Bits and Pieces

I was digging around in my old pics and came by this single shot taken with a cheap disposable camera I had clipped to my harness. It shows Tom rapping off of “Bits & Pieces” back about 1990-something. It was a butt-puckering 2 pitch 5.7 X route. It was notable only because of the X designation, due to it having only 2 bent, rusty 1/4″ bolts for the whole 1st pitch, with likelihood of death or serious injury if you fell and took a grounder.  It is located well off the beaten path on the backside of the most popular climbs at Smith Rock, Oregon.

I led the 1st pitch, clipping the 2 ancient 1/4″ bolts up to a decent size ledge. Unfortunately, there were no anchor bolts or cracks to get any cams or other protection in so I had to bring Tom up without a real anchor.  There were a couple of rocky knobs to brace my feet against… so I told him not to fall. 

Pic I found on the internet of the route today, with several shiny new bolts for pro.

He got up to the ledge and we looked at the next pitch with no bolts, still thinking this was our escape route… we saw no way to get pro in on the loose tufa of Smith Rock on the route above us and saw no other bolts.  Hence the X rating.

We decided to bravely run away…but there being no way to anchor off for the rappel, I had to become the anchor…not the best situation to be in.

Almost to the ledge…

He was super excited to rap down with nothing but me holding him up but we didn’t have any other choice since we didn’t bring my bolt kit.  Tom rappelled off using only me with my feet braced and a “see you at the bottom, one way or another”.

Tom nervously begins rapping off, using me as his only anchor.

I had him clip a sling back in to the top bolt as he passed it (there were only 2 remember?) so I would have at least a bit of psychological protection.  He let out a big sigh of relief when he got to the bottom

The bolt he clipped the sling back into was about 20 feet below the lip so I could down climb with at least the illusion of protection since there was no way for me to rappel down. At least if I fell, and the bolt held, I’d only have a 40-50 foot whipper 

The climb was in a mossy groove in the shade, well worn by water running down the cliff that becomes a waterfall when it rains. Since it got very little traffic due to the danger rating, all of the little pebbles and knobs used for holds are subject to freezing and thawing and popping loose over time.  

The  upper section of the cliff was very vertical, so I couldn’t see the footholds below me at all as I slowly backed and eased over the edge… Tom had to talk me to the knob holds, as I used my feet them to feel all over the cliff to find a big enough pebble to hold my weight. Once I had both feet on something, I could look down and plan my next moves.

To the uninitiated, down climbing is much more difficult than climbing up. Often it is hard to see footholds and you have to resist the natural urge to press yourself into the rock and lean back to see better.

Slowly inching my way down, Tom still offering advice from below, I made my way to the sling. That 20 feet of loose, mossy pebbles with a single manky bolt from when the climb was established in 1977 switched me into Wildman mode… smooshing my feet through the soles of my climbing shoes and onto the holds to make them stick to the rock.

I can’t honestly remember if I left the upper sling in place and continued down climbing or, being a cheap dirt bag climber, snagged my gear and just free climbed the rest of the way down with a puckered butt hole. Probably the latter…I hated leaving gear behind.

Having had so much fun with Bits and Pieces, Tom and I decided to conspire to have our buddy Jim lead the climb next time we were there, but alas, it never happened.

Looking at photos of the climb these days, it has been re-bolted with nice fat modern bolts and proper anchors at the top to rap down, making it a much tamer, relatively easy sport climb. Part of me is sad because it was one of our scary “classics” we always seemed to get ourselves into, but it would make it a nice, shady climb for folks trying to get away from the crowded cliffs at the main part of Smith. Time moves on, and those old bolts only grew more dangerous every year.

Rusty old bolt very common in my heyday…

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