Mountain Project Logo

Advice for trad first ascents?


Forever Outside · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 195

UR GUNNA DIE?

grog m aka Greg McKee · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 70
David Kerkeslager wrote:

if I jam a bunch of cams in deep I'm pretty confident they'd hold.......dependent on me rehabbing my ankle injury....

David, dream big man! BUT be careful...jamming cams in deep is not necessarily a good trad strategy. Take it from someone who has broken his ankle trad climbing when my gear pulled. Most people won't and don't push their limits trad climbing. Usually (not always, there are bold and badass people out there) for the most part people only trad climb when they are confident that they can send the route, confident they can do most of the moves, or confident in MP descriptions of what to expect. You need to be confident your gear will hold, and that you have the correct gear. FA's can be a time consuming and literally messy business. 

Some advice - without seeing the cliff we can't tell you much. But I can give you some things to consider. 1) The top is going to be very important - so lets say you have done this crack/climb/whatever and you get to the top - are you going to be belly flopping through piles of choss (this typically exists on most top-out cliffs) or worse, pulling on it to get over the lip??? 2) Now your friends and shit might want to do it too. Are there any natural anchor pieces up there - trees? boulders? cracks? 

If you want really good Mountain Project scientist's advice, please take some photos of the cliff, and perhaps a zoom in on the 'crack' to see rock quality. 

Nate Doyle · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 10

which was surprising because I had already scanned the area on Mountain Project and it hadn't turned anything up.

Not everything is on MP. Could be in a guidebook and of course have a FA already.

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
Nate Doyle wrote:

Not everything is on MP. Could be in a guidebook and of course have a FA already.

In fact, the VAST majority of established rock climbs are not in MP.

Comprehensive guide to Yosemite will have 3000+ routes in Yosemite Valley. MP lists something like 1/4 of the routes.

Even FAs that take gear only are almost always cleaned first of moss and choss when putting up a free climb. No one wants to battle dirt on an FA if it is at all practical to clean it first.

And yes, even in Yosemite this is true (virtually every short classic was done this way if munge is present). Classics that are as clean as a whistle today were climbed on aid and cleaned or rapped and cleaned before leading free. Butterballs, Lunatic Fringe etc etc.

Nate Doyle · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 10
King Tut wrote:

In fact, the VAST majority of established rock climbs are not in MP.

Comprehensive guide to Yosemite will have 3000+ routes in Yosemite Valley. MP lists something like 1/4 of the routes.

Yes. Yosemite is one of the areas that MP lists many routes, compared to other areas, but, as you mentioned, is lacking. Many areas are completely missing from MP altogether.

The point of course is to check other sources for possible FA, not only MP.

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
Nate Doyle wrote:

Yes. Yosemite is one of the areas that MP lists many routes, compared to other areas, but, as you mentioned, is lacking. Many areas are completely missing from MP altogether.

The point of course is to check other sources for possible FA, not only MP.

Yep, yep. And don't go drilling bolts w/o talking to people who know.

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 6
King Tut wrote:

Even FAs that take gear only are almost always cleaned first of moss and choss when putting up a free climb. No one wants to battle dirt on an FA if it is at all practical to clean it first.

Is that actually the case?

I thought, historically, there was a pretty strong ground-up ethic/aesthetic around climbing, especially trad climbing, and that a lot of the routes were put up on lead.

Personally, I've done 8 trad FAs, of which 5 were ground-up, no pre-cleaning, no pre-inspection.  And, these weren't desert/alpine climbs which are more likely to be moss-free; definitely rock covered in lichen/moss/dirt -- digging gear placements out with the nut-tool climbing.  

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
David Gibbs wrote:

Is that actually the case?

I thought, historically, there was a pretty strong ground-up ethic/aesthetic around climbing, especially trad climbing, and that a lot of the routes were put up on lead.

Personally, I've done 8 trad FAs, of which 5 were ground-up, no pre-cleaning, no pre-inspection.  And, these weren't desert/alpine climbs which are more likely to be moss-free; definitely rock covered in lichen/moss/dirt -- digging gear placements out with the nut-tool climbing.  

You are confused perhaps.

There is a HUGE difference between a long alpine route or free climb in Yosemite that is impractical to do top down and historically were also of moderate grade.

Virtually all of the test pieces at Cookie/Arch etc had extensive cleaning done before FFAs were attempted. This is of course different than the FA that simply aided through thte munge (ie New Dimensions was first an aid route). Of course, it goes without saying that the upper dihedrals on the Nose, for example, were grass top to bottom, and cleaned by the hundreds of subsequent ascents. "Splitter" cracks in granite at 4-5000 feet altitude on the West Coast are very rarely free of deep dirt, except for short sections or if they are wide.

