Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bad Routes Suck

Around this time last year, Doug and I put in 14 new routes (half trad, half sport) at a couple of crags we called "Whirlwind Wall" and "Polished Wall". This was really my first experience putting up new rock routes and I learnt a lot. The first thing I did when we started our routing project was read Shaun King's excellent articles on Route Building. I got a lot of my basic ideas from these great articles.

Developing Whirlwind and Polished Walls, Doug and I spent a lot of time on the routes. Many of the lines we climbed were eventually turned into routes, but some lines were not. The lines that didn't make the cut were either inconsistent at the grade or just featured poor/unpleasant moves. Lines that did make the cut, got a thorough cleaning. In some instances this took a couple of hours, but some routes took multiple days. After that, we climbed the route a number of times to work out the best clipping stances/bolt placements if it was a sport route, or to ensure there were adequate gear placements if it was a trad route. If necessary, wandering bolt lines, poor clipping stances, etc. were fixed before we actually drilled. Finally, Doug placed the bolts and we led the route. In my opinion, and clearly I am biased, this resulted in all worthwhile, well protected routes.

In the Kootenays, route development continues at a rapid pace with new routes going in almost every week. Unfortunately, some of these new routes are seriously not worth the hardware they are equipped with. There seems to be an unfortunate tendency among some route builders to value quantity over quality with the result that there are some really bad routes going up. Likely, few if any of these routes will get repeated, and, if they do, you can bet people will warn their friends "don't do such and such a route - it's a real dog."

All of this is preamble to my guidelines for putting up a worthy route:
  • Clean it properly. Yes, you will get dirty, yes it will eat up time. But, clean off ledges, clean out cracks, pry off loose holds and blocks, remove any and all vegetation. Clean the damn thing. No-one, but no-one wants to climb a scruffy dirty route with suspect holds.
  • Climb it a few times before you bolt it. Don't just slap a bolt every 2 to 3 metres. Bolt placements should protect the leader from a ground fall, from hitting a ledge or some other nasty fall. Make sure there are decent clipping stances, not desperate one finger hangs with no footholds to clip from. Remember, not all climbers are 6 feet tall, place your bolts so shorties can clip from decent stances too.
  • Put the anchor in a sensible spot to avoid nasty rope eating edges, dropping the climber off the end of the rope when lowering, or having to clip the anchor from another desperate one finger no foothold hang.
  • Squeeze jobs suck.
  • Routes that wander all over the place suck.
  • Routes that are inconsistent at the grade suck. A few 11a moves on a 5.7 climb just makes for a route no-one will climb. 5.11 climbers can't be bothered, and 5.7 climbers can't do the 11a moves. Keep it consistent at the grade. 
Really, what you need to do is put a lot of time, effort and thought into your new routes.  Routes that are quickly slapped up without regard to the quality of climbing or protection will just as quickly fall into oblivion. Taking your reputation with them.
     Doug placing the anchor for a new route at Whirlwind Wall

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