Saturday, May 09, 2009

Route Development: Cleaning the Face

A clean face is truly under appreciated until you have climbed on loose terrain. Flat Rock is very clean, mostly because of winter wave action. At Manuels, we had to work to get the established lines clean.

We all know that "climbing is inherently dangerous and may cause injury or death!". It is written on any and every piece of gear we get. When your climbing, it is assumed that you are checking for loose rocks and being careful. Despite your vigilance, there may be a block waiting to kill you. People who develop area's and put up FA's are under NO obligation to assure the line is clean or even safe. Just look at the number of 'R' rated and 'X' rated climbs there are at various areas. The FA author deliberately made it dangerous. But it is his right to do so. There are a breed of climber who don't feel alive unless they are risking it all. Regardless, don't assume a line is safe just because it is established.

Every developer has a different style or set of priorities. I want to develop safe moderate climbs so making sure they are clean is important to me. The importance of cleaning struck me very loudly last summer. I had established a short trad line called the Arborist. Several weeks later, Jan was climbing the same route when he pull out a large block. Some how he managed to grab the block in his arms as he was falling onto his cam, which was less than an inch from where the block used to be. He managed to pitch the block away from his belayer, Kim, so she would not be pummelled to death. I was not happy to hear about this close call on a route I had established. Jan went slightly more right up the crack system and got into terrain I had not realized was loose. Never again!

In the previous post, I had mentioned TRing your proposed line. Before doing that, do an initial cleaning. Set up your rappel and make sure you have a prussic back-up on your slack side. This acts as an autoblock while on rappel. Your rope needs to be managed carefully to avoid dropping blocks on it. On your first rappel, bring a small crow bar and/or a hammer and wear a set of safety goggles. Look for loose blocks and rocks. Anything that is loose should be pried off. Use the hammer to check for hollow sounding flakes. If possible, these should also come off. Many ledge are cover in moss and dirt. Rip as much of that stuff off as possible. Anything big needs to come down in this initial pass. Make sure to look to the sides of your line because you may not come directly up your rappel line. And to state the obvious, MAKE SURE NO ONE IS BELOW! I also kick off as muck liken as I can while I descend.

Now comes the TRing. Assure the belayer is not in the fall line and is wearing a helmet. Climb your anticipated line with a wire or nylon brush and a nut tool. The brush is to clean off ledges and moss/liken. The nut tool is to dig out cracks and other features. Wearing safety goggles would be smart. Keep in mind where your belayer is and direct debris away from them. A pebble from 80 feet really hurts. Do this several times taking slightly different lines so a fairly wide area is cleaned. Once the route is decided upon and it is clean, it is time to bolt.

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