Segal Extols Traditional Ethics in Boulder Canyon

Posted on: April 25, 2008

Matt Segal working China Doll (5.14a, 130'), Boulder Canyon, Colorado. Segal made the second traditional free ascent of an extension to China Doll on April 23, 2008. [Photo] Jonny Copp

Editor's Note: This posting was updated on April 30, 2008 after Matt Segal notified Alpinist that there were misunderstandings about the grade and how he worked the lower section.

Matt Segal made the second free ascent of an extension to China Doll in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, on April 23, 2008. The extension adds a 30-foot, traditionally protected, thin crack (5.13d R for the extension, 5.14a for the 130-foot extended route) to the original China Doll (5.13c, 100'), bolted and first climbed by Bob Horan in the mid-1990s, in a single pitch. Mike Patz made the first free ascent on July 5, 2007.

Segal and Patz both traditionally protected China Doll, despite its bolts, and the extension above. Segal has built acclaim on traditionally freeing several other bolted cracks in the Boulder area, most notably Iron Monkey (5.14), formerly known as Lycra-Clad Donkeys, in Eldorado Canyon, and Deadline (5.14a) in Boulder Canyon. (Read more about Segal's accomplishments in "The End of the Beginning," Issue 18.) However, he found the extended China Doll difficult because it was not his style, Segal said, and getting a good rest was challenging.

"I'm more of a power climber. [The extended China Doll] is a super pumpy 5.13c section to a heel-toe stance rest, then a 5.13d upper section. It's hard to completely recover at the rest when you still have to hold on and shake out."


Segal mentioned he prefers to do routes ground up. However, for the lower section Segal said he tried it from the ground his first few times and then toproped it. Segal said it took him awhile to figure out the gear placements for the runout extension, so he also toproped the upper 30 feet before redpointing. He placed all gear on lead for the send.

Segal said he wore two different types of climbing shoes to maximize confidence on the funky route that caters to short climbers. His right shoe was an edging shoe, his left a crack-climbing shoe. This combination helped him get through the route's main feature, a mini dihedral that demands "getting your feet high on the upper crux. I ended up shoving my fingers into the crack and liebacking on the upper section."

An ethical question that has emerged for Segal after traditionally freeing sport cracks is the removal of bolts. One day while Segal was working China Doll, Bob Horan, the original route's first ascensionist, was cragging in the area. They discussed chopping the bolts, and Horan agreed with Segal that they should be removed. Horan described how he had started working the route on traditional gear but later decided more people would climb it if he drilled bolts. Neither Horan nor Segal has immediate plans to chop China Doll's bolts, but both believe that doing so would speak a strong message to future generations: bolting cracks is unnecessary.

Sources: Matt Segal,

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2011-01-05 19:25:30

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2010-12-25 12:18:35
B. Kimball

Hey alpinist86, I can't speak for Matty but knowing of him and his ethics I would highly doubt he would have touched those bolts at all.

Personally I rappelled in from above because it is a 2 minute approach from the parking lot this way as apposed to a 15min knee bashing downhill hike.

It was obvious to me right away this was a crack to be climbed on gear and not bolts and because I was rappelling it was natural that I inspected all of the gear placements. I was by myself that day with no belayer and so played around with the moves and gear on the Gri-Gri for an hour or so and then left.

A few days later I came back and rapped in with a friend-I had him rap to the ground as I set the TR and he lowered me as I put my gear sequence in from the other day (making a few adjustments). Before I got all the way to the ground I climbed back up cleaning my gear. He lowered me, I said "I am pulling my rope and going up in on lead now". He said "are you crazy" I said "look man I am no experienced traditional crack climber but this gear seems all bomber to me and there are really no runouts so what is the big deal"? So I went up it on lead. It only took me one burn and really no time AT ALL to "learn the tricky placements".

If you were to go ground up on this thing (knowing what I know now I would have) it would only be like C1 or C2 not a tricky aid at all and really pretty easy to get the rope up-even easier to rap in from about to put up the rope. Even if your a aid purest and you dont clip the unnecessary piton and fixed wire it would not change the aid rating at all. Is there a section of bomber micro wires if aided in this style? Yeah but it is not any harder.

It is really not that bad at all and climbers of the next generation or with more aid and traditional experience then me will laugh at my statement of the gear being "mildly tricky". It probably only felt that way to me because I really did not have a lot of gear placing experience!

The bolts should go on this route...there is NO DOUBT! I will NEVER chop ANY ROUTE as long as I live. Hopefully Bob or someone else will do it and in proper style being careful not further damage the rock. This would send the message that just because the free climbing is a little harder it is not ok to bolt C1 or A1,A2 crack climbs. If you are not comfortable on A2 well then go practice some more and come back. If you are still not comfortable leading China Doll as a gear protected free climb or any other safely gear protected route then that's fine. Do everyone else a favor and just aid up it, top rope it clean OR in CD's case just rap in and top rope it. Leave these awesome lines PURE!

I have to say this SUPER OLD SCHOOL method of "ground up on lead (free not in aiders) every burn until you send". Well that's great and all but it really put's a lot of wear on your cams, your belayer's, ropes, your pocket book and really just is a big waste of time and energy. Of course it IS better style but if you really want to free a route fast and put less wear and tear on the rock and your gear you will just aid it once a day and set up the TR and work the moves or "the gear if its tricky for you" until you are ready to send it. To each his own though and prop's to all of those old school hard core ground up climbers...I just wish they did not all seem to be so dam grumpy.

Alp86~^> Hope that helps man! I wish I could say I went ground up because it would NOT have been bad even for me who had never climbed a pitch in aiders in his life-I probably would have been better off just staying out of the aiders and in my rock shoes potentially take a few small lead fall's. As it was I endend up take multiple 30' falls trying to RP the routes new extension. FYI: There are no bolts on the new 50' extention and it had better stay that way. I might actually have to go against my no chopping ethic if someone was lame enought to try to sink some bolts into that section of rock! The aid crux (without the bolts) is on the lower half of the route for sure!

2008-05-06 17:02:38

It sounds like there are at least a few inaccuracies in the article itself from Matt's post. Hopefully they'll be corrected, but ... am I missing something here? As I read their comments, Bryan and Matt both top roped the first pitch. Now after working the pro and the pitch suggest chopping it? I'm curious if either used the bolts the first time they climbed the first pitch. I also wonder how long it took Bryan to learn the "tricky" "at first" placements on CD and whether he was doing so ground up on only trad gear for all attempts.

I'm sure that after working the route and the pro on top rope, the pitch can be better protected than it would first appear on an onsight. The comments here suggest that the first pitch was not onsighted or worked ground up, which seems to undercut the argument for chopping. If that is not the case, please clarify.

Regarding the comment that if there are bolts it's not a "pure" trad route, by that standard the Yellow Spur, Edge, Jules, Wisdom, Genesis and half of the other routes in Eldorado (Yosemite, Gunks, Squamish, etc.) are not "pure" trad climbs. So what? Does that make them any less classic?

Most climbers in climbing's evolution have respected the style in which a route was first done whether they agreed with it or not. There are some well publicized exceptions to this general rule.

The place to make a statement is in finding your own new, brilliant, R/X discontinuous crack system and climbing it ground up.

2008-05-06 03:01:01

Its not even a pure trad accent if there is bolts still in place. Trad climbing is about commiting to the line. Having bolts sitting there is too tempting if things go bad. They're a get out of jail free card. Chop the bolts and go back and do it properly. And since when does a second accent get more attention than the first.

2008-05-05 01:02:27

So I'm in the Czech Republic right now getting really scared climbing on knots with no I never had the opportunity to proof the article. There was a few misunderstandings, for one I never down rated China Doll, I agreed with the 5.14 rating. Also I never sent the first 13c pitch ground up, I simply tried it my first few times from the ground, then decided to TR it.

2008-04-30 03:47:34

the difficulty of a route shouldn't influence ethics: why should hard cracks be bolted to make them more accessible when easier cracks have to be protected with gear? The 5.10 sportclimber will also ask for bolts on a 5.10 crack!! As long as a climb is protectable with removable gear, this should be the rule. Placing reliable protection is an integral part of the climbing and an ability that climbers interested in crackclimbing should learn. It's part of the challenge! Just imagine the great cracklines first climbed 30 years ago would have been protected with bolts. There would certainly have been more ascents at the time, even so today, but equinox with bolts every 8-10 ft???? If i can't lead a route placing gear, well, there are plenty of easier ones ! Everyone wants everything, right now, that's how it is today. The few unclimbed, hard (too hard) cracklines can wait a couple of years, no worry! It will be worth waiting!!

2008-04-29 15:47:50
B. Kimball

By the way this is a bit misreported saying Matt Segal made the 'second free ascent of the China Doll extension'. In actuality it was indeed the third 'FREE ASCENT' of the route following my FIRST ASCENT of the route and Mike Patz's FIRST REDPOINT ASCENT! Since when does one not get credit for a 'FIRST FREE ASCENT' just because it was on TR?

Maybe this is part of the problem with the bolting of this route in the first place is that people don’t feel a TR ascent is a FREE ASCENT?

Personally (for the time being) I am going to have to sick with my original rating 5.14a- rating of this route and have to say that Deadline '5.14a' feels more like 5.13c

2008-04-28 18:20:33
B. Kimball

alpinist86~^> I completely agree with you when you say 'chopping the bolts on routes that were put up over 10 years ago just because someone lead them on gear seems to be hard to justify and is a great loss to climbers'. However with China Doll 'in particular' the situation is obviously quite different for MANY reasons.

In my opinion this route and all routes like it should have NEVER BEEN and should NEVER BE bolted. China Doll IS the most amazing hard granite crack climbing testpieces in Colorado and one of our country's finest natural routes. The natural gear ranges from mildly sub-par to completely bomber/as good as it will ever get.

The first ascensionist was working this route on gear in AWESOME STYLE especially for its time. He was very close to the redpointing the route on removable gear when he decided to bolt the route. What I will never understand is why he did not just add a bolt at the beginning of the route and at 2/3's height of the 13c var. as these are the two places that the gear 'could be considered mildly sub par. Instead choosing to turn the most incredible granite crack climbing testpiece in Colorado into a sport climb and in my opinion forever taking something very special away from the routes integrity. (No disrespect intended toward this fine gentleman)

I completely understand that just because someone leads some sport route on removable gear does NOT mean they have the right to chop the route but again China Doll is NOT some sport route. Bolting China Doll is akin to someone walking up to the Sphinx Crack, The Phoenix, The Salathe Headwall or ANY of the newer more sporty routes going up in Indian Creek and bolting it up just because they are not comfortable with an eight foot runout on questionable gear. Thus taking away from these 'highly famous routes' their natural integrity.

My solution to anyone who is not comfortable with leading China Doll or any of these new Creek routes would be to do the rock and future generations a favor and just TOP ROPE IT and call it good. This leaves the integrity of the route in tack for the rest of us who would like to see it stay a little more pristine, a little harder and a little scarier. What is the big deal with aiding up cracks like China Doll setting up a TR and climbing it free on that TR? Its not like China Doll is to steep and it just so happens that you can easily rappel in from above to conveniently set up said top TR.

Chopping the bolts on China Doll does not take ANYTHING away from climbers at ALL. It only gives back to climbers a one of a kind route in its natural state and makes a bold statement to others. Others that feel they are too good for top roping and feel they must add unnecessary bolts to routes like Res. Dogs at the Creek or granite splitters like The Phoenix or Beth Rodden's new route Meltdown or whatever the situation might be.

I have to say that the bottom part of China Doll is WAY over hyped with this whole 'RUN OUT R/X' stuff. There is no run out any longer then ten feet maximum on this route. The extension is a little more 'run out' (if we are really even going to call 10' a run out) and to anyone thinking they need to add bolts to this extension (seeing that it is twice as run out as the 13c version) I would highly encourage them to reconsider!

The gear may be tricky on China Doll AT FIRST but it opens it self up once you learn the best placements and 90+% of the pieces you place are as bomber as they are ever going to get. HOPEFULLY the first ascensionist DOES chop this route and if he does he will have done an admirable thing in resorting this wonderful testpeice. To the others who are not comfortable with the ground up traditional style/tricky gear on this route feeling that a free top rope assent is not enough for them...WELL I would suggest either aiding up or rapping in from the top and inspecting, bounce testing, pre placing your gear then rehearsing the route on TR and the going for your redpoint from there. I promise you that your gear would be sufficient, the route would be safe and there would be no run out over 6-8'. This is a MUCH better alterative and message to future generations on what the standards and ethics should be on routes of this nature. I have said it before and I will say it again, just because someone does not own enough .75 camalots to redpoint the 160' 5.13- splitter 'Tricks are for Kids' in Indian Creek and is not willing to call a top rope assent, this does NOT give the right to bolt the route for a redpoint assent. Even if you DO have (12) .75 camalots you will still be forced to run it out much more so then you are on China Doll. Maybe we all need to reconsider what precisely constitutes the ® rating. I mean is 10' REALLY considered ®? Does this mean that sport routes like Horse Latitudes at the VRG with its 30' run out at the top get the attached ® rating?

If the first ascensionist removes the bolts from China Doll this DOES NOT mean that people should go around and chop sport routes like Anarchditect that have been recently lead on gear or any other route of this sort! alpinist86~> Is right we need to be just as careful, mindful and discerning with bolt chopping as we should be with bolting. Seeing is how China Doll is not a sport route by nature and accepts perfectly acceptable gear on bomber granite I will HIGHLY DOUBT that Mr. Segal, Mr. Horan, myself and many others will EVER change there opinion on weather or not this route should have ever been bolted. Congratulations to Matt Segal on his recent assent of China Doll. Now my only question is how can one call Deadline 14a and the China Doll extension 13d???

In regards to BOLTING and CHOPPING: A few good rules to live by might be "Thou shall not bolt splitter granite cracks" and another good rule might be "Thou shall not chop bolts that you did not place on routes that you did not put up".

2008-04-28 18:01:57

I realize that my view will likely be considered sacrilegious on this site, but I am hoping that some serious thought will occur before the bolts on China Doll are considered for removal. Chopping the bolts on a long established route after one or more people have led the route on natural gear seems to me to be difficult to rationally justify and a great loss to local climbers. I very much hope that Matt and Bob reconsider the issue.

China Doll (sans the extension) was freed by Bob over a decade ago. It was a significant, cutting edge ascent at the time and it has become a classic at the grade. In its clean state the lead to the chains past Bob's bolts is 13c R. (I recall an article in one of the climbing magazines a few years back on Adam Stack's first traditional lead of the 13c pitch that grippingly describes the seriousness and difficulty of the lead.) From their comments, I have to wonder if alpinist63 and corey have ever been on this route: Bob did not bolt a continuous crack that offers consistently good gear placements. The placements are difficult and in several stretches marginal at best.

However, regardless of the quality of the protection, it does not follow that because a route has seen several leads on natural gear that the bolts should be removed. As climbing standards advance and climbers get stronger both physically and psychologically, there will be a greater number of existing routes that elite climbers are capable of doing without fixed gear. Why should the increased ability of climbers, who inspire us all to become better, lead to a decrease in climbing opportunities for those not as talented?

The resolution of this issue potentially affects climbers of every level and ability. It is not limited to chopping a 13c, which many climbers will never accomplish or even try in their careers, it potentially affects climbs at every grade. Taken to its logical conclusion, when someone reports the traditional lead on natural gear of a ____ (fill in the blank with any grade from 5.8 to 5.13) climb with fixed gear on mountainproject, that route could be chopped. By the same token, should all routes that have been soloed have all fixed gear removed? Goodbye, Yellow Spur.

The continued existence of the bolts on China Doll does not diminish the achievement of Adam, or Matt and Mike who extended the route. Nor do the bolts prevent similarly talented climbers from leading the route on natural gear. The bolts allow for climbers whose abilities are a tier (or three) below them to be able to work and climb an absolutely amazing pitch of granite. Removal of the bolts puts this tremendous pitch out of reach of all but a few top climbers. Elite climbers are denominated as such because they climb at the very highest level, not because they want to close off climbing opportunities to others who are not as good. Why is the satisfaction of the bold ascent not enough? Why should this pitch be restricted to so few?

What Boulder climbers have hopefully all learned over the past 20 years of intermittent bolting controversies is that there are no winners. If history is any indication, when bolts are removed, they are quickly replaced. We’ve all seen the fallout from bolt wars: acrimony builds, the climbing community becomes polarized, friendships wither, public opinion of local climbers sinks, but ultimately it is the rock that suffers the brunt of it all, as bolts are chopped and replaced ad nauseum.

I hope Matt will reconsider his position and support leaving the bolts in place. Matt is an amazingly talented climber and I look forward to news of his next mind blowing ascents. As it is, China Doll now offers a profound range of experiences to climbers whether placing gear or clipping bolts. It would be a shame to eliminate the opportunity to climb this amazing route to all but the few who are comfortable on R rated 13c's.

2008-04-28 14:28:36

right so! all bolts beside cracks should be chopped! since friends and co showed up, there's no excuse for bolting cracks.

2008-04-28 05:29:22

Chopping the bolts is a great idea! When I see a nice crack with bolts, its just makes me sad. Why scar mother when she gave you a crack?

2008-04-26 13:17:52
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