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Routes in Alioth

Aerial Boundaries T 5.11d 7a 24 VIII 25 E5 6a
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Type: Trad, Alpine, 700 ft, 6 pitches, Grade IV
FA: Bryan Pletta & Doug Teague
Page Views: 1,534 total · 15/month
Shared By: George Perkins on Aug 7, 2010
Admins: Jason Halladay, Anthony Stout, LeeAB Brinckerhoff, Marta Reece, Drew Chojnowski

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Access Issue: Seasonal raptor closure for some areas in the Sandias Details


Aerial Boundaries is one of the best climbs at the 5.11 grade in the Sandias, with sustained, steep, intriguing climbing on quality rock for nearly all of its length. Its fairly remote location no doubt contributes to the lack of attention its received.

The topo and description in Mick’s guidebook were accurate and very helpful. I'd recommend you use them.

Pitch 1: A hard start leads to the first bolt, traverse left to a 2nd, mantle up to 2 pins and reach the tricky crux of the route 30’ up. Because this crux can not be pulled through on gear, it should keep the riff-raff off (although we’ve all taken bigger falls sport climbing). Competent riff-raff will turn the crux and climb up and right in a small left-facing corner, then find devious 5.10 climbing up past 3 more fixed pins and reach the belay.(5.11d, 90’).  [edit 9 years later: Some people have bitched about me sandbagging the rating here-- posted in agreement with the books-- after walking out the approach gully after getting their butts kicked.]

Pitch 2: Climb an awkward roof straight above the belay. Face climb up to a bolt, then angle right to another bolt. Climb straight up, or right of, a pin-protected seam to a fixed belay. Some of this pitch is spooky and/or is protected with small gear. (5.11b, 80’).

Pitch 3: Clip a fixed pin just above the belay, and move left to a bolt. Face climb right to a pin, make a weird move just past it and a small run-out to a bolt. Angle left, climbing past a steep blocky section to a rest stance. Head up and right, switching between 2 cracks, to the belay on a ledge (5.10a, 130’).

Pitch 4: Step off the right end of the ledge, boulder 15’ up, and traverse back over top of the belay. Steep liebacking off flakes up and left takes you past a bolt and a fixed pin to another bolt, which protects a thin traverse left to a rest below a small right-facing corner. Climb up the corner, into a groove, passing a bolt and fixed pin to gain a ledge. Clip another pin, and another easier boulder problem leads to the fixed belay (5.11b, 80’).

Pitch 5: Step left of the belay, and climb a right-facing corner, passing 2 fixed pins. Move right below a roof, clip a bolt, climb up and step left up above on easier terrain. Angle right on easy cracks below a right-angling roof and build a belay at a stance (5.10b, 150’).

Pitch 6: Climb up and right on easy licheny, flakey stuff to the trees below the summit (5.6, 130’). Scramble up 3rd class to the high point of the Alioth’s summit, and you’re half-way done. Descent info is on Alioth’s main page.


The climb is the rightmost climb on the SE face of Alioth; it starts near a clearing with a big downed log. There are 2 bolts about 10’ up, and you might notice tat at the first 2 belays. The small pine tree the guidebooks say you should look for is dying, and is not noticeable.


Much of the climb is protected by fixed gear.
Bring 14 draws (many shoulder-length).
Gear is mandatory on most pitches (and you'll use doubles on some):
-nuts, including RPs
-2 ea. cams from smallest TCU to #0.75 camalot
-1 red (#1) camalot
-1 yellow (#2) camalot
-a 3rd #0.75 camalot was helpful on pitch 3

We climbed this with a full-length trail line, from which we hauled the pack and shoes; this seemed like a good strategy for this route.


George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
The grade IV rating reflects the original rating, and the overall commitment- including the descent. One could easily suggest it's only a Grade III at 6 pitches, but grade IV by Sandia/desert standards seems fair to me. (I didn't feel like climbing anything else afterward...)

This climb felt comparable to Voodoo Child in difficulty for its technical crux, but this felt more "heads-up" and less straight-forward overall... and just as good. Aug 7, 2010
John Kear
Albuquerque, NM
John Kear   Albuquerque, NM
I spoke to Bryan Pletta about re-doing the fixed gear on this route after you and I climbed it several years ago. He thought it was a good idea and had no problem with someone re-equipping the route. Sep 18, 2010
Mick S
Mick S   Utah
The first time I did it with Josh, I thought we had the right beta for the descent and ended up climbing vertical moss and tree roots at one point. It was bad enough that the second time we rapped off (from the top of the 4th pitch) and hiked out rather than doing the exit off the top. Oct 7, 2010
J. Albers
J. Albers   Colorado
Since you guys are commenting here on retooling the route, I thought I would chime in with an idea to consider. Now, before I speak my opinion (and draw condemnations), let me make it clear that the Sandias were at one time my home crag for trad; thus, I understand the strong traditional ethic that is an integral part of climbing in the Sandias.

That said, I would be in favor of the ethic that is becoming the "agreed" upon ethic in another reasonably traditional arena; the granite of the Sierra eastside crags (e.g. this ethic is referred to in the Peter Croft and Marty Lewis guide). Essentially this boils down to the following. If you are putting up a free climbing route, then use bolts instead of pounding pins. I think this is a good idea if for no other reason than the continued need to replace pins over the years damages the rock far more than a single, well placed bolt. On top of this, the longevity of a bolt is substantially longer than that of a pin, thus negating the need to carry a hammer and iron on routes that see little traffic (i.e. a lot of stuff in the 'dias.) From my perspective, if you are pounding iron, you are already using fixed protection, so it might as well be good gear.

Just a thought. Oct 7, 2010
George Perkins
The Dungeon, NM
George Perkins   The Dungeon, NM
J., I'm a little confused by your comment. I don't know if you're talking about this route or an overall ethic. Maybe you've climbed this and have different impressions; but Jason and I thought that the pins look mostly good, it's a few of the bolts that would be candidates to replace with other bolts. (As I said above, I don't think they're "time-bombs" or anything though.) If you're suggesting to replace the fixed pins with bolts- that sounds like a lot of unnecessary work that would result in a less elegant climb.

Before doing anything or suggesting an ethic for the entire range, one might consider the recent issues with the F.S. about bolt-intensive routes in the Sandias. See ?here.? Bryan (one of the FAs) and everyone who's posted here (except for me), is very much involved in those discussions I think.

Mick, that's funny... Josh was vague and must've forgotten some of those details when I asked him about the descent. Josh really encouraged us, gave us a few good ideas about the rack etc, told us that this climb was good and that we were up for it, I was glad he did. He was right, we were just barely up for it, so we were super psyched about it. Oct 8, 2010
Mick S
Mick S   Utah
George, the descent description in the guide is directly from Bryan, so I don't know how to improve it. The exit up the gully is very confusing when you are actually attempting it though, and easy to get into 5th class terrain. We were definitely off-route. I thought the last bolt on the 3rd pitch should be replaced, it is funky, and the climbing above is easy, but runout. Oct 8, 2010
Bryan Pletta
  5.11d PG13
Bryan Pletta  
  5.11d PG13
Regarding the fixed gear, the climb was done ground up over the course of a couple of seasons. We placed what was reasonable at the time and a pin is always faster and easier to place than a bolt. Some of the line got straightened out over time with better fixed gear allowing for a better line. I feel that most of the bolts are pretty good with the exception of the half depth button head on the first belay. Gary Hicks broke the bit when drilling that bolt and placed it anyway to back up the fixed nuts in order to bail. We added another bolt on a subsequent attempt and just left the old bolt as a backup. The knifeblade at the start of the 3rd pitch is the only fixed gear that I never liked, it did not "ring" when it was placed and should probably be replaced by a bolt. We always backed up this placement with a good offset brass nut. The last bolt on the third is a spinner but I think it is a good bolt. We always considered adding one on the easy slab above to break up the runout but never got around to it. If anyone feels inclined to replace or upgrade any gear on this route, you have my blessing.

Regarding the descent, it pretty much sucks any way you cut it. I have tried several ways, but always kept rock shoes on for the 4th class/5th class if you don't get it just right. Probably a good idea to keep a rope handy just in case.

IMHO the second pitch is one of the best anywhere. technical, sustained, just enough gear to be safe, keeps you on your toes all the way to the anchors, enjoy! May 20, 2013
Hey Bryan :o) I was glad to read your post here... but surprised to not find Vertical Deflection on a depiction of Alioth. It was Doug and I who did the final ascent of VD and were the 1st ones to attempt Aerial Boundaries .
I remember the bolt at the top of the 1st pitch (a Rawl 3/8-s 'Button Head' ),,, but I think a bigger hammer would have driven it to my usual "...not quite tight" depth. A "broken bit" I'm not sure about. Those Rawl expansion bolts were not designed for rock climbing but for concrete. Doug T was a machinist and shaved off our Rawls by 50,000ths of an inch,,, but they were not all quite the same.
I remember taking my "big wall hammer" and trying to drive that bolt Home and it kept bouncing off with just as much force as I was hitting it with! Maybe we didn't have a blow-tube or maybe it was a bolt that hadn't been shaved down... but I'm still willing to bet that a heavier hammer would drive it Home !!! As it is... I would still trust it to rap off of :o)

A wired nut with the nut slid down the cable then pushed back up to tighten it over the button head bolt was the 'old school' way .

Also as regards Alioth; a problem with rapping or descending off Alioth??? I thought it was one of the easiest peaks in the Sandias I've ever gotten off of. Even when Piton Pete and I did the 1st free ascent of the South Ridge of Alioth [Hammock/Maleski aid route] it wasn't half as bad as getting to the start of the climb, LOL Jul 11, 2015

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