Routes done by Sacherer and Haan (wide test pieces in the mid 60's) perhaps didn't require initial cleaning but when they freed many famous routes they had had many aid ascents that naturally clean the crack when the leader is looking for placements. The later 5.10s, 11s and 12s were all cleaned first either by old aid climbing of the route or by the FA party making a free climb. This is not some theory but the result of personal conversations I have had with Peter Haan, Barry Bates, Ron Kauk, Bill Price etc...this myth of "ground up only" up some dirty crack on the Yosemite crags is just that. No one launches routinely up some mungy thing that is 5.11 though it did happen on longer routes of course where you had no choice. You also gotta understand the nature of "munge" in Yosemite too, we can be talking feet thick hummocks, dirt to China....not just a little lichen with some splitter sitting there...very rare to ever find that at such low altitude. I'm not saying it never happened throughout history, just that if people could walk to the top of the smaller crags and clean a crack out or aided up it cleaning as they went then they commonly did...if they climbed through dirt it was mostly easy for them. If it was pushing their grade they cleaned the crack.

Bridwell was a chief advocate of aiding/rapping to clean loose rock and munge when practical (ie not practical on Middle Cathedral or Tuolumne face routes). All those Cookie and Arch Rock routes were cleaned first one way or the other for the most part.

"Put up on lead" means a lot of things. And a lot of munge was cleaned out after someone aided the crack or rapped it, then the FFA done later. And people rap bolted too, Bridwell chief among them.

Remember, at a time the hardest routes in the World were there...Ray Jardine did not launch up some dirty crack called Phoenix cleaning as he went, or Bill Price put up Cosmic Debris climbing 5.13 in ~1980 with a cleaning tool in one hand. They were extensively scrubbed, like most Yosemite classics that are just off the ground.

And they still are scrubbed. People just don't like to talk about it much because it is technically illegal.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Very interesting perspective.  Perhaps the "ground up" narrative comes not from cleaning/inspection (impractical for any non-trivial climbing), but the actual protecting of the route?  So, a "ground-up" ascent referred not to blindly exploring your way up (though I'm sure this happened as well), but simply to drilling/pounding your own fixed pro on the way up, as opposed to the modern practice of rap bolting?  It's fair to say they probably didn't TR rehearse the moves, but then...it was mostly aid, as you said, so there wasn't a reason to.

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
Ted Pinson wrote:

Very interesting perspective.  Perhaps the "ground up" narrative comes not from cleaning/inspection (impractical for any non-trivial climbing), but the actual protecting of the route?  So, a "ground-up" ascent referred not to blindly exploring your way up (though I'm sure this happened as well), but simply to drilling/pounding your own fixed pro on the way up, as opposed to the modern practice of rap bolting?  It's fair to say they probably didn't TR rehearse the moves, but then...it was mostly aid, as you said, so there wasn't a reason to.

Certainly pre-placement of pro was frowned upon, but Bridwell rap bolted Wheat Thin (flake to scary to nail) and dulled (chipped) the edge of the flake worried that it would cut the rope...and no FFA was claimed until a route was led, top to bottom to be sure...and top roping a route beforehand was considered bad style.

So yes, there was both purity and everything in between...Bachar/Higgins enforcing a strict ground up ethic in the meadows (not much in the way of crack climbing there as compared to the valley but I know of many cracks there that were cleaned out by the FA) but Bachar's ethic made a perfect sort of sense for the face climbing there for the time...and you had Ray Jardine chopping holds in the start of Crimson Cringe (5.12a) and Pheonix (5.13a) to make them go at those grades as well as extensive cleaning...

There are Alpine Splitters above tree line out there that are immaculate from the get go...but they simply don't commonly exist in finger and tight hand sizes without a lot of dirt in Yosemite at the lower elevations where most of the popular routes are... Virtually all of those routes had to be cleaned extensively one way or the other. If they were easy people just did them sure, and they then got cleaned up over time. But the hard ones....lol no one battled munge to the top of them on the FFA. If they needed cleaning they got it. These are not Indian Creek splitters....Yosemite Valley gets like ~40 inches of rain per yer on **average** in a big year they get 80"....There is dirt and growing things there in the cracks unless climbers remove them. :)

I have done it myself and discussed it with some of the prime movers in Yosemite free climbing of the 60's and 70's into the mid-80's. After that it was truly anything goes.

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 6
King Tut wrote:

You are confused perhaps.

There is a HUGE difference between a long alpine route or free climb in Yosemite that is impractical to do top down and historically were also of moderate grade.

Virtually all of the test pieces at Cookie/Arch etc had extensive cleaning done before FFAs were attempted. This is of course different than the FA that simply aided through thte munge (ie New Dimensions was first an aid route). Of course, it goes without saying that the upper dihedrals on the Nose, for example, were grass top to bottom, and cleaned by the hundreds of subsequent ascents. "Splitter" cracks in granite at 4-5000 feet altitude on the West Coast are very rarely free of deep dirt, except for short sections or if they are wide.

Routes done by Sacherer and Haan (wide test pieces in the mid 60's) perhaps didn't require initial cleaning but when they freed many famous routes they had had many aid ascents that naturally clean the crack when the leader is looking for placements. The later 5.10s, 11s and 12s were all cleaned first either by old aid climbing of the route or by the FA party making a free climb. This is not some theory but the result of personal conversations I have had with Peter Haan, Barry Bates, Ron Kauk, Bill Price etc...this myth of "ground up only" up some dirty crack on the Yosemite crags is just that. No one launches routinely up some mungy thing that is 5.11 though it did happen on longer routes of course where you had no choice. You also gotta understand the nature of "munge" in Yosemite too, we can be talking feet thick hummocks, dirt to China....not just a little lichen with some splitter sitting there...very rare to ever find that at such low altitude. I'm not saying it never happened throughout history, just that if people could walk to the top of the smaller crags and clean a crack out or aided up it cleaning as they went then they commonly did...if they climbed through dirt it was mostly easy for them. If it was pushing their grade they cleaned the crack.

Bridwell was a chief advocate of aiding/rapping to clean loose rock and munge when practical (ie not practical on Middle Cathedral or Tuolumne face routes). All those Cookie and Arch Rock routes were cleaned first one way or the other for the most part.

"Put up on lead" means a lot of things. And a lot of munge was cleaned out after someone aided the crack or rapped it, then the FFA done later. And people rap bolted too, Bridwell chief among them.

Remember, at a time the hardest routes in the World were there...Ray Jardine did not launch up some dirty crack called Phoenix cleaning as he went, or Bill Price put up Cosmic Debris climbing 5.13 in ~1980 with a cleaning tool in one hand. They were extensively scrubbed, like most Yosemite classics that are just off the ground.

And they still are scrubbed. People just don't like to talk about it much because it is technically illegal.

I wasn't thinking of the test-pieces, the routes that were hard for their time, nor particularly of Yosemite valley with its long history of aid climbing of many routes before they were freed, but of smaller, often eastern, crags.  Stuff in the Adirondacks, or the Gunks, or a bunch of stuff in England.   And, I was definitely thinking of climbs that were of a moderate grade.

I agree that if you are going to be doing something at the edge of your skill, at the edge of what can be done at the time -- you want a nice, clean, prepared route.

I don't think (though I could be wrong) that the original poster was looking at a route that was at the edge of the grade he could climb, or that would become a test-piece of this age, but at a moderate-looking line that he thought was well within his range, would go on gear, but had not been cleaned and possibly not been climbed before, or not climbed recently.  I don't think that such climbs are "almost always" cleaned before an FFA.  I have done too many of that sort of not-cleaned just-climb ascents myself to think they are particularly unusual.

And, the technically illegal for cleaning -- sure in a national park (e.g. Yosemite) that may be the case -- but again the OP wasn't talking about this; he was talking about a small crag in northern PA.

Alex Bury · · Ojai, CA · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 1,948
Ted Pinson wrote:

Very interesting perspective.  Perhaps the "ground up" narrative comes not from cleaning/inspection (impractical for any non-trivial climbing), but the actual protecting of the route?  So, a "ground-up" ascent referred not to blindly exploring your way up (though I'm sure this happened as well), but simply to drilling/pounding your own fixed pro on the way up, as opposed to the modern practice of rap bolting?  It's fair to say they probably didn't TR rehearse the moves, but then...it was mostly aid, as you said, so there wasn't a reason to.

Sorry...no.

Despite King Tuts history lesson, if you rap the route and clean/inspect it, then it isn't ground up. Cleaning the route, then bolting it from the ground, does not make it GU. It's top-down.

'Ground up' refers specifically to "exploring your way up" as you put it. 

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Based on what?

ViperScale . · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 235

Ground up is an adventure. I have climbed a few things "ground up" and although I probably wasn't the FA on them they weren't listed anywhere and you could tell noone had been up them in years. It can be dangerous with loose rock etc but it is about the adventure of finding your way up, this adventure comes with extra danger of the unknown.

I personally like climbing a 5.4 dirty 300+ ft route that I have no clue what I am getting into than a 5.10 clean and bolted pitch.

Alex Bury · · Ojai, CA · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 1,948
King Tut wrote:
Even FAs that take gear only are almost always cleaned first of moss and choss when putting up a free climb. No one wants to battle dirt on an FA if it is at all practical to clean it first.

And yes, even in Yosemite this is true (virtually every short classic was done this way if munge is present).

This is definitely not the case. My last GU FA on gear was just last week! I've done about two dozen FA's with zero cleaning or inspection (ground up). The hardest are 11's with a number of tens as well. 

At least one other poster here has also put up lines in this style.

I don't doubt the history as it relates to Yosemite, and especially cutting edge routes there. I'm just not sure how that relates to the OP. And certainly, Jardine liking to chip holds does not take away from the fact that many many climbs have been done without cleaning/inspection. Still are.

Alex Bury · · Ojai, CA · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 1,948
Ted Pinson wrote:

Based on what?

There's isn't a "dictionary of climbing" that will be definitive. So...it's based on decades (perhaps centuries) of climbing culture and first ascents. Countless days that men and women have been taking their craft into the mountains.

Sorry...Wikipedia can't help ya.

 I also did not understand the terminology at one point. I got schooled by the older guys. That's how it works.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

Ok.  Did you read the rest of the thread?

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
Alex Bury wrote:

This is definitely not the case. My last GU FA on gear was just last week! I've done about two dozen FA's with zero cleaning or inspection (ground up). The hardest are 11's with a number of tens as well. 

At least one other poster here has also put up lines in this style.

I don't doubt the history as it relates to Yosemite, and especially cutting edge routes there. I'm just not sure how that relates to the OP. And certainly, Jardine liking to chip holds does not take away from the fact that many many climbs have been done without cleaning/inspection. Still are.

More power to you Alex, but I think you might not be aware of how people climb new routes elsewhere where they have the opportunity. Try to think outside your own experience and see a historical record.

Definitely have your own adventures and there are countless opportunities still out there to climb in whatever style suits you. We are blessed in CA in that regard.

I have done near 200 pitches FA since 1978 and know precisely what I am talking about and the history of such in the Sierra. Its just hard to communicate the degree to which cleaning took place and when it was necessary and when it was impractical or not needed. Multi-pitch routes out of necessity were nearly always done ground up and still are...But, the history of cutting edge free climbing is one of route preparation, one way or the other, unless it was a route that didn't have any dirt (ie face climbs or wide) or one cleaned by countless aid ascents prior to free attempts.

Keep in mind that you putting up a 5.11 through dirt today is like putting up a 5.7 through dirt in 1971 ie far below the cutting edge. I think this translation through the eras is what you aren't seeing.

To be clear I didn't want to suggest that route preparation was the only way it was done, but maintain that virtually every single historic test-piece non-wide crack (for all intents and purposes) in Yosemite was cleaned before the FFA with a few lucky exceptions ie Jim Donini on Overhang Overpass (possible first Yose 5.12a) that happened by fate of geology to be a clean corner.

Its like saying people free climb 5.14+/5.15 today ground up with no cleaning (ridiculous proposition). That's the historical perspective as if doing a 5.10+ thins hands crack that way in 1971. It didn't happen battling through feet deep hummocks.

Alex Bury · · Ojai, CA · Joined Jun 2012 · Points: 1,948
King Tut wrote:

More power to you Alex, but I think you might not be aware of how people climb new routes elsewhere where they have the opportunity.

Wrong again Tut!

You're assuming I only go GU. I've done plenty (dozens) of routes top-down. Multi-pitch FA's, trad FA's, and sport.

I don't necessarily have a preferred style, and am very aware of they way other people establish routes elsewhere. I pay attention to that stuff since it interests me.

Im not discounting your experience with FA's or your Valley knowledge. Both are much appreciated here.

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 420
Alex Bury wrote:

Wrong again Tut!

You're assuming I only go GU. I've done plenty (dozens) of routes top-down. Multi-pitch FA's, trad FA's, and sport.

I don't necessarily have a preferred style, and am very aware of they way other people establish routes elsewhere. I pay attention to that stuff since it interests me.

Im not discounting your experience with FA's or your Valley knowledge. Both are much appreciated here.

Don't focus so much on how people are "wrong" and more on how they are "right" when trying to put to written word to their thoughts and knowledge and you will learn something.

What I assume is that you didn't sit down and sit down and talk to some of the people who have put up the cutting edge in Yosemite and how those routes were actually done. I also assume you haven't done the FA of cracks in Yosemite like I have done. You will find there really is no one that knows more about digging there than I do, for better or worse lol :).

The rare case is GU through dirt for "crags". For multi-pitch it is typically the rule because people gravitate to clean lines and find the munge well below their standard or they aid through it and free the pitch later.

But most single pitch testpieces are not clean lines, in my experience.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply