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Retro Bolts in Sandthrax Canyon

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by ratagonia, Mar 23, 2016.

  1. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    It was reported that Sandthrax Canyon in North Wash had acquired quite a few "retro-bolts" in the last couple of years.

    Sandthrax was first descended by Steve Allen and friends at some point in the 90's. No bolts were required, and it is likely they did not even leave any slings behind. Sandthrax was attempted "for our group" in 2001 by Hank Moon, Chris R. and Shane Burrows in October 2001, when they left in place one drilled angle at the Silo. For a great telling of the story, Click Here.

    More recently, a party of a Dad and two kids entered Sandthrax thinking they were in East Leprechaun, encouraged by finding a bolt at the first rappel. For as much as the story as is known, Click Here.

    Other bolts have appeared, to "bring the canyon down to the descender's level". Two bolts at the crux. One bolt at the Hueco rappel somewhat later in the canyon. Maybe a few more bolts here and there. All these are considered "retro bolts".

    "Retro bolts" are bolts put in after the climb or canyon is established. In Climbing there is a clear ethic that retro bolts are not cool! and represent an ethical taint on the part of the placing party. If you are not up for doing the route as originally established, then go do something else. The same ethic applies to canyoneering.

    Back at Freeze Fest, we rapped in at the first rappel and removed the bolt at the first rap. I puttied it up, but the temps were low so the putty may not have stuck. There are some rocks there to set up an anchor; or bring a friend to meat belay you in; or bring some rocks from up-canyon to make an anchor with. This seems really easy and straightforward, meaning - WTF??*

    Last weekend, John Diener, Wayne (?), Tom Collins and I went in to relieve the canyon of some of the other retrobolts. Steve Allen at one point mentioned that there was a place near the end where the lip gets close to the bottom of the canyon, and he used to go in at that point (no rope required for Steve) with friends for a 1-hour Sandthrax experience. On this occasion, we were gunning for the bolts at the crux, and for the bolt at the Hueco rappel.

    We found the low point and John (who was injured) gave us a meat anchor to get in. This point is between the Hueco rappel and the end, in a place where you can actually walk on the bottom of the canyon. Moving forward, we found a bolt at the next place effort is required, though it is a bit odd because this place is pretty darn easy by Sandthrax standards - heck about as hard as the hardest places in Middle Lep. WTF?? This bolt was removed and the hole puttied up.

    Tom C. had been in Sandthrax last fall, so he had the best memory of the place. Wayne and I climbed the rope back out and took the other rope upcanyon looking for a place to get in between the Hueco rap and the crux - with Tom C IN the canyon at the Hueco rappel to help us locate a good place to rap in. Unknown to us, Tom C's group had left a rope at the Hueco rappel, and Tom was able to upclimb with an assist from that rope, just as we rapped in a few feet upcanyon of that. Mr. Collins has a story to tell, if he chooses to do so.

    The bolt for the Hueco rappel is a drilled baby angle. This takes a hammer to get out, which we did not have, so we left it in place. Then the three of us, two Toms and a Wayne, scurried upcanyon to the Crux. I had forgotten, kinda, how much fun and how much work scurrying through Sandthrax could be, even in the easy parts. I have not done much of this kind of canyoneering in quite a while.

    We got to the crux to find two bolts there. One was up high with a shunt for a hanger, and obviously intended for making it easier for the non-leaders to jug a rope at the crux. This one was removed and filled with putty. The other was lower down, near the top of the crux climb, and sported a short chain. This one was obviously intended to make it easier to complete the crux climb, once the #6 Camalots were maxed out. I removed this bolt (which was not well-placed) but did not putty it up as we were low on putty, and the position to putty it would have been incredibly awkward. Next trip through SandThrax I will try to remedy that situation.

    We then installed an aluminum stepladder and a solar-powered hoist at the crux, and cut 3" deep steps on both walls for pretty much the length of the canyon... oops, just kidding. Even though I am a feeble old man, I think the canyon should be left the way Yahweh made it! Maybe by next fall, I will be up for doing it under my own power again (or at least, with a strong team to pull me along).

    We then shimmied downcanyon back to where John patiently held the meat anchor rope. We decided to continue downcanyon and out the end, and rapped from the drilled angle at the Hueco rappel. People have climbed UP and DOWN at this point - looks plenty burly to me! We completed the canyon, finding, at another only-slightly-challenging spot another bolt (stud, with no hanger, a bit of webbing on it as tat), which we also did not remove. (Those are hard to get out).

