Slab Alley Restoration Project

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Post by squamish climber » Wed Apr 21, 2010 9:36 am

Nice going Anders and thanks for posting some photos -- They do tell an interesting story.

Those solution groves look like fun to climb. Are there any other climbs in Squamish like that?
That old bolt from 1961 is cool. Are those home-made from angle aluminium or could you buy hangers like that?
I guess this bolt was drilled on lead - would they be hanging on gear while placing the bolt?

Most of us know about Jim Baldwin (first ascent of the Grand Wall with Ed Cooper) but not as many know about Tony Cousins. I remember reading about his tragic death from a heart attack while climbing Sally Five Fingers two years ago. The article in the Squamish Chiefnews interviewed several of his friends and longtime climbing partners including Jim Sinclair. He told an interesting story about Tony on the first ascent:

“He was an extraordinary man,” said Sinclair. “Jim Baldwin called him a ‘G-Man,’ meaning guts. One day when he and Baldwin were climbing on this Slab Alley first ascent – you must realize it’s a slab and it’s 700 feet high, and nobody’s ever been here before, and you’re leading out on this thing and there’s nowhere to put protection in – Tony reached in his pocket, pulled out a sock, put it on his head and pulled his cap down over the top of the sock, and said: ‘I’ll lead.’ “He used his sock and a cap as a hardhat. That’s the kind of guy he was.” If Cousins’s name isn’t as familiar as some other celebrated rock climbers, that may be because he didn’t seek the limelight.

That's funny and ballsy at the same time. Does anybody else have any stories about Tony?
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Post by Anders Ourom » Wed Apr 21, 2010 12:43 pm

Thanks, Dave.

Anyone interested in learning more about Jim Baldwin should see http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum ... im-Baldwin His nephew, James Baldwin, is something of a climber.

The solution grooves on Slab Alley are quite unusual. There are some similar grooves on Banana Peel, but not as deep, and in places on top of the Chief. The grooves on Slab Alley you can almost get inside and chimney. High volumes of water come down them during rainy periods, with lots of small debris to abrade.

The hanger was home-made, from 6000 series (soft) angle aluminum. Perhaps Glenn would know if there were any commercial bolt hangers in 1961, but it seems unlikely. Hangers of that kind were common well into the 1970s. It was placed on lead - there's nowhere to place gear there.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Sat May 15, 2010 10:44 pm

A progress report. Work has continued, with my brother providing lots of help recently. We're up to about a fifteen person-days. The first 5/6 pitches are sort of climbable now, but still need some cleaning. The last pitch will have three variations. Sorry, no photos tonight.

We've checked/replaced the fixed anchors on the first four pitches, up to the belay above the elephant steps. A fair bit of cleaning is still needed here, especially the first two pitches. (No need to rush...) Only one truly new climbing bolt has been added, on the fourth pitch, but the location of some bolts has changed, and we added new bolt belays at the end of the first pitch (stance just below the arch), and for the second pitch. We also put in three bolts to the right of the original mis-placed bolt ladder, following a natural line which is maybe 5.9. The existing bolt ladder is awkward for both leader and second, but will stay for now.

There will be two or three upper pitches, depending if you have a 60 or 70 m rope. I'll describe it as for three.

5 (30 m): Straight up easy grooves to a bolt, 10 m up a slightly steeper/smoother cleaned streak (5.7/5.8) past a second bolt, then left across the top of a pancake flake and up a groove to a stance and gear belay.

6 (30 m): To the top of the groove, then more or less straight up a clean streak (5.8) past two bolts to a belay at a conifer in a pothole. As the tree is uninspiring, we placed a bolt belay there.

In other words, today we committed the sin of placing four bolts on a pitch that in the 1960s seems to have been done without any of them, may have been done in hush puppies, and which Jim Baldwin described as "easy". Mea culpa! We overdrilled the holes, just in case... But if you're up there, please refrain from adding or subtracting bolts - let's have some discussion first, eh? Glenn, Hamish and Big Jim all seem to agree that the objective of making the route more climbable, and climbed, may justify the addition of some bolts. I'm looking forward to getting them up there to comment.

7A (20m): Straight left and bit up past one bolt (to be replaced) along a cleaned streak, intersecting the upper part of the flake of what is now Banana Peel. This probably won't be commonly done, but is the original line.

7B (50m): More or less straight up to Broadway, following a cleaned streak. (No bolts, yet.) There's a 10 m 5.9/5.10a section in the middle, and a nifty bit getting to Broadway. Glenn (Tricouni) says: "People including me, were doing that variant by about 1963. There never was any pro, so I'd be in favour of leaving that unprotected as a bit of spice for the bolder folks. It's not that hard, and people do have the option of the original finish or whipping up and right towards the bushes." More discussion needed, but if they did that unprotected in 1964, I'm definitely not worthy.

7C (15 m): Up and then right, and a bit down, to easy ground. (The 'escape'.) The only challenge here will be that it involves a traverse, but I suppose if someone gets that far, they'll figure it out.

Overall, the climb will involve some 5.9. Those comfortable with Snake and Sparrow should be OK, those who struggle on Banana Peel or Diedre maybe not, especially as there are traverses.

Pitch 1 (30 m): Up an unprotected slab (5.7) or the corner to its left (5.7 - needs cleaning) to a tree, then an awkward move right onto an easy slab ramp which leads right and up (needs cleaning) to a bolt belay under the arch.

Pitch 2 (40 m): Up and right a few m to clip a high bolt, step up, a 5.9 move, then easier to a second bolt, then straight left past a third and a fourth bolt (5.8), then either hand traversing or walking a crack as it gradually widens, past a steep bit, to a bolt belay standing on a stumpy thing.

Pitch 3 (50 m): Straight up easy grooves past a "heart attack" bolt, to a steepening. Three bolts on the right (5.9 or so, could be aided) lead to belay bolts at a ledge. (You can also use the old bolt ladder.)

Pitch 4 (55 m): Up, then straight left past a new bolt (the one and only in the bottom four pitches) into a big groove. Straight up the groove, which mostly involves high steps (arm bars, gastons, and heel-toes feasible), but which isn't protected until it eases off about 20 m up - we're thinking about that. Then continue up easier grooves to a crack/tree belay to the left.

And the rest you know about.

As mentioned, we're not done yet, especially cleaning the bottom. But the more skilled, adventurous and experienced may want to have a look, and comment. That is, if you're comfortable on Apron 5.10, you'll probably figure it out, grumbling en route about more cleaning needed.

ps The approach trail has been restored. Essentially,it starts at the three stones blocking the path/road, just above the highway, and heads left and eventually up. Up the slabs/prow to a wooden power pole, and the trail should then be visible.

pps The bolt on the direct variation to the fourth pitch, above the bolt ladder, was placed by Bob Woodsworth on rappel in about 1963 - probably the first rap-bolt at Squamish or even Canada. Although it's only three metres, it's 5.10+, and so nominally may then have been the most difficult rock "climb" in Canada.

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Post by Tricouni » Tue May 18, 2010 11:14 am

In other words, today we committed the sin of placing four bolts on a pitch that in the 1960s seems to have been done without any of them, may have been done in hush puppies, and which Jim Baldwin described as "easy".
The Hush-Puppies climb definitely happened. I was sharing a house with a couple of other guys, and a few Squamish climbers talked one of my house-mates (John Reitsma - Hamish will remember him) into climbing Slab Alley. John had never done any climbing at all and had no rock shoes, but we figured that somehow we'd get him up it in tight-fitting hush-puppies. We had enough people, and John was on a short, tight rope with people close ahead and behind, so he wasn't going anywhere. Tony Ellis was definitely along, almost certainly Gordon Dunham (good climber when he wanted to be, and still a friend of Hamish's after all these years) and possibly Hamish himself, but I can't be sure, and a couple of other people. The climb went off without problems, but John had certainly had enough by the time we got to Broadway.

I think we retired to the Cecil (pub in Vancouver) for the eveing.

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Post by rolfr » Thu May 20, 2010 5:59 pm

Hi Anders
I probably climbed SA 20- 30 times in the 70,s and 80,s. Please don’t add any bolts to the upper pitches, these pitches are about route finding and never need to be harder than 5.7. They may seem heady but are no more difficult than the upper pitches of Diedre. The odd piece of protection is available if you hunt for it.

The upper pitches where always used as walk down off Broadway and way to find booty that beginner climbers inevitable left behind. Yes there is a 5.9+ variation at the top, but there are always easy alternatives to exit the climb. No need for any bolts here! The adrenaline seekers will love the heady unprotected finish and the novice will find the safe way to the top.

The bolt ladder should be rebolted with new 3/8” bolts in the exact location of the old 1/4’ bolts, this was many climbers introduction to 5.10 and has significant historical value . It was my first 5.10 as a young punk stretching my wings, lead in sticky Zellers runners.

Just my humble opinion.

Thank you for all your hard work, SA has a significant role in Squamish climbing history and will be a stellar addition. Now, what to do about Mobius variation?

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Post by Anders Ourom » Thu May 27, 2010 5:05 pm

Rolf, I'm in Yosemite, but should be back Saturday or Sunday. Maybe we can do Slab Alley in its present condition sometime in the near future, and talk about what's next.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Thu Jun 24, 2010 10:24 am

An update. Work has intermittently continued over the last month, and the route has been beta-tested with my brother (several times), Brock Wilson, and Jeff Thomson. There are still bits of cleaning to do on the first, second and third pitches, and bolts to be placed/added on the last pitch. (Rolf may critique/help.) Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we'll get the last pitch done this weekend, and the other tidying. Slab Alley is climbable now for a competent party, but not finished in terms of general public use. Expect bits that need more cleaning, bits of grit, and an undone final pitch.

The descriptions and photos in the various guidebooks are generally correct, except for a variation on the third pitch, and the last pitch. Likewise for the approach trail, which has been reopened. Pitch by pitch:

1. (35 m) Climb a corner on the left (5.6, but often damp), or an unprotected slab (5.7) to a tree at the base of a steep wall and crack. (Either way about 20m to the tree.) Step right from the tree (5.8 move) to a ramp that leads right and up (15 m) to a bolt belay at a stance beneath an overlap. Soon after the step-up, a cam (0.3 or 0.4 C4, or maybe #1 or #2 TCU) can be placed high, to protect the second, and there are other protection possibilities from there to the belay.

2. (35 m) Go up and right a few m from the belay to a bolt at a step. Climb past the bolt (mantle, 5.9) to a second bolt, then straight left to a third and then fourth bolt, just above a horizontal crack. After the fourth bolt, continue straight left along the crack, past a steeper bit (5.8), to a bolt belay on a down-hanging tree. (Leaders should think of their seconds, and place ample gear on the traverse after the bolts. There are excellent placements. It seems easiest to me to mostly finger traverse after the fourth bolt. Leaders should also be attentive to belaying their seconds on the traverse.)

3. (45 m) Go back along the crack for a few m, then up and left into a groove with shallow potholes. Straight up the groove (class 5) to a bolt, then up and a bit right to a cleaned patch at a steeper bit. Climb past three bolts (various sub-routes possible) to a bolt belay (5.9). [Alternatively, the original bolt ladder is well to the left, but harder and more awkward.]

4. (55m) Mantle up from the belay, then left (class 5) past a bolt for 10 m to a large groove. Up the groove via some high steps (ungradeable), with protection after about 15 m, then it eases off into a low-angle groove. Belay to a stout tree on the left (actually, there are two), or to gear in the good flake crack just above. In the spirit of the first ascent, you get to make your own belay here.

5. (65 m) Look for a cleaned streak. Straight up an easy groove (25m), then slabs (5.7) past two bolts, then left into a a prominent crack/groove. Up the groove past a deciduous tree (good crack, anchors and stance here for those with 60 m ropes), then continue past two more bolts (5.7) to a fir in a pothole, where there is a bolt belay.

6A. (60 m) Straight left along a cleaned streak, then up and left (5.8) into what is now the last part of Banana Peel, and so to Broadway. (Bolt to be replaced here.)

6b. (50 m) Up and a bit right from the belay, then back left to a steepening, and 15 - 20 m of 5.9+ (?), easing off to Broadway. (No bolts here yet.)

6c. (40 m) Up and right, continue up and right, eventually to a belay just below Broadway. Maybe 5.8, have to look at it, clean, think, etc. But may provide a reasonable independent finish.

6d. (20 m) Up and right from the belay, then down and right, and so into the slabs descent. Class 5, some protection available.

If anyone climbs it in the near future, all feedback welcome. Also, I may be looking for someone to do it with on Sunday, if weather allows.

ps Sorry, no topo yet. I'm not much of a drawer. But maybe I'll do something with a photo.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Sun Jul 04, 2010 9:55 pm

Almost but not quite finished. There's still a bit of cleaning to do on the first pitch, and possibly a bolt to be added near the start of the traverse on that pitch. And perhaps a bit of touching up here and there throughout, plus tidying up and patching the old bolts. Hoping to finish this week, and then post a decent report with photos.

Today re-placed the one bolt on the original last pitch to Broadway - where you traverse up and across into the top of what's now Banana Peel [5.8]. Plus placed three bolts on the new direct finish, so it is a bit sporting - is that enough?

Some general thoughts:
- The route should now be a reasonable proposition for parties (leader and second) who are confident on 5.9, and when done, for those who are OK with 5.8+. If you do Sparrow and Snake and are comfortable, have at it, and provide some feedback on finishing touches. (The route descriptions in the guidebooks, and what's here, should be more than enough information.)
- It's a bit gritty in places, and will be until the next good rain. The grit sometimes includes steel wires from brushes, which have an annoying habit of working themselves into ropes.
- I've tried to find the right balance between adventure and opportunity, always a hard one, especially with a climb with a lot of history. You'll get to place lots of gear (sometimes gear and bolts mixed on a pitch), make two or three gear belays, do some traverses, etc.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Sun Jul 04, 2010 10:10 pm

If anyone is interested in climbing Slab Alley this week, perhaps combined with a bit of work on the first pitch, let me know. But those wanting a new adventure who are up to it should also just go to it. All considered opinions welcome in terms of what's been done, finishing details, and so on. The idea has been to restore the route, respect its history, try for a reasonable balance between adventure and opportunity, re-open a route with a separate start and finish(es), re-open that side of the Apron, and to minimize the number of added bolts. There's still room for discussion of the last bits. (Also, still hoping to figure a line with a consistent but independent finish - the direct variation may be easy 5.10.)

Overall, on the original line, there are two new protection and four new belay bolts in the first four pitches, and four new protection and two new belay bolts on the fifth pitch. (Total 15 protection, 8 belay; formerly 10 protection, 2 belay.) The general idea was to be a bit conservative - not a place for 'convenience' bolting. All holes have been overdrilled, in case it turns it something isn't right. Plans are to go back and clean up and patch the old holes.

ps Does anyone else get annoyed when when post the number "five point eight" and the 5.8 appears?

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Post by Anders Ourom » Mon Jul 12, 2010 1:22 pm

Slab Alley is now pretty much finished, and open for climbing. Be prepared for a modest adventure. I'm hoping that some experienced 5.8/5.9 climbers will do it in the near future, and provide feedback - I already know that 5.10 climbers won't have much difficulty! But it's meant as a route for the common climber, that is those who lead 5.9 to 5.10. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, god must have liked common climbers, because she made so many of them...

Pitch by pitch:

Trail: As in the guidebooks, though now somewhat over-written amongst the boulders. If you get to a triple wooden power pole on a slab, you're close. You end up at a slab/bay above a nice little forest, with steeper walls to L and R.

1. (35 m) Climb the corner on the left (5.6, sometimes damp), or an unprotected slab (5.7) to a tree at the base of a steep wall. (Either way about 20m to the tree.) Step/mantle up and right from the tree (5.8 move), clip a bolt, then follow a ramp right and up (15 m - class 5) to a bolt belay at a stance beneath an overlap. One may place cams at a few places between the bolt and the belay, sling the tree, etc.

2. (35 m) Up and right 3 m from the belay to a bolt. Climb past the bolt (high step, 5.8/5.9) to a second bolt, then straight left (5.7) to a third and then fourth bolt, above a horizontal crack. After the fourth bolt, continue left for 15 m along the crack, past a steeper bit (5.8), to a bolt belay at a down-hanging tree. To the fourth bolt it's easiest as a foot traverse, then finger traverse from there - easier to lead, follow, place and remove gear. Leaders should place ample gear on the traverse, and be attentive to belaying their seconds.

3. (45 m) Back along the crack for a few m, then up and left into a groove. Straight up the groove (class 5) to a bolt, then up and a bit right to a cleaned patch at a steeper bit. Climb past three bolts (5.9, variations possible) to a bolt belay. (The original bolt ladder is 15 m to the left, but harder and more awkward.)

(It would be possible, but awkward, to combine pitches 1 & 2, or 2 & 3 - rope drag, communications issues.)

4. (55+ m) Mantle, then left (class 5) past a bolt for 10 m to a large groove, the 'elephant steps'. Up the groove via some high steps (ungradeable), with protection after another 10 m, then it eases off into a low-angle groove. (The steps may be a bit gritty, until the next good rain.) Belay to a stout tree on the left (actually, there are two), or to gear in the good flake crack just above. In the spirit of the first ascent, you get to make your own belay here. If you have a 60 m rope, and hope to do the fifth pitch as one lead, belay in the crack above the trees, and be prepared for a bit of simul-climbing.

5. (65 m) Straight up an easy groove (20 m), then slabs (5.7) past two bolts, then a bit left into a a prominent groove. Up the groove past a deciduous tree (good crack, anchors and stance here for those with 60 m ropes), then continue past two more bolts (5.7) to a fir in a pothole, where there is a bolt belay.

(There are several places on the fifth pitch where it is possible to traverse right into the slabs descent, although traversing, downclimbing, and a bit of scruff may be involved.)

6a. (60 m) Left and a bit up along a cleaned streak (5.8), past a bolt into what is now the last part of Banana Peel, and so to Broadway. (Don't take this finish if there are parties on Banana Peel.)

6b. (50 m) Up and a bit right from the belay, then back left to a steepening, past 3 bolts and 15 m of 5.8/5.9 (?), easing off to Broadway. The last half is mostly class 5, but sporty - off-route protection available to the left, by a cedar shrub just below Broadway. This is a direct finish, and may be 'new'.

6c. (20 m) Up and right from the belay, then down and right, and so into thc slabs descent. Class 5, protection available under flakes. Protect for your second!

7. (60 m) Boomstick Crack.

I'll try to post some action photos, and maybe a topo.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Mon Jul 12, 2010 1:37 pm

Some general comments on Slab Alley:

1. There's quite a lot of moderate climbing, with short harder bits.

2. Given that it involves traverses, placing quite a lot of gear, and creating two or three belays, you need to pay attention. Especially if you have a less-capable second.

3. At least until the next good rain, watch for gritty bits, and bits of wire that get stuck in ropes. As the route is to some extent a drainage for much of this area, and has low-angle sections, there'll always be some stuff lying around.

4. Please be nice to the trees - they provide welcome stances and shade, and have a hard enough time as it is. Especially the nice pothole meadow half way up the third pitch, the trees at the end of the fourth pitch, and the pothole tree at the end of the fifth pitch. None are in anyone's way, or creating problems. They also add some character - traditionally, it wasn't a Squamish climb unless at some point you depended on trees for progress or belays.

I'm opposed to renaming of routes, whether or not they have the history of Slab Alley. There is some tradition at Squamish, especially from the 1960s, of naming individual pitches and features, e.g. Boomstick Crack. I suggest that we consider bestowing pitch names on at least some of the individual pitches and features of Slab Alley, to reflect the route's history, and that of Squamish.

1. Chatterbox - The popular cafe in Britannia, where until the 1970s people would sometimes meet. People will meet at the base of the climb, and chatter.

2. Whistle Punk - Communication used to be a problem on this pitch, until the belay was re-sited. An item of logging equipment.

3. Steam Donkey - It took donkey-like effort to clean this pitch. Another historical logging artefact.

4. Elephant Steps - Sort of an existing name already, for a geological marvel.

5. ?

6. ?

7. Boomstick Crack.

Any thoughts, or suggestions?

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Post by Anders Ourom » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:51 pm

Gear suggestions, at least for a party OK on 5.8.
Set wired stoppers.
6 - 8 cams, from small finger size (#1 TCU) to hand size (#2 camalot).
6 - 8 quick draws.
4 - 6 slings, including one double length.
Miscellaneous loose carabiners, hexes, etc.

A stronger party may not use all of it, but much of it is likely to be needed, especially if you're attentive.

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Post by Anders Ourom » Thu Jul 29, 2010 3:23 pm

It looks like some people are climbing Slab Alley, to judge by chalk marks on a recent visit with a Norwegian friend. That's good - although it could still do with a wash, that would mean the R word (rain). Still hoping to get some feedback from 5.8/5.9 leaders and followers.

I have a decent photo showing the whole route, and have managed to draw a line on it showing the route, in a basic photo editing program. Not something I have a lot of knowledge of. I'm also hoping to draw a topo, although I'm better at word pictures. If I manage something, I'll post it here.

Someone has unnecessarily removed some small trees on the approach trail. They were not in the way, and help stabilize the slope. If you do the route, and are think that vegetation or for that matter bolts should be added, moved or removed, let me know and we can talk about it.

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Post by jefffski » Thu Jul 29, 2010 3:57 pm

check out this free topo generating program

http://sites.google.com/site/betaflashsite/home

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Post by Rockitman » Thu Jul 29, 2010 7:19 pm

I took a couple of friends up SA on Tue and we all really enjoyed it. We all thought the first 4 pitches were superb! The last 3 were fun (Boomstick is the one pitch I've done before). I thought it was great to have a direct variation to p6, which is fun, in the spirit of the route and also takes you away from BP and right up to the base of BSC.

I would not add or remove anything to the route. Although I did feel that on p2 you could place natural gear, instead of bolts 3 & 4, I feel they make that pitch safer, as too few leaders consider their seconds when protecting.

Great job Anders and thanks for all the work you've put into it!
I think you've managed to restore a classic line in a way that will help it see a lot of traffic (and take it away from other congested apron routes).

Oh, and I would add a #16 Camalot to the gear list for the Elephant Steps pitch :wink:

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