Los Hermanos de la Penitente

Last weekend Kate, Logan & I headed down to the beautiful San Luis Valley to participate in the inaugural Penitente Canyon Anchor Replacement & Trail Repair weekend.  The weekend was a huge success.  Despite a questionable weather forecast, over 40 climbers made the trek, some from as far as Albuquerque, NM and Boulder, CO.  The BLM was there to organize the trail and campground maintenance, and the legendary Bob D’Antonio directed all of the anchor replacement.

The legendary Bob D, rallying the troops.

For those who don’t know, Bob was one of the key protagonists of Sport Climbing in the US, and is certainly the leading figure in the history of sport climbing in Colorado, having established hundreds, if not thousands of routes over the last 30 years.  If you’ve been sport climbing in Colorado or New Mexico, there’s a very good chance you’ve clipped one of Bob D’s bolts.  Like most of Sport Climbing’s founders, Bob was quite an accomplished trad climber, establishing numerous first ascents and early repeats of significant testpieces in Eldo, The Gunks and elsewhere, but unlike many of his peers, Bob had the vision to see the potential in the faces, and the courage to break from the herd.  Well into his 50’s, Bob’s still climbing within a few letter grades of his personal best, and has plans to climb 5.13 again this summer.  Guys like Bob are an inspiration to the rest of us!

Kate enjoying some classic slabbin on “What The Hey”

Anyway, we showed up Friday morning to do some laid back climbing.  Penitente is one of the most beautiful sport crags in the country, with amazing volcanic rock that forms striking features.  Its always a pleasure to climb in the canyon, though at just over 3 hours form Denver, we don’t make it down there too often.  Friday night was our first night in a tent with Logan.  It actually turned out pretty well.  He woke up about 5 times, but we all managed to get just barely enough sleep to make it through the next day.

Resurfacing the entrance area

Saturday began with several hours of trail work and campground/picnic are improvement to help out the BLM.  Its always nice to be able to demonstrate to land managers that climbers are a positive influence on the areas they frequent, and nothing says it better than showing up to offer some free, enthusiastic labor (and two kegs of beer!).  The BLM guys were great, had a good sense of humor about their relationship with the user community, and were extremely grateful for our help.  We spread several tons of gravel around the Gazebo area and the bathrooms, planted new shrubs in several restoration areas, repaired the washed-out trail from the upper campground to the Gazebo, pruned some of the overgrown trails in the canyon, and resurfaced many of the tent pads at the campgrounds. 

After a hearty lunch of free brats, Bob and fellow Mountain Project Administrator Mike Howard gave a quick tutorial on bolt replacement.  About five of us had bolting experience (and drills), so we rounded up groups of novices for some hands-on learning.  Everyone was eager to get involved and learn what goes into properly bolting a route.  I took a great group out (Mike, Adam & Jen), under specific orders from Bob to retrofit Sheer Strength & Sheer Lunacy.  Unfortunately everywhere I turned I saw hardware that needed replacing, so we got a quite distracted.  Thank goodness Kate was willing to watch Logan by herself so I could get as much work done as possible.  We replaced the anchor bolts of The Serpent, then replaced every bolt on Persophone, right niext door.  As we were packing up to head to the Sheer Wall, a pair of climbers asked for help repairing Bucket Slave, so we moved over there to help out.  They already had a rope up, and the route only needed new hangers, so I gave them some hardware and a quick run-dopwn on what to do. 

Sketchy hardware on Sheer Lunacy

We finally made it to the sheer wall, and I decided since we were doing two routes it would be quicker just to come in from the top on rappel.  I’m glad I did.  Sheer Strength was the first, and that was a piece of cake.  We removed several feet of unsightly chain and replaced it with a nice cammo’d ring anchor, and replaced all of the lead bolts.  Last but not least was Sheer Lunacy, and we were appaled by what we found.  I brought Mike up with me so I could show him up close how to replace a bolt.  Mike began unscrewing the first bolt and it came out after only a few turns.  Mike called up that he had broken the bolt off, so we had Adam send up the drill to put in a new hole.  While I was drilling Mike broke the second bolt too, in the same place.  ‘That’s odd’ I thought.  After closer inspection, neither bolt was broken, that was the entire bolt, 3/4″ long!  And easily 1/4″ of that was taken up by the bolt hanger, so less than half an inch of shaft was in the rock!  This thing was a ticking time bomb, just waiting for an unlucky soul to fall at the wrong place.  I was totally shocked.  I’ve never seen such sketchy bolting in my entire career.  But, that’s what this weekend was all about, and I hope that in addition to scoring some free beer and SWAG, we were able to prevent a few accidents.

Sheer Lunacy with fresh hardware in place

It started to drizzle just as we were placing the last bolts, so we headed back to the parking lot.  The party had already started, and we were all psyched to indulge in some great free beer from San Luis Brewery and 3 Barrel Brewery.  There was a pretty good, local Bluegrass Band (complete with Jug Bass), great food, and of course, a SWAG raffle.

Logan getting his groove on at the after-party

The raffle is always the highlight, but this one of the best I’ve every been to.  Trango, Black Diamond, Petzl, OP, Arc Teryx, Wolverine, R&I and Falcon went all out.  Everyone who attented one at least one prize, and many folks got two.  There were free shirts for everyone, courtesy of the AAC, and everyone got a free copy of Rock & Ice, and plenty of stickers courtesy of Trango, BD & Petzl. 

Thanks to everyone who showed up, and here’s hoping this becomes an annual event!

Logan enjoying a sweet stick he found at the campground

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7 thoughts on “Los Hermanos de la Penitente

  1. Brilliant! An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of Cure. Perhaps you saved a life… Nice summary and great pics, and I enjoyed that little fella. As a parent, when I found myself tiring at any one phase (think diaper bag) it was over, and on to the next. All the best, salud y paz. Mike

  2. Mark…I’m very impressed with your climbing ability but more with your work ethic and the willingness to give back. Thanks so much and it was so wonderful to have your beautiful family at the event.

  3. Mark,

    Great summary of the weekend! It was really nice meeting you, Kate, and Logan. Jen and I had a great time and really appreciated your patience in answering all of our nooby training and bolting questions.

    Best,
    Adam

  4. Was that bolt on Sheer Lunacy even an expansian bolt? Or just pounded in? Didn’t know they made expansion bolts that short…

    • The bolt was threaded into a sleeve of some type. It reminded me of some of the cheap concrete sleeve anchors you can find at hardware stores. It was not typical expansion bolt (of the Rawl 5-piece or Red Head variety).

  5. Pingback: Shelf Road Slideshow and Anchor Replacement, November 9-10, 2013 | Lazy H Climbing Club

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