I welcome a considered discussion of this subject, which is something I’ve considered over the years, and debated on numerous occasions. For a variety of reasons, I’ve always opposed fixed anchors (bolts) at the top of Penny Lane, but I’m certainly willing to have an intelligent interaction about this.
John Arts and I did Penny Lane in May 1978. There was then much less vegetation in the Little Smoke Bluffs, after a big fire in the 1960s , and most cliffs were visible from downtown Squamish. But it took us a while to go and have a look. I first thought of Penny Lane as a possible route in early 1978, when I walked past it with Carl Austrom.
Anyway, I went up there one weekend, thrashed up to the top, rappelled down, and dug out the route. I also cleaned Partners in Crime and Crime of the Century the same weekend. A week or two later we climbed it. I placed a pin in the groove about 5 metres up - shocking, eh? We climbed to the forest at the tippy top, and belayed there - most now stop on a sloping slab a few metres below, missing the last step, and after belaying traverse left.
In about 1988, someone placed a bolt station with chains and rings at the ledge just below the top, apparently so the route could be toproped with a 50 metre rope. I don’t recall being asked what I thought about the idea, and in any case chopped the bolts, quite publicly, in early 1989. Someone later placed a bolt halfway between the top and the rappel anchors, apparently as a directional. I also removed this.
The reasons I believe that a bolt belay at the top of Penny Lane is a poor idea:
1. There are good natural anchors (trees) at the top of the route. They aren’t entirely convenient for belaying, or toproping, but they’re there. Anyone can use them. And climbing isn’t exactly a convenient activity. (Or safe, for that matter.)
2. The point at which most people stop and belay, a few metres below the top, has a crack that offers good natural anchors. It would be very hard to safely lead the route, and not be able to establish a reasonable belay here. The insecure can always continue to the trees, but most have no trouble setting up a belay. Some instead place a directional anchor, and traverse left to the rappel bolts. More rope drag, but works fine.
3. There’s no well-travelled way to hike to the top of the route, and it’s not that easy to find, especially for novices. This is not the top of Burgers & Fries or Neat & Cool. The cliff slopes off, and there is some loose gravel. Most would still lead the route before it could be toproped, and novices might need a belay just to safely find the anchors from above.
4. Physics and geometry. The route is about 30 metres long. Ropes stretch 5-6% under an 80 kg load. There is a bouldery start - many fall off in the first three metres. I’ve seen several seconds, belayed from above, fall off and hit the ground here. A bellringer belay would double the amount of rope out, and so rope stretch, not including any slack in the system. 6% of 60 metres is 3.6 metres = crater.
5. More physics and geometry. The route diagonals, quite a lot. I’ve seen people fall off in the lower and middle parts, and pendulum well to the right. Directionals would help, but many topropers may still be developing that skill. The original posting observed that the belay anchors were well to the left of the top. Except that those aren’t the belay anchors. They’re the rappel anchors, for all routes ending in the area. A simple single rope rappel, out of the way of other climbers and routes. Admittedly, a few reach the top and traverse straight left to the belay - without placing a directional. Doh! Guidebooks might note that a) there’s a bouldery start, b) there are no bolts right at the top, but lots of trees, and c) that those traversing to the bolts ought to place a directional.
6. It would be out of character with the route to have fixed anchors at its top. One of the classic crack climbs of Squamish, not IMHO. I read it in a guidebook. Not my guidebook.
7. Fixed anchors at the top would encourage climbers to rappel the route - not a scenario that seems desirable. Bit like rappelling Diedre. (I was on Broadway one day last summer, on a lovely weekend morning. Lots in the chute on Diedre. I was approached by someone, who asked if I thought it would be ok for him to rappel down Diedre, as he was in a hurry. I said sure, but ask every single climber you’re rappelling past for permission, apologize profusely, and just to be sure search them for knives.) Scenario: climbers arrive at the bottom, find the route free, hike around, arrive at the top fifteen minutes later, safely find the anchors (hopefully), set up a top rope and rappel - only to find out that someone else has led half the route in the meantime. It’s analagous to one way streets in Vancouver - traffic flows better.
8. Toproping is likely to lead to polishing of the lower section particularly, route-hogging, and other anti-social behaviours.
9. The route is already occupied much of the time, with leaders and followers. Toprope anchors may not allow much more traffic, as it’s already near capacity.
In conclusion, I’m far from convinced that there’s a need for a bolt belay at the top of Penny Lane, or that it would make the route safer. There are many reasons why a bolt belay would be inappropriate. But I remain open to discussion of the idea.
I am commenting on this thread both because of my personal interest in the climb, and because I strongly believe that all those contemplating any change to established routes at Squamish (and elsewhere) should ensure that there is debate, and community consensus, before proceeding. Consult with those who created the route in the first place, if possible. Consult with the entire community, not just your homies. It’s good manners, and makes sense. If you want to add bolts to an existing route, or otherwise change its nature, have the courage of your convictions to tell the rest of the climbing world what you’re planning, and why. Likewise if you want to remove bolts. If you’re so certain that you’re right, let everyone else in on the reasons.
A few years ago, I agreed to the installation of belay/rappel bolts just below the top of Seasoned in the Sun, at the base of the Grand Wall. They’re unnecessary, in that there are trees on the ledge just above, and indeed it’s a metre before the natural end of the route. However, the trees were damaged by rockfall, and the ledge itself was a loose nightmare. Better for people to stay off it - although the whole area is exposed to rockfall, and toproping there is not an intelligent thing to do.
ps Wish I had a dollar for everyone who’s climbed the route. Maybe a patent or trademark or something?