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Beware of Wallace Col

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Postby ironmike » Tue May 23, 2006 10:33 pm

If you folks think Secor sandbags his ratings, then don't bother picking up any of his predecessor's books, e.g., Roper's guide or even Voge's. In fact, the climbing community regards Secor in the exact opposite context, and complain about ratings inflation.

I agree most with wingding: the ratings system in the 2-4 range is highly subjective, and has everything to do with your base of experience. Don't trust a guidebook, get out and calibrate your own sense of what ratings mean.

Finally, you can search the WPSMB or mt-whitney.info for copious information about Secor's accident and long recovery. RJ is a local icon of mountaineering, climbing, and other outdoor pursuits and we're very lucky to have him and his assorted "eccentric" works around to banter about.



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Postby wingding » Wed May 24, 2006 7:49 am

I agree - we are lucky to have the information Mr. Secor provides in his books. I was at the top of the Baldy Bowl last year and watched that accident - not a pretty site. Accidents happen to experienced hikers, climbers and mountaineers as well as inexperienced ones.
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Postby sierra cyd » Wed May 24, 2006 2:49 pm

Also to be noted as that some passes can vary quite a bit depending on the exact spot you attempt, a pass such as Potluck, for example. If you try to attempt it "the way that it looks like everyone else goes" you'll find you're in some pretty nasty vertical scree covered stuff requiring use of hands for sure, but if you take your time and look around, there is an easy class 2 route that is hidden and hard to find that starts/ends at a high point on the saddle above (not obvious at all). I had an experience like that too coming down Snow Tongue, it got so terrifyingly trecherous half way down that I actually climbed all the way back to the top and climbed down about 30 feet over from where I attempted before and it was a regular loose class 2, not that bad.

My point is that the actual "class 2" portions of these routes are often pretty specific, and really are not described in detail in most route descriptions (especially Secor's which are super brief). So you're lucky if you figure them out, you need to take your time sometimes and scout around.
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Postby giantbrookie » Wed May 24, 2006 4:49 pm

ironmike wrote:If you folks think Secor sandbags his ratings, then don't bother picking up any of his predecessor's books, e.g., Roper's guide or even Voge's. In fact, the climbing community regards Secor in the exact opposite context, and complain about ratings inflation.


Yes indeed. I grew up peak bagging with Voge and then Roper's guide. There is no doubt there has been ratings inflation on various routes, and we've seen many routes ratchet up in assigned degree of difficulty. I think actually that Secor is a victim of his own thoroughness. His guide is so far beyond the old Climbers Guide (Voge, then Roper) that it is in entirely another league. Here's a typical example of a Voge/Roper route description. Mt. Ritter. Route xx. The west slope is class 2. Yup, that's it. Never mind how intricate the darned thing really is (missed a cutoff ledge system and did a few hundred feet of class 4 when I did it; yes, my dad and I did have rope, just in case). In contrast, Secor takes you through every twist and turn of this route. Herein lies the biggest complaint I've heard some climbers level at his book: that the old school guide with almost no detail forced the climber use his/her own route finding judgement so much more, both picking the best route, and ascertaining the difficulty level. Secor himself, as all climbing guide authors have said, writes that there is no substitute for the climbers own judgement in the field. I think in today's paint by numbers society, this point is missed by too many. There is no doubt that Secor's book provides more complete and accurate information than ever before and because of that it, sadly, opens him up to far more criticism than he deserves. As you can see above, I am not immune to engaging in it, but I certainly don't mean to demean the man nor his contributions to the Sierra and the enjoyment of others. His rating of class 2 on Kaweah Pass is certainly legit in most folks (including my) definition. I felt the objective dangers weren't stated adequately, but that was only because RJ is so thorough about stating them elsewhere. I have found his descriptions to be true to the letter the vast majority of the time. Roper and Voge never faced the level of criticism Secor receives simply because they didn't provide enough info to make themselves targets--that and the climbing/peak bagging community of the day didn't expect that much info. Again, my hat's off to Secor. May he recover and continue to be a force in the Sierra, and many thanks to his enormous contributions to Sierran hiking.
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Postby Moonwalker » Wed May 24, 2006 7:23 pm

I think the point about the subjectivity of guidebooks and class 2-4 is right on. I'm new to this side discussion about Secor, I didn't mean to make him a target. I like his book! My interpretation of his rating at the time was, well, technically, maybe it *is* class 2. At the same time, maybe *no one* should do it. Aren't there some class 2 routes that should never be attempted by anyone?

Aside: In his description of the Lamarck Col route, Secor includes a photo of the route and an arrow pointing to a possible shortcut that says "don't go this way!". I discovered his book immediately after descending that exact hair raising shortcut, and bought it immediately, thinking, to hell with learning the hard way, it's time for a guidebook. But that route was far tamer than what I found on Wallace Col...
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Postby quentinc » Wed May 24, 2006 8:36 pm

You must have a later edition of Secor's guide than I do, because I could never find the right spot for crossing Lamark using his description!
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Postby Moonwalker » Wed May 24, 2006 8:52 pm

quentinc: 2nd edition (p. 266). His description of the crossover point on Larmarck Col in my edition: the first notch to the right of a small, sharp peak (the most easterly of several notches on the crest).