    And we went back to camp and drank beer, with chips and salsa in the afternoon sun. Perfect!

    Perhaps one of the others will upload some pictures.

    There are likely other bolts in there waiting to be removed. I hope to get them sometime. If you are needing bolts to do Sandthrax, go do something else. Please do not place bolts in established canyons.

    Tom Jones 3/23/2016

    *for non-BG fans, that is "What The Frakk!"
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2016
  2. spinesnaper

    spinesnaper

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  3. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    Tom, thanks for repairing this damage...
  4. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    The dream team for sure with you four.

    Interesting how much traffic is in there as inferred from the evidence. Perhaps because it is close to the road?

    I think most on the forums abide by clean canyon ethics established by the community. Others, lurkers perhaps, sadly don't care. Certainly some standards are debated and will continue to be. However, bringing canyons down to a "lower level" is out of bounds. Find something(s) within your ability and your perceived level of acceptable risk. There are plenty of options out there, and many of them are bolted.

    Even better, continue on your own path of progress by going out with those with more experience who can help. You'll be amazed at the skill and ingenuity of many experienced canyoneers out there. They can teach you a lot.

    Let's preserve the outdoors as they are the best we can.
  5. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    Its a preservation of a certain style too...

    While I'm fairly pro bolt for anchors in canyons...I can certainly respect the style of the first descent. You have to choose to accept the canyon as is, which, some folks don't. I don't accept bolting everything because sport climbing is fun for example.

    Anchors continue to get chopped. And...that's ok. Part of the educational process, painful as it is.

    Interesting article:
    http://www.opengate.org/access-fund-blog/2013/04/style-vs-ethics.html
    Dave Melton and Mountaineer like this.
  6. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    Guess that's my cue, I've told the story to a few people in person, but I guess I might as well fess up and admit my mistakes online. It was a late September day and we arrived at Sandthrax CG around 3PM. This was my third trip through and the two previous trips through were completed in about 4.5 hrs car to car so while we were cutting it a little close I figured we had enough safety margin sun wise. The first problem arose early in canyon, but after the rappel so we were committed, when I went first down what is a partner assist for LMAR. I was hanging off a section of webbing attached to my friend and dropped the last few feet, landed wrong and twisted my ankle pretty bad. It was a stupid mistake and easily avoidable, a few extra feet on the sling I was using and I could have made it down under control instead of sliding. After a few minutes of rest my ankle still hurt, but as long as I didn't rotate it side to side it was fine, I just had to make sure I placed my foot carefully with each movement.

    FF to the crux, we had 2 #6 cam's with us which was good, unfortunately it was supposed to be my responsibility to climb the crux. I tried, but with my bum ankle I wasn't able to make the moves, so my friend was up. He actually did a great job and was able to top out the cams, but at the expense of his stamina reserves and he wasn't able to get out of the crux and move down canyon so he has me lower him down to see if I can get out now that he has topped out the cams, which I was able to do. My buddy says he has no energy left and so he goes down into the bottom of the silo to rest. At this point it was just before 8pm and we had maybe 30-40 min of light left and about that much canyon as well. I gave my friend about 15 min and asked him if he could finish, promising him that there was a better spot to rest maybe 10 min down canyon, but he said no he was finished for the day.

    With no room for two of us down in the silo and no way I could spend the night at the top of the crux I told my friend I had to finish the canyon, so I fixed my rope at the bolts up top and left to finish the canyon. Fortunately someone else had left 2 ropes in canyon that we were hauling out so I had something I rap on at the hueco rappel which was the last rap in canyon. The ropes that we were rescuing were pretty chewed up though so the best I could do was rig it so there was enough good rope to get me just past the overhanging lip at the start of the rap and downclimb the rest and at this point I was moving by headlamp which was actually really cool, but I wouldn't recommend doing the whole canyon that way. What little was left of the canyon was pretty straightforward and after getting back to camp and some food in me I decided to head back with some friends that we were meeting up with to try and lower a blanket and some food and water to my friend. Once we got close we saw a headlamp shining around on the walls which made it easy to locate my friend. Turns out that once the sun went down and the wind started whipping through the silo he found the motivation to finish the canyon. The way the rope got stuck was that he re rigged the hueco rap with my good rope to rap on and the rescue ropes as pull cords and when he went to pull the rope the crappy rope snapped and fell back into the crack and was unreachable and thus had no way to pull my rope.

