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In 1965 Eric Beck, with Jim Bridwell and Chris Fredericks, made the first ascent of Snake Dike (5,7, 8 pitches) on Half Dome. Snake Dike, a moderate but wildly runout route, was the scene of a tragic accident this year when New Zealand student Anna Parsons suffered an 80-foot fall that seriously injured her and led to the amputation of her left foot. The accident stirred debate within the climbing community about whether the route should be retrobolted. The following letter is a response from first ascentionist Eric Beck.
Snake Dike is an old route of mine, together with Jim Bridwell and Chris Fredericks. On the first ascent, we were continually expecting much harder climbing and were conserving our supply of 12 bolts as well as hoping to get down in a day. We left the route with single belay bolts and two protection bolts. We realized that this was totally inappropriate for a moderate route, which we could already see would be popular as it was so pretty.
[Steve] Roper did the second ascent. We implored him to add more bolts, which he did, admirably. He doubled all the belay bolts and added a protection bolt on the runout pitches. He also got down in a day.
I asked other parties to add more bolts. I even put in a plug for this when I was speaking at Oakdale a few years ago. Ideally, I would like to see five protection bolts where it is run out. This is similar to the routes on Dozier Dome in Tuolumne.
Roper once asked, “Is every climb for everybody?” It may look like I want to defang the Snake Dike and bring it down to the lowest common denominator, but the Snake Dike is not a test piece. It has no fangs. It is a lovely route on one of the great monoliths of our planet. Had we had more time and more bolts, we would have done it ourselves [during the first ascent.]
There is a tradition with which I concur that the first ascent party should be the arbiter of style on a climb. Bridwell is gone and Chris has vanished from the climbing scene. So I am once again asking the climbing community add some more bolts to the Snake Dike.