That's from the east side, of course.
Last edited by Moonwalker on Thu May 25, 2006 5:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby ironmike » Wed May 24, 2006 9:16 pm

giantbrookie, your post is spot on. I agree 100%, though your points are more eloquently presented than I could manage. Thanks.

BTW, my favorite example of ratings inflation was Humphreys: the short face above Married Man's Point has gone from Class 4 to mid 5's.

sierra cyd: your comment about the "actual 'class 2' portions" being specific is a good point to make as well, and it ties in with giantbrookie's post. Routefinding is a core skill for anyone who goes off trail in the Sierra (or sometimes even the trailhiker as well), whether the route is Class 2 or Class 5.impossible and since that skill is judgement-oriented, no amount of guidebook reading (or blogging!!) will fill the void.

Nonetheless, I am fascinated by guide books of all eras, and envy the men with the time and experience to craft them.
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Postby curiousgeorge » Fri May 26, 2006 8:42 am

i did wallace col west to east a few years ago after reading secor and wanting a shortcut route. it certainly is one of my most memorable experiences. first off, i am not a climber. typically, i carry about 20-25 lbs on 2-3 day trips sticking mainly to trails. cross country from the JMT was OK to get to the base of the short loose section leading to the pass. but it was two steps up and slide down one for that last section. very slow going, maybe about two-three hours or so. felt that at any moment i would fall back and roll back down to the bottom under a pile of rocks. it was not fun. at two or three points it was so bad i had to hold onto solid rock on the side of the scree in order not to slide down. i thought we'd have to turn back as it was rather treacherous to me. my buddy felt the same and he had some climbing experience. at the top it looked like we were stuck in a worse situation but my buddy picked out a route that seemed to be possible. it was indeed but it was just as bad as coming up. felt like you'd fall forward and roll down as part of an avalanche. after we got thru the real steep section near the top it was just stepping and sliding all the way down. i would not recommend this going up west to east as there is ten times as much loose stuff. it will take you all day to get to the pass. personally, i would not recommend this pass at all.
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Postby giantbrookie » Fri May 26, 2006 10:24 am

ironmike wrote:Nonetheless, I am fascinated by guide books of all eras, and envy the men with the time and experience to craft them.


So am I, and I have quite a collection, including climbing guides of places I may never climb in such as the North Cascades and Glacier NP (in part because I basically only fish nowadays). I remember buying Fred Beckey's North Cascade guide simply because I loved reading his route descriptions: One example: "Follow the arete that first curves right, then curves left and becomes sensationally narrow". Another "Make like a gorilla through the brush..." How can one not want a book like that in your library!

Returning to the SN guides, I forgot to mention that Roper actually addressed the "completeness" issue in his intro and mentioned that he INTENTIONALLY left many routes vague so as not to spoil the adventure for those that sought to work them out on their own. I also forgot to mention that, climbers and peak baggers did indeed complain and whine quite a bit about Voge's and Roper's ratings or descriptions back in the day. The difference was we had no www in those days, so there were no public web postings griping about how either of them may have gotten it wrong.
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Postby AldeFarte » Fri May 26, 2006 9:30 pm

This is an interesting thread. I have never read any of the above mentioned references on routes and such .However ,I enjoy reading about them and the trials and tribulations of those taking them verbatim. I have always enjoyed pouring over topo's to find new routes [to me] and possible passovers and crosscountry shortcuts , or pure routes. That has always been part of the allure of the high country. My motto is "leave little or no sign of your passing". Other than temporal footprints. That way the next guy thinks he is the first guy. jls
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Postby Moonwalker » Fri May 26, 2006 9:36 pm

ironmike wrote:giantbrookie, your post is spot on. I agree 100%, though your points are more eloquently presented than I could manage. Thanks...(snip)... Routefinding is a core skill for anyone who goes off trail in the Sierra (or sometimes even the trailhiker as well), whether the route is Class 2 or Class 5.impossible and since that skill is judgement-oriented, no amount of guidebook reading (or blogging!!) will fill the void...


Don't sell yourself short, ironmike, I thought you made your point pretty well the first time. (And giantbrookie: right on, man!) But if some backpacker decides to go up Echo Col instead of tackling Wallace Col because of this "blog", I'll feel like something good happened, even if they didn't learn any routefinding skills.

As for guidebooks, I'm glad for the good ones, such as Roper's High Route and Secor's book. They've definitely helped me get to some great areas I wouldn't have known existed. Of course, if you're going to put out a guidebook, you have a responsibility to be accurate, which is not to say detailed (as giantbrookie pointed out). This seems especially true for books describing backcountry routes, as you are then talking to some people who don't have a lot of experience. I think criticism of guidebooks (even Secor's) is a valuable service this group can provide. I'm sure the authors' skin is thick enough to take it.
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