    Talking to my friend immediately after the canyon made it sound like the main rope was trapped in the crack with no way to reach it which is why we didn't go in the next day to retrieve it, I thought it would require a descent from the top to get it which no one in the group was up for. Maybe a flash flood washed it out of the crack or maybe I misunderstood my friend, who was very tired and not completely coherent when we got to him, but when we went in this weekend it was hanging there easy to reach and made ascending past the overhang at the top of the hueco rap quite easy.
  7. AW~

    AW~

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    Thats what "they" say to pretend to care....that doesnt stop the graffiti, trespassing, and ruining the environment for a social media post.
    When I say "they", I do acknowledge the effort they go through to devolve, and not say that they are simply ignorant.
    FYI: Many of "them" are on this forum, but usually post in hypocrite/inconsistent status. One day bashing bolts, the next mentioning the placement of them....both receiving many likes. They hate rope grooves, unless it is their own photos showing clear rope groove destruction.

    Its like dont be hater, everyone does a first descent nowadays. Ive been asked 'Didnt you descend that route before?'....not knowing of course that it gets me defensive. 'How do you know? Did I leave an impact?'....it throws em for a loop how someone doesnt want it known or leave an impact. Now if you will excuse me, I might rappel off my roof so I can put up a new route on ropewiki...first descent yeah yahh !
  8. Brejcha

    Brejcha

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    Thanks dudes. I'm glad you got this started.

    I was bummed to hear about all the hardware going into Sandthrax. Schasch and I tried to rap in to take that crux bolt out (or was it that mess of purple webbing and jammed chockstone? or both?) a few years ago. Cold wind, poor rim anchor options, a misbehaving dog and a hangover held us back - but I always intended to go back and pull all that out. There was talk of removing Hank's old angle at the big silo too, but consensus wasn't clear one way or the other so it stayed. I can't really see bolts making this canyon much safer or easier (aside form the OW, and come on man, that's cheating!), but they certainly detract from the experience.

    Another note, it's interesting how many parties had descended this canyon before it was well known. It's a lot more than one would think.


    Anywho, maybe one day I'll come back out of canyon retirement, and bring the crowbar with me.
  9. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Don't worry, purple pack wrapped with purple webbing is still in there. Looks pretty jammed up.

    T
  10. Mountaineer

    Mountaineer Is that an X slot?

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    Glad you brought this up.

    A "prominent" member of the community told me, in person, there was a lot of debate around this piton several years ago. Many were pushing for it to be removed, but the argument against removal was use on first descent. Meaning, all those who wanted it removed used it the first time they went through, but then didn't need it for subsequent descents. Thus, their argument was to remove it as it wasn't needed. However, the counter argument was that they needed it to descend their first time, so why not leave it for those who are descending for their first time.

    Comments welcome. And hopefully it doesn't digress to a bolt vs. no bolt generalized debate again.
  11. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Uh, NOT First descent, first and early public descents.
  12. Canyonero

    Canyonero

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    Thanks for sharing that. Hearing how other people overcome difficulties is inspiring and very useful when you find yourself in your own scenario.

    I'm also bummed to hear about new bolts in an established canyon. While I fully admit using (not placing) many retrobolts in my life, I've stayed off of many climbing routes and out of a few canyons because I was scared of them because the first descentionists/ascenscionists climbed it with fewer bolts than I'm comfortable climbing it with. That's not a bad thing. It's something to aspire to perhaps, or perhaps not. There are many climbs and many canyons I will never do.
  13. hank moon

    hank moon kinetically bulbous

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    No drilled angle was placed on the Oct 2001 descent; however a bolt w/homemade hanger was left on the slab above the aid portion of the escape route, and it's probably still there as no-one visits that terrain. The drilled angle was placed in Spring 2002, when Chris and Hank returned to complete the descent.
    ratagonia likes this.
  14. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Yeah, kinda.

    If the bolt is there, yeah, I will use it. But if it wasn't there, I would not freak out. Crazy thing is, that spot in the canyon is not particularly hard in context; certainly not the hardest spot in the canyon. Barely even a "silo", more of a "gaper". R-minus in an X-minus canyon.

    Tom
  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    (bump - for Tom C's excellent story of misadventure without bloodshed.)
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