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Segal Extols Traditional Ethics in Boulder Canyon

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,