Slab Alley Restoration Project

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Anders Ourom
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Slab Alley Restoration Project

Post by Anders Ourom » Mon Aug 31, 2009 11:24 pm

Slab Alley was the first route done on the Apron at Squamish, finished in 1961, almost 50 years ago. It was climbed by Jim Baldwin and Tony Cousins, both of whom are no longer with us, with bits of aid, and freed within a year or so. It was once a popular climb, but now is rarely done. It offers a variety of climbing - a nifty traverse, lots of easy to moderate slab climbing, climbing up water grooves (one almost chimney sized), and so on. There are only a few short sections that are a bit difficult.

I'm thinking of restoring Slab Alley to climbable state, and spent most of Sunday dangling on it, doing some cleaning, thinking about how it might be done. It'll take some work - I last did the route in 2004, and saw little sign that anyone has climbed it since. It will take some work, some thought, some discussion and maybe resiting some of the bolts. The idea is that it would recognize the 50th anniversary, and Jim and Tony, respect the history of the climb, and if done well restore a moderate route on a less-traveled part of the Apron. Pineapple Peel might also be restored. This might slightly reduce the "pig in the python" scene often seen elsewhere on the Apron.

I have photos and a description from the first ascent of Slab Alley, and much later information, and am asking climbers who were active in the 1960s what they think would be appropriate. It's going to take some work and time to get it right, so thoughts and help are welcome.

A description, that doesn't entirely coincide with those in guidebooks:

1. Climb about 20 m up a slab, or the corner just to its left, to a tree belay below a flake on a headwall. (5.5) (The flake is where Pineapple Peel diverges - nice gymnastic bit. It is the south end of the crack extending across to the start of Diedre. The entire right lower Apron is a gigantic exfoliation slab.)

2. Climb diagonally right about 10 m on slabs to an overlap (5.6) with a step-up move. There's a bolt there - replaced, fairly modern. After a few more moves (5.7 - 5.8), there's a second bolt - more accurately, a stud remaining from 1961. 2 - 3 m higher, there are another two (modern) bolts very close together - placed sometime in the 1970s for Mobius Variation, and well off route - at least, if you want your second to still like you. Because from the second bolt you go left and even a bit down, to the start of a crack that leads straight left. After a few moves there's a third bolt (placed 1974, replaced late 1980s), then you toe or finger traverse left for 5 - 6 metres (cleaned this on Sunday - mostly clotted twigs) to a fourth (still old) bolt, also placed in 1974 or so. (Those bolts were placed so that it wasn't necessary to place pins in the horizontal crack. With modern gear, they're not in the right places.) The crack steepens for 2 - 3 m, then levels out to a nice cedar belay. (30 - 35 m total; the crack is the south end of the upper long horizontal crack coming over from Sparrow.)

3. Straight up easy slabs past a bolt (30 m) to a three bolt ladder at a steep bit. The ladder was placed on the FA, and has been replaced. It's 5.9 just left of the bolts, or there's a 5.8 way up a scoop to the right, leading to a ledge with a two bolt belay. The three bolts aren't quite where they're wanted.

4. A mantle, then left and a bit up (10 m) into a giant solution groove - sometimes called the elephant steps. It's big enough to chimney in a few places. Straight up this (a few cracks for protection) for 30 m to a crack and tree belay. (5.7) (There are two chopped bolts here - rather odd. Both that there would be bolts beside a good natural belay, and that anyone would bother to place, let alone remove, them. Maybe some temporary thing, as it's far from the beaten path.)

5. Straight up easy solution grooves to another fir belay. (50 m, some protection, 5.5) Half way up this pitch, you can traverse off right to the middle of the 'slabs' descent. At or near its top, you can also go right - it's a generally low angle area.

6. At or near this point, Slab Alley originally went left, to the flake on the last pitch of what is now Banana Peel, leading to the block. There may have been a bolt somewhere on the traverse. Some have gone straight up - there are options, pretty moderate, although not well protected.

7. The true last pitch of Slab Alley, on the first ascent, was Boomstick Crack.

So there are challenges ahead. Part of it is that the route is fairly low-angle, plus the traverse crack on the second pitch catches stuff - the pin scars particularly. Lots of water flushes down it - those solution grooves are impressive! Unless it's climbed regularly, it won't stay clean. But I think it may be worth the effort, and would contribute to climbing at Squamish. Anyone have any comments or ideas, or interested in helping?

I have some photos, from 1974, 2004, and Sunday, and will try to find time to post a few on Tuesday. I may climb some of it later this week, with someone who did it in the 1960s, and learn from that.

Thanks!

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Post by Dru » Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:07 am

Nice description Anders.

There's also a short 10d variation where, at the top of the 5.9 bolt ladder, instead of going right to the belay, you go straight up into the solution groove, with some weird mantling on not much. I don't have a guidebook in front of me but I believe the Campbell guide has a FA credit listed for this. It's entirely out of character with the rest of the route but still a fun boulder problem in the middle of nowhere.

Anyways, I guess my point is that this 10d is best done by linking from the belay below the bottom of the 5.9 bolt ladder, up to the belay at the top of p4. You can link it all in one pitch with ( I think) a 55m rope or longer.

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Post by psi4ce » Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:10 am

Slab Alley has been on my Squamish tick list for a couple of years and I have been meaning to climb it. I know it doesn't get climbed a lot but I didn't realize it was really dirty or whatever.

If Slab Alley was to be restored, I would definitely wait until the project was complete to get the best climbing experience.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:53 am

Thanks. Yes, one challenge is what to do with the little bolt ladder, and the variation bolt/mantle that Drew mentions. The logical, straighter and slightly easier line is 3 - 4 m to the right of the bolts - you'd come up the easy slab, step up, and then a few slab moves to the bolt belay. No traversing required. It would require re-siting the bolts - perhaps one where the slab steepens, then another half way to the belay. But then there'd be the question of what to do with the bolt ladder?

Very few ever seem to have done the weird variation mantle move that Drew mentions - essentially at the top of the three bolts, there's another bolt, and you face climb/mantle up into the base of the elephant steps. It's wildly out of character with the rest of the climb, but should remain a variation.

Here's a picture from 1974 of that bit. (Climber John Arts.) He's just at the top of the ladder - the third bolt down and to his right. The anchor above is that for the mantle/groove move, which can be used as a directional before moving right. I'll try to get some more pictures up later.
Image

One thing I'm thinking of is to establish a separate finish, so it doesn't merge with Slab Alley at the top. It will depend on where exactly it would end at Broadway - not much point in a separate finish if it's in everyone's way. But if a clear independent finish is possible, in character with the rest of the route, maybe with one or two bolts, it may be helpful.

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Post by rockstarlette » Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:04 am

Sounds like a great idea... and an awesome commemoration. I would definitely climb this route. Thanks for your effort and thoughtfulness.

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Post by slopr » Tue Sep 01, 2009 12:16 pm

Very cool bit of history, this route has always sounded interesting to me but where it actually starts and ends has always been elusive. The water grooves are very prominent from below and look super cool, kinda like the ones before the final flake on banana peel but way more prominent and much longer, this description helps to clarify a lot of things. Thanks for the efforts, it's cool that so many people are into restoring classic climbs these days. It gives us that were not climbing at Squamish in the early days (don't think my dad was in kindergarten when this one was put up) a chance to experience some of these historical routes. I would love to see a photo of the beginning of this route or where the original start was done (not the banana peel approach) as i have never been quite sure. Thanks for the great photo!

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Post by tedium » Tue Sep 01, 2009 5:44 pm

A couple of years back, Andy Cairns and I did Frankenstein Tradster, linked to Slab Alley and then finished up the Buttress. This was an enjoyable combo with interesting and varied climbing. We did the 10d variation into the elephant steps and found it much easier than the "10a" second pitch of Frankenstein Tradster (which isn't to say we thought it was'nt 10d). The solution pockets (elephant steps) alone make Slab Alley an amazing climb and well worth reclaiming.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:00 pm

Where/what is the Frankenstein Tradster? Is that the bolted route up the steep slab to the right of the first part of Slab Alley, below the Groove? Or?

Perhaps people haven't been climbing Slab Alley because of the undead monster in the area. Frankenstein wasn't exactly cute and cuddly. Not sure what could be done about that - I'm OK at scrubbing and digging, don't mind a bit of trundling, and will put in a bolt if needed. But monsters are beyond me. Perhaps some more expert cleaner can advise.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:33 pm

So here are a few pictures of Slab Alley, old and new.

Last Sunday morning:
Image
This shows the lower half, which starts on a low angle slab hidden in the trees. You traverse right and up, step up a few metres, then traverse left on the shrubby (no longer) crack.

The upper part, 20 to 50 m to the side of the 'slabs' descent from the Apron.
Image
It's fairly low angle. The route goes up the grooves. At some point you can apparently traverse left into what is now Banana Peel. Or continue up to the lone tree below Broadway. From there to Broadway is TBA.

Looking down, more or less from the same point. The upper part of the elephant steps.
Image

The elephant steps, from below:
Image

The second pitch in 1973 - climber Steve Morgan. He's just at the step up move - go up 2 - 3 m, then traverse straight left along the crack. At that time, you placed pins in the crack, but in 1974 two bolts were added along the traverse. Modern cams and nuts change the equation there.
Image

There's a fine photo from the same point taken in 1961 or 1962, taken by Ed Cooper. It's of Tony Cousins on an early ascent of Slab Alley. Go to http://www.edcooper.com/mountains1.html, scroll down to "Some British Columbia Mountain Images", then click on "Click here for more British Columbia Mountain Images". You'll find it. The crack was much more vegetated then - traffic and pin placements seem to have taken care of the shrubs.

The same location last Sunday, pre-scrubbing.
Image

And from the other direction, roughly the stepup move.
Image
Most of what you see is a mat of twigs and stuff, caught in the tiny things that have grown in the crack. The crack diagonals, and you can either walk it or finger traverse it - it's low enough angle that you can actually do it without the crack at all. The last bit is a bit steeper, but excellently protected.

The second bolt, just above the step up, before a few slab moves to the crack.
Image
An artifact that belongs in a museum, and probably a main reason why no one climbs the route any more.

Another old bolt, this one just before the steepening of the crack. Not needed there any more, but maybe part way back along the traverse?
Image

Traverse, post cleaning. Some work to do yet.
Image

Looking up, roughly from that point.
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The route follows the rope to the bulge. The three bolt ladder is there - quick draw on the bottom one. The earlier picture showed John at the top of the 5.9 version, left of the bolts - they're almost out of reach. Another variant is the scoop to the right, which leads to the belay, and is about 5.8, but has no protection. Here's Steve doing it.
Image

And here's looking down on the traverse from the bottom of the bolt ladder. It kind of steepens as it goes down.
Image

Perhaps this will help illustrate the situation. There are some interesting questions to consider before deciding what to do.

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Post by pinner » Wed Sep 02, 2009 7:43 am

Looks like another grand day out! As someone else above has said, this has been on my list for some time - I assumed it would be overgrown, but not that much.

Great work Anders, much appreciated!

A note about the link to Ed Cooper's photo; my browser came up with the ol' 404 error when clicking the link, but by eliminating the "/mountains1.html", I was able to go to the home page and find the "Mountains 1" link on the left.

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Post by harihari » Wed Sep 02, 2009 8:56 am

Anders-- do it. Looks great. If you need a hand, let me know-- I'll spend a day hanging off ropes and digging, and I have a drill.

chris

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Post by tedium » Wed Sep 02, 2009 10:02 am

Hi Anders,
Frankenstein Tradster was put up by Brian Pegg and others. A topo showing it's location relative to Slab Alley is at: http://www.squamishclimbing.com/topos/F ... f-0607.pdf. If the link does'nt work go to squamishclimbing.com click through to topos under the "The Chief Area" and open "Frankenstein" topo.
This topo shows the "original" Slab Alley start - not sure if this is consistent with your description of the route.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:45 am

Thanks - I was able to look at the topo. It explains some of what's up there. Looks like all the more reason for re-opening this area.

It looks like the much of the third pitch of FT coincides with the upper half of the first pitch of MV, with bolts added - I noticed them on Sunday, and was wondering. SA is marked in roughly the right place on the topo. It shows a rappel from the end of the second pitch of FT - "40 m rap to trail, 20 m rap to SA anchor". Which helps explain the off-route double bolt at the stepup on SA. (There's no stance there, and the bolts are very close together and not equipped for rappelling.) There was a 'third bolt' at the stepup from sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was placed for protection on early attempts at what became MV. I'm not sure when it got converted into a double modern bolt, or what purpose it serves. It seems unlikely that people will often rappel there, and it's off-route for SA. An awkward spot to belay, too.

Given that it would be nice to restore not just SA but MV and also Pineapple Peel, some thought needed. One solution may be:
1. Remove the double bolt anchor.
2. Place a pair of bolts after the stepup on SA, where there's a little stance. They would serve for protection for those simply climbing the route, and as a belay for those who wanted to split up SA there, or doing MV. Hopefully people belaying there wouldn't create a fustercluck - it's not a great spot.
3. Clean up the first pitch of MV, perhaps replace the directional/double bolt with a bolt somewhat higher (i.e. not accessible from SA, but still useful for MV), and replace the existing (sole) protection bolt, which is somewhat higher. That would give MV a belay, and a total of four bolts, two (more or less) original, two added by FT.
4. Clean up (eventually) the second pitch of MV, which leads up and right from the SA bolt belay (end of third pitch) to (more or less) the bottom of the slabs descent.
5. And, of course, finish cleaning the SA traverse, and re-site the two existing (1974) bolts on it so that combined with modern gear it's a reasonable proposition. Bearing in mind that SA will always involve traverses (unfashionable), and lots of easy slab and groove climbing without a lot of protection.

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Post by Dru » Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:54 am

Anders, rereading this, I've done Slab Alley about 5 times over the years, and instead of breaking up the first few pitches your way, (short p1, long p2) we have always done one long pitch from the ground to the two bolt belay where MV and SA diverge, and then made the traverse p2 from the bolt belay. Done this way the bolt belay is not off-route and there is no reason for your second to be cursing you. Also it cuts down on rope drag while traversing.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Wed Sep 02, 2009 12:13 pm

Thanks. I believe the suggested approach would address this. There would still be a double bolt belay at the start of the traverse left, for those wanting it. That belay would simply be re-sited to a better location, about 2 m lower than where it is now - a location that has the additional benefit of being level with or even a bit below the traverse. The existing location requires the second to downclimb a bit to get started. The re-sited belay would be at the original location of the second bolt - the stud shown above. The double bolt belay, located as it is now, isn't well placed for belaying or the traverse, and has never been part of SA - although I appreciate that some, lacking any better alternative, use it anyway.

It seems like the various bolts on SA have been erratically re-placed over the years, perhaps without a lot of thought.

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