OP, if it was me, highly unlikely, I'd be hitting up a local who has been around forever. They will know the rock and can eyeball the thing with you. You might even discover they climbed it 20 years back, gain a friend, and hear all the inside stories. That's my experience with an FA here. Super nice guy, too.

Best, OLH

I'm conflating toproping with rapping, as it's implied one would have to build the anchor up top and would therefore begin at the top. I should be more precise. One cleans and trundles top down.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120
Jaren Watson wrote:

I'm conflating toproping with rapping, as it's implied one would have to build the anchor up top and would therefore begin at the top. I should be more precise. One cleans and trundles top down.

Ah! See? I didn't even think of a top belay, or top down solo. Duh.

Best, (a very tired) Helen

Eugenel · · PA · Joined May 2015 · Points: 500

Where is this in PA? Do you have coordinates?

Tylerpratt · · Litchfield, Connecticut · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 0

Setup a top rope. Place gear on toprope to make sure you arent going to kill yourself or break your back and or legs. Climb said climb on lead. Profit. 

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 643

Option 1: Clean that shite on rappel.  Saddle bag your rope. Use some common sense when tugging on rock, think, "Am I going to pull off this whole pillar or flake?"

                  Pros: Safer

                  Cons: May insult the trad purist sensitivities

Or

Option 2: Get after it ground up.  Mad props and glory await from the choss aficionados. 

                 Pros: Glory   (Very underwhelming IMO)

                 Cons: Increased risk of bad things happening

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 10,980
Jason Todd wrote:

Option 1: Clean that shite on rappel.  Saddle bag your rope. Use some common sense when tugging on rock, think, "Am I going to pull off this whole pillar or flake?"

                  Pros: Safer

                  Cons: May insult the trad purist sensitivities

Or

Option 2: Get after it ground up.  Mad props and glory await from the choss aficionados. 

                 Pros: Glory   (Very underwhelming IMO)

                 Cons: Increased risk of bad things happening

Based on the description of the rock, ground up sounds like a very stupid idea.

Alex Bury · · Ojai, CA · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 1,873

There's no right answer of course...it's an age old debate.

My opinion is that trad routes should be done from the ground. Sport routes should be done from above.

Also, just a guess...if you are even considering going GU on something there, the rock probably isn't that bad. But I have low standards (I live in Ventura County).

Jaren Watson · · Boise, Idaho · Joined May 2010 · Points: 1,195

While not conclusive, it might be worth considering there's good reason the cliff hasn't been developed yet.

I've spent a fair amount of time looking for new crags to work on, mostly following a much more experienced climber around. 

Though we did develop a number of new sectors and routes, only one time did we find the rock was "good." Far more often than not, our explorations resulted in abandoning the crag as the rock was too broken up to yield safe routes.

I'm not saying ground up development would have guaranteed our demise, but it probably would have. Such is life in chosslandia.

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 10,980
Alex Bury wrote:

There's no right answer of course...it's an age old debate.

My opinion is that trad routes should be done from the ground. Sport routes should be done from above.

Also, just a guess...if you are even considering going GU on something there, the rock probably isn't that bad. But I have low standards (I live in Ventura County).

I don't think he's asking about that, he just wants tips for development. 

petzl logic · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 0

My guess is that it has been climbed. Also, better to ask forgiveness than ask permission if you really want to climb it. This can also screw people over down the line though so you really have to research the land to asses what the policy might be first. As far as safety goes, there is some good advice in the thread. My 2c. 

Kyle Elliott · · Everett, WA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 360

I don't have any suggestions for doing a FA, but it should be noted that just because something is not on MP, doesn't mean no one has climbed there. I've climbed dozens and dozens of routes that either have ZERO published info, (possibly because the FA parties either didn't want to share, or wanted the area to remain adventurous) or may have been published in a long out-of-print guidebook. I climbed routes where i didnt see any sign of previous development, only to find out the FA was done in 1963 lol. 

although, from the sounds of it (mostly blank face climbing), you're probably looking at virgin rock.

Billcoe · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 630



"I'm thinking this might be within my capabilities as a trad lead and it might be a chance to get my first first ascent." I love that you've accepted the challenge, that's awesome. But I want to caution you on this other thing you noted: the "It's my first first ascent" part. 


Remember a few things:

1st) As a new leader, you will have huge gaps in your knowledge. Yuge! 

2nd) Any gaps in your knowledge can easily and quickly get you killed. I see this over and over, but as a new person, you don't know what your knowledge gaps are. Doing a FA adds even more. 

3rd) Your many gaps extend to the "I know nothing about the place", the rock, etc etc. 

If you chose to jump on it, make sure you have more pieces than you need. Place them liberally, and don't hang on your gear. Plan on flashing the crack, no hangs no falls. I use to climb with some real hardcore dudes. They didn't run it out on 5.13 cracks to get up them. You don't either. I once saw a fella die from 70' up after he fell or tried to hang and he pulled 4 of his 7 pieces, 2 of which he had already hung on successfully. You will have less pieces between you and the ground and can die in a 30'-40' fall. If you fall and hang while pumped out, check to see if you might stuff another piece in below the piece you are hanging on. Maybe a nut under the cam. Mix it up and use both. I think it's a worthy goal and you've seen the line and we haven't, so if you think you can get it, I say go for it. Knock loose rocks off as you get to them. Given that area has had folks living in it for a long time, I suspect it's been climbed before, but who knows. I just recently discovered what appears to be a 1400' unclimbed slab. It's exciting to head into the unknown and a worthy challenge. 

Last part: have fun! 

Tradiban · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2004 · Points: 10,980
Billcoe wrote:



"I'm thinking this might be within my capabilities as a trad lead and it might be a chance to get my first first ascent." I love that you've accepted the challenge, that's awesome. But I want to caution you on this other thing you noted: the "It's my first first ascent" part. 


Remember a few things:

1st) As a new leader, you will have huge gaps in your knowledge. Yuge! 

2nd) Any gaps in your knowledge can easily and quickly get you killed. I see this over and over, but as a new person, you don't know what your knowledge gaps are. Doing a FA adds even more. 

3rd) Your many gaps extend to the "I know nothing about the place", the rock, etc etc. 


If you chose to jump on it, make sure you have more pieces than you need. Place them liberally, and don't hang on your gear. Plan on flashing the crack, no hangs no falls. I use to climb with some real hardcore dudes. They didn't run it out on 5.13 cracks to get up them. You don't either. I once saw a fella die from 70' up after he fell or tried to hang and he pulled 4 of his 7 pieces, 2 of which he had already hung on successfully. You will have less pieces between you and the ground and can die in a 30'-40' fall. If you fall and hang while pumped out, check to see if you might stuff another piece in below the piece you are hanging on. Maybe a nut under the cam. Mix it up and use both. 


Last part: have fun! 

Or....forget the FA fever and just head point the thing.

Everybody is talking about how you could do this FA when what you should be thinking is; Why do I need to do this FA in the first place. 

My question is; What is your motivation?

Stagg54 Taggart · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 0

Expect choss and loose rock.  Station belayer out of the way.  Go for it... (ground up).

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Uh...the answer to this question is obvious.  TR the shit out of it and tell everyone you led it, ground up.  Get dirt on your belayer (not literally) so they won't talk.  Profit.

corpse · · jtree area · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 0

fa still counts on tr.  if the route is doable and worthy of more, then you can lead it and get that fa as well.

post a pic, it won't reveal location ;)

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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