Slick Rock Trip Report

In the land of dikes and cracks at Lover’s Leap and the spires at Sugarloaf and Phantom Spires, this fantastic granite dome has been overlooked for decades. Basically hidden in the bushes. Originally developed in the early 1980s by Bob Branscomb, Don Garret and Ron Vardanega, it has sported rusty ¼” bolts and a heinous bushwack approach ever since, which has dissuaded many (including us) from going there. Actually we tried to go there years ago with our kids but after bushwacking and scratching ourselves up we turned around once we got to the climbs.

I flew over it on my way back from a business trip and took some photos, and once again thought about

how good it looked from the air. Betsy and I decided to approach the dome from the top so that we didn’t have to depend on any of the old bolts. We found the approach from the side and up the dome wasn’t as much of a bushwack as heading straight to the face. We then pulled some of the old bolts we found, drilled and installed new rappel anchors to get down to the climbs and check them out. When we finally got down to see the climbs we were stunned. Empty walls of beautiful, clean steep granite with rusty bolts here and there. It was like going to an amusement park and the rides are running but no one is around – strangely empty.

We were so impressed we decided to take on the project of rebolting the old climbing routes on the dome, and perhaps putting up some of our own routes as well. After months of work and around 200 bolts, the fairly low angle dome now has around 25 old and new climbs, mostly face climbs, all moderate from 5.6 to 5.10c.

The Rebolting Project

The first trip was an eye-opener, as it must be for anyone that tries to remove old 1/4″ bolts without any knowledge of how to actually do it. After years of looking at these old rusty things on various climbs and thinking they probably just pop out – we found out many don’t (though some will…). And crowbars don’t work.

We were prepared after the first trip. I contacted ASCA and they provided us with 1/2″ five-piece stainless steel replacement bolts, anchors and rap anchors (and a “tuning fork” forked piton for removing 1/4″ bolts). I also bought chisels and smaller pitons and created some custom tools for the bolt removal. In all, they worked quite well. We also purchased 3/8″ Fixe wedge bolts, hangars, anchors, etc. for any new climbs we would do.

During the entire rebolting project – quite a few trips- we climbed the dome using a non-bushwack approach we eventually figured out that went up the side of the dome to the top where we kept a stash of bolting and bolt removal gear under a huge flake. We would then rap down to rebolt. It is a bit of a hike but we tried once to hike directly to the base of the dome and it was a massive bushwhack. We did clear a lot of brush under the climbs so you can now move along the base from climb to climb, which was almost impossible before.

Later in the project Ron Vardanega, one of the first ascensionists on many of the old climbs, and his friend Charlie Downs came out to rebolt one of Ron’s old routes (Previously unnamed, now named Crystal Blue Persuasion). On the way up the dome Ron said, “so um, why are we hiking up to the top of the dome?” Then a little later Charlie said, “so um, why are we hiking up to the top of the dome?”

Within a week Ron branched off our trail, found a bear trail (we found 9 bear scat piles on one trip in), found a granite creekbed that heads up through the bushes, then he cleared a path through the bushes the rest of the way to meet the trail we had already cleared under the climbs. So now it’s a 1 mile, 25 minute approach directly to bottom of the climbs. Nice. Thank you Ron.

Most of the old bolts were classic 1/4″ split shaft buttontop bolts with Leeper hangars. Some of these 1/4″ bolts were hard to remove – I was surprised. However some broke off immediately and some popped out right away intact with little force. Many of the bad ones were near the ground (where you don’t want them of course) and my theory is that those close to the ground get buried under snow that slides off the dome and are subject to more moisture and more freeze-thaw cycles. Anyway it is nice to know, for example, that the first (critical) bolt of should-be-may-be-a-classic 5.9 Crystal Wall Route would absolutely have not held a fall (the bolt just popped out), and now its a new 1/2″ ASCA Fixe stainless steel bolt. Sweet!

The 1/4″ bolts were taken out and the old hole reused (if they didn’t break off). However climbers had added bolts here and there to two of the routes without removing the old bolts, so in places it was a bit of a mess. In fact the climb Friction Affliction was double bolted the whole way with four bolts at some of the belays. Unfortunately the “new” bolts were rusty 3/8″ plated steel sleeve bolts likely from the 90’s. I sent a photo to Greg Barnes of the ASCA and he recommended that we replace these as well – which we did. Rather, we pulled the 1/4″ and placed a new stainless steel bolt there, then unscrewed the 3/8″ inch and epoxied over the hole.

Crystal Chute was the first climb we actually climbed after rebolting and we were thrilled that it met our expectations. It is a great route that starts up past a dike, into a flake system that runs out and dumps you back on the face and then up over a small roof. As with most climbs, it gets runout on the second pitch, but the slope of the dome eases so it is an easy romp at that point.

Nerdy Bolt InfoThe top photo is of a 1/2″ “5 piece” stainless steel sleeve bolt. Obviously really bomber but you need two hands to place them, one to hold the bolt and one to hammer – so they are difficult to use on lead. Interestingly, the shaft in the 1/2″ bolt is 3/8″, so in shear (a pure downward fall) it is a similar strength as the 3/8″ bolt. However much of the sleeve is in contact with the rock so it is stronger in an outward pull, and apparently will last longer (but hopefully we are talking about 200 years vs. 100 years) in areas with climbers falling often and yarding on the bolts – probably not the case on the dome. We used ASCA-provided 1/2″ bolts on much of the rebolting effort until we ran out and then we used 3/8″.

The middle photo is classic 1970s, early 80s Leeper hanger. 95,000 made! They have been recalled long ago with a personal letter by Ed Leeper to please get these old hangers off the rock. The stud is a split shaft bolt which basically has a lump in the shaft and you hammer it into the rock.The bottom photo is a 3/8″ stainless steel wedge bolt. The hanger in the top and bottom photo is the same, a 3/8″ Fixe stainless steel hangar (never mix metals as it sets up micro-currents of electricity which leads to corrosion).

A wedge bolt is much easier to use on lead because the end of the bolt is less than 3/8″ so you can stick it in the hole with one hand, then tap it in with one hand, all with one hand still on the rock. Obviously, removing both hands from the rock often isn’t an option. Beyond the rebolting effort on the core group of old climbs (we kept finding more old climbs and rebolted those with 3/8″) we used 3/8″ wedge bolts on all the new climbs. Finally, we bought more 1/2″ bolts to use as anchor bolts for the sport climbs.Wedge bolts are also quite a bit less expensive. We used a torque wrench with both types of bolts. When leading the leader would use a smaller wrench and then the follower would use the heavier torque wrench to finish it up.

An attempt to repurpose old bolts into jewelry.

Hail while coming off the dome. It hurt.

In all our trips to the dome we never saw any climbers although we know the dome is visited on occasion. We encountered two rangers searching for a smoldering lightning-struck tree and we also met two deer hunters who at first seemed nice but whom I grew to greatly dislike as we followed their trail of empty water bottles, tissues, plastic bags and dead squirrels back to their truck.

Bob’s old guidebook stopped at the Crystal Wall area, but we knew there was more from the first day when we found other old anchors using 1/4″ bolts at the top of the dome. We eventually found a couple of climbs below these and replaced those bolts as well (anyone know who did these? – what we now call Urethra and Iliac?). Next to those climbs we found an area that was unclimbed so we spent some days there putting up entirely new routes.

I scared myself putting up Naptime, a 5.9 with few good stances and while packing our big oversized Makita rotary hammer. You don’t want to fall with that thing. At one point the drill ran out of power and stopped, I panicked and stuck a wedge bolt in the shallow hole and girth-hitched a sling around it. I then realized it was permanently stuck that way and I should have put it in temporarily backwards. It was hell getting rid of that bolt, which finally succumbed to a sawzall, tapped back in and epoxied over. (I didn’t read until later that you can connect a drill and basically spin a wedge bolt to death).

Crystal Crescent, a sustained 5.10a/b sport route, is a terrific climb on wonderfully clean granite. Betsy found it, planned it, we climbed it several times on top rope and then she bolted the route. It was nice being the only ones around as we set up a shade shelter for our dogs and just made a day of it. Later we did the same with the 5.10c sport route Yap, with our daughter Belyn working out the moves for the first time on top rope. We identified Flight of the Centurion early on and it looked impossible, but after cleaning out the moss and dirt a thin finger crack appeared and the eventual lead ended up easier than it first appeared. It turned out many climbs ended up at the same anchor under what we call The Arch and we ended up putting some nice Fixe sport anchors there.

Shade for Bodie and Ande as we put up Crystal Crescent

After decades of little use, Crystal Wall (with immaculate granite) route gets some climbers

Belyn on the second ascent of Ice House Roof. That isn’t the roof.

Betsy drilling the second belay spot. That’s the roof.

This is the finger tip start of the ultra-classic, 5.13+ test piece Crystal Canine

Belyn on September Flake in the October Wall area

First Ascentionist Ron Vardanega rebolting his old route, Crystal Blue Persuasion

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