On Saturday it was drizzly, with patches of actual rain, and around 10 degrees. Climbing wasn’t on the cards. But David suggested, since we were both free, that we could go out to Lac Sam for some cleaning and bolting.
So I broke out the merino base layer, pulled on my windproof shell pants and my rain jacket, and we headed out, late in the morning (not feeling a whole lot of pressure to get out there early).
It rained all the way out, and the hike in was full of slippery, fallen maple and beech leaves and slicks of rich black mud. But it was only drizzling by the time we made it to the top of the crag, dropped our packs, and hunkered down for a moment to eat something and have a slug of hot tea before we started working.
The plan was that we’d go put some anchors at the top of the new climb I sussed out last time we were here, a little bit to the left of the anchor station we already have on Pink Floyd Wall. Then I’d start down on rappel to clean and scrub my project, while David ran off to put a couple extra bolts into T ‘n’ A (he did finally decide it was a good call to add them) and a bolt to protect the approach to the Falling Frog/Big Finish area. Then he’d come back, and bolt Welcome to the Machine.
So we picked our way along the wet rock to the top of Pink Floyd Wall, and David clipped in to the anchor there, and headed over to the edge where we thought the anchor for the new climb (let’s call it Furry Animals) should be. David put the first bolt in while explaining the process to me: then handed me the drill for the second.
So you figure out where you want to put the bolt (in solid rock, away from any faults or weaknesses), you smash at the spot with a hammer just to see if there are any faults you couldn’t see, then you get the drill set up. You drill in a couple of inches, perpendicular to the surface of the rock, probably stopping about halfway to let the bit cool. Then you blow the dust out of the hole through a plastic tube to clear it, set the expansion bolt (which is what we’re using) into the hole with the hanger all set up, and drive it in with the hammer. When you’re close enough (like a half inch of bolt sticking out) you adjust the angle of the bolt hanger to where it lies flattest against the rock, tighten the nut down with your fingers, then get out the torque wrench and tighten it down to 20 pound-feet of pressure. (More and you might weaken it.) And you have a bolt!
Having put in my first bolt, I then set up on the new anchor, and started the long, slow, chilly, inch-by-inch rappel down, with a wire brush, crowbar, and gardening cultivator clipped, via a number of carabiners, to my harness, and the rope wrapped multiple times around my right leg as a friction brake.
Cleaning is . . . not something a lot of my other climbing friends jump to volunteer for. It’s kind of unglamorous, unless your idea of glamorous is thuggish gearheadedness, crowbar-wielding, and a willingness to get utterly filthy,
I looked for things that seemed like possible holds, and scrubbed at them with the wire brush to get the lichen off – that grey dusty wax paper lichen, and the big stubborn brown rock tripe that’s harder to remove. I checked for places where rocks might be loose, and pried them out with the crowbar, sending them rolling and ricocheting down the cliff. As I got lower, I started thinking about what the moves might be, trying to remember what I did the last time I climbed it, and scrubbed off any available ledge, edge, crack, or sidepull. With a hiking boot braced in the muddy, dirt-filled, dripping corner of the dihedral, I unclipped and reclipped the cleaning gear on my harness to free my hands up to reach up and feel for holds. Would that one be what you wanted to go for? How about this? Where would your feet be, if you were climbing this?
When a section seemed as clean as I could get it, I’d loosen the rope, lower a couple more feet, and keep going. It’s a balance between a cursory sweep and Clean All The Things. You can’t scrub a whole rock face clean of lichen. Even if you did, it would just come back next year. You have to pick your battles (or, you know, your crevices and ledges.)
I did have some fun with some biggish chunks of rock.
Halfway down I started to get cold and damp and shivery. I halfheartedly maneuvered on the rope, stretched out a kink in my leg, raked at a patch of mud with the cultivator hoping to clear off something useful, but I was bonking, and starting to get pretty chilled. My core temperature’s energy needs were starting to trump the rest of me.
Clif bars in your pocket? Are amazing. Calories? Totally underrated.
With a little energy restored, I scratched away at the muddy and awkward bottom half of the route, trying to figure out what to do with it (I had a couple of options for where the first few metres of the route should go).
At this point, David had finished with the other stuff and he was hanging just on the other side of a bulge of overhanging rock between us, so I could lean back a bit and talk to him. His drill’s battery was starting to give out, though, so at the second last bolt he agreed we should probably pack it in. I scrubbed a bit more, but mostly just rappelled down to the ledge, and across to where he was, then switched onto his rope for the sketchy wet downclimb to the “main” base of the crag so we could walk along to the steep gully that gets you back up to the top.
A couple of times this weekend, I’ve wound up explaining to people why I would choose to do this with my Saturday. I hadn’t really thought about it in specific terms before.
I’ve felt an affection for Lac Sam ever since David and I came over here, with another friend, and first paddled across the lake to discover Lower Cliff. And then again when, a month or so later, the two of us set out to climb up from lake level to the top, and discovered Upper Cliff. It is exciting to have this beautiful crag to explore and develop. Discovering climbing routes – some of them pretty darn good – that no one climbed before? That’s cool. Hanging out on the top of the cliff on a sunny day and knowing you’re the only climbers around – the only people around? Also cool.
(Watching a boat go by on the lake below and wondering if anyone’s looked up and said, “holy shit, someone’s climbing that cliff up there!” is also pretty fun.)
But also, putting in the hours on rappel to clean and establish a route, grinding dirt into the blisters on your knuckles, getting your rope dirty and soggy, clearing loose rock and putting in the protection: all of that is my way of giving back to the sport. I love this sport and I want to contribute to it. I can’t contribute as a great athlete, or as a trainer, or anything. But I’m doing three things out there in the rain on a development day: I’m learning about rock, about gear and about routesetting; I’m working on a project (just not on the level you see in the films); and I’m putting in the Little Red Hen level of work, helping to open up a place for other people to climb.