2016 Anchor Evaluation Committee Report cover, Status Update June 2016.

Fixed Anchors in the Trapps: An Update

Greetings, All. Hopefully you’ve been logging some days at the cliffs and enjoying the mostly fine weather we’ve been having lately. We’re looking forward to seeing many of you out this season.

This is an update on activities relating to the bolted anchors on the Mohonk Preserve, centering around the Trapps cliff. Lately there has been an incredible increase in cooperation between the Preserve and the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition, and we think our entire climbing community is benefited by it. Hopefully this post will shed some light on the need and rationale behind these recent efforts.

Worn bolted rap anchors found in the Gunks. Photo credit: Gunks Climbers' Coalition.

Clearly the Shawangunk Mountains and its cliffs are loved by many. But the Trapps is in danger of being “loved to death”. Common trouble spots are unsightly faded slings around measly pitch pines, clifftop gullies that send rubble onto climbers below, and fixed pitons that snap when tested. Even healthy rappel trees are dying as the soiled ledges they are anchored to compact and erode away. There’s a picture of TEN people using the Middle Earth P1 tree at once. The trail crew organized by Dick Williams that is rebuilding approach trails and cliff-base has done heroic work over the past several years, but the sensitive ecosystem of the cliff itself continues to degrade due to climber activities. What’s more, many climbers face dangerous situations by being forced to decide between rappelling via an R-rated anchor, or tramping upward through unpleasant and vegetated (with sensitive organisms) terrain.

Erosion, tree damage, and non-standardized anchor material atop the popular climb Baby 5.6 in the Gunks. Photo: Gunks Climbers’ Coalition

Erosion, tree damage, and non-standardized anchor material atop the popular climb Baby 5.6 in the Gunks.

In February 2014, the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition (GCC) formed the Anchor Evaluation Committee (AEC), to better organize and understand the issues that climbers were seeing on the cliffs. Our initial report to the Preserve came after a ten-year gap since their last Bolting Committee meeting, and detailed some of the issues above and more (link to that report and one from this year below). We outlined safety, environmental and aesthetic issues. Slowly, the Preserve decided to move ahead with resolving our community’s most urgent grievances; many remained. In meetings in board rooms and at the cliff, we agonized over balancing the satisfying adventure of traditional ethics with human impact on rare ecosystems. It became apparent to the Mohonk Preserve that following best practices regarding fixed anchor management was necessary for environmental, user experience and liability reasons. But with no existing standards to follow, a new approach had to be made piecemeal and ground-up.

Presentation by the GCC Anchor Evaluation Committee (AEC) at the GCC 2014 Spring BBQ. Photo credit: Gunks Climbers' Coalition.

Dustin Portzline and Christian Fracchia presenting the AEC plan at the 2014 GCC Spring BBQ.

Today, the Mohonk Preserve is building the strongest fixed anchor management strategy in the country for a privately-owned cliff. In May, the bolt manufacturer Petzl gave the first bolt installation training seminar in the country. Four members each of Mohonk Preserve rangers and the AEC attended; now the Mohonk Preserve has eight qualified individuals to place, remove and maintain bolted anchors. They share access to a spreadsheet recording all work completed on the 71 bolted stations in the Trapps. 2016 begins the transition to full stainless steel hardware on every anchor. Equipment is being donated by Petzl and the American Safe Climbing Association. Just a few days ago, we raised over $7,200 thanks to generous contributions by the Cliffs Climbing + Fitness, Rock & Snow, and over 130 members of our community. Those funds will be used to cover the costs of stainless chain (at $23 per foot), a calibrated pull tester, and a new drill for shared MP and GCC use.

Petzl Technical Director Rick Vance lectures about bolt selection. Photo: Jeffrey D. Haines

Petzl Technical Director Rick Vance lectures about bolt selection. Photo courtesy of Mohonk Preserve Volunteer Photographer Jeffrey D. Haines.

As for the bolted stations themselves: Soon, all will be of full stainless steel construction, thus ridding us of concerns about galvanic corrosion caused by differing metals. The anchors are equipped with hardware designed to handle high traffic volume, with multiple points to rappel from and anchor to. The lifespans of new anchors is projected at 50 years. These anchors will outlive many climbers on the cliff today, at a cost to the community of around $1 per year. When it comes time to replace a bolt, new techniques allow us to remove or drill out the existing bolt and reuse the same original hole.

Bolt hanger with galvanic corrosion caused by differing metals. Photo credit: Gunks Climbers' Coalition.

Bolt hanger with galvanic corrosion caused by differing metals.

It has been a struggle to find solutions that satisfy the nuanced issues of fixed anchors on a bastion of tradition climbing. Common criticisms lament a loss of adventure and self-reliance, and perceive the bolts as an invitation to toproping by less qualified parties. It is worth pointing out that every bolted station replaced one on tatty gear or a fragile tree, and that climber convenience is a byproduct rather than the reason behind these anchors. Our community has reevaluated and changed its techniques in the past; let’s remember that the Gunks was one of the earliest places in the nation to abandon damaging piton use and adopt clean climbing practices in the early 70s. Was climbing more “trad” when it left scars in the rock? Is using rare pitch pines for rappelling, and crappy fixed tricam anchors more “trad” if it compromises the health of the environment and climber safety? We must let our environmental ethic come before our contrived climbing ethic.

 Example of bark wear and unsightly colorful slings. Note black sling tight against bark, restricting growth. Photo credit: Gunks Climbers' Coalition.

Example of pitch pine bark wear and unsightly colorful slings. Note black sling tight against bark, restricting growth.

All of us involved have been thrilled at the growing support and attention finally directed to the health of the Trapps and safety of its visiting climbers. We hope that you, too, will give attention to your impact when climbing in the Trapps. It is our collective obligation to preserve this incredible climbing venue for future generations, as was done by those before us. If the community fails to step up, nobody else will do it in our place; the risk of increased degeneration is loss of access in the future. Please try to travel over durable surfaces, and tread lightly when using trees to belay or walking on ledges. Make a descent plan before leaving the ground that is considerate of fragile ecology – try an enjoyable and easy hike down to the Uberfall descent. Speak up in a friendly tone to offer advice to those climbers that look like they need it. The GCC invites you to share your ideas and expertise to improve everyone’s experience on the Ridge – we can’t do it without you.

Slope at the top of Betty - before & after slope restoration closure. Photo credit: Gunks Climbers' Coalition.

Slope at the top of Betty – before & after slope restoration efforts.

Together, our shared concerns and solutions will allow climbers to tread lightly and preserve the Shawangunk Ridge for generations to come. Enjoy your summer and we’ll see you on the cliffs!

Dustin Portzline

Treasurer, Gunks Climbers’ Coalition

AEC Reports:

14 Responses

  1. Ken Sofer

    While I fully understand the resistance to bolting I applaud GCC’s efforts here. Bolted or not, Gunks traffic will continue to explode and these anchors are necessary to protect the environment and climbers. Bravo.

    1. Unbelievable that rap stations are being situated directly above routes, making it impossible to rap when someone’s on the route, Ribs is a perfect example.
      They’d best find someone else to make the decisions about locations.
      ~ beau johnson

      1. Dustin Portzline

        It’s quite possible to rappel while someone’s on a route that has the rappel anchor above it – just carry your ropes down as you rappel or lower the ends. The party should not be surprised if you communicate clearly and many climbers do this successfully every weekend.
        The decisions regarding the placement of fixed anchors are made by the Mohonk Preserve’s Bolting Committee, a sub-committee of the Land Stewardship Committee. The climbers approving these anchors have literally hundreds of cumulative years of climbing experience. Often rap routes descend climbing routes to avoid impacting “virgin” terrain. That is an example of climber convenience taking a back seat to preservation.

        1. rgold

          Some comments:

          1. The Mohonk Preserve Anchor Subcommittee approved placing an anchor at the top of p2 of Snooky’s, but at least some of us were astounded when that anchor was situated so as to directly target climbers on p1 of Snooky’s. That precise location decision was made in the field without consultation with the Anchor Subcommittee; there certainly would have been a heated discussion about how bad a choice that was. A mistake was made; that anchor should be moved. This is especially true because the anchor primarily serves parties doing Minty, so there is a continual rain of Minty parties down Snooky’s.

          2. The fact that climbers can, by employing special techniques, avoid some of the problems associated with running rappel routes down climbing routes should never, as is implicitly suggested here, become a reason to allow dangerous and unpleasant anchoring decisions.

          A second problem with this particular placement is that when a party rapping with a single rope to the top of p1 of Snooky’s pulls their rope, the falling rope crashes down on the first pitch of Snooky’s. You might think that the climbers doing the pulling would understand this, but not necessarily—I have personally been on the business end of this type of cluelessness on Snooky’s, and as far as I am concerned the responsibility is divided equally between dumb climbers and a faulty anchor placement decision. There isn’t much to be done about dumb climbers, but we have complete control over the anchor decisions.

          The idea that rap routes were explicitly placed on climbs rather than “virgin territory” to “preserve” that territory is at best far-fetched. Climbers are certainly able to go up through “virgin” territory, so why exactly should they be prevented from going down? Especially when the alternative is increase danger and conflict by clogging popular climbing routes with descending parties!

      2. While I agree that rap stations directly over routes are not ideal (I’ve had the joy of rap ropes being thrown on me while leading Snookys), I just wanted to note that the anchor on Ribs was installed a long time ago, before the GCC was involved.

  2. rgold

    What seems to me to be missing is a comprehensive vision for how bolting should play out over time as well as clearly-articulated standards for when an anchor should be created. A piecemeal approach that continually tries to put out the next fire is poor stewardship—a bolting master plan is long overdue.

    I don’t think an effective master plan is possible without utilizing trails at the top of the cliff. What is needed as much as possible are separate rap routes that do not interfere with popular climbs, like the one at High E ,that allow for one-directional traffic flow up and down the cliff.

    This doesn’t address the situation of the many one-pitch routes. Here there are several issues. I think that when a pitch is the first pitch of a perfectly good route to the top, every possible effort should be made “de-facilitate” top-roping on that first pitch. The GCC’s improvement of the anchors on p1 of of Sixish is a perfect example of what not to do. But there are other climbs that really don’t have top pitches. In this case, careful planning of anchors to serve more than one route seems like the best option.

  3. zs

    The photos of the slope restoration atop Betty/Jackie are misleading. It looks as if the Before shot is taken sometime from November through February and the After shot is during Spring/Summer. While it does look appear to be actually in better shape, photos from the same season would be more informative.

    1. Dustin Portzline

      Apologies that photos were not taken one calendar year apart – we are volunteers after all! Last year several gullies were marked off and filled with material to encourage soil retention, and now we’re happy to report that grass is growing back in most of them already.

  4. Brian

    I agree with the other posters in that the rappel line should be separate and distinct from the route. A one-way route down. That keeps people from using the anchors as a top-rope anchor which is prevalent on routes like Son of Easy O, Snooky’s, Ant’s Line, etc. Climbers have these routes gang top-roped every weekend.

  5. David Rundio

    This is awesome! Should include link at the bottom of the article for easy donations. I know it inspired me to donate seeing all the good things happening.

  6. Dwight Cheu

    Great work and hats off to all the volunteers who put long hours into the bolt replacement. I’m wondering if any bolts besides Petzl were considered. I understand that Petzl donated the hardware. For example did you consider the Climbtech Legacy or Wavebolts. The Legacy are designed to be replaced and the glue-in will last much longer than mechanical bolts. The Petzl double wedge bolts, as an example are VERY difficult to replace.

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