A Cruise Up the Salathé
Poudre Canyon, Colorado
AND ICE THE CLIMBER’S MAGAZINE
FIRST 5.14 BY AN AMERICAN
THROWIN' THE HOULIHAN
WILD IRIS WIND AND RATTLESNAKES
L ARIAT S, LEGENDS ISSUE245 247 OCTOBER JANUARY 2018 ISSUE 2017 DISPLAY THROUGH JANUARY DISPLAY THROUGH OCT.
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A D I D A S O U T D O O R . C O M
H E R E
C R E A T E
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F E AT U R E S
Sports often exacerbate eating disorders. For the author the opposite is the case. BY L IZ W EBER
Cowboy Rodeo ROCK AND ICE PHOTO CAMP The house that Todd Skinner and friends built, revisited when 15 photographers descend on Wild Iris, Wyoming.
A Cruise Up the SalathÃ©
One of climbing's timeless classics, dusted off and proving that some things never change. BY DICK SHOCK L E Y
On the Earl
Before there was Hersey or Honnold, there was Earl Wiggins. BY A L ISON OSIUS
D E PA R TM E N TS Editorial to Accidents All stuff you have to read.
COVER: Kat Butler, Wild Iris, Wyoming. PHOTO BY RANDALL LEVENSALER THIS PAGE: Jon Cardwell revisits Throwin' the Houlihan, Wild Iris. PHOTO BY JEFF RUEPPEL Rock and Ice (USPS 0001-762, ISSN 0885-5722) is published 8 times a year (January, February, April, May, July, August, October, and November) by Big Stone Publishing, 1101 Village Road Suite UL 4D, Carbondale, CO 81623. Periodicals postage paid at Carbondale, CO, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Rock and Ice, 2567 Dolores Way, Carbondale, CO 81623. Subscription rates are $29.95 per year, $44.95 for two years. Canada, add $15 per year for surface postage; all other countries add $20 per year for surface postage (US funds only). Canada Post CPM #7157697.
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AARON MULKEY WORKING ON THE FIRST ASCENT OF SUPER FLY M8, PILOT CREEK, WYOMING
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BY FR ANCIS SANZ ARO
What in the f#&k were you thinking? Third Flatiron, Boulder, Colorado. I think I was wearing sweatpants. The super baggy kind that slip below your shoes so when you high step on a sloping ledge you have a nice little friction surprise between your shoes and the stone—perfect threads for a 14-year-old to solo the Third Flatiron, in midday July heat, after climbing for less than a year. “Hey Pete, how you feeling man?” Pete, my partner in crime, was just 10 feet or so below me. He peered up and shit-grinned, tossing his blond skater flop out of his eyes. Heaven, Pete indicated without words. We were both about 400 feet off the deck, crimping, crawling and reaching for one bad idea after another. Sean, the 20-something instructor who brought us here, was somewhere above, irresponsibly swimming around on jugs, not worried about us. Apparently Pete felt solid, not sure why, and not sure he would have fessed up otherwise, but I know why I felt safe—I had a cam clipped to my sweatpants. I found it at the base. If I got scared, I would just find a crack and plug the thing in. I was invincible now. Pull the trigger, stick it in, and you’re good. As the writer of our accident report, why am I recalling a teenage lapse of reason on the third flat, when, if you know me, I clearly could have chosen a more idiotic episode from my adulthood? ... like that time I helped a stranger carry smuggled jewels out of Burma. The answer: I almost was an accident report. Recently, the Flatirons have been the site of two unfortunate accidents. On October 26th, Erik K leiber fell unroped to his death on the First Flatiron. On August 6th, 17-year-old Carter Christensen was found unresponsive, also unroped, below the First Flatiron. Free soloing might be entering mainstream in a pseudo trickledown effect, from Honnold’s National Geographic cover on the Thank God ledge on Half Dome to #yolofreesolo, with the results being (i) increasing participation of beginner climbers who are not ready to handle the demands of soloing; (ii) dulling of the perception that, at some point on any solo, you are playing Russian roulette; (iii) heightening misperception of it being a thing climbers casually do. And yet the publishing “we” have done little to censor its imagery. Not that we should. Soloing is an open sore in the climbing community, whose red blood cells have to wrangle the parents whose daughters and sons discover climbing … the claim it is an essential (and historical) component to climbing … the romantic myth of the unencumbered climber … the people who have to (literally) pick up the pieces of a dead soloist’s life … the claim that climbing is freedom and soloing is freedom and we should do what we want. Multiple truths have no simple explanation. Pete and I topped out the Third Flat just fine. But 20 years later, I keep wanting to ask the guy who brought us there—What in the fuck were you thinking? Clearly, his life had fallen apart, since the idea to take two novice teenage boys on a 1,300-foot soloing mission was an atrocious display of judgment, and if only he had made two more decisions like that, which I’m sure he did, he’d likely be in jail or the hospital … but that day on the flat got me hooked on climbing, for better or worse. Soloing isn’t wrong, just wrong when you aren’t ready.
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Mountain Hardwear athlete, Vivian Bruchez wearing the Cyclone Jacket and Pant on the Alguille dâ€™EntrĂ¨ves route up Mont Blanc outside of Chamonix, France.
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“There's much to dance for, much to celebrate with the lives of Inge and Hayden: the athletic prowess they both expressed; the spunky and authentic ways they acted; the generous, kind, and bright spirits they embodied that must have been just too big for the human body to hold.”
—Kelsey Sather, “In Loving Memory of Inge Perkins,” www.thesewordslikerocks (October 11), upon the deaths of the leading climbers and mountaineers Inge Perkins and Hayden Kennedy.
“They complemented each other not only in terms of athletic prowess, but also through a shared sense of intrinsic motivation and similarly unassuming personalities. Both eschewed attention.” —Bozeman Daily Chronicle (October 15), on the pair.
Cut the Honnold Kudos I am inspired to reply to Jeff Jackson’s mildly over-the-top article (“Headpoint,” No. 246) praising and endorsing Alex Honnold’s undoubted achievement on El Cap, without a breath of criticism about an activity that is hazardous almost to the point of suicidal. Thinking of the latest end game, I wonder just how inspired Herr Ueli Steck’s family and friends feel at this moment. I wonder how inspired first responders feel when they have to go out and pick up the pieces. You seem to ignore the grim reality of how many of these careers end. How many soloists are there over 30? Not so many I would think. Have you ever had a visit from the mother of one of those brave, talented, yet ultimately foolish young men? To say the least, that would be a disconcerting experience. I hope I am wrong, but do I detect a note of complacency amounting almost to smugness in your dismissal of the correspondence you have received from critics of your point of view? Your laudatory remarks about what borders on a death cult are a striking anomaly in a magazine that from cover to cover takes a highly responsible attitude towards ensuring the pursuit of safety both on the mountain and in the gym.
—Gavin Anderson Columbus, OH
“Climbing World Mourns the Loss of Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins” (October 10) and related posts: Estefania Eb: God bless these beautiful humans. Daniel Connor: This is beyond sad. Cindy Hufnagel: Too many sweet souls lost. Halil Sertbulut: The man who cleaned Cerro Torre in every sense of the word … RIP. Horst Nargang: Heartbreaking. Mike Henery: And so sadly we lose two great souls. Shauna Abbenhaus: Their spirits shine brightly. Todd Gailar: Gone too soon. Incredibly sad story. The families request that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in Perkins’ name to the Wyoming Outdoor Council (wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org) for land access and conservation, or www.haydenfund.org.
In reply to "Gear Guy: How to Stretch Climbing Shoes," in which a letter writer reported having watched a shoe demo wherein an employee from an area shop stretched shoes with a broomstick and a microwave: Redpoint Climbers Supply – Smith Rock Climbing Gear: Hey everyone,
we're the shop in question, and since Gear Guy says he "hates him," and calls me or one of my employees an "idiot," I feel the need to respond. 1. It's not a broomstick, it's an actual shoe cobbler's shoe horn. 2. It's not a microwave, it's a convection oven. 3. The oven is set low, as to not melt the rubber or the glue. 4. It's meant for hotspots, not to stretch the entire shoe. Most of the time we do this because someone was guilted into buying too small of a shoe, either by a significant other or shop employee, and they can't return them. So we do what we can to help them out. Gear Guy, If you'd like to see our process, come to our shop at Smith Rock, and I'll buy you a beer and show you how we do it. How's that sound?
AND ICE THE CLIMBER’S MAGAZINE
ADAMA ON DR IA L SP EC N ED IT IO
[ 5.15d [
HOW THE IMPOSSIBLE BECAME REALITY
FEATURE PAGE 30
2017 ISSUE 246 245 NOVEMBER OCTOBER 2017 DISPLAY THROUGH NOVEMBER DISPLAY THROUGH OCT.
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Posting the cover of Issue No. 246, showing Adam Ondra upside-down in the crux of Silence (9c/5.15d), the Hanshallaren Cave, Flatanger, Norway. Mike Palic: *rotates phone* Nope still don’t get it. *rotates phone*... Ryan Coulter: It's kinda what I would expect 5.15d to look like ... impossible. Marc Yamamoto: He is actually top roping slab, and they just flipped the picture. Puthujjano Ummattako: Can't wait for the first 5.16!
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EXHALE ENGAGE FOCUS FIRE Instinct SCARPA Athlete: Sam Elias | Wild Iris, WY | Photo: Louis Arevalo
OWNED AND OPERATED BY CLIMBERS Established 1984 BRENDAN LEADER ON KALEIDOSCOPE 5.13C AT DRIVE BY, RED RIVER GORGE, KENTUCKY -PHOTO © AIMEE BELT
AND ICE THE CLIMBER’S MAGAZINE
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WARNING! The activities described in Rock and Ice carry a significant risk of personal injury or death. DO NOT participate in these activities unless you are an expert, have sought or obtained qualified professional instruction or guidance, are knowledgeable about the risks involved, and are willing to assume personal responsibility for all risks associated with these activities. Big Stone Publishing Ltd. MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, OF ANY KIND REGARDING THE CONTENTS OF THIS MAGAZINE, AND EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS ANY WARRANTY REGARDING THE ACCURACY OR RELIABILITY OF INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN. Big Stone Publishing Ltd. further disclaims any responsibility for injuries or death incurred by any person engaging in these activities. Use the information contained in this magazine at your own risk, and do not depend on the information contained in this magazine for personal safety or for determining whether to attempt any climb, route or activity described herein.
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An Option to Plan A
PHOTO BY PIOTREK DESKA
MACIEK SMOLNIK ATTEMPTS PLAN B (8b/5.13d), a well-known classic in the Zergenschloss sector of the Frankenjura, Germany. One of the first developed sport-climbing areas, and home to what may be the first 9a, Wolfgang Gullich's Action Directe, the historic Frankenjura is trademarked for short, hard, fingery, bullet limestone routes. These it has aplenty, but among the woods and hills and some 1,500 crags and 10,000 routes of northern Bavaria you will also find about any species of route you can imagine. Later, once the chalk has settled you can ice your mitts around a stein at the region's ubiquitous beer gardens. It was here in 1516 that Bavaria established the Reinheitsgebot, the beer purity law that is still in effect and appreciated: the average Bavarian tankers 45 gallons of water, barley and hops per year.
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WHAT I’VE LEARNED
BY ALISON OSIUS
To read more about interesting people, go to rockandice.com.
I’ve learned that when you make a mistake it’s usually not the first mistake that kills you.
But K2 in 1990 was our big success [with Greg Mortimer, Greg Child and Phil Ershler]. We probably never would have climbed it then if I hadn’t been there in ’86.
Age 63, early oxygenless ascents of Everest and K2, dozens of expeditions worldwide, Piolet d’Or winner, retired engineer, author. My early trip to Everest, in ’94, was a miserable experience in some ways. It took me back to my Boy Scout days of learning to climb. We learned that probably the most important thing in the mountains is to take responsibility for yourself and help other people when they’re in trouble. On Everest there were people leaving people behind who needed help. Or people whose summit ambitions were their life dream, and they had to put those away to rescue somebody who wasn’t taking responsibility: wasn’t prepared and went anyway. After that, I didn’t go back to any 8,000-meter peaks. You have to be able to play the long game. I went to Pakistan four times without a summit. In 1986 I applied for a permit for Gasherbrum IV, but dropped out to go to K2. George Lowe and Alex Lowe were going, and I was kinda star-struck. Also, after trips [to GIV] in ’80 and ’83 I didn’t think I was
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My fourth attempt on Gasherbrum IV was my last. It’s good to know when to move on. Even though it might always be a disappointment, that’s just life, and it’s healthier to give yourself a break. There are lots of things to do. From the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat in 2004, with Doug Chabot, there are several lessons. We did the long ridge [four peaks prior to the main summit], and I was sick, coughing. It was time to come down. We left all our stuff, including the rope, and were descending when we got to this big rock section that narrows into a ridge. Steve House had told us he remembered fixed ropes ... There was no rope. We would have to go all the way back up and never make it—or try to downclimb and maybe fall to our deaths. I’ve learned that when you make a mistake it’s usually not the first mistake that kills you. It’s rushing into something else trying to recover from the first one. I said there’s gotta
be something else. So we sat there for three hours. I finally remembered that 100 feet up the slope I saw this little piece of rope sticking out, like three feet sticking out of the ice. We went back up and chopped for three hours and salvaged about 75 feet of rope, which literally saved us. Don’t leave your rope behind. And don’t listen to someone else’s advice. That’s not Steve’s fault. We were the ones who decided. On one expedition I could see right out of the Jeep that it wasn’t going to work. One of the big lessons was it’s just all part of the journey. You go with it. It’s probably not going to work out this time, but let’s just see what happens and how far we get, it might just set us up like on K2, and after that I was just trying to behave myself. I’ve learned that on a big trip you go with equal partners, which means everyone has an equal opportunity and responsibility for decisionmaking. It’s important to be aware on a big climb when anyone, including me, is too intimidated or exhausted to collaborate and contribute equally. If I sense that this is happening, we all go down. From writing Karakoram: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict, I learned to develop more of my rightbrain skills. By nature I’m more systematic and organized, and those skills come in handy as a climber and an engineer. To write an interesting book, I knew I’d have to dig deep and work on being more creative and intuitive. That process was powerful. I wish I had done something like this long ago.
getting it right. I was organizing the team, and both times there were issues, big attrition rates. Actually in ’86 I think I did have it figured out, because the [GIV] team that Greg Child and I had put together were great, and they did the route. On K2 I got maybe 300 or 400 meters from the top with Alex in bad snow conditions late in the day.
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Claire Buhrfeind comes to grips with Les Colonnettes (8a/5.13b), Céüse, France.
WHEN YOUR HARDEST YEAR IS YOUR BEST Claire Buhrfeind Wins Worlds, Thinks Games
The second annual Psicobloc Masters drew a slew of top women climbers including Sasha DiGiulian, Ashima Shiraishi, Delaney Miller, Alex Johnson and Alex Puccio. Male headliners included Chris Sharma and Daniel Woods. Those names appeared in event previews—Claire Buhrfeind’s did not. Almost unnoticed that year, 2014, the 16-year-old made it to the final round in the women’s competition, pitted against her home teammate Delaney Miller, one of her climbing idols, then age 19. A commentator called Buhrfeind a “surprise wild card,” saying he had expected Ashima Shiraishi and Alex Puccio to be the top two. Miller and Buhrfeind climbed side by side until about halfway, when Buhrfeind moved ahead, increasing her lead to win by four moves. Now 19, Buhrfeind says she was as surprised as the audience. “I didn’t have any other expectation other than to be terrified.” This year, after a few years under the radar, Buhrfeind popped back up—in September dominating the IFSC Youth World Championships in Innsbruck, where she won in both lead and bouldering. Hailing from Plano, Texas, she has been a member of Team Texas Youth Climbing Team in Dallas since age 10.
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BEST HITS 1st, World Youth Championships in lead and bouldering, 4th in speed, Innsbruck, 2017. 1st in lead, Youth National Championships, Kennesaw, GA, 2017. 1st in speed, USAC Open National Championships, Boston, 2016. 2nd overall, 7th in lead, adult World Championships, Paris, 2016. Sent Diaphanous Sea (V11) and Power of Landjager (V11), Hueco Tanks, TX, 2013 and 2014. Onsighted Face de Rat (8a+ / 5.13c), Céüse, France, 2016. Sent Ultraperm (5.13d), Red River Gorge, KY, 2012.
Were the 2020 Olympics part of your decision to leave school? Yeah. I’m really excited about the opportunity to compete for a spot. So now I am home, just traveling and training. I am hoping to take some more classes in the spring, probably in Dallas at SMU [Southern Methodist University] so I can travel and go on the circuit again in the summer. I am somebody who is 100 percent going to graduate from college, I just felt I needed to give myself a break from trying to multi-task everything. Will you be nervous to compete against your friends for an Olympic spot? I don’t think any of us are nervous about that. All of us love to compete. Whatever happens,
it will be a really great opportunity for our sport to be on that stage. What is your training schedule like? I need to start doing more speed climbing [laughs]. I think I’ll try and speed climb probably once a week, and then sport and bouldering are a little bit easier to combine. Every day is different. I’m training probably five days a week. Have you, at 6 feet tall, been subject to any growing pains? Yes. I’ve had recurring neck and back issues and some bulging disks—a lot of tightness in general everywhere. My arms used to go numb during climbing, and I couldn’t feel my hands. I think I grew really quickly at the same time I was getting a lot stronger, and that definitely contributed. How do you cope with recurring injuries? I started doing yoga, and just doing a lot of stretching before and after workouts. Climbing idols? I’m really inspired by my friend Margo [Hayes]. Of course, everyone knows she’s just incredible, and she’s an amazing person. I find a lot of inspiration with strong women in our sport who are really pushing the boundaries. Alex Puccio, Delaney Miller.
SAVANNAH CUMMINS (LEF T), EDDIE FOWKE
Are you in college? Basically, I’m doing a delayed gap year. I went to school at the University of Washington last year and just ended up with too many things on my plate at once. The past year has been really difficult for me. I’ve been very confused about who I want to be, and to be honest, at school I had a really terrible time. I just had a hard time figuring out how to balance school, climbing, friends, sleep—everything, and I just didn’t really know where I fit in in any of those things.
Yann Borgnet during the rst ascent of Fjalifoss (200 m, WI5+), Iceland. // Photo: Aymeric Clouet
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Gordon McArthur on the first ascent of the worldâ€™s longest and most difficult drytooling route. More on this epic journey at: www.outdoorresearch.com/blog
DEDICATION For the Journey Ahead tm
PHILIP QUADE GORDON MCARTHUR CLIMBING STORM GIANT (D16) FERNIE, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Three years of failure, hundreds of hours spent upside down, and countless sacrifices made to reach this moment.
BY FRANCIS SANZARO
The most difficult 14’er in Colorado, Capitol Peak is a magnet for experienced and inexperienced climbers alike. The left skyline ridge is the standard way up and down, and from the perspective of the ridgeline the north face (in sun with the long shadow) appears a benign shortcut. It isn’t.
Death on High Colorado Peak At nearly 14,000 feet on Capitol Peak, one of Colorado’s most difficult 14’ers, Brandon Wilhelm and Zackaria White started arguing. It was around 3:45 p.m. on August 26. By all accounts, the weather that Saturday was clear, Colorado-blue skies and no wind. An hour previous, they had stood on the summit, but now, exhausted and late in the day, White wanted to take a shortcut back to Capitol Lake, where they camped the night before. White, 21, who had no previous climbing experience, was convinced he saw a more direct descent straight down a gully on the north face, which would avoid the talus-hopping, circuitous main trail. His partner, Wilhelm, who has climbed 42 Colorado 14’ers, disagreed. According to an interview with The Aspen Times, Wilhelm strongly advised White against descending the gully, saying that it cliffs out. White insisted on the shortcut. They parted ways just before the knife edge, and White continued down the gully. Wilhelm took the main trail and got back to Capitol Lake around 7 p.m. In the waning light, he made extensive efforts to look for White, but couldn’t see anything. He went to sleep and called for a rescue early the next morning. White’s body was found around noon on Sunday below the cliff band. According to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, his body “had injuries that were consistent with a fall from the cliff band above.”
ANALYSIS Wilhelm and White started their day late on Saturday, waking up around 9 a.m. at Capitol Lake. To avoid afternoon thunderstorms and give ample time to descend, a good rule of thumb is to be off a Colorado summit by 11 a.m. It was 4 p.m., he was exhausted, had no headlamp, wore skateboarding shoes, and they were still high on the route. As an inexperienced climber, White sought a quicker descent route. He simply wanted to be down. White thought he had found a more direct line down to Capitol Lake, but it is not a route. The gully he saw does indeed spill out right above the lake. However, while many mountains have more direct descent routes than the normal ones, it does not mean they are “shorter” or safer. Mountain experience verifies this time and time again. A technical descent of 500 vertical feet can take two or three times as long as a moderate three-mile hike. In the case of Capitol, the north gully seems doable from the knife ridge—an infamous section high up on the route—but slowly becomes steeper on chossy rock only to end on 500-foot cliff bands; the extent of the cliff bands down the north face is obvious from Capitol Lake. White’s decision to take the gully is the result of a lack of knowledge of safe mountain travel and situational awareness. Sadly, only four days prior, on August 22, the bodies of a young Aspen couple, Ryan Marcil, 26, and Carlin Brightwell, 27, were recovered below the north face. They died as a result of what was likely the same decision—attempting a direct route down the north face. If these individuals had stayed on trail, their accidents probably would have been prevented. However, the increasing number of deaths on North American mountains is indicative of the increasing popularity of climbing mountains, with more people probably either ignoring or not fully comprehending the risk.
PREVENTION Inexperienced hikers and climbers should only veer off-trail on a technical peak if they are sure the way is a descent route and they have the proper equipment to do so. For a 14’er, Capitol Peak is quite technical. As the Sheriff’s Office said, “If there was a safe shortcut, it would be the standard route.” Trails on 14’ers often start out in a pine and aspen forest, become thinner as you climb, then peter out completely on loose talus fields near the summit. So, why not just have better trails on 14ers and post signage in problem areas, such as the north face gully on Capitol? Scott Fitzwilliams, Superviser of the White River National Forest, whose boundaries encompass Capitol Peak, says more signage isn’t the answer: (i) the signs would need to be regularly maintained, which is impossible in alpine talus fields and because of staffing shortages; (ii) you simply can’t locate every potential danger; and (iii) the wilderness experience would be compromised by increasing signage and other elements. In terms of popularity, Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in the state, saw a 16 percent increase in traffic between 2015 and 2016, with 29,000 visitors in the latter year. The best prevention: “Education,” says Fitzwilliams. Knowing what a route entails, having food, water, proper gear, being fit enough, and building up to the more difficult peaks are the best ways to keep the increasing numbers of mountain climbers safe. IS S U E 247 • JA N UA RY 2 018 19
LINES OF WEAKNESS
BY NIALL GRIMES
John and I had gone to Egerton Quarry for the first time and had squelched through swamps and bushwhacked around, doing a route or two. Egerton is a post-industrial excavation on the outskirts of some northern-English urban spew, and as such, you don’t go there expecting to enjoy yourself. We then spotted a nice-looking arete. The guidebook called it Renaissance and showed a man doing a strange-looking move on the first ascent. It was graded E5 6a and had one peg as protection. It looked dodgy. I don’t know who writes the guidebooks for that area, but you can’t trust them. As such, just launching up things near your limit would be unwise. We tried to abseil it but could find no anchor on the verdant slope above, and went off and climbed something else instead that day. Eight months later, though, we marched in with a pair of metal stakes four feet long, a long-handled sledgehammer and some static line. I held the pipes steady as John swung at them with the sledge. It took only three blows each to sink them to their depth in the hopeless upper slope. “They’ll do,” someone who wasn’t me declared.
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I got sent down first. The peg seemed sound, the rock was clean, and the holds were solid, apart from a flake-jug near the top. “Seems loose. I think a nut tool would have that off in no time.” “O.K.,” John said. “I’ll have a look on my way past.” I continued to the ground and wandered off to rack up below another route, our warm-up. It really was quite nice here, for a grotty quarry. It was a spring evening, the sun was shining, the new leaves were out. Listen to the birds. And that other noise. What was that, church bells? No, it was coming from the direction of Renaissance. I walked over and looked up to see John sitting on his haunches on
top of the crag. He was leaning down with the sledgehammer in his hand, and he was whacking the loose flake. I had never seen anything like it before. He caught my eye just as a thought went through my head: Socialmedia gold! I turned and scurried ratlike toward my sack for my phone but he read me. “I know what you’re doing, you bastard.” When I came back, he put the sledgehammer down. “Do it again, John, please. It looks so brilliant.” Amazingly, he did. It looked so wrong I had to have a go. I legged it around and up to the slope and clipped the stakes. He gave me the hammer. I lowered a few feet and laid into the flake. John had already been at work for awhile, and still it refused to budge. I was engaged in an orgy of destruction when two people appeared below and glanced up. I could tell from their dress and demeanor that these were bumblies and would know little about the realities of top-end rock climbing.
R ANDALL LEVENSALER ART, PHOTOS BY ALEX MESSENGER
Two guys, an obscure quarry, and a sledgehammer
LINES OF WEAKNESS “Don’t you cats worry,” I reassured them. “Just prospecting.” When I was exhausted I passed the hammer back up to John and abseiled to the ground. I unclipped and said hello to the lower-grade people. “Something loose up there?” the bigger one asked. “Yeah, there’s a jug rattling near the top, and you wouldn’t want to fall off up there.” “Oh aye?” “I mean, it seemed loose, but I’ve had a good go at it, and it’s still there. But you don’t want to go trusting the descriptions too much. I mean, the peg is all you get.” “I know,” said the big one. “Oh aye?” “Aye,” he said. “I did the first ascent.” “And I seconded the first ascent,” said the other. “Right.” It is hard, here on the page, to convey how I felt upon hearing this information. I am tempted to leave a gap in the words that stretches out over a page or two, but that wouldn’t capture it. As I stared, I knew from the guidebook who this was. Geoff Hibbert. Mister Egerton. His name was beside the
majority of the harder routes in the quarry. He had just found me smashing the shit out of his three-star classic at his home crag. Should I run? Flight or fight? I sized up the two honchos standing next to me. They were big guys, with workers’ muscles bulging from tight T-shirts. I wondered whether they were going to do to me what I had done to their flake; first ascensionists are notoriously protective of their babies. Stories filled my mind about car-park punchups over a crumbled crimp, or the guy who got laid out in the pub in North Wales after he survived a 60-foot fall onto a single wire behind a flake but the impact took the edge off the flake. Silence hung in the evening. I was going to get pulverized. Unless we could maybe decide this whole thing never happened. A commotion: The hammering started again, and cursing filled the air … “Come off, you fucker. Come off, you loose bastard.” We three watched John spend himself upon the jug the way a 3,000-mile fetch across the Atlantic Ocean would spend itself onto Stevenson’s Lighthouse, which rises up on the most ferocious rocky tip of Cornwall.
It remained a beautiful sight. “Come down!” I yelled. Down he slid, looking pleased with himself. “Think it’ll go now.” “Hi John. This is Geoff and Adam. They did the first ascent.” “Oh aye?” All eyes turned now on John, providing me with much-needed relief, and in this relief I watched John’s face over the course of several moments play out the emotional range of a Hollywood epic. Joy and enthusiasm gave way to horror, regret, sadness and internal rage, all acted out by the twitches on the edge of his mouth. It was like Eastwood in his prime. Geoff and Adam stepped forward and shook both our hands. “If it’s loose, get it off, that’s what I say,” Geoff said. “You don’t want to crater.” He smiled. And I felt that way I felt when I walked out of the Kathmandu police station as a free man after my attempt at a false insurance claim went bad. We gassed on for awhile and went off to our respective routes. I wasn’t climbing well enough to lead the
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LINES OF WEAKNESS Silence hung in the evening. I was going to get pulverized. arete so I threw myself on the ethical hand grenade and toproped it. The climb started on a dusty ledge that sloped toward a rubbly subsection. From there I followed tricky moves up the angular arete, and from time to time I rested on the rope. I checked the peg and lowered, and we strolled over to chat again with the lads. Great climb, peg seems good, we reported. Tricky moves off the ledge. “The ledge?” Geoff interrupted. “You’re starting halfway up!” “You mean it starts in that pit?” “The lower wall, you mean? Well, that’s if you want to do it properly.” The bastard. Of course the guidebook is utterly ambiguous about where it starts but he was telling us this and again had the upper hand. We traipsed back, and I was sent into the rubble-filled pit on a rope from above. I brought a stiff-bristled brush and cleaned and chalked a line of sidepulls that led directly to the upper arete, and John tied on hoping for the flash. Cheech and Chong appeared and folded their arms.
“Where are you going?” Chong pointed to my chalked flakes. “I’m sure I went farther right.” Six feet to the right was a dusty fissure that looked like an aerial photograph of the Battle of the Somme. That had never been climbed. “Don’t listen to them, John. Off you go.” He did. And on the last move he laid one onto the decayed remnants of the loose flake. Everyone was psyched, and the two locals lost control of their emotions and agreed to second it. They were still bantering on about the variation start, implying we had done it wrong, and Adam made a deal of going where he swore they went on the first ascent. We watched him scratch his way up left of Somme crack, trying desperately to avoid its parched innards, awkwardly using inverted holds and off-cambered slimps. He clenched upward in rictus determination and eventually pinged off. His hand gravitated to the crack, and it vomited dust and small rocks. He grovelled upward for one more move, then relented and came down. “You were too far right, as I remember,”
Geoff chided him. Too far right? Jesus. Between our flakes, which they didn’t use, and the dusty crack was six feet of blankness. Adam’s supposedly off-route attempt must have taken up two feet of that, John the opposite two feet. Which left Geoff’s King Line somewhere in the middle two feet. He was coaxed into demonstrating. There followed the most amazing sight, as Geoff attempted to go upward while avoiding all the holds John, Adam or I had used, his hands remaining within the confines of his bodywidth. It looked unnatural. “This is starting to ring a bell,” he forced out, before losing his footing, then raising his hands in a tight display of surrender. He lowered. The sun was lowering now as well, and the rocks at the base moved into soft shadow. A loving late evening sun lit up the springtime leaves all about us. Birds sang somewhere in the trees, deeply chirruping. Little flies lit up against the shadowy background. The four of us pissed ourselves with laughter, and I was left with no idea about who was tricking and who had been tricked.
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Matt Cochrane feasts on Tripe (30/5.13c), Boronia Point, Mt. Victoria in the Blue Mountains, Australia. PHOTOGRAPHER: Nathan McNeil
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Bradley Cameron leads the final section of Sebastopol Ridge, Mt. Aoraki, Cook National Park, New Zealand. PHOTOGRAPHER: Ben Sanford
Richelle Hepler, a Hueco Tanks guide, on Frogger (V9) in the East Spur, Hueco Tanks State Park, Texas.
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Kerry Scott on Bella Donna (5.13b) at the Bat Cave outside Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. PHOTOGRAPHER: Susanna Carty
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Jesse Ramos topping out the technical section of the Kautz Glacier Route on Mount Rainier, Washington. PHOTOGRAPHER Jeremy Joseph
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THE JOHN LONG WRITING SYMPOSIUM SELECTED STORY
THE WEIGHT By Liz Weber
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Sweat dripped into my eyes, burning, until I couldn’t tell if I was wiping away sweat or tears. Each heartbeat emphasized my doubt: I can’t. I can’t. I slumped in a borrowed harness, toes busting the seams of worn-out shoes, and a helmet low on my forehead. I didn’t belong here. I was not a climber. I didn’t count pitches or grades, but I had spent the past five years counting calories to the point of obsession. I had never felt the sharp pressure of the rock beneath my hands this way, but I knew the intimate curve of my ribs. I had measured control in the shrinking circumference of a measuring tape. Strength was not muscle mass but an empty stomach. As I froze halfway up the wall, 70 feet off the ground, the voice of my belayer penetrated the fog of fear. “Keep moving,” he said. “Focus on where you need to go.” One heartbeat. Two. I can’t. I can’t. One handhold. Then another. “There you go, just keep moving.” As I reached the top of the pitch, due more to the faith of my belayer than my own strength, one thought crystalized: in my battle to become as weightless as possible, I had created a body incapable of doing this sport. But, God, how I wanted to climb. I was hardly alone in my eating disorder. Thirty million Americans, roughly 10 percent of the population, suffer from anorexia or bulimia, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Although the disorder is more commonly reported among women, men represent 25 percent of those diagnosed, as reported by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Given that the disease breeds secrecy, the numbers are no doubt underreported.
An eating disorder can present itself in any number of ways: binging and purging, distorting your body image, exercising obsessively, ritually counting calories, creating disordered eating habits, and, in the more extreme cases, restricting diet to the point of starvation. Through high school and college, I balanced on a high line. A week or two of a strict diet and obsessive exercise would give way to weeks of eating, without restraints, until I was heavy, bogged down by my own body. The pattern would repeat. And repeat. Tipping ever closer to the edge. I moved away from home. The years passed. I kayaked beside glaciers in Alaska, hiked peaks in Montana. Friends commented in awe on how little food I could pack for extended trips. I didn’t mention the mental calculations and bargaining, the compulsive packing and repacking that had become my nightly ritual before any trip. My pack remained pared down to an acceptable amount of calories. Stripped to the bone. I used these physical activities as a sign of my supposed health, a talisman to hold on to when I felt control slipping away: if I truly had an eating disorder, hiking and biking would be impossible. I told myself the blurred vision after reaching a mountain peak was a side effect of the activity, not my diet. I took inspiration from a world of extreme endurance athletes, hailed as the pinnacle of health and wellness. They were capable of pushing their bodies to the very limits. This was the same. The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine (2004, Volume 14) reported that 13.5 percent of athletes have a clinical eating disorder, and in a study of Division I athletes published by NEDA, over one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and behaviors
that placed them at risk of anorexia. In the past five years, endurance athletes have stepped forward with their own stories of eating disorders. The spectrum of sports is well represented: including the runners Lauren Fleshman and Lize Brittin, the cyclist Tyler Hamilton, the triathlete Jesse Thomas, to name just a few. In a sport that rewards a conflicting combination of lightness and strength, where every pound means added drag, climbers are just as susceptible. Emily Harrington and Angie Payne, both professional climbers, have spoken out about their struggles with the disorder. In a recent article with Outside, Payne said, “I’d come home from the gym and all I’d eat after climbing the whole night was a salad. No protein, nothing … Really, that was the beginning.” Just “a salad” turned into a free-fall of destructive behavior. Payne kept climbing until those small habits and tics that had been training gold turned into an obsession. At less than 100 pounds on a 5-foot, 8-inch frame, she hit bottom. Almost five years later she would recover to become the first woman to climb V13. It’s a story all too common for those familiar with eating disorders. The disease sneaked up on me like a bad fall, the realization hitting when I was halfway to the ground wondering when the rope would catch and pull me back to safety. Hiding behind hiking, running and biking as proof of health and strength, I deceived myself. Until that first day on the rock. Shaking from fear and exhaustion, I felt my body give out. For the first time, the sense of strength I had stored up in those spaces between my ribs and the empty corners of my stomach felt nauseatingly like weakness. On the approach, I had watched the climbers in awe. They flowed across the rock like water. The bodies, large and soft in places, strong and firm in others, propelled themselves higher and higher. Call it what you will—adrenaline, salvation, therapy—climbing represented a form of gravity-defying strength that I lacked but craved. I found my rope line.
Two years after that first climb I was back at Smith Rock. One hand jammed in a crack, a foot smeared 70 degrees to the left, the other foot arched downwards, like a question mark. I darted my free hand up. “Clipping.” My voice echoed through the canyon, bouncing down, down, down. A moment of slack. The strength of my own body suspended me alongside the vertical rock face. My first lead climb and my second time climbing outdoors was a simple 5.6 route that most 12-year-old children could climb, a fact that became all too apparent as I reached the bottom and a little girl rushed up shouting, “I’m next.” As the adrenaline faded, I felt a rush of power. Here was a sense of control and strength I had been searching for all those years. I was finding it in the growing muscles, in the pounds ticking upwards on the scale, and in those moments of weightlessness clinging to the wall. Control was feeling the drag of gravity pull my body to earth and knowing I had the strength to hold steady on the rock for a few more seconds. Just a few more seconds. Liz Weber is a freelance writer who discovered climbing later in life. Her work has been published by Seattle Met, She Explores, Distinctly Montana, and Misadventures. Originally from Kentucky, Weber is ashamed to admit she still hasn’t climbed in the Red.
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COWBOY POETRY Limestone , Lariats, and the new west wild iris
Kris McCoey, a mountaineering instructor and former plumber from Ireland, eases into the Dolomite pockets that are the trademark of Wild Iris on All Heâ€™s Ever Gonna Have (5.10a), Aspen Glades wall. Heidi Badaracco established the route in 1992. Photo: Jeff Edwards JA N UA RY 2 018 29
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The Lander restaurateur and chef Kyle Vassilopoulos was the unofficial guide at the 2017 Photo Camp. For several days the polymath, who has FAs of 5.14 and M13 under his belt, showed 15 student photographers the best and most spectacular lines of Wild Iris, or “The Iris.” One evening Vassilopoulos stopped by the photo-group’s table at his restaurant the Cowfish, on Main Street in Lander. He had had, he said, one of the best days ever. Climbing? No. Vassilopoulos, an epic fly fisherman, had hooked into a slew of monsters, reeling in fish until his arm nearly gave out. And where was the fishing hole? A secret, said Vassilopoulos. Revealing the best of Lander apparently has its limits. In this photo, Vassilopoulos enjoys a pint freshly tapped from his Lander Brewing Company adjacant to the climbers’ haunt: the Lander Bar and Grill. Photo: Chris Beauchamp.
FACING PAGE: Kat Butler lets fly on Bobcat Logic (5.12c) at the Rodeo Wave. Though only about 50 feet high, this swell of featured limestone packs a wallop. Some dozen lines criss-cross the area’s steepest shield and share bolts and holds to spawn the likes of Rodeo Free Europe (5.14a), Genetic Drifter (5.14c), High Way (5.14b) and Mutation (5.14d). Rodeo Wave is so stacked with difficulty it may be North America’s hardest piece of rock. Photo: Joey Scarr.
Billed as “one of the most beautiful climbing areas in America,” Wild Iris, an uplift of boney dolomitic limestone outside the ranching town of Lander, may surpass the hype. Here, waves of prairie grass deposit you at the foothills of the Winds as they roll into Limestone Mountain and the escarpments that are your raison d’être. You’ll notice that civilized development, and people, are few. The area remains raw, and it is said that from about November until May the snow, rather than melting, just blows around until it wears out. Hail from the other 49 states and you may find this outpost of Wyoming lonely—the nearest city of any real size, Cheyenne, is four hours away, and the Cowboy State is number 50 in population. Tread the footpaths at dusk and you may meet Wild Iris local “Waffles,” a male grizzly bear. In 1989 gold prospector Holly Skinner spied a cliffline outside Lander that reminded her of the limestone of Buoux, France. She mailed a letter of the discovery to her brother Todd, who lived in a tipi commune behind Mount Rushmore with Amy Whisler, Heidi Badaracco, Jacob Valdez, and Paul Piana. “Within the hour” after reading the note, says Piana, “Todd and Amy and Jacob picked up their kit, left for this area Holly had found, and they never came back!” Todd spent the next years of his life yamming off finger crushers including the first 5.14 established by an American, Throwin’ the Houlihan. Joining him were Whisler, Piana, Badaracco and Pete Delannoy, who remarked that when he discovered the O.K. Corral wall he was a “pig in shit.” The rush was on. For the coming decade Wild Iris was one of the top places to be. Hungry for European-style limestone, Bosch-wielding climbers transformed Wild Iris into America’s version of the Frankenjura. The routes were short (60 feet is long). Hard. Sharp. Rarely downrated. Twenty-seven years later Wild Iris shares favor with other calciumcarbonate wonders such as Ten Sleep, two and a half hours north, and Rifle, six hours south in Colorado, but the crag that Todd found is still abuzz. A resurgence in 2013 by the rebolter Sam Lightner, Jr. added new lines, and B.J. Tilden of Lander keeps Wild Iris on the map with bleak lines like Moonshine (5.14d) and Mutation (5.14d). The 2015 guidebook Lander Rock Climbs notes nearly 290 routes, heavy in 5.10 and 5.11, but with enough top-end lines to keep the pros stoked. New lines continue to be added. Lander proper also continues to pulse with about 30 year-rounders, including Steve Bechtel, who can flog off your winter blubber at the Elemental Gym. The Lander scene, says local Michael Holland, is vibrant but chill. “What is so amazing,” he says, “is that in our town, the same dude who is setting your boulder problems on the woodie at Elemental Gym is also the guy who just equipped the new route out at your new favorite crag ... and he’s also the guy who is pouring your beers from the Lander Bar’s tap. This is, to me, the epitome of Lander: the definition of a small town of obsessed climbers, the true definition of a rural paradise.” In July 2018 Lander will for the 24th time host the International Climbers’ Festival, and 500-odd climbers will take to the walls of Wild Iris and other crags including Sinks Canyon and Wolf Point. Afterward, back in town, they’ll watch films and raise pints to the native son who made it all happen.
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CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: Rock and Ice intern Tobey Schmidt. Photo by Noam Argov. Happy photocampers review their work. 2017 marked the 10th year for this annual gathering of student photographers and pros. Photo by Randall Levensaler. Climbing powerhouse Jon Cardwell. Photo by Tobey Schmidt. Kat Butler and Harriet Ridley talk through beta. Photo by Jeff Rueppel. Diego Lopez Montell and Butler take five after Montell’s burn on Throwin’ the Houlihan (5.14a). Photo by Noam Argov. Starring “Lander Rock Climbs.” Photo by Jeff Rueppel. Wild Iris Mountain Sports, founded by Todd Skinner and Greg Collins, remains a climbers’ hub, anchoring Main Street adjacent to Cowfish restaurant. Photo by Chris Beauchamp.
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ABOVE: Ander Rockstad preps for sinister tugging on the Rodeo Wall. Wild Iris got its name from the flowers that carpet the valley within sight of some of the cliffs. Photo by Tobey Schmidt. UPPER RIGHT: Schmidt on an excellent moderate, Sweaty Bully (5.10b). Photo by Adam Pawlikiewicz. LOWER RIGHT: Michael Holland crosses paths with When I Was a Young Girl I Had Me a Cowboy (5.13a), on The Erratic. Holland, a school social worker at Fort Washakie School on the Wind River Reservation near Lander, says, “Wild Iris is one of those places where no matter how many times you find yourself there, you are struck by the impossible beauty of the place. When the wind dies down and the sun shines on a crisp autumn day, and the limestone’s perfect pockets and crimps show themselves in the slivers of shade on the wall, you just get this feeling that there is nowhere you’d rather be climbing. I keep climbing here because even after six years, I still have a few hundred more climbs to tick. The grades run from 5.6 to 5.14d. Eat your heart out.” Aware that Wild Irisis’ diversity and rock quality would make it a popular destination, Piana was determined to keep the area on the DL, “However,’” he says “gregarious Todd simply couldn’t keep quiet about our new crags and no amount of convincing could contain his excitement.” Photo by Libby Schundler.
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ABOVE: Diego Lopez Montell and the savage opening pockets of Buck a Move (5.13a), at The Remuda, named for cowboy slang for a herd of horses that have been saddle broken. FA Badaracco, 1993. Photo by Ron Birk. RIGHT: Montell and another view of Buck a Move. Montell hails from Mexico City and lives to climb, usually splitting his time between Boulder, Colorado, and his favorite spot, PeĂąoles, Mexico, where the self-proclaimed hermit lives in a cave and scours the desert for fresh blocs. Photo by Tobey Schmidt.
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FACING PAGE: On the hike to Wild Iris’s showpiece Main Wall, home to such gems as Wind and Rattlesnakes (5.12a) and Cowboy Poetry (5.11b), you pass a 30-foot-high outcrop—a wave of stone. It catches your eye. Then, wait, are those bolts? This crag, Rising From the Plains, is worth a quick stop and send or two. It’s right by the trail, so what the hey? Here, Kat Butler crimps through the route Rising From the Plains (5.12a). Photo by Mike Hopkins. THIS PAGE UPPER: Montell puts his bouldering power to proper use on the 40-foot but wildly steep Bobcat Logic (5.12c), yet another by Badaracco, circa 1992, at the Rodeo Wave. Photo by Nick Zepeda. LEFT: Kris McCoey on When I Was a Young Girl, I Had Me a Cowboy (5.13a), FA Amy Skinner 1995, The Erratic. This route was bolted by Todd Skinner and presented to Amy (last name Whisler at the time) as a present. “He had projects at The Erratic,” says Amy, “so giving me a hard project was a pretty effective way to ensure he had a belay! I worked on it for a long time, so spent a lot of time down there and on other routes along The Remuda belaying Todd on his projects.” Today, When I Was a Young Girl, I Had Me a Cowboy is one of The Erratic’s most popular routes, and most suitors don’t consider the distant pointed-the-wrong-way pockets any sort of gifts. Photo by Jimmy McAllan.
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Ander Rockstad spans pockets on the just off-vertical Ghost Rider (5.11d) at The Remuda. Around the corner from the above is a Paul Piana masterpiece, Silverbelly (5.13a). Longtime climber Piana was a fixture at Wild Iris, where he added to his tally of some 600 first ascents. Someone once asked Piana why he spent so much time putting up routes. “She told me she didn’t have time to do new routes,” says Piana. “I replied that I didn’t have time not to.” When not busy new routing at Wild Iris, Piana and Skinner roamed the globe bagging big free walls that were revolutionary at the time. In 1998 Piana and Skinner made the very first free ascent of El Capitan, removing all aid from the Salathé in a nine-day push after 30 days of effort. Most climbers at the time believed El Cap might never be freed and found the Salathé climb so unbelievable they either ignored or discounted it. As we now know, the Salathé at 5.13b is well within the realm of doable for strong climbers, and free ascents, while still not routine, occur just about every season. Photo by Col Elmore. RIGHT: Happy trails to Wild Iris. Photo by Jon Cardwell.
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UPPER LEFT: Jon Cardwell and the infamous mono move on Throwin’ the Houlihan (5.14a). Cardwell dispatched Houlihan several weeks before this photo was taken and confirmed its difficulty. While other routes established in 1991 or before by Americans were given the lofty grade of 5.14, Houlihan may be the only one to retain the grade, the others being downrated. Today, with El Cap free soloed and 5.15d the new upper end, putting up a 5.14a is no longer news, but 26 years ago the grade was as remarkable and unknown as the futuristic grade of 5.18 is today. Photo by Chris Beauchamp. UPPER RIGHT: Montell achieves his own mono hell on Houlihan. Photo by Sean Milburn. LOWER RIGHT: Even Houlihan’s opening moves are hard—pulling both feet off the starting block and hanging very bad crimps on the overhanging wall is V9. Photo by Will Osborn.
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ABOVE: Todd Skinner had an eye for quality lines, and one fine example is his Bronc Twister (5.13b), a 75-foot (long for Wild Iris) pitch on a breathtaking buttress at Aspen Glades. Bronc Twister begins on a delicate, technical, off-vert face and ends with pocket pulls out a horizontal roof and onto a crux bulge. It was a popular attraction at the photo camp, and in this shot Darren Flack of Lander meets the exit. Photo by Kassia Lawrence. UPPER RIGHT: If 5.13 isn’t your bag, 20 feet to the right of Bronc Twister you can tie into American Beauty (5.12b), an equally stunning line but a full number easier. Kat Butler styles the opening face. Photo by Jack Santo. LOWER RIGHT: Instructors Jeff Rueppel and Randy Levensaler tailgate with photo-camp climbers, with Rock and Ice’s Editorial Fellow Harriet Ridley and Kris McCoey on the right, end the 2017 photo camp in style. Photo by Adam Pawlikiewicz. FACING PAGE: Like Bronc Twister, American Beauty finishes on a series of inverted steps. Harriet Ridley rides the air bike through the final bulge. Photo by Mike Hopkins. Special thanks to adidas and Five Ten for supporting the 2017 Photo Camp, and to all the climbers, photographers and supporting cast.
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Cruising Up the Salathé Wall Editor’s note: The following story of an early ascent of the Salathé is a revealing take on “the scene” in Yosemite, and the quintessential snapshot of life on a big wall. Cruising up the Salathé Wall was first published in ASCENT in 1980, and is reprinted here as part of our yearlong celebration of Ascent’s 50th anniversary. Founded in 1967 by the Yosemite pioneers Allen Steck and Steve Roper and now published by Rock and Ice, ASCENT is a compendium of climbing’s timeless stories.
BY DICK SHOCKLEY / ART BY SAM LUBICZ Sayings come and go, and like the seasons, they never repeat themselves exactly. In the back of my mind I can hear someone singing, “Climbing is a drug, and I neeeeed a fix … ” But right now asphalt is all around me as I sit in the Oldsmobile dealer’s waiting room with other stranded souls, waiting to have my U-joints replaced. It could take hours. My mind reverts to the route. The city fades away. I shrink to a mere speck, a dot carrying a big sack up the base of the monolith, El Capitan. We are well-prepared, with a minimum of two quarts of water per man per day, rye-crisp crackers, a six-pack, anchovy paste, kippers, wheat-berry bread, cream cheese, canned fruit, salami, chicken-salad spread, a few illicit goods, and even toothbrushes and toothpaste. We are stoked. The late May days are so fine that I never want to go back to work; and the view of swollen waterfalls and a band of purest white around the Valley rim, results of heavy snow from a recent storm, is in itself worth the trip from San Diego. Rick is an old hand. At 23 he has already done several Grade V and VI routes in Yosemite, including first ascents; he has also spent two summers in the Alps. He wishes to climb the Salathé Wall on El Capitan. I am eager, because I love climbing and walls are new to me. In eight years of climbing in Southern California, I have been to Yosemite only twice. But already there has been a tragedy. We were walking to the base early one morning, thinking about nothing and pleased by the five deer who serenely greeted us near the stream. We were planning to fix three pitches that day. We looked up and saw a climber in or near the Stoveleg Cracks on the Nose. We watched briefly and resumed walking. Then we heard a loud tearing sound, like a falling rock, and it seemed to last forever. We backed away into a clearing in fear and looked up again. The climber we had seen was gone. It could not be. The sun shone and the birds chirped. El Cap, enormous and neutral, was silent. “Shouldn’t we go over there?” “No. Let’s wait here, Dick. We can’t do anything for him.” “Karl is probably over there anyway.” Karl has just taken a 12-hour bus trip up from San Diego to climb the Nose of El Cap.
A minute later, Karl walks out of the woods and says he has seen a body. “Just one? Was he soloing?” He goes away and comes back. There are three bodies. He feels sick from the sight and smell and does not want to do the Nose anymore. He looks close to tears. They hit so hard they broke rocks. Later we learn that the three climbers were from Minnesota. We had met them the preceding night in the campground. They were not entirely inexperienced on big walls, but for some reason they were not going up, but rappelling. That seems to be the bad part, the most dangerous. Pam, a girlfriend of one, is now alone in this vacation paradise, surrounded by huge rock walls, swifts and violet-green swallows, by tourists with Winnebagos and cigars and poodles, alone with her misery. She has to drive home alone. El Capitan just abides, perhaps waiting and listening for events of greater significance, such as an ice age, or a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, or the cooling of the sun. Rick and I plod on over to the start of the Salathé and leave Karl to his defunct dream. What can we say or do? We do not yet have a haulbag. Maybe we can borrow his. Idiots. Two specks, throwing it all to the wind. Four days have passed since the accident. We have climbed to Mammoth Terrace and strung our ropes back to the ground from Heart Ledge. We are ready for the summit push. For one long day we jumar, climb, haul and belay. We want to reach El Cap Spire (the 20th pitch) by night; this will require 10 pitches of climbing above the end of our fixed ropes. We hope to reach the summit with only two bivouacs. Eric Beck, the archetypal climbing bum (in the words of Chris Jones), now turned economics graduate student, says,
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There are three bodies. He feels sick from the sight and smell and does not want to do the Nose anymore. He looks close to tears. They hit so hard they broke rocks. “Speed is safety on a wall.” To follow this dictum, we have diligently studied the super-topo he gave us. The ground drops away and becomes indistinct. Huge cornfields spring up in our minds as we remember Eric’s ascent of the wall with Keith Bruckner. Somewhere on the lower wall, Keith had remarked—out of the blue—to Eric, “One could easily grow corn here.” A classic line, considering their elevation. Of course, I do not blame Keith for being infatuated with corn—but why corn? Why not alfalfa? Why not just say, “Man, it sure is wet and muddy here”? We move on up. The infamous Ear Pitch is not too wet, and above it I flail on aid up the amazing Double Cracks. We are now just a short distance below the Alcove, a blocky ledge one pitch short of El Cap Spire. It looks as if we can’t make our intended bivouac site, but by now we don’t even want to, since a party of two is already asleep there. Earlier, we had almost caught up with them; we wonder if we can slip past them in the morning. How fast are they compared to us? Direct aid on overhanging rock is tiring beyond my comprehension, even using a sit-harness to rest. I am both startled and humiliated to feel my lips tingling from the exertion, my abdominal muscles knotting, my fingers cramping and useless after the long pitch. I sob curses at everything while tugging at knots, trying to set up the belay and haul. They can probably hear me from the Spire, but I cannot help it. I am grateful that I do not faint or lose my lunch via the technicolor yawn. Finally I get the rope tied off. Rick begins to jumar, and from somewhere I find the strength to haul. Maybe I should have been running 10 miles a day instead of eight. It is dark by now. By the light of his headlamp, Rick leads a 5.9 jam crack-squeeze chimney to the Alcove. I recall the fellow who told us about popping out of this crack in the dark and plummeting 40 feet, but Rick reaches the Alcove without incident. Once I arrive, I turn fetal, too exhausted even for a beer. Around midnight I awaken and slowly and painfully manage to drag most of my body onto a flat bench of rock. In the morning I have recovered. Since our route lies on the southwest face, the sunrise is hidden. Nevertheless, faint strains of Mozart, Bach, Ravel and Robbins are heard as the warming light creeps through the Valley. We argue heatedly over the choice of composers and appropriate passages. A beautiful smoky mist from the controlled-burn areas on the Valley floor slides along the Merced River. (The signs along the road read “Management Fire—Do Not Report,” and I longed to acquire one for my office, where it would fit right in and be appreciated every day.) Eventually the party above us moves on, and with no excuse for delaying longer, we cruise up the giant chimney behind the Spire. Late in the day I stare at the “Wet and Slimy Pitch.” My new GoreTex cagoule comes out, and I tape the wrists shut to keep the water out. It goes into my ears, eyes and nose instead. We give this pitch a
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new, more explicit, name—several, in fact—and are thankful it is the only mossy, ugly pitch on a 36-pitch route. We sleep on the Block. This sloping ledge is only five pitches above El Cap Spire, but we have fixed some ropes higher so that tomorrow we can jumar quickly in the cold early morning. The awesome landmark called the Roof is visible from the Block and looks quite interesting. Above the Roof we expect slow progress up the overhanging Headwall. It would be nice to be off tomorrow night, but 10 pitches seem like a lot when they’re mostly aid. The party above us has become Gary and Rusty. They have stayed well ahead of us, and we will probably not pass them. Far below us, we can make out another party, or maybe two. We hope one pair is our friends Mike and Dewi, but we cannot communicate or see well enough to be certain. For luck, I tape a joint to a can of kippers and leave it on the Block with a “Mike” and an arrow scratched into the gravel of the ledge. (Later, sitting in the meadow below with a telescope, we will see two climbers ahead of Mike and Dewi. Oh, damn! We fear they will scarf the offering, as I would. But it turns out that the upper party perceives the spiritual depth of the gift. “It was really neat,” Mike tells me later. “They were two Frenchmen, and they yelled down, ‘I theenk yore frehns ’ave leff you sometheen.’”) Gary and Rusty sleep on tiny Sous Le Toit Ledge, as if to expiate their routefinding error earlier, when an obvious-looking crack lured them right; the route to Sous Le Toit is hidden as a short pendulum around a corner to the left. We tried once to warn them, then subtly cruised up to the ledge. We knew that Sous Le Toit is a one-man lie at best, so we soon returned to the Block. It seems, however, that Gary and Rusty prefer pain. They hauled their bags up the lowangled slabs beneath Mammoth Terrace, for example, whereas we cheated and merely climbed those pitches with a few extra ropes, traversed over to Heart Ledge, and rappelled to the ground, leaving the extra ropes. Later we jumared back to the ledge with our loads, a tactic that got us onto steeper rock sooner and thus eased the hauling problems immeasurably. This was Eric’s suggestion; at first I did not grasp its wisdom, but Rick pointed out to me that at least half the work on a big wall is hauling—so why not make it as easy as possible? Gary and Rusty have been on El Cap for four days already. Gary says, “Once I’m on, I want to stay on.” I guess that’s O.K. As I examine my dry, cracking cuticles and sore gobies (small flesh wounds on the back of the hand which result from poor crack technique), I inform our new friends that we actually followed the procedure of Robbins, Frost and Pratt on their first ascent, in 1961. Gary and Rusty are not swayed by this fact. I recall the Belgian party that we overtook low on the route because their haulbag was being torn to ribbons, but I keep this to myself. After all we are not here to compare methods, compete, argue or criticize. We are here to get off as soon as possible. Rick and I have a small private party on the Block. “Don’t you think we ought to save some of this for the summit?” “Hmmmm. No.” The third day dawns. Last night was very chilly, like the previous one, but passable. I discover that I did not roll over the edge in my sleep. From now on, though, I really should stay tied in. There simply wasn’t enough extra rope last night. Several bars of Stravinsky whistle by; I catch a strain of the Firebird Suite. “Yarrrgnm. Sigh. Waaummnngg. Shrtpz. Ahhhhh. Well, friend,
let’s cruise.” To judge from the noises above, Rusty and Gary have begun climbing. It is time to move, but it is still cold. “O.K., I’m almost ready. Just let me get this extra gear packed.” “Let’s boogie.” “Cruise or bruise.” “Succeed or bleed.” “Top or chop.” “Summit or plummet.” “Make haste or tomato paste.” “Finger locks or cedar box.” “Consummate skills or heavy bills.” “Climb in style or fly a mile.” “Unravel the mystery or soon become history.” “Endurance or insurance.” “Keep your head or hospital bed.” “Lunge or plunge.” “Get the knack or face a smack.” “Underclings or angel wings.” “Nail the seam or giant scream.” Rick moves off the Block, jumaring toward Sous Le Toit Ledge. When he gets there, I untie the rope from its anchor on the Block, hook my jumars onto the rope, and swing out over the spectacular exposure. My oh my, this isn’t just three times higher than my local crags. This is another world. The cord stretches ... Once on Sous Le Toit, we can see the Roof clearly. It almost begins to look reasonable and is even smaller than I thought. But the route goes around to its right. Why have I always assumed it went left? On second thought, it looks horrendous. Eric’s topo indicates that the Roof is fixed but requires a long reach at one spot. We start up again, nailing two steep aid pitches while carefully watching Gary and Rusty as they climb and clean the Roof. When it is time for Gary to haul, Rusty cuts the bag loose. Rick says, “Now check this out, Dick,” and I am immobilized as I watch it swing out from under the overhang. It takes a year. The Roof is indeed enormous. The scene calls for an ultimately personal phrase of self-expression: “Hooooooooo Maaaaaaaaaaaan!!” During the morning, tourist buses stop in the meadow below to watch while I relieve myself. I hope they have a good scope, but for some reason—perhaps the complete irrelevance of anything on flat ground to our current state—I neglect to look over my shoulder and smile and wave at them. There must be a hundred spectators. Ants. Last night I realized we had dropped nothing up to this point, and said as much to Rick. With typical foresight he pointed out the foolishness of the remark. Today I drop a carabiner and a pin. Bad. Then Rick drops a nut. They all make a pleasant whirring sound, but it is so steep they fall beyond hearing before touching rock. We could scream, “Rock! Rock!” all day long, but no one below could hear, for the wind is wrong. This is why one should not hang out at the base of El Cap when there are climbers above. Clip, clip, grab the haul line, swing out on the wall past Rick (good lead, Dad), and here at last is the Roof. It starts out easily, and then I am standing in air in my aiders. This is almost fun. A little bit, anyway. Smile for a photo and try not to think how embarrassing it would be if one of these shitty old pieces of webbing were to ... No, no, please don’t think those thoughts, just the other kind, the pleasant ones ... and concentrate on the moves. Move on. Eric’s topo claims there is a place for a 2-inch bong at the lip. Where, Eric, where? I search for long minutes, swinging in the breeze. Rick huddles shivering in the shade of the overhang. My
spirits drag and so does the time. A fixed sling lurks just out of reach beyond the lip. All I need to do is grab it. Unngh. Shit, still too far. Finally, in frustration, I lunge some 50 feet or so up overhanging friction holds, battle an avalanche of boxcar-sized blocks, hook a fingernail on the frayed wisp of rotten webbing, and clip into it only to find that the 1/8-inch cord is attached to a may-pop Stopper. A pop here would have a spectrum of consequences: psychological, physical, sexual, theological. For example, Rick might take over the lead. He tried once before, low on the route, but I drew a knife and threatened to sever his rope. My perspective returns as soon as I clip into the next fixed piece, a sturdy Copperhead. Whew! Well, in all honesty, that was not too bad. A pretty simple pitch actually. Casual, even trivial. Look at that bag swing; easy hauling here. Now we face the 95-degree Headwall; six pitches remain. Rick nails and nuts onward, up the overhanging rock. There is supposedly a big ledge—Long Ledge—two pitches higher, but from here there is absolutely no sign of such a sanctuary. Across the Valley, shadows on Middle Cathedral Rock mark the passage of time. It is growing late, almost 4:30. As I hang from my harness, I recall the overwhelming indifference of El Capitan. Toward the three boys from Minnesota. Toward us. I know this bears remembering, and I eye the anchors again and again. I am ready. The wind blows the haul line almost horizontally across the smooth golden rock. We are climbing in the only crack for as far as the eye can see on either side. I want to stop time and absorb this forever. The insane swifts cavort in the wind. I smear on glacier cream, face away from the hot sun, eat Starbursts, examine my anchors yet again, have a sip of water, and count the number of ways to sit in a harness. The pitch is long and strenuous, and I feel for Rick. The wall appears foreshortened since it overhangs so much. Soon the haul line is swaying 15 feet out from the cliff. Finally Rick is done, and I come up, noting that several of his placements were tricky, if not tricky-difficult. Now I swing into the short aid lead toward the still-hidden Long Ledge. From the extreme right end of this narrow ledge, Rick nails and nuts up a crack that will bring us to a ledge only two pitches from the top. As Rick climbs, the texture of the rock changes: knobs appear. For the first time in eight pitches, it is possible to make a free move or two. My last lead. As the sunlight begins to leave us, I start up a crack in a big hurry, taking all the wrong nuts. Eric’s topo says laconically, “Pretty pitch.” I realize I have screwed up when nothing fits. I curse the crack into remote regions for being the wrong size. With practice, I have developed a ritualistic five-word obscenity to deal with recalcitrant cars and cracks or nonlinear partial differential equations. Finally Rick stills my rage and attaches the necessary nuts to my haul line. Then I am free, jamming a gentle crack into the last belay stance, an alcove below Pratt’s Crack. Darkness comes, but a full moon dispels it almost immediately as Rick squeezes up the 5.9 summit pitch. So much of the climbing is good that I wish there were time for me to climb the pitch instead of jumar it. Exultant yell: “What a finish!” “All reet!” I reply. I can barely hear him now, but he is probably ready for me to jumar. I know that the end of the difficult climbing comes very suddenly and obviously he is there. Only one way to tell for sure: jumar. It is tight in the crack, particularly with a pack. Then we are together again and I feel weary, but only one trivial pitch remains. The holds are huge, and then I see a tree. The summit tree. Then many trees. Can it really be? It is very bright. Rick and the haulbag arrive safely. Since the slabs are low-angled, the hauling is difficult. I get a few more blisters and open up the old ones, but so what?
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The terrain is nice and flat here. We hang our equipment all over the big tree and I settle down for a few pipeloads. Always room for a little more elevation. We are alone. Rusty and Gary have disappeared. The terrain is nice and flat here. We hang our equipment all over the big tree and I settle down for a few pipeloads. Always room for a little more elevation. There is very little to say. No sounds arise from the Valley, but we spy an endless chain of headlights coming up the Fresno Road. We are both satisfied to be around trees, to have the harnesses off, to be silent. Sleep. The Salathé Wall has seen at least 100—and maybe 200— ascents through the years. If any particular feature marked our climb, it was the absence of any remarkable features. We drove to the Valley, hung out a little, did the route, hung out a little, and departed. But to paraphrase a famous mountaineer, adventure is a sign of incompetence. Not all climbers would agree, of course, but I feel that this simply reflects different opinions on what constitutes adventure, or maybe what constitutes incompetence. I was certainly satisfied and wanted nothing more. Our lessons were short and simple: prepare well, wear tape or gloves to spare the hands (it was three days before we could comfortably close our hands), and climb fast.
One afternoon, shortly after we had arrived in Yosemite, we drove to the meadow below El Cap to check out the route. I was staring at it—feeling vaguely terrified— when a tourist in a Hawaiian shirt asked if I saw any climbers on the wall. “Yeah, I think I do.” The cliff was covered with parties. They were on the Nose, the Shield, the Dihedral, the Muir. Dale Bard and Ron Kauk could be seen working on a new line near the North American Wall. “They gotta be nuts, ya know?” “Right.” “You’d never get me up there.” I could hardly argue with that, and since I am agreeable by nature anyway, I said: “I agree. I think so, too. They’re all just maniacs, hanging up there on the sheer face and climbing up ropes that could come loose anytime or break. It’s just like asking for death. Pretty sick, man. Hey, I mean no way, Ray.” As a rule, this type has a gigantic Winnebago, cases of beer, and daughters that stop your heart in midthump and provoke thoughts of ... well, as I was saying, Rick wandered over and we chatted a bit. The tourist loaned us his binoculars to look at the madmen on the cliff. But as Rick and I quietly speculated about the route, the man fell quiet, and a look of confusion, suspicion or possible awareness dawned on his features. He yelled across to his wife: “Hey, Ruth! These guys are gonna scale that mountain!”
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ON THE EARL Earl Wiggins was a leading free climber and off-the-charts soloist. Fifteen years ago, the gamechanging climber checked out on his own terms
BY ALISON OSIUS
Wiggins on the crux while free climbing the Goss-Logan (5.11 R) in 1979 in the Black Canyon. As a teen on his first visit to the area, in a time of multiday aid ascents, he looked for free potential.
IN MAY 1976, Jimmie Dunn and Earl Wiggins descended into the deep gorge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado. In an era when multiday nailups on the 1,800-foot walls were convention, the Colorado Springs pair cast off with a daypack to try the canyon’s first major free ascent. Their objective, the unrepeated Kor Dalke (V 5.9 A4), had been established over four days in 1964 by Layton Kor and Larry Dalke. Wiggins, on his only other visit to the Black, had come up with the idea to free climb the line after looking at it during a three-day ascent of a connecting route. “I know we can do it,” he had told Dunn. Their climb of what was later known as the Cruise was a breakthrough, proving that the Black’s towering Grade V and VI walls could go free—if you were bold enough. Dunn, a leading climber of the day, then 27, calls his friend, who was 18, visionary: “I wouldn’t have thought of that,” Dunn says. “No one had free climbed those walls.” Almost no one climbed them at all. When they blazed the route in six hours, their fellow pioneer Ed Webster exclaimed, “You guys cruised it!” and the name stuck. An American Alpine Journal article by another peer, Jeff Achey, calls the Cruise “one of the most audacious free-climbing days of all time.” Yet even then, Wiggins was thinking ahead—he knew he could free solo it. “He didn’t say it,” Dunn says, “but afterwards I could tell he’d been looking at sections and thinking about it.” Eight pitches up, on an insecure traverse, “He just happened to climb slow, and Earl didn’t climb slow.” Three years later, on a clear October day, Wiggins, 22, stood at the base of North Chasm View Wall with his blue Robbins boots, a chalkbag and no rope. Above stretched the Scenic Cruise, a variation that avoided a 5.10 offwidth on the Cruise while adding a techy, pumpy 5.10+ dihedral and notorious 5.9 “Pegmatite Traverse” on slopers to join the Cruise at pitch six. Earlier, Wiggins had told his friend Stewart Green, a climber and photographer, about his plan and asked if he could shoot the ascent. Green, who was already booked, says, “I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard.” He didn’t try to dissuade Wiggins, though. “You didn’t talk Earl out of anything.” Wiggins had practiced by climbing the Cruise with partners at least two or three times. He’d climbed the new Scenic Cruise once, with his friend Dan McClure. Jeff Achey in Climb! The History of Rock Climbing in Colorado, would write, “This
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ascent was the longest, hardest, and boldest free solo then done anywhere in the world.” Of the actual event, Wiggins said little. Green recalls, “He told me that it went well with no problems. He was understated about the whole deal and modest.” The feat places Wiggins in the pantheon of the solo greats Henry Barber, Peter Croft, John Bachar, Derek Hersey, and Alex Honnold. Outside of his community, Wiggins was only sporadically known, mainly through cliffside tales of a skinny, unassuming unknown with thick glasses who’d “done everything.” In Colorado Springs, Wiggins established dozens of hard trad routes up to
WIGGINS WAS A SKINNY, UNASSUMING UNKNOWN WITH THICK GLASSES WHO’D “DONE EVERYTHING.” stout 5.11, with an estimated 200 to 300 FAs overall including those in the Black Canyon, South Platte and Utah desert. He and Dunn tore up the Black with one-day free ascents of various Grade IVs and Vs, such as the hideously protected Diagonal in October 1976. A month later in Indian Creek, Utah, as friends watched in fear that the pro—hexes—would never hold a fall, Wiggins fired the laser line of Supercrack (5.10), genesis of desert free climbing. In November 1977, in the Black, he and Bryan Becker forged up the Nose (VI 5.10 A5), then the hardest big-wall climb in Colorado. Outside of climbing, the mechanically adroit Wiggins became one of Hollywood’s most in-demand riggers: a professional profile lists 45 films and shows and two IMAX movies, his career boosted by the 1993 block-
buster “Cliffhanger,” filmed in the Dolomites. Among his survival stories is one from that site, when a violent storm blew in. Wiggins was hit by lightning, thrown off the top of a 1,000-tower onto a ledge, and there juiced several more times. Wiggins died in December 15 years ago, by his own hand in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Much is unknown about the highs and lows he experienced, the losses and disappointments he endured, and the nature of a kind, questing and troubled person who found his true self— in a way that must have seemed a miracle—in climbing. Green was, he says, “astounded” upon his friend’s death. “I just couldn’t believe it. But you never know what’s going on in people’s lives. Jimmie and I talked about it for years: Why didn’t he call us? Why didn’t he call his friends? … We were all willing to help, to do whatever. “We still don’t know why he did it.” Christopher Earl Wiggins was the youngest of five children, preceded by Lou, born in 1949; Lynda, in 1950; Art, 1953; and Scott, 1955. Born August 24, 1957, Earl would have been 60 this year. He was 5-foot-11, a slim 150 to 160 pounds, with wide shoulders, sinewy forearms and flyaway brown hair. The children grew up at 6,200 feet in Colorado Springs, a sprawling city that juxtaposes the progressive Colorado College community and conservative groups such as Focus on the Family, as well as three military bases. On one side the city opens to plains; and on the other, butts up into a whole lot of good climbing. Cliffs and boulders fill its parks. His sister, Lynda, says with humor, “We were kind of feral kids.” She remembers fun days horseback riding—the family owned horses—“and generally running around outside.” Their home lay on the slope below the cliffs and ravines of Austin Bluffs and on the edge of plains where they could play and hike. Lou, who had diabetes and epilepsy, died at 21. Lynda says, “Now looking back, we think he also had bipolar disorder, but I don’t think people were diagnosing things like that then.” Lynda remembers Earl in his late teens or so being “down” for a week or longer. As an adult he was diagnosed as bipolar II, which has been in the family across three generations. “I know that Earl had depression for a lot of his life,” Green says, “even in the early days. He told me about it. But I never saw any outward sign that he struggled or was suicidal.” Earl, says Lynda, was “quiet, patient and incredibly kind. He loved animals, and ani-
MIKE GARDNER/STEWART M. GREEN STOCK SHOTS
On the historic 1979 solo of the continuous, burly 13-pitch Scenic Cruise (5.10+), Black Canyon.
mals loved him.” Indeed his widow would later say of their two labradors, “He loved them so much I really thought they’d keep him on this planet.” His brother Art, now an electrician, describes Earl in boyhood as “shy, not athletic … just a squirrelly little brother, always kind of cheery. “Earl never really got into trouble. He was a good kid.” At 14 Earl started climbing, learning from a local named Bill Mummery. From the start, the sport must have felt like a revelation. Art came along at Mummery’s behest. Art says, “Earl was always a klutz. He never was in sports because he just really couldn’t do it. I don’t know what happened when Earl started climbing. He just really excelled. It was like, how is this possible? This kid can hardly walk.” While his brother was at first timid and physically unsure on rock, Art says, “He was sure he wanted to do it. So he kept working on it.” “He didn’t have self-confidence until he started climbing,” says Lynda, “and climbing changed his life.” Their father was a prominent area physician, a heart and lung specialist. Art calls the parents “really strict but really caring.” The brothers climbed for years, with Earl the driving force but Art a game partner: “We went climbing all the time,” he says. “Hoosier Pass. Telluride, Vail, Rigid Designator, Bridalveil Falls. He led all that, in his late teens or young 20s. “I was always worried because he seemed to have no fear. I was with him on a route in the Black”—the 1,500-foot 5.10+ Kachina Wings—“when he took [a] screamer and broke his wrist. He finished leading it. He had to. I couldn’t have!” Art laughs recalling his brother trying some new ice-climbing techniques during a night climb of the local Seven Falls, falling 15 or 20 feet into a pool, breaking through and falling behind the next set of falls. He calls his brother overall “really happy” when climbing. “He made everybody feel comfortable. He was just in such a good place that everything was good all the time … out there with the rocks and camping and everything.” When they endured storms or other hardships, Earl would say, “You knew you were there.” Art says, “He’d say it all the time.” In Colorado Springs this year, Stewart Green sits in his breezy front-porch “office.” A computer occupies a square table
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viewing a boulevard of open verandas and blooming fruit trees and, 12 miles beyond, the 14,115-foot Pike’s Peak. Wind chimes tinkle in the backyard, and whiffs of lilacs and wood smoke waft through. Jimmie Dunn, another mentor to Earl, arrives. They describe how Earl grew strong, especially in crack climbing. “If he could get his fingers in, he stuck,” Dunn declares. Yet far stronger were the youth’s mind and will. Dunn describes how, in the spring of 1975, in what is now called Grandstaff Canyon, near Moab, he belayed as Earl, 17, led 80 feet up a 5.10+ FA without being able to place gear (cams were not yet available). His feet were torqued in the crack, but the bottom one kept slipping. Dunn says, “I kept yelling, ‘Earl, stop that!’” From above, only silence. Earl simply moved on and on and reached a ledge. “Earl never fell when the stakes were high,” Dunn has written. At such times he had a rare ability to subvert fear and climb even better. That was the trip on which Earl decided to hitchhike to Yosemite, and asked his climbing friend and classmate John Sherwood, who had come with him, to return the Wiggins’ family car. As Lynda later said in a eulogy, John found himself in “the unenviable [position] of telling my parents that Earl was going to Yosemite … instead of finishing high school.” Earl phoned, and as his mother later wrote in her “Life Book”: “We agreed that if he could make a living, it would be OK with us.” Earl had visited the Valley the year before, at 16. That visit he climbed Reed’s Direct (5.9) with Mark Chapman, 19, who had the previous month soloed the first pitch of Outer Limits, then probably the hardest solo in the Valley. In Yosemite in 1975, Earl slept under a picnic table—and soloed Outer Limits (5.10, 5.10) the day after whipping 30 feet off the crux traverse. Chapman says that soloing the second pitch, with its slick 15-foot seam-crack traverse on smeary feet, “certainly set the bar higher” in Yosemite. Jim Bridwell, Valley denizen, later told Dunn he turned away as Earl embarked upon it. He knew its difficulty. Earl that time appears to have overcommitted, and afterward told Dunn he’d stuck a finger through a piton on the traverse. “Like, stayed there a while,” Dunn says. “Maybe he couldn’t get back … maybe if he could have, he would have.” In November 1976, at 19, Wiggins slung on a rack of Hexentrics below a black parallelsided hand-to-fist crack on a soaring Wingate panel in Indian Creek.
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With him were his friend Bryan Becker, belaying; Green, with a camera and Super 8; Mike Gardner, with a Super 8; Dunn, Webster, Dennis Jackson and Cheryl Montgomery, Earl’s girlfriend, whom he would wed in June, two months before turning 20. In an unpublished manuscript, Green recounts the ascent as planned to catch the warmth of the early-afternoon sun. That morning, Green relates, Earl and Cheryl scrambled up to an Anasazi ruin in a nearby canyon, where Earl meditated; then everyone went bouldering, and several including Wiggins partook of hits of acid. Moving from boulder to boulder, Wiggins chatted about the beautiful weather while doing each problem easily. “You seem to have it today, Earl,” said
“EARL NEVER FELL WHEN THE STAKES WERE HIGH,” DUNN HAS WRITTEN. AT SUCH TIMES HE HAD A RARE ABILITY TO SUBVERT FEAR AND CLIMB EVEN BETTER. Becker, as recorded by Green. “Feel good today,” Wiggins replied. “Today’s the day.” He racked up amid discussion and excitement, and donned a celebratory, even ceremonial, Hawaiian silk shirt. In the film “Luxury Liner,” Becker recalls Wiggins saying, “Might as well put on a nice shirt today, could be my last day.” Wiggins climbed steadily, even fast. Aside from a directional off the belay, he put in only four hexes in 85 feet, none in the last 25 feet. While some accounts have him climbing out of control 80 feet up, Green says Earl remained cool and precise. Wiggins’ route name, Luxury Liner, never stuck, and the climb became known
as Supercrack of the Desert, and later just Supercrack. Back home at Turkey Tail, a granite crag in the South Platte, some 40 miles from Colorado Springs, Wiggins soloed Whimsical Dreams (5.11), sustained and reachy, with two 5.11 sections and a 5.10 roof. He soloed local 5.9s and 5.9+’s multiple times, and at age 15 or 16, the loose Scarecrow (5.10b) in the Garden of the Gods, a soft sandstone cragging area in his hometown. Wiggins soloed often enough that his friends took to saying, when climbing ropeless, that they were “on the Earl.” Years later, as Green and Wiggins, by then in his 40s, replaced hardware in the Garden of the Gods, Green asked his companion why he had soloed all of those routes. “I wanted to make a name for myself,” Wiggins said. “I know it was kind of a stupid thing to do, but that’s why.” He said he had been “a dumb kid.” Green perceives a dichotomy in Wiggins’ character: “Like a lot of people he wanted some respect for the things he did. He wanted a certain amount of fame, but he also valued his privacy” and did many FAs without reporting or even naming them. In his 30s, he co-wrote a seminal book documenting Utah desert climbs, but largely stayed out of it. In any case, Green says, “When you watched Earl solo a climb, he was solid. I never saw him shaking or thought he was going to fall.” Bryan Becker, interviewed below his backyard pear and apple trees on a steep hill in Manitou Springs, halfway along the pathway from Colorado Springs to Pike’s Peak, immediately invokes Earl’s humor. “He had those Coke-bottle glasses but you could see his mouth grinning underneath them. When we were climbing the Nose [in the Black Canyon], he’d say, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’ We’d just yell it to ease the tension and laugh.” He also describes a steeliness. “We got down to the bottom of the canyon, and I’d forgotten my raingear. Earl insisted I go back up to the car and get my raingear. This was after we’d been bouldering naked. And probably smoking.” He mimes. “He was serious about being successful. He wanted us to have every chance. He didn’t want to turn around.” Wiggins ultimately led them up the thinly protected pitches. “Especially when we were young like then, it was just fun hanging out with him. Though he did like being in charge a little. I’d say, ‘Let’s do it your way, Earl.’ That’s why I went
ED WEBSTER (LEFT), STEWART M. GREEN
up and fetched my raingear out of the car. That’s 2,000 feet. After just descending it.” At 20, Becker was rope-soloing D1 on the Diamond, Long’s Peak, when Wiggins (guiding the peak) “came and poked his head over and checked on me to make sure I was O.K. … That was very reassuring to me. He had that considerate streak.” Whenever Becker did a hard climb or ski descent, Wiggins was the first to call with congratulations. On December 21, 1980, Cheryl Wiggins was killed in an unroped plummet while fullmoon climbing on an icefall above Colorado Springs. The event was a major trauma for Earl, though the two were separated. Two years later he married Virginia Savage (the marriage was brief) and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he worked building high-tension power lines and climbed ice and mixed routes in the Tetons. A local, Steve Shea, has posted, “Probably most saw him as a great rock climber. He was a very good alpinist as well ... fast and solid on mixed and ice.” Art brings up a little-known aspect of Earl’s trajectory: He wanted to proceed to the greater ranges. In 1983 Earl and Jeff Lowe traveled to Nepal to try new routes in winter on Pumori and Nuptse. As recounted by Lowe in an article on Supertopo, on the first night at their 17,000foot base camp, Wiggins sustained severe pulmonary edema and had to be taken 3,000 feet down to Pheriche for oxygen at a tiny hospital, then on by yak to 9,000 feet. The plan was for Earl to recuperate there for five or six days. In the interim, Lowe, concerned that the driven Wiggins would return early and push to go higher, left to solo an established route. When he staggered back into
Wiggins leading the first ascent of Supercrack (5.10), in 1976. The dramatic line would become world-famous, but only after the 1979 invention of cams.
base three days later, he found a note: “Hey, Jello, “I felt good, so I came back up sooner than we planned. I watched through binoculars as you reached the summit yesterday. Congratulations! … I’m going to head up today and try to do the [new] route we originally planned to climb.” Lowe was aghast, but, beyond exhausted and with darkness near, felt helpless. He sank into sleep, then was startled awake by one word, “Help.” “The cry had not been loud,” he writes. “In
fact it seemed to have originated inside my head …. One thing was certain, though—it was Earl’s voice.” Wiggins was bivied somewhere a mile above. Lowe roused their three Sherpas and headed off, searching, finally spotting a faint headlamp beam. He found Wiggins on the ground, a “frothy substance drooling from the corner of his mouth and making a dinner-plate size puddle freezing around his cheek.” Lowe writes that as he knelt, Wiggins whispered “the best joke I have ever heard: ‘What took you so long?’”
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Wiggins employs some of that famous finger strength on the outer walls of the old Cobbler climbing shop. Below him are Harvey Miller (top), Leonard Coyne (spotting) and Bryan Becker.
He was again carried down. Art says his resolute brother’s inability at altitude “crushed him.” “He said he couldn’t do it, the mountaineering thing. That was what he had next on his agenda.” Prior to Nepal, Wiggins had begun seeing Katy Cassidy, of Boulder, a strong climber and imaginative character with whom he had an important relationship of seven years. In December of 1985 he fell and broke both ankles on the multipitch ice route Stairway to Heaven in Logan Canyon, Utah. His partner, the leading alpinist Mugs Stump, carried him down (and brought him Christmas presents
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in the hospital). In a wheelchair, Wiggins audited a college class (Chinese history or philosophy, according to his sister), though not to its end. Lynda, who like him is adventurous and peripatetic, says, “He could not stand to be bored. He absolutely hated it, and he got bored very easily. He was one of the most well-read and informed people I knew. He just couldn’t bear school.” For the rest of the 1980s, Wiggins and Cassidy traveled the country working on power lines and climbing. They spent a cumulative eight or nine months in the Utah desert and climbed many bold and beautiful routes and
towers. They and Art put up the 750-foot Road Kill (IV 5.9 A4) in the Fisher Towers, with other FAs there and in Indian Creek. Green says Wiggins and Cassidy “were a really good climbing team. … I think that was probably a good time in Earl’s life.” Cassidy, now a massage therapist in Longmont, says, “We had a lot of fun. We climbed a lot, roller bladed, played blade hockey. One windy day, on the blades, we held a tarp between us, like a sail.” She calls Wiggins capable and thoughtful. “He would talk to anybody,” she says. “He didn’t have any airs.” They spent much time with Art; Cassidy says a “defining” aspect of Earl’s character “was his love for his family.” In 1990 the two published Canyon Country Climbs, brimming with photos, history and tales of a productive period shared with great explorers such as Kyle Copeland and Charlie Fowler. Dedicated to both sets of the authors’ parents, the book includes photos and writing by many climbers. Earl emerges as a careful and respectful observer, describing the land, mosses, fungi, seeds and flowers as well as the “orderly layering of sandstone sediments …[that] follows the rise and fall of geologic uplifts and faults” and the “cascading bowls of rock [that] pour into one another, draining the landscape above.” Aside from a shot of the coauthors (and their cat), the book contains only a few distant shots of him, unidentified, and nothing on Supercrack. Rigging work on “Cliffhanger” in 1992 led to “The River Wild” in 1993, and Wiggins
STEWART M. GREEN
With Steve Cheyney at the base of Footloose ‘N’ Fancy Free (5.11a) at the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, in 1980.
founded Wiggins Aerial Rigging, becoming busy with commercial work. In the autumn of 1994, he asked Mark Chapman on a shoot in Yosemite that proceeded to Moab. Chapman says, “He taught me a lot and gave me a lot of work,” with jobs on the 1996 “First Wives Club,” where they rigged a scene of women on scaffolding plunging down a skyscraper, and two Batman films. After “Batman & Robin,” feeling burned out (he spent 300 days on the road in a year), Wiggins sold his gear and began selling real estate in Colorado Springs with Dawn Doucette, whom he married in 1996. After a year in that sedate life, however, he wanted to return to film. In 1999, when Yosemite’s Ron Kauk was tapped for climbing stunt work in “Mission Impossible II” and asked for Chapman and Wiggins to rig, Wiggins had already returned to L.A., bringing Doucette and starting anew. During that job he approached Chapman about a partnership. “He had an idea to make a couple of winches operated by motion-control software,” Chapman says. “I tip my hat to him. It was a good idea.” Chapman says that, using his real-estate assets as collateral for a line of credit, he “ponied up close to $100 grand” in two installments. They bought back some of Wiggins’ old equipment and purchased some new gear, software, a precision winch, and then a second winch to work on “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.” Chapman says Wiggins was challenging to work with—“He was an intense guy and he could yell, he could scream”—but that for a long time they remained friends. He recalls a day when Wiggins berated him and called later to apologize and say Chapman had been correct. Wiggins’ sister calls Earl a lifelong perfectionist, and says that at work he would have been “a stressed perfectionist.” He was also drinking heavily (a large percentage of bipolar patients attempt to self-medicate). Chapman calls what was to ensue “a sad, complicated thing,” and also that he felt the “complex” Wiggins grew somewhat paranoid. “In a nutshell, he essentially tried to push me out of the picture,” he says, beginning with leaving him out of jobs. “I eventually sued him.” Doucette was part of the small Colorado Springs climbing community. A mother of four, seven years older than Earl, she was the former wife of the longtime climber Don Doucette and had been a close friend of Cheryl Wiggins. She and Earl had known each other for 17 years, and, in what Lynda in her eulogy called a “rich and mutually creative
relationship,” were to be together a decade. The couple lived only half a mile from Earl’s parents, Milton and Mary Ellen, and for a time saw them often. Doucette is petite (“five-foot three-ish”) and fine-boned, with a mellifluous voice. She lives in the Springs, on the third floor of a friend’s Victorian in a stately old neighborhood. She believes Earl suffered from depression most of his life. Early in the relationship, he had tried warning her, “You don’t want to be with me. I have black moods.” Wiggins was also lighthearted and silly: A lifelong practical joker, he hid her harness when they went climbing in Eldorado Canyon, and later positioned a life-size Chewbacca cutout in their house where she’d come around a corner. Once her daughter, hearing them from
WIGGINS FELL AND BROKE BOTH ANKLES. HIS PARTNER, MUGS STUMP, CARRIED HIM DOWN. another room, remarked, “You guys laugh so much.” Of Earl’s moods, she says, “He managed to keep a tight grip for the most part. The irritability, I think, came out more when he was running a film crew.” She acknowledges tension, however, in managing a household with children: “He had never been a parent.” When stressed at home, he would grow quiet. “He was afraid if he blew, it would be a major eruption,” she says, adding with feeling, “It must have taken so much energy.” In late 1998 the couple moved to Santa Clarita, California, about 30 miles from Hollywood. Over the rigging years, Earl’s relationship with family deteriorated. Doucette recalls a painful visit home in 2001: “His mother had loaned us some money to invest in our equipment for the aerial rigging, and as agreed we were paying her back monthly. Earl was feeling pretty good because he had done some producing on a MacGillivray Freeman film, on caves,
and he wanted to make a trip here and to really just spend time with his parents. He was just so hoping to come home and make a nice connection, and it all went very awry, and it took me awhile to piece it together.” The mother at some point became agitated, Doucette says, and accused the son of using the house as a hotel. “When we got home there was a letter from his father apologizing on his mother’s behalf but kind of defending her, and so Earl was hurt.” He perceived a lack of support and ceased contact. She continues, “Father’s Day rolled around [June 17] and Earl—in his own words, in his ‘pig-headed stubbornness’—chose not to call.” Dr. Wiggins died the next day at his own hand. His health was a leading factor. “He knew he was on the way,” says Art. “He was 78. He had emphysema”—with very labored breathing. “He loved to hike. He just couldn’t do it anymore. He had had a heart attack. Being a medical person, he knew.” “Of course Earl was terribly guilt-ridden,” Doucette says. “That was the beginning of the end for him. He went into a really, really deep depression.” Lynda Wiggins confirms it. “When my father died … [Earl] started to take a dive. He was a different person than he had been all of his climbing life.” Milton and Earl had always been close, and Milton very supportive. Of Earl’s eventual death, Art says, “I was not really shocked. He was getting really paranoid about the family, that everybody was against him. I thought he was way overextended in his finances. “He wasn’t climbing, he wasn’t mountaineering, he was rigging, and that came with stress and deadlines and managing people. He’d had enough.” In spring of 2002, Earl and Doucette moved to Lake Oswego. She had never liked So Cal and says by then Earl was ready to leave. The area had never felt like home, and he spent little time there anyway. She also says that though he agreed to seek help and accept medication, he was convinced he could not be helped. In the autumn of 2001, while still in California, he had disappeared for a day. “I could not get in touch with him, and he later told me he had driven out to one of the nearby canyons and put a gun in his mouth.” In summer of 2002 he left for a job in Hawaii and discontinued the medication, though she pleaded otherwise. He had told her that, on meds, “I don’t feel like myself.” (He similarly told Green they
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“took the edge off.”) “I really think the main reason was that he didn’t like being emotionally level,” Doucette says. “He missed the mania.” When he was up, she says, “he could work incredibly long hours, he could go days without sleep, he could do long climbs.” Upon his return, he told his wife, by her account, “I don’t feel suicidal, and I promise you if I ever do we will revisit the medication issue.” “So [his death] was a shock for me,” she says. “I did not see it coming.” She believes his frequent work trips helped him mask his depression. She also feels his history of travel and changing locations likely offset it through new stimulation and distraction. In a letter to a climber-rigger friend, Perry Beckham of Squamish, B.C., after returning home from “Cliffhanger,” Wiggins wrote of already having “itchy feet. Just want to be on the move.” Doucette says, “I always felt like he was trying to outrun himself. The irony was that he loved being in Oregon, and we were getting out and doing a lot of fun hiking because it was all new territory.” As to his climbing, she feels, he likely “pushed the envelope because it was O.K. if he died. My impression was he didn’t care. He didn’t have a death wish, but he was O.K. if something happened.” At Thanksgiving 2002 he returned to Oregon from a job in what Doucette recalls as a “cranky and critical” state. On December 24 he arrived again, for the holidays, from California. At that time the couple discussed some issues his wife prefers to keep private beyond saying, “I put the ball squarely in his court.” On the 27th, they played Ping-Pong, they laughed; they watched a Robin Williams movie, “Dead Poets’ Society.” Doucette, who has since worked as a private grief counselor, says, “We were sitting on the couch together, and after the movie he took my hand, and he said, ‘I want you to know you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.’ “And he chose to sleep in the downstairs bedroom because he knew what he was planning.” At perhaps 2 a.m., she heard him come up to the kitchen and plunk ice into a glass. He had been drinking vodka on the rocks that evening. The next day the glass was on his nightstand. In the morning she sat at the dining-room table reading a self-help book she thought might help him, then walked the dogs. Returning at about 10 a.m., she saw that the coffee
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pot was untouched. “That was cause for some alarm,” she says: Earl didn’t sleep late. She started downstairs and smelled something acrid, later understood to be gunpowder. She called Earl’s name and tried to open the door, but he’d blocked it. “I shouldered in, then I found him … and I had to let him go.” Wiggins was 45. Consider many factors and increments. Wiggins suffered from mental-health issues. He had lost his brother, father and a long list of friends and fellow climbers from Cheryl Wiggins to Kyle Copeland and Mugs Stump to accidents or illness. He had stopped and resumed drinking, and termed himself an alcoholic. His suicide note listed his deteriorating eyesight, which affected his work; diminishing fitness and chronic back pain;
DOUCETTE SAYS, “I ALWAYS FELT LIKE HE WAS TRYING TO OUTRUN HIMSELF.” dismay in his job and erratic income; and the boredom that plagued him. His work life was high pressure, involving risk-management, hectic schedules and long hours away from normal life. Lynda says, “Regular sleeping habits alone can help ward off the effects of bipolar disorder.” Routine does as well, yet he avoided that. Chapman, who describes himself as “very conflicted” over events, says the death came in the middle of the lawsuit, and that he wondered if it was a tipping point. He settled out of court “and walked away.” “I did feel he had a legitimate claim,” Doucette says. “He settled for much less than he had originally asked for, and I was grateful.” Chapman later shared in two Academy Awards, a Technical Achievement Award in 2006 and a Scientific and Engineering Award in 2011, both for development of technology, and says, “I always felt like Earl would have, too. Earl’s idea to build computer-controlled winches was at the heart of this technology.
When Earl approached me with the concept in 1998, no one had anything like it.” Like many suicide victims, Earl believed himself a burden. “Because of the love I feel for you,” he wrote Doucette in his note, “I am saddened … that you share your life with such depression as I carry.” He castigated himself in his relationships, but the heart of the passage was his sense that he simply could not go on. “There is no more drive,” he wrote. “I have lost it all. For over a year, I have thought of suicide every day. The depression comes or goes but never leaves. … Our happiest moments of the last several months have been overshadowed by the knowing it shall return.” By hand below the typed note, he wrote, “Finally, I find peace.” Earl for years wrote letters home from the wilds that described beauty and hardships and ended, “Loving every minute” or “Loving life.” Lynda at his service said, “He had an intense passion for life which, for reasons we will never fully understand, failed him in the end. But until that time, his excitement infused almost everything he did.” Katy Cassidy, in an honest, loving eulogy in Alpinist, wrote, “[H]e was very intelligent, very sensitive, kind-hearted, generous, an imp, an asshole, a lover.” Upon the shock of his death, she says, she could not cry for months; then could not stop crying for months. John Middendorf, who worked two rigging jobs with Wiggins, calls him “a legend both in climbing and in rigging. So mellow, but also so intense.” Lynda says, “I don’t want people to think he was taking risks because of this illness. I feel like it diminishes his climbing to have it chalked up to that. I do think that climbing took care of his problems for years until it caught up with him once he had that rigging business. He was so depressed. It’s hard to know what caused it—the depression—and what the depression caused.” Wiggins once told Doucette that he had never thought he wanted to grow old, yet wanted to do so together. Asked if climbing also kept him alive longer than otherwise, she says, “Absolutely.” Climbing gave him joy and focus, but he gifted it as well, with his creativity and presence. Dan McClure says Wiggins brought out new levels of strength and courage in his partners. Says McClure, “Saying, ‘Miss you, Earl,’ doesn’t do justice to how I feel.” ALISON OSIUS is executive editor at Rock and Ice.
PertexÂŽ is a registered trademark of Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
BY MOLLY HEMPHILL
CLIMBING FOR MY LIFE Cardiac Patient Goes For It
Just before midnight, I awoke to a sharp pain, piercing my abdomen and running up into my chest. Profuse sweating, nausea, dizziness, tunnel vision, and ringing in my ears followed. I was jolted out of bed. My heart was trying to kill me again. Frightened, alone in the house with my son, I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. “I’m a 32-year-old congenital heart disease patient, and my heart is trying to stop,” I told the dispatcher. “I have a 9-year-old here, and I need help.” I stumbled downstairs and opened the door, knowing to do that so the paramedics could reach me. Collapsing on the bottom steps, drenched in sweat and with the door opened to the cool breeze, I felt myself fading. It only took about seven minutes for the paramedics to arrive, but each moment was agonizing. When they arrived, my skin was pale, my heart rate was out of control, and I couldn’t remember how old I was—I just kept telling them my son was in the house, and I needed to wake him up first if they were going to take me to the hospital. I was escorted upstairs, woke Gerrick, and walked him to the front seat of the ambulance. Throughout the 15-minute drive he talked to
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the driver about climbing and ice hockey. It looked to me as if he was having the best night of his life. A medic placed an IV in my arm, and I explained that I am an ambassador for the American Heart Association and a rock climber with congenital heart disease. To my surprise, the three crew members were climbers as well. Most of the drive, we discussed bouldering problems, local crags, and my upcoming bouldering competitions. “Your heart seems to have been deprived of oxygen. You are showing signs of a heart attack,” the medic said, watching the heart monitor next to him. Would this be the end of my rock climbing? Was my second chance at life being taken away? Six years ago, I almost lost my life to congenital heart disease. I was cardioverted: my heart stopped three times, and I endured multiple procedures—both unsuccessful and successful. If I had died that night, my son would have been too young to remember me. For the next few years, my life practically ceased. My disease wasted away my body, and PTSD from the 2011 event crushed my spirit. I only left the house for work, school, and to pick my son up from daycare. I felt as if life was happening around me, without me, but that I dared not do anything physical or strenuous for fear it would be fatal. I was having life-threatening arrhythmias on a daily basis, and my doctors had given up on my living a normal life. I was the forgotten. In 2013, I watched Sender Films’ “La Dura Dura,” with Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra battling for a first ascent. The two were living for every moment. The way they climbed, I almost felt as if I was watching them fight for their lives. They were going to do that project, and there was no holding back. They fought through pain, almost as if there might not be a next chance. When Ondra sent, I felt goosebumps, and in that moment I wanted to know what it felt like to live again. I also knew I wanted to become a climber. Years earlier, in my late teens, I’d visited my local REI and climbed their rock wall. As a former ballet dancer, I felt a pull. The climbers on the wall looked like dancers, graceful and precise. Still, the height scared me, and I let fear pull me away from trying to climb the wall even twice. Maybe next time, right? In early 2016, though, my son and I found our way to Stoneworks Climbing Gym, in Portland, Oregon, to see what climbing was all about. I was so inexperienced I had no idea there were different grades of difficulty. I just grabbed anything I could hold onto, and fell more than I climbed. Still, I was finally doing something I wanted to do. Through my near-death experience, I also understood that if I was going to pursue this thing, it needed to be now. I might not have a tomorrow. I had to fight to strengthen my weak heart. As I continued climbing, I found a sense of freedom from my disease. My body became stronger, and, while I had not known what to expect or hope for, my heart was functioning more efficiently. Echocardiograms and MRIs showed that my condition was no longer worsening. The left side (the healthy part) of my heart now seemed strong enough to compensate for my right-sided heart disease.
DAVE BURDICK (BOTH)
Molly Hemphill on Total Devastation (V4), The Cube, Red Rock, Nevada. Climbing, she says, gives her a reason to more than survive her congenital heart condition, it makes her “want to live.”
Four months later, I was 80 feet up at Smith Rock. My friends had put me on a 5.10c, but I was afraid to go for it. Would the adrenaline affect my heart? What if I went into cardiac arrest? I was nowhere near a hospital. Maybe I could just wait and try this one next time? Formulating that key phrase made me find the strength: I might not have a next time. I remember just going for every hold, and holding onto the crimps as if I was fighting for my life. That is when it hit me: I was. There will always be a higher assumed risk for me in pursuing climbing, due to the remote location of most crags and lack of easy transport to a hospital. Each cardiac event is potentially lifethreatening and strikes without warning. As it is for any cardiac patient, my disease is unique; all of us live in the unknown. Congenital heart disease is incurable, and I have no blueprint for
what I can and cannot do safely. Yet I refuse merely to survive. I want to live. Climbing helped me see life differently. Rather than fearing the unknown, I live for each day. I face each project as if it could be my only time to climb it, and I stop questioning my ability. Fingers bleeding, heart racing, and body exhausted, I climb with determination to finish. As I continue to climb, my body and heart become stronger, allowing me to do more than I did yesterday. I’m teaching my son how to climb with his whole heart and not allow himself excuses, which lead to failure. To be a great climber, you have to fight through all fear, doubt, pain and excuses. You have to climb like this is your only opportunity. A couple weeks after my ambulance ride, with my latest heart problems still burning in mind, I traveled back to Smith Rock and then to Red Rocks. While I was on the road, two other serious heart events occurred. Neither put me in the hospital, but I dropped to my motel-room floor, arms tightly wrapped around my legs, crying out, “I wish I had a normal heart. Why me?” That was self-pity taking over, and I had to stop and remind myself of why I was there—to climb and fully appreciate and experience these beautiful rock formations. For the first time since my diagnosis seven years ago, my cardiologist is unable to detect the sound of my heart murmur. Climbing has given me many gifts, and I believe one will be the ultimate gift of a longer life. Molly Hemphill resides in Portland, Oregon.
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BY BEN SCOTT
POUDRE CANYON, COLORADO A North Canyon Gem
The best 5.12 in the canyon? Cyn DeMartino cruises up Tailspin (5.12b), one of the gems in the Upper Echelon.
Colin Chorvat getting spun around on the impeccable Iron Helix (V6) at The Bog.
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Area Gem Stretching 60 miles up from Ted’s Place to Cameron Pass, Poudre Canyon has for decades been a granite destination in the very backyard of every Fort Collins climber. You can reach the mouth of the canyon in little more than half an hour from downtown Fort Collins. Up until the last dozen years, the area was largely overlooked and off the radar of most Front Range climbers, so Poudre locals enjoyed years of development and exploration away from prying eyes. Prior to around 2005 the region was mainly known for the multipitch trad of Greyrock and a few here-and-there crags close to the road, but since then it has witnessed the arrival of sport climbing and a surge in bouldering. Now the canyon is a varied climbing destination that boasts, in addition to Craig Luebben trad classics, Ethan Pringle’s Coach Myles (5.13d) and Zach Lerner’s Creme de La Poudre (5.14b), both established in the last few years.
Route Development Development of trad routes in the Poudre began in the 1960s and 1970s. Greyrock, a 7,613-foot peak above the Poudre River, looks like a dome you’d find in Tuolumne, but with more features and cracks. Jutting up from a beautiful meadow, it has some of the most classic gear routes in the canyon, and provided some of the lowest-hanging fruit for early development. Steve Allen and Rodney Ley forged a lot of these routes. Allen’s Aunt Edna’s Costume Jewelry (5.7) from the 1970s now has better pro and some closely spaced bolts, but was originally graded X.
Clayton was trying to convince me to let him give the newly scrubbed project a burn. “C’mon, man, if I get up to the top I’ll just drop off!” he said. I was shooting video for “Colorado Daydream” and hoping to film Brian Capps, an undercover crusher on the Front Range, making the first ascent of the line I had cleaned. Brian was running late, and Clayton Reagan, another prolific local crusher, showed up early. I hesitated—Clayton was likely to send it and ruin my filming plans— but I’m also not much of a red-tagger. Sure enough, from the sit-start, Clayton powered through the stout entry moves and the massive reach using a heel-hook to a midway jug. He stopped at the jug rest and smirked at me. “No way I’m dropping off this problem!” he said. He took a deep breath and punched through the heady topout. Small Axe (V8) would become one of the most famous boulder problems in Poudre Canyon.
In the 1980s, Jim Brink, Pat McGrane, Don Braddy and Jeff Bassett continued to push the difficulty with a “ground-up” style, and explored an area now called the Narrows, where steep granite walls greet the road. In the early 2000s a third wave of developers, led by Derek Peavey, Ken Gibson, Bryan Beavers and Paul Heyliger, filled in the gaps, adding a slew of hard bolted lines in a Poudre renaissance that just seemed to keep going. Four-star bolted routes appeared at the Palace, Crystal Wall, Triple Tier Area, Electric Ocean, Upper Echelon, Sheep Mountain and a variety of crags in the Narrows; entire areas were discovered. Tailspin, a pumpy 5.12b with big reaches between decent ledges, needs to be on everyone’s tick list, as does the trad route East of Eden (5.9), a right-facing dihedral with an early crux that sucks up gear. Some of the steepest and most strenuous climbing in the Poudre can be found at Vista Crag, a 90-foot wall of marble-white, calcite-covered granite, brightly streaked with orange and yellow varnish. This aesthetic cliff provides a surprising variety of challenging holds that stretch out in every
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direction. The approach is steep but those hardy enough to take it on are rewarded by some of the best rock in the canyon. If you’re sending 5.13s, be sure to do the crag classic Slippery Slope (5.13c).
Now the Boulders During the mid-1980s and early 1990s local climbers like the famed alpinist Mark Wilford and Horsetooth tugger Steve Mammen roamed the Lower Canyon and up to Greyrock looking for boulders. Even John “Verm” Sherman passed through and established the stand-start to Merlin (V7) with Wilford. It was years before anyone else would venture so high in search of bouldering. The Upper Canyon generally refers to anything beyond the town of Rustic, a tiny retirement village beyond which early Fort Collins climbers rarely ventured. Getting there requires an hour or more of winding roads with no guardrails, which is likely why this area was the last to see significant development. But the long drive reaps rewards of superb rock quality and boulders
far larger than those in the lower reaches of the canyon. The stone boasts Crescianostyle slopers, steep-angled edges and crimps, and incredible pinstripe layers of quartz and compact crystals. Hank Jones, an itinerant Fort Collins climber, was the first to park his RV in the Upper Canyon with the sole intention of establishing boulder problems. Some of the first were Hank’s Arete (V5) and Hank’s Lunge (V5)—beautiful lines on a freestanding granite egg called, you guessed it, Hank’s Boulder. Then Merlin (V7) and Gandalf (V6), both proud, aesthetic lines, inspired Poudre enthusiasts to go out and find their own dream boulders. In 1999 the avid developer Pat Goodman and I checked out some of Hank’s established problems at the Bliss State Wildlife Area and decided to take a walk into the woods. There we found a diamond-shaped boulder of perfect dark granite about the size of two school buses and overhanging on almost every side. To add to the allure, the boulder was resting on two smaller blocks, so it appeared to float in the air like a magic trick. A shelter had been built under the boulder
The author on the compression testpiece Sloth (5.13b) at the Jungle Wall, Poudre Falls.
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using stacked logs, all carved with the number 420. A group of hippies had stayed there some years before, and on one of the underpinning blocks someone had recounted, in permanent marker, their “herbal experience.” We unceremoniously took down the shelter and started cleaning holds that would become It’s Ice (V5) and the infamous Dave Graham testpiece Circadian Rhythm (V13). When we returned to the Fort, the name 420 Boulders was coined, and much to the chagrin of local DOW land managers, it has stuck. After that, new areas began to pop up almost every weekend. The Bog area, with its enchanting oxbow lake, features several housesized boulders. In the summer you can shallow-water solo on a boulder half in and half out of the lake. In the winter the ice makes a perfect flat landing for trying the same problems that dusted you in the summer. The Gandalf area comprises the most impressive talus field in the canyon and hosts between 50 and 60 boulder problems ranging from V0 to V13, with the infamous highball Gandalf being a necessary tick for any serious boulderer. The Pearl Area contains huge blocks of superb granite, which include the Black Pearl, location of Clayton’s notorious Small Axe. The canyon continues to grow and evolve with every generation of climbers. Devout boulderers continue to find jewels in the most overlooked spots, and recent areas, such as Prione, Poudre Falls and the Narrows Blocs, are evidence of the potential still lying in the canyon. Ben Scott, a climber of 22 years, is the president of the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition.
THE CLIMBER’S MAGAZINE
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Jason Tarry bears down on the thuggy crux of Albatross (5.14a) at the White Wall, Poudre Falls. Facing page: Ryan Nelson goes toe-to-toe with the bouldery crux of Blonde Note (5.13a) at The Beach.
“Three steps to climbing Lighter, Faster & Stronger.”
BETA RECOMMENDED PROBLEMS 420 BOULDERS Hank’s Lunge (V6), Puffing Stone Traverse (V5), Tilt (V7), Divergence (V9), Can Opener (V10/11), Circadian Rhythm (V13). BOG AREA Dingus (V4), Indian Ladder (V5), Simple (V6), Iron Helix (V6), Mr. Smackmag (V8). GANDALF AREA Squeeze Problem (V6), Against Humanity (V6), Gandalf (V6), Hard As They Come (V10), Black Swan (V12). PEARL AREA Nutsack Hoedown (V4), Bubblicious (V5), Rasta Drop (V7), Small Axe (V8), Big Oyster (V9). POUDRE FALLS Mega-Bloks (5.8), Andromeda Galaxy (5.10b), Nova (5.11b), Silver Salute (5.11c), Zebra (5.12a), Intergalactic (5.12c). NARROWS AREA East of Eden (5.9), Fish and Whistle (5.11a), Watchtower (5.11a), Delicious Demon (5.11b), Home School Ballerina (5.11c), I.P.A. (5.12a), Snake
Eyes (5.12b), Wihizzle Dihizzle (5.12c), Copperhead (5.13a), Rustic Wilderness (5.13b). VISTA CRAG Vista Cruiser (5.11b), Big Bad Beav (5.11c), Easy Eukie (5.12a), Slippery Slope (5.13c), Straw Into Gold (5.13d), Creme De La Poudre (5.14a)
Poudre Canyon Rock Climbing Guide 2nd Edition, by Craig Luebben, Bennett Scott and Cameron Cross, 2010. www.nococlimbing.org Poudre Falls Guidebook, 2nd Edition, by Bennett Scott, 2015. www. nococlimbing.org Grazing Allotment Guidebook 1st Edition, by Bennett Scott, 2015. www. nococlimbing.org
CAMPING AND LODGING
Numerous National Forest campgrounds are located throughout the canyon. Big Bend Camping Area and
Sleeping Elephant Campground are the closest to the popular bouldering areas. There are several facilities that rent cabins, Archer’s Resort being the best, and many AirBnB rentals in the canyon as well. Free camping can be found at Red Feather Lakes and off the Larimer River Road.
9.9mm x 70m - HONNOLD GLIDER
9.5mm x 70m - HONNOLD PINNACLE
9.1mm x 70m - HONNOLD AIRLINER
Fort Collins is a foodies’ dream. Try La Luz for Mexican, Big Al’s for a burger, or the Crown Pub for bar food. If you can’t make it down the canyon, Archer’s has a decent food trailer in the good weather months, and the famous Mishawaka Amphitheatre has a full menu.
Grab a free bike and tour Fort Collins’ iconic craft breweries, like New Belgium and Odell Brewing. Don’t forget to hit the smaller spots like Snowbank Brewing and Equinox for a local vibe.
T H E A L E X H O N N O L D S E R I E S BY M A X I M Exclusively at
A portion of proceeds benefit
Main Image: Alex Honnold, Herbivore Dyno-Soar (5.13d) | Photo by: Jonathan Siegrist
JA N UA RY 2 018 67
FIELD TESTED 50 DAYS WEIGHT: 11.4 oz. (size 1) PROS: Double-buckle fastening. Lightweight and low volume. CONS: Only two sizes and limited adjustability in leg loops. BEST FOR: High-level sport and trad climbing.
WEIGHT: 12.7 oz. (medium) PROS: Zippy Speedfit adjustment system. Tie-in protector. Modest price point. CONS: Tail end of waistbelt can protrude and interfere with clipping. BEST FOR: All climbing styles and budgets.
Beal Ellipse XT
Beal Venus Soft
$79.95 / LIBERTYMOUNTAIN.COM With the Venus for women, Beal has made a high-performance harness with a flat-weave webbing construction that minimizes pressure points. The Venus comes with four generously sized, ergonomic gear loops that protrude from the waistbelt to facilitate racking up, and a small tag loop for tag lines or multi-pitch essentials. The highlight is the double-buckle fastening. When I climb in a T-shirt, I’ll cinch my harness all the way down, but in the alpine or on cold days I’ll bundle up, and the extra clothing increases my waistline by several inches. The double-buckle fastening on the Venus means that even in my customary five layers I can adjust the harness to center the gear loops, ensuring that none of them get lost behind my back, out of sight or reach. This harness only comes in two sizes, 1 and 2, which may not suit all women. Furthermore, the auto-adjusting elastic leg loops only have a few inches of play, which makes the harness neat and light—and the fit good and snug—but means women with small waists and larger legs, or vice versa, may find the fit doesn’t suit them. These leg loops also won’t be ideal for mountaineering or ice/mixed climbing, where you may need to pull the harness on over boots or crampons. The Venus is comfortable, lightweight and slim and is therefore valuable on alpine rock or on long approaches—when weight and space need to be economized—or for high-end sport climbing. —Harriet Ridley
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WEIGHT: 14 oz. (size 1) PROS: Low volume, packs up small. CONS: Only comes in two sizes. BEST FOR: Sport climbing, trad climbing, big day mountaineering.
Mammut Ophir Speedfit $59.95 / US.MAMMUT.COM
Mammut bills the Ophir Speedfit as an allaround harness, and over the course of a couple of months I used it for long moderate sport climbs, steep projects, a seven-pitch route, and ascending free-hanging fixed lines. The waistbelt has two iceclipper slots so you can quickly adapt to alpine mode, if that’s your thing. The Speedfit’s eponymous leg-loop-adjustment system is cool. Simply slide the threaded buckle to tighten and loosen the loops. The design eliminates, as the manufacturer states, “the tiresome problem of ends of webbing that stick out and get in the way.” The only end of webbing I had a problem with was the tail of the waistbelt, which tended to creep out and form a loop that got in the way of clipping. Eventually I didn’t tuck the tail into the holders at all and just let it freebird, which worked great. I really liked the tie-in protector, a plastic mold that fits across the tie-in point—an area that is prone to sawing—on the leg loops. Overall, I appreciated the clean, light, ergonomic simplicity of the design, and the modest price tag means this harness is real value for money. I’d highly recommend the Speedfit for just about any climber and any type of climbing. —Jeff Jackson
$79.95 / LIBERTYMOUNTAIN.COM Over the last eight months, while getting my ass handed to me at climbing locations throughout the Southwestern U.S., I began to question my gear choices. Tape, I thought, I need more tape! Or maybe new shoes? Or jammie gloves? Lighter cams, tighter pants; I tried it all. Except for a new harness. I never thought much about my old harness; I just grabbed it like an old wallet. The Ellipse XT is my new wallet and has become part of my go-to kit for numerous reasons. First is the comfy Web-core Technology, which spreads the load, is tough as nails and makes uncomfortable hanging belays slightly less shit, all without inches of padding that get me stuck in a stinking Zion offwidth. The low-volume also means I can pack the harness up inside my helmet with room to spare. The four gear loops are large and well positioned, so gear is accessible but not so far forward that it will migrate to your crotch when you move. There is also a handy haul loop and two ice-clipper loops, and the adjustable leg loops and double-buckle waist fastening allow you to adjust the harness so it’s centered and comfortable whether you’re wearing six layers or one. The Ellipse XT is pitched as a big-day mountaineering harness—and it ticks that box—but its light and slim-line design also make it perfect for sport climbing. If you want a simple and versatile harness you can grab for any adventure, the Ellipse XT is a great choice. — Kris McCoey
KRONOS From the producers of DRY ICE
Route: The Last Gentleman Climber: Ben Carlson Photo: Derek Castonguay
FIELD TESTED WEIGHT: 14.8 oz. (medium). PROS: Five gear loops. Women specific design. Very comfortable. CONS: Waist to leg loop ratio may not suit all women. BEST FOR: Sport and trad climbing, multi-pitch climbing.
Petzl Luna $74.95 / PETZL.COM
My first harness was the Petzl Dionysis, which debuted in 1999. At a whopping 25 ounces, the Dionysis was the Cadillac of cushy sport harnesses. A lot has changed in the world of gear since 1999, but what hasn’t changed is the comfort of Petzl harnesses. The new Luna, updated for 2018, is softer than its predecessor and the new pressure distribution design produces no hot spots when you’re at a hanging belay or working moves. I found the wide waist belt incredibly comfortable as I fruitlessly swung and hung up my project. At 17.4 ounces (for a size medium) this harness is just shy of three ounces heavier than the older model, but is still a light delight comapred to my old Dionysis, and certainly as comfortable. The new Luna has five large gear loops, so you can carry a ton of gear: two oversized rigid loops up front, two smaller flexible ones further back that don't interfere if you’re wearing a pack, and a bonus extra-large fifth rear loop. There is also a nicely sized rear tag loop for multi-pitch essentials. If you need lots of gear, this carrying capacity will be hard to beat. My only qualm with this harness is the fit, and that is no doubt personal. The leg loops and waist belt are quick and easy to adjust, but for me the leg loops did not cinch down very tight, while the waist belt barely fitted over my hips. —Alee Russell 70 JA N UA RY 2 018 • IS S U E 247
WEIGHT: 13.2 oz. (medium). PROS: Large rear accessory loop and tag loop. Versatile. Men's and women's models. CONS: A touch minimal for long hanging belays. BEST FOR: Multi-discipline climbers.
WEIGHT: 9.4 oz. (medium). PROS: Light, comfortable, breathable. Excellent “3D” fit. Custom size combinations. CONS: Small, difficult-to-clip haul loop. Ice-clipper slots overlap gear loops. BEST FOR: Rock climbing quiver-of-one.
BD Technician Women’s
$79.95 / BLACKDIAMONDEQUIPMENT.COM I have shoes for all occasions: desert cracks, granite cracks, limestone sport, gym climbing, multi-pitch trad, single-pitch trad, bouldering—the list goes on. I wouldn’t know which to choose if told I could only have one pair. I do, however, know which harness I would choose. The Technician is a fully adjustable multidiscipline women’s harness, as appropriate for hard sport climbing as it is for ice. Not only does BD give us four perfectly sized molded gear loops that make racking up and selecting gear a breeze, but also a large accessory loop and a bonus tag loop for good measure: priceless if you’re racking up for big days on multipitch routes. The four ice clipper slots make it suitable for ice and mixed climbing. The compact design is reasonably comfortable for hanging in, considering it’s a low-volume model, although you might start to question your life choices after an hour at a hanging belay. The harness comes in four sizes, from XS to L, and is fully adjustable to ensure a good fit. The Technician was well up to the challenge of heavy use and performed faultlessly during trad, sport, alpine and multi-pitch outings. I’d recommend this harness for climbers who dabble in multiple climbing disciplines, but want one harness with which to meet all their whimsical climbing desires. —HR
Edelrid Ace $130 / EDELRID.COM
The weight-versus-comfort conundrum has boggled minds ever since we moved out of swami belts. Do you go ultralight and suffer numb legs, or do you lug the extra ounces to feel human? With the Ace, Edelrid proves that you can have comfort in a lightweight harness. The Ace uses Edelrid’s new “3D-Vent Lite” technology—thin bands of webbing sewn into a three-dimensional shape—to distribute pressure, cut weight and allow breathability. The leg loops are non-adjustable, but their stretchiness and curved form hugs your legs, and Edelrid offers custom size combinations for the belt and leg loops. For long project sessions, or on the flip side, endless belaying, nothing in the same weight class matches the Ace in fit and comfort. You could use the harness for both rock and ice climbing, but the ice-clipper slots are smack-dab in the gear loops, which clusters things up, and the non-adjustable leg loops make a tight hole for alpine boots, so the Ace wouldn’t be my first pick for winter use. The harness is, however, good for just about everything else—from projecting to send burns to all-day multi-pitch endeavors. If you could only own a single harness, the Ace is your quiver of one. —Hayden Carpenter
Black Diamond Zone $99.95 / BLACKDIAMONDEQUIPMENT.COM
The Zone is Black Diamond’s lightest harness, if barely. At 11.3 ounces for a men’s medium, the Zone is .7 ounces lighter than Black Diamond’s older and still available Solution ($69.96), which I reviewed about a year ago. Unless you are a hummingbird you won’t miss .7 ounces but as a capitalist you may notice the $30 more you’ll pay for the Zone. You may also notice the Zone and Solution use the same gear loops, waist belt and buckle, and look and feel, at least in hand, similar. What gives? For all its similarities to the Solution, the Zone is its own boss. Mainly, it is much more svelte. The waist belt, leg loops and belay loop are narrower. The trimmings make the Zone feel nearly unnoticeable. No doubt this is also to do with what BD calls “Fusion Comfort Technology.” Rather than incorporating a traditional slab of foam for padding, the Zone uses three bands of narrow webbing fanned an inch apart and backed with a smidge of foam and a soft porous lining. The various layers add up to about the thickness of a half dollar, and make it feel more like a hammock than a harness. BD said the Zone is for sport and alpine. I only used it for sport, although I can see that its two ice clipper loops would come in handy once the snow flies. I couldn’t find a fault with the Zone. It is comfortable, its four outward canted gear loops make snapping things on and off … a snap! Even the narrow 3/8-inch-wide belay loop is a nice touch, if for no other reason than it is narrow, and that makes me feel lighter. —Duane Raleigh
WEIGHT: 11.3 oz. (medium) PROS: Thin, packs well. Comfortable even when you are lightly clothed. Svelte, trim fit is nearly unnoticeable. Available in men’s or women’s. Two ice clipper loops CONS: $99.95 BEST FOR: Everything.
Dragon Cam A state-of-the-art cam that makes the most of every placement. ›
Hot forged and CNC’d TripleGrip lobes give: • • • •
ALEX LUGER on Pastafarian, 5.12, Meat Walls, Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: RAY DEMSKI
Larger surface contact area Increased holding power Higher performance in slick rock Reduced ‘walking’
Extendable 8mm Dynatec sling saves on quickdraws
Ergonomic thumb press gives positive handling
Rated to 14kN from size 1 upwards
THE DRAGON BARES ITS TEETH
R E K JO
ALAN ROUSSEAU CHÈRÉ COULOIR, MONT BLANC DU TACUL CHAMONIX, FRANCE
WEIGHT: 14.8 oz. (size medium). PROS: Five gear loops and tag loop. Fully adjustable. Super comfortable. CONS: Gear loops are a touch too far back. BEST FOR: Multi-pitch climbing, trad climbing.
Petzl Adjama $74.95 / PETZL.COM
I've always believed in getting the right tool for the job, yet I’ve never had a specific multi-pitch climbing harness—a choice I have questioned while fighting to get gear off overloaded gear loops. Therefore, as I prepared for a pain-au-chocolate-fueled trip to Southern France, I salivated when I saw the new Petzl Adjama harness, updated for 2018. This new Adjama embraces everything that a multi-pitch trad harness needs: five big gear loops and a tag loop, adjustable leg loops, drop seat, a little extra padding and a softer, more supple design. Did I mention the five gear loops? The extra-large rear loop was a greater luxury than the self-serve espresso machine in our hotel, and freed up the other loops for gear, making pro easier to select. In the Gorges du Verdon we spent long days on walls filled with hanging belays. Weighing a hair over 17 ounces, the Adjama is twice the weight of my sport harness, but it is four times more comfortable. As we headed north to Céüse I wondered if I would notice the weight and regret having not brought a sport-specific harness. I didn’t. In fact, the width of the harness actually made me feel secure and confident, especially when facing those old-school Céüse runouts. — Jerry Willis
WEIGHT: 15.8 oz. (size small). PROS: Comfortable double webbing waistbelt. Adjustable leg loops. CONS: Confusing sizing. Continuous loop for hip adjustment can protrude over gear loop. BEST FOR: Trad, sport.
Edelrid Solaris $119.95 / EDELRID.COM
+ 9.1MM ROPE + WEIGHT: 53G/M + SINGLE, HALF, AND TWIN CERTIFIED + PERFORMANCE MINDED FOR SPORT, TRAD, ALPINE, AND ICE CLIMBING
FOR A DEALER NEAR YOU CALL 1-888.90.CLIMB Distributed in North America by Liberty Mountain Photo: Nathan Smith - http://www.pullphotography.com
At first glance, the extra-wide Solaris looks like a corset. Then I put it on and forgot all about it. The women’s Solaris is an exceedingly comfortable all arounder focused on the vastly varying shapes of women’s hips, from straight and narrow to Scarlett O’ Hara. Seeking to accommodate all, the company came up with a double buckle that cinches the upper and lower edges of the hip belt separately. The system uses one continuous loop, so you can adjust both buckles in the same motion. The hip belt also flares outward where the waist widens to hips and the leg loops are fully adjustable. The Solaris comes in XS, S and M. At five-foot-seven in height and with a medium frame, I am always a medium (at least in this lifetime). The M, however, was too large, and I had to trade in. Another plus is a reinforced “abrasion protector” at the tie-in point, adding durability to a spot vulnerable to wear. —Alison Osius 72 JA N UA RY 2 018 • IS S U E 247
Saturday: elite mixed climbing comp Sunday: hari berger speed comp SPONSORED BY LOWA BOOTS
eveningS: kickoff party! SPONSORED BY RAB
Nightly Presentations Slideshows & Movies Live & Silent Auctions Petzl party “wild west”
OURAY ice festival 2018 JANUARY 18-21
Art by Kellie Day
DAILY: gear demos climbing clinics kid’s climbing
Got a question? Email: email@example.com
Little Big Fear QUESTION
A cordalette equalizes when the load aligns perpendicularly to the master point, but a pull from the side will load one anchor more than the other.
Anchor Inequality QUESTION
I hear chatter about the various “equalized” anchor systems, such as the quad and the cordalette, but do these really equalize, or are they window dressing that only makes us believe we are being safe? —John Upjohn To paraphrase an ancient text, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.” We know that while we strive for equalization, in practice we stray far from the ideal. With the exception of the self-equalizing “sliding X,” which you should never use because of shock loading when one anchor fails, the other systems only equalize in one direction. Usually, that is straight down and centered between two anchors. When loading is a bit off center, one anchor will take more load than the other. The other big and self-evident but unspoken truth occurs when the load is from above, such as when the leader falls and lifts the belayer. Then there’s practically zero chance the anchors are loading equally because few routes have the leader climbing in a straight line directly above the anchor, and the person who rigged the anchor likely only anticipated a downward load such as one caused by a second taking on the rope. An off-center upward load won’t equalize on that same anchor. These truths don’t make the quad or cordalette “window dressing” because they do minimize shock loading should one piece in the anchor fail, and they do equalize somewhat. That “somewhat” is a variable from “almost equalized” to “not equalized at all,” depending on the direction of loading. The quad and cordalette and other similar systems do have other advantages. They make tidy anchors with convenient master points, and having the dedicated cord or slings means you’ll always have the tools for constructing an anchor. Keep using them.
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The lightest full-size carabiners in the world! To score your Rack Pack, send a question to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question leads in the next issue, you win.
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Climbing gear is obviously the reason why we are all broke and live out of cars. In regards to buying used gear and inspecting our own, how can we tell if the pro has microfractures and/or other hard-to-notice flaws? —Taylor Kay In the late 1970s “micro fractures” ignited a panic on a scale only slightly less than that of the great bank run of 1929. No one jumped off a cliff, but the fear of these nearly invisible cracks persists although no one has actually seen one in decades, and I haven't heard of a single accident attributed to them. Micro fractures did appear in what are now decades-old Chouinard carabiners. They radiated from the holes drilled to accept the gate pins, and you could clearly see the cracks. This was a manufacturing flaw and was corrected, but the tale has jumped from generation to generation by way of the coconut telephone, where each retelling slightly alters the story, making it unrecognizable at some point down the line. Usually the story is about dropped gear that somehow got invisible cracks. Well, aluminum, the stuff climbing gear is made of, is soft. Take a hammer, beat on a carabiner and see if you can crack it. This is where we are today. Don’t worry about micro fractures. Do worry about the economic conditions that have you living in a car, unless you are a “dirtbag” in a Sprinter van. Whether you are rich or poor, the problem you have with purchasing used gear is the same you have with eating a stranger’s leftovers. If the seller is a trusted friend, the gear is probably fine. Mind you, I am talking only about hard gear such as nuts, cams and carabiners. I’d rather put on someone's used underpants than tie into a pre-owned rope. Next!
Idiot Clip QUESTION
I read a Rock and Ice article about an injury caused by not clipping the first piece of pro while building an anchor. Would it be better to clip a piece of pro before placing it? Would this reduce the potential for fall and serious injury? —Ngoh Seh Suan Clipping gear before you place it is only slightly less accident prone than walking backwards. Fall before the piece is set—a real possibility—and you’ll drop about an extra six feet, or twice the distance of the extra rope you had to pull up to accompany the piece clipped to it. As you boing onto the rope, let the hollow-skull sound of that piece of gear klonking onto your head remind you of your folly. The good news is this technique is self-limiting. Try it, and you’ll instantly learn that the weight of the rope, rope drag and friction of the rope running through the carabiner preclipped to the gear make lifting the gear and rope only slightly easier than hefting an anvil with one arm. Please just place and clip pro like normal and when you build an anchor, set your first piece and clip it so you have gear and a belay for the next round of anchor-building shenanigans. Gear Guy has spoken!
BY MARCUS GARCIA
+ BASIC EQUIPMENT NEEDED • JUMP ROPE • ICE TOOL • SUSPENSION STRAPS • DUMBBELLS • PULL-UP BAR • WRIST ROLL-UP BAR • (1) 2- TO 4-FOOT WOODEN DOWEL
WARM UP All workouts should start with a solid warmup, taking a minimum of 10 minutes. The goal is to raise your heart rate to get the blood flowing. • JUMP ROPE: 30
seconds on, 30 seconds off, six-minute duration. • JUMPING JACKS: do 100 to 200. • BURPEES: do three sets of 10 with a 30-second rest between. • LIGHT STRETCHING
PROGRAM Since ice climbing can present the same moves over and over (pulling down with your hands, shoulders and elbows in the same position), it is important to supplement with a workout that includes antagonist (opposition) exercises. Do the exercises in control, while listening to
your body, and rest in between exercises. Expect to spend 30 minutes to an hour per session, and to perform the exercises two or three times a week. On climbing-workout days, pick a few of the exercises that target areas you did not work during your climbing session. Rest at least two days each week. The strength and endurance programs here include suspension training: a series of bodyweight exercises using straps that develop sport-specific core stability, strength, balance and muscular endurance. Mix up the exercises as you see fit, for your level.
IMPROVE YOUR MIXED GAME Training for the Rock
You have done lap after lap of ice climbing already this season, but mixed climbing turns out to be a little different. The first time you verge from ice onto rock, you tighten your grip to hold the tools still as your front points skate around on the small edges. Your picks creak, adjusting to the terrain. You feel a disconnect between your tools of the trade and your body. You fight up the line of rock holds and thin ice smears, and finish exhausted and beat down. What will help is learning how to use your tools as an extension of your body. Sport-specific training will teach you to move your body and tools as a single unit. The following exercises were designed for the U.S.A. Youth Ice team. This program is for climbers with base fitness who want to reach the next level.
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squeeze hard, and do four sets of eight- to 10-second hangs, with a five-second rest between each rep and a three-minute rest between sets. DEAD-HANG LAT PULLS. Grip your tools or a pull-up bar and pull down with your lats and rhomboids teres muscles (back muscles). These are the key muscles that help to keep the tools still and your body engaged. As you get stronger, add weight slowly over time to increase difficulty. Do four sets of 10 reps, with two minutes of rest between sets. DEAD-HANG KNEE RAISES. Grip your tools or a pull-up bar, and pull your knees to your elbows. Keep the movement as static as possible. Advanced: As your core gets
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARCUS GARCIA
Want to get good at mixed climbing? Then train.
DEAD HANGS. The dead hang is the simplest and most vital exercise. Variations exist but the most relevant are the Dead Hang Ice Tool and the Towel Dead Hang (Figure 1). Place your ice tools over a “hookable” surface, or hang them from carabiners. Hang for a set time. Be sure to place the middle of the pinky against the tool trigger (Figure 2). Use both the closed grip (Figure 3), where the thumb wraps around the tool, and an open position, thumb off the tool as the pinky rests against the trigger part of the tool. Do four sets of 10-second hangs, followed by a five-second rest between reps. Rest two to three minutes between sets, and alternate between the two hand positions. To build tool grip strength, wrap a towel over a pull-up bar, place a hand on each side,
(Figures 1–3) The towel grip, open-hand grip and closed grip.
MIXED EXERCISES (Figure 1) Inverted row leg raises. (Figures 2 and 3) Incline chest press. (Figure 4) Tool lock-off typewriter. (Figure 5) Inverted row leg raises on tools. (Figure 6) Stick challenge.
1. stronger, step it up by placing your tools or hands wider, and bring your knees to your opposite hand. Elite: Using your tools, perform a Figure 4 in slow motion, breaking down the sequence to focus on the process. Take a five-second count. Repeat for a Figure 9. Your core will greatly benefit from this exercise, and you will float those Figure 4s and 9s. DUMBBELL SQUATS TO TOE RAISES. Hold a dumbbell on the side of your body (finding the appropriate weight will take a few trials), squat to a 90-degree angle, stand back up and continue into a toe raise, holding for five seconds. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps, with a two-minute rest between sets. Advanced: Use a box to step up onto and finish the toe raise from there. HAMMER CURLS TO SHOULDER PRESS. Using an appropriate weight, raise the dumbbell slowly and in control. Once the weight touches the shoulder, continue to press it overhead. Lower, with control, and alternate sides. Target goal is four sets of eight reps on each side with two to three minutes of rest between sets. HEAVY FINGER ROLLS. Yes, finger strength plays an important role in ice/mixed climbing. A barbell is best, but dumbbells also work.
Start with very warmed up fingers. Choose a weight that will allow you to do eight to 10 reps in a set. Grip the bar with palms facing the body. Curl the weight with your fingers to the tops of the hands, and lower to the point where you almost feel as if you will drop the weight, then quickly roll back up. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps. Rest three minutes between sets. INVERTED ROW LEG RAISES. Holding the straps, arms extended straight above you, pull your chest to your hands and hold for five seconds, while raising one of your legs (Figure 1). Raised leg is straight, and the toe is above your hands. Focus on pulling with your rhomboids and lats first, then your arms. Advanced (Figure 5): Attach the ice tools to a strap, and do one-arm rows. Hold at the top of the back pull for five seconds. Keep an open-hand grip, and do not allow the tool to rotate. INCLINE CHEST PRESS (SUSPENSION STRAPS). Adjust the height of the straps to allow you to perform eight to 10 reps. (Figures 2 and 3) Start in a push-up position with your hands on the straps. Lower in a slow, controlled motion. Press back up. Do four sets of eight to 10.
5. TOOL LOCK-OFF TYPEWRITERS. This is for advanced to elite climbers. You can use a resistance band to help take weight off. (Figure 4) Clip the tools to a sling with a carabiner that will allow them to swing. Pull your body up until the tool handles are at chest level and about shoulder-width apart. Move side to side, just like a typewriter. Start with four reps (two on the left and two on the right are a set). Perform five sets with a minimum of three minutes of rest in between sets. Tip: Less is best. SLOW TOOL PULL-UPS. Perform slow pull-ups with a five-second count up and down. Add weight as needed to keep the pull-ups to a minimum of five to eight reps for four sets. If training for strength, rest for three minutes. For an endurance workout, rest for one to two minutes. Elite: Trade the ice tools for a towel. Follow the Dead Hang Towel description above, but do pull-ups. DIPS. Use the suspension straps to perform this exercise. Perform four sets of three to five reps. Rest two minutes between each set. Use caution and static movement. Modification for an easier version: Hold the dip static for 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for six cycles/ reps for three sets, resting three minutes between sets.
WRIST ROLL UPS. Grasp a wooden dowel or PVC with weights suspended below it, and slowly roll the weight up and down. Two to three raises and lowers is a set. Perform four sets, with two-minute rests between sets. THE STICK CHALLENGE. Grab a two- to four-foot-long dowel at the top Ffigure 6). Walk your feet back to straighten your body as far as possible, arms extended. Hold for 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for eight reps. Repeat for four sets. Rest for two minutes between sets. Advanced: Grip the top of the stick, and walk your hands down to the ground, then back up. Rest two minutes, repeat five times. SUSPENSION PLANK. Place your feet in the straps about two feet above the ground. Hold a plank position for one minute, and then rest for 30 seconds, for a total of five minutes. Advanced: Bring the knees to the elbows and extend back out for 30 seconds on and 10 seconds off for a five-minute duration. MARCUS GARCIA is an allaround climber, a gym owner and a climbing coach of 23 years. He has been working with the U.S.A. Youth Ice Team on an Olympic development program.
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BY DR. JULIAN SAUNDERS
No Zs No Sends QUESTION
A normal shoulder on the left and, right, one with a ruptured AC joint, an injury commonly known as a separated shoulder. While until recently this injury could end a climbing career, a new surgical procedure involving an implant is often successful.
A Shoulder to Cry On QUESTION
I was skiing and fell onto my shoulder. There is a large lump on top of my shoulder where the collar bone is sticking up. X-rays show that I have damaged my acromioclavicular (AC) joint. Some people suggest surgery while others say it will just heal. What should I do? —Sam, New Zealand Here is the issue: Without your AC joint your arm is only attached to your body by muscle and the singular strut—your collar bone—and stability will be lost. This is a fairly common injury among climbers, not because it’s a climbing injury per se, but because climbers tend be a sportingly diverse bunch whose default mode is full tilt. There are several ligaments that connect the lateral end of the clavicle to the scapula just beneath it, and these restrain the clavicle and control movement at the AC joint. When you crash onto the tip of your shoulder, say when you fly over the handlebars of a bike, these ligaments are vulnerable. For injuries less than complete rupture, the AC joint remains fairly congruous and injury management is conservative. When all ligaments are severed and the AC joint disrupted, the clavicle tends to pop up creating the appearance of a lump, known as a step deformity, or a “separated shoulder.” When you raise your arm to the side, the first 90 degrees is handled by the glenohumeral joint. The second 90 degrees, from horizontal to beside your head, occur by way of your scapular gliding across your back. This is where the AC articulation becomes a mission critical joint since the clavicle acts like a stabilizing rod, enabling the scapular to move with some sense of functional direction. The first patient I saw with a ruptured AC joint I promptly referred to a surgeon, assuming they will have a technique for relocating this feckless bone. The surgeon sent him back with a note that said something akin to “Woe is Joe, poor sod. His climbing days are done. Nothing I can do. Soz.” Have you ever tried telling that to a climber? Fat-fucking-chance! In ye olden days, some surgeons would wire the clavicle back in place. Although reattached, there was little flexibility at the AC joint, which arguably caused just as much trouble. In recent years a new operation with a fancy little implant has been quite successful in both reducing the dislocation back into a normal position while retaining some semblance of flexibility as the ligaments heal. This, Nigel, is your future.
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How little sleep can you get away with? I am an app developer and often work at night due to time-zone differences and then climb during the day. —Jeff Delay, Canada In today’s western world there is an epidemic of sleep deprivation where many sleepy people die a death that will be labeled stupidity. Maybe it was forgetting to tie your knot. Or, when faced with having to make a quick decision to evade danger, your processing capacity was a quagmire of signals that your brain could not quantify, let alone coordinate into an action. People require seven to nine hours of sleep, with at least four hours uninterrupted, and three more at some point 1. Limp barrel! I mean really, during the day. As an athlete could there be a worse outcome than a libido malfunction? these numbers only go up. To state the obvious, you 2. Chernobyl. Remember that are a climber and are already little mishap? Caused by one gallivanting in territory where very tired worker who made a a small misstep has hectic rather unsavory day for several thousand people. Other notable ramifications. Blunting your mentions: Space shuttle mental sharpness is hardly Challenger calamity and the a good idea. Add to the mix Exxon Valdez oil spill. a failing decision-making 3. Roughly 25,000 accidental capacity and you might as well fatalities each year are caused by drink a bottle of Jack Daniels sleep deprivation. and stroll down the center line of the nearest interstate. 4. There is a significant increase Sleep is when your body and in accidental death due to sleep deprivation during the week mind reset. Many studies have that follows the shift to daylight shown that sleep deprivation savings time. results in lower physical capacity, be it reaction times 5. You are more likely to catch a cold, get fat, suffer heart disease, or peak strength, endurance diabetes and other metabolic or basic processing skills, disorders, become temporarily such as when we are trying to dumb and slow in every regard, onsight a climb. That getting yawn inappropriately, become sufficient sleep correlates with a grump, and suffer the effects of muscle exhaustion, such as happiness seems redundant, cramping and hand tremor. except that happiness is inextricably linked to every 6. Since the U.N. lists sleep aspect of success. Next time deprivation as a form of torture, and, as such, research you arrive at a move that is effectively hobbled since you have failed on, think of researchers cannot torture something that made you subjects even if they are willing happy and watch your success volunteers. rate go galactic.
THE CLIMBER’S PACT
PHOTO COURTESY OF © KEENAN HARVEY
BE AN UPSTANDER, NOT A BYSTANDER BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHER USERS · LEARN THE LOCAL ETHICS FOR THE PLACES YOU CLIMB · PARK AND CAMP IN DESIGNATED AREAS · DISPOSE OF HUMAN WASTE PROPERLY · STAY ON TRAILS WHENEVER POSSIBLE · PLACE GEAR AND PADS ON DURABLE SURFACES · RESPECT WILDLIFE, SENSITIVE PLANTS, SOIL, AND CULTURAL RESOURCES · CLEAN UP CHALK AND TICK MARKS · MINIMIZE GROUP SIZE AND NOISE · PACK OUT ALL TRASH, CRASH PADS, AND GEAR · USE, INSTALL, AND REPLACE BOLTS AND FIXED ANCHORS RESPONSIBLY
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PHOTO BY STEVE ROKKS
Rannveig Aamodt and Gorilas en la Niebla (8b+/5.14a), Oliana, Spain. In 2012 the Norwegian climber fell 50 feet to the ground. Aamodt had been toproping a sport route in Turkey and untied to clear a tangