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Alf's Arete

5.11a, Sport, 80 ft,  Avg: 3.5 from 75 votes
FA: Alan Nelson & Alf Randell, 1987
California > Joshua Tree NP > Lost Horse Area > IRS Wall


On the left edge of the IRS wall is an almost vertical arete with 7 bolts. This is Alf's Arete. Technical edging and very thin holds characterise this face climb. The first bolt is a little high, and you definitely don't want to blow it before clipping it. The finish, though quite slabby, is run out and forces you to keep your concentration high.


7 bolts. First one is kind of high off the ground. Anchor on top.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

caughtinside pimps his way up Alf's Arete.
[Hide Photo] caughtinside pimps his way up Alf's Arete.
Alf's Arete (5.11a), Joshua Tree NP
[Hide Photo] Alf's Arete (5.11a), Joshua Tree NP
Yoann Arpin climbing Alf's Arete.
[Hide Photo] Yoann Arpin climbing Alf's Arete.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Steve Juhasz
[Hide Comment] The story of the first ascent: During the late 70's, the strict traditional ethic of J-Tree meant that all routes had to be estabilished on lead, even the drilling of bolts should be done from stances, or hooks at worst. This method was employed on all the bolted leads done up to the time of this route. When Alf Randell discovered this line, he started leading up on aid, but the edges were too friable for hooking, so they would drill tiny holes for bat hooks, from which they drilled the lead bolts. Often these hard (and manufactured!) aid placements would blow, resulting in broken drills, scarred rock and bad falls. Realizing the contrived restriction of this system, and disregarding the frowns and animosity of the top clique of climbers in J-Tree at the time, Alf and his partner (whose name I unfortunately forgot) scrambled to the top of the cliff and did the first rap bolting of a route in Joshua Tree. This superb and popular arete climb is the result. He tried at first to do this at night-time, and claimed that he bolted it on lead, somewhat afraid that the more zealous traditionalists would chop his proud addition. Eventually, it became obvious to climbers this route could not have been bolted on lead, but by this time so many had climbed it and thoroughly enjoyed it, that the rap bolting had to become accepted. Not for another decade did Alan Watts start rap bolting routes at Smith Rock, thus starting American sport climbing. This route was definitely one of the very first "sport climbs" in America. Mar 21, 2003
[Hide Comment] Awesome info, thanks a bunch Steve! Is this the Same Alf that's (in)famous in stories I hear of the Owen River Gorge of "Alf and the Scrutinizer" (whoever the Scrutinizer is) camping out at the parking for the Gorge for a season, putting up tons of routes, stealing peopls projects, etc etc etc? Mar 21, 2003
C Miller
[Hide Comment] By the way - although the definition of a "sport climb" has been loosely used in Josh, it generally refers to an all bolted climb with a fixed anchor that is not too runout. The reason I mention this is when established this route topped out and needed gear for the anchor (Dave Mayville is the one who doubled the last bolt and made it a true sport climb).

Considering the quantity and spacing of the bolts etc. perhaps the SW Corner of Headstone was an early "sport route". Certainly Papa Woolsey is bolted like a sport climb, albeit without a fixed anchor, and it was done in 1972... Mar 21, 2003
[Hide Comment] I think this is the notorious Alf who now resides in Socorro, NM. Alf is somewhat of a legend I've found out. When I used to live in Albuquerque I would often get asked if I've heard of a NM climber named Alf... it seems he's the only climber with a NM background who anyone has heard of. Among Alf's notorious deeds (or rumored deeds) include destroying an access trail at Enchanted Tower, chopping a few bolts, chisling a few holds, and some egregious rock destruction immediately adjacent to 45 degree wall at Hueco Tanks. Alf's role in the Hueco incident is mentioned by name in Verm's Hueco guide. The gist of the story is that Alf 'cleaned' (read excavated) some holds directly above the petroglyphs to the right of the 45 degree wall problem. It is likely that this incident and the resulting rock damage near the petroglyph resulted in the current complete closure of 45 degree wall. Mar 24, 2003
[Hide Comment] A guy should be thrown in prison for that, if a mob of climbers doesn't lynch him first. Praise be to the Access Fund for their continued efforts in Hueco Tanks and around the country. You're all AF members, right? Right?! Mar 24, 2003
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
[Hide Comment] The single protection bolt on Nuclear Waste (just to the right of Alf's Arete) was replaced 1/2003. Jul 3, 2003
Oakland CA
[Hide Comment] I'm not quite sure I believe that story about the FA... as the route stands now, all the bolts are in logical and good stances. It could have been bolted on lead? Regardless, a fun route. Dec 27, 2008
Russ Walling
Overlord @ FishProducts
[Hide Comment] Re: the history of the FA above by Steve.

This route was done in some dubious style, but your dates are miles apart on the reality of rap bolting and the birth of sport climbing. Late 70's style was in fact ground up, but this route was done in the late 80's according to the FA info. There is a lot of water under the bridge between those timeframes, and your description of the birth of sport climbing and this route being right in the thick of it is mostly revisionist fantasy. Alan Watts was rap bolting at Smith in the early 80's. By your account, that would mean that this route, which by the way was NOT the first rap bolted route in Josh, would have to of been created in the early 70's. There are no facts to support your FA history. It would be nice if your info was cleaned up and made to reflect reality. Dec 27, 2008
[Hide Comment] Is anyone interested in the real details of the FA?

In those days, we were long on time and energy, but low on money and climbing ability. When I found Alf's arete, I worried about the stances for drilling. I purchased a french kit of self drilling bolts that were very strong and easy to drill on poor stances. The stances were too poor by a long-shot, so would lead up on 2 or 3 9 mil ropes, and try to set a hook to either side of the formation. Several buddies would tension me on the hooks while i attempted to drill. It was great fun, and I took respectable falls when either hook popped off. No bat-hook placements were used, and many visits were required to get within reach of the top. Anyone who attempted to push the line did all of the climbing clean on lead each time, Alan Nelson finished the route with me, and I believe that we got along admirably despite some differences of opinion on anchor placement and safety.

This time period in California climbing will be remembered for the violence of the ethical debates. A core of full time desert climbers put up most of the routes, supervised closely by John Bachar, and loosely by Los Angeles weekenders and Yosemite rescue-police.

There was resentment toward cobbler-Hobo types like myself and the 3 chongo brothers. Perhaps it is not cool to 'live' the sport. Maybe it is better to have a life and a real job in the city, and to venture to the crags with one's bolt kit on the weekend. I did eventually get a degree and a fancy job in the oilfield, and hated every minute of it. So, I got to understand the resentment felt by 'real people' toward shiftless climbing bums.

It has been amusing to read these very bizarre comments on the first ascent. I noticed, once again, that not all modern climbers will believe the fabricated slander that they read. The love that we felt for the outdoors and for the crags is somehow communicated. I will give more information if folks think that it is interesting.

alf Jan 8, 2009
Russ Walling
Overlord @ FishProducts
[Hide Comment] So... Alf.... how about the real info on the date of the FA and the initial players? That at a minimum will help out Steves quasi fictional tome. Jan 8, 2009
Oakland CA
[Hide Comment] Alf, I'd love to hear your story of the FA, players and style. This was a really fun route with interesting climbing! Feb 14, 2009
Ryan Kelly
[Hide Comment] I tells ya... these damn kids nowadays, with their fancy jobs in the oil fields, rap-bolting kits and sewn runners. They got no spirit! Feb 15, 2009
andy patterson
Carpinteria, CA
[Hide Comment] Having climbed, dirtbagged, and eaten contraband Little Debbie treats with Alf on a number of different occasions, allow me to defend the varacity of this enthusiastic gentleman. Not many of us climbers can fully embrace the peculiar antics and requisite deprivations that our sport engenders. Alf can, does, and will.

From what I can tell, Alf climbs because he likes it, and suggests y'all do the same. I only hope I can do the same. Apr 1, 2010
[Hide Comment] How it was done originally aside, this climb is brilliant! There's an old button head next to a newer bolt that should probably get yanked and patched. Feb 13, 2015
T. Stark
Los Angeles, CA
[Hide Comment] There were a couple of nice delicate moves and the line is pretty great, highly recommend this to all! Mar 19, 2015
Wesley Neill
Sequoia National Park, CA
[Hide Comment] Can anyone comment on what the definition of "run-out" for this climb is? 7 bolts in 80 feet, if fairly evenly spaced (not a given, I know) seems pretty safe. I'd like to hop on this thing some time soon, if it's not too dangerous to take a couple falls on. 11a is my limit. Jan 1, 2020
[Hide Comment] Wes, depends on your slab skills. Jan 2, 2020
Wesley Neill
Sequoia National Park, CA
[Hide Comment] Thanks Tradiban. It's probably not in the cards unless it's pretty positive edging. I know JT isn't known for that. Tore my Achilles on a slab pitch in the spring and I can't smear without a good amount of pain still. Happy New Year! Jan 2, 2020
Oakland CA
[Hide Comment] This thing is not run out at all. You do have to climb above bolts though. Jan 2, 2020