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Old 04-24-2011   #1
antigua, guatemala
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 7
Installing a cable on a sheer cliff

Hi all,

I am looking for advice on installing some kind of cable or handholds on a creek's cliff face (to get past a class VI rapid without suffering a horrendous climb). If anyone out there has experience with this, can show me examples on what others have done, or can point me to someone, I'd appreciate it.

Mayan White Water

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Old 04-25-2011   #2
Flagstaff, Arizona
Paddling Since: 02
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 7

Depending on how permanent you want this to be, it could go one of two ways. Here is the permanent way: Get your hands on an impact drill. This is what rock climbers use to drill holes into the rock and place bolts with hangers to clip their carabiners and/or slings (often called "draws" or "quickdraws") and thus their rope for protection as they ascend. Most major power tool companies who make these drills include Bosch, Dewalt, etc. They are expensive. So, renting or borrowing would be your best bet. From there, decide whether a cable or rope should be used.
I have used a system in the past where there was a cable and quickdraws involved. The system worked as follows: The boat traveled along a relatively horizontal route, A to B, along the cable you have to clip and unclip sets of quickdraws, one set at a time. 2 bolts and corresponding quickdraws would be clipped approximately one meter from one another and those sets of bolts approximately 10 meters apart. As the boat (clipped to the cable with a quickdraw) travels to the first quickdraw, unclip the quickdraw (the one attached from rock to cable) and move the boat past and reclip. Now, the boat is in between the two quickdraws. Then unclip and reclip the next quickdraw and so on. This way the cable never droops or drops and stays taught. Don't forget to bring your harness and use a daisy chain and a pulley (to reduce friction) assisting you in your traverse across.
This process is entirely dependent on the anchors (trees, rocks, etc.) that you can tie off too in order to drill the bolts and set the route/system. Again, I'm not sure if you are planning on using this frequently or as a first decent. The quickest way would be to just tie off to two trees and/or rocks and send a man across then the boats over said whitewater.
I would suggest contacting a climbing guide service in your area to see which type/size of bolts would be most applicable to your rock type. Generally 3-6" x 1/2" expansion bolts are used. It is good to bring a little piece of tubing with you to blow the rock dust out of your drilled holes. 2-part Epoxy is often carried in a bolt kit as well for when bolts become loose over time.
I would like to see pictures of the finished product including the unrunnable whitewater below.
Don't forget to bring lots of helping hands wearing helmets.

Best of Luck,

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Old 04-25-2011   #3
Randaddy's Avatar
Eastern Slope, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1980
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You should talk to Emanuel Lapala of Wild Guatemala adventures. I think he's out of Antigua. I went to climbing guide school with him in the states and he definitely knows what he's doing. I bet he'll go with you and I know he's installed bolts around Amatitlan so he might have just the equipment you're looking for.

Last I saw him he was in Antigua and I know his parents still live there. If you see him, do me a favor and PM me his email or phone number.
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Old 04-25-2011   #4
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Sounds like you are wanting to install a "Via Ferrata" or Iron Way more than just placing a few bolts??? These are very common in France, Italy and throughout the Alps. It's like a ladder of steel steps going up cliffs with a safety cable that you clip into using a special shock absorbing lanyard or "Cows Tail".

Here is a few links:
Via ferrata - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Via Ferrata - Google Search
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Old 04-25-2011   #5
over the horizon
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Carbondale, Colorado
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If layout of the location allowed, sending your boat down a zipline would be nice. Navigating the VF sans boat would be ideal.

Needless to say, rigging something like this in an incorrect or half-ass fashion would be a horrible act and a permanent blemish on one's river karma...
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Old 04-25-2011   #6
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Golden, Colorado
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Definitely post before and after pics....
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Old 04-25-2011   #7
Colorado Springs Paddling Since: 1983
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Your question begs for more detail. Are you just looking for an easy way to get up the cliff? With your boats? Or have a lowering system to get boats/people around a rapid?

Just rigging a line to get up a cliff is pretty simple. But even then it's easy to place bad bolts (even with a power drill), overload the entire system to failure, etc. And bolting climbing holds onto a cliff on public land could get you into hot water, especially if you are doing this as a commercial outfitter.

So once again, what are you looking to do?
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Old 04-25-2011   #8
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Carbondale, Colorado
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Whatever he's doing it's in Central A-mehr-eee-kah. Not likely to rub any agencies the wrong way. As long as the locals don't think you're a witch...
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Old 04-25-2011   #9
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vancouver, Washington
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I don't care where in the world it is. Just respect the area and work with the local authorities -- this will save a lot of grief/fines etc. It's possible what you want to attempt (if done right and shared) may save lives and increase tourism dollars in the region

If it's in some scenic area that you have no right in disturbing then shame on you
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Old 04-25-2011   #10
antigua, guatemala
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 7
Hi all, thanks for the advice and comments,

Regarding the ethical issues, yes I am conscious that in general this type of thing (which I haven't done before) has an ethical component. Yes the creek and I are in Guatemala which makes things "easier." As it turns out this rigging would be on private land where the owners don't mind us being there and where no one would even notice it.

Yes I am talking about altering nature, but minimally. For me it's worth it to turn an unrunnable creek into a fantastic bit of kayaking. I'm just trying to be sure I don't put something in that later falls out and creates a hazard for boaters or locals.

As far as saving lives, well no, if this isn't done probably no one would even attempt to kayak this creek again. As far as increasing tourism, hah, I wish. Though y'all are welcome to start the kayaking tourism flood down here!

Now, about the technical aspects...

I'm talking about circumventing a rapid that otherwise has no river-level portage routes. Climbing up and around is not an option, it's just too steep and tall. The best side to attack is basically a sheer cliff face, with deep fast current running along it with only minimal churning, down to some boulders where you could start doing normal portaging. So my idea is a river-level cable or whatever that one could grab to safely make the traverse, around 30m long or so. The person could potentially be walking either in the water or out of the water (I'm not sure how the footing is under the waterline). Then pull boats across separately.

The "Via Ferrata" ideas are interesting, certainly enough rungs of rebar for feet and hands along the cliff face would do the trick. Cables do have the disadvantage of being hard to hold on to as well as not being solid and potentially pinching near the anchors.

I am getting the help and advice of some local climbing buddies. Yes, Randaddy, I know Manuel, in fact we did some canyoning in the same area a few years ago, but it seems he's not in Guatemala these days. Anyway, I'm relying on the others for the bolt/iron installation for whatever we figure out.

JR, I don't quite follow your description of the cables and quickdraws. Are you describing a sequence of 10m-long cables, each separated (or maybe overlapped) by 1m? And these were used while staying in the boats?

The easiest thing to put in would be one long cable. But I guess it might have a lot of slack and be hard to maintain body position. Though drilling and sealing 100 holes for rebar rungs would be quite a mission too.

I will keep you posted on any progress I make including pictures. Right now we're in a race against the rainy season that's already started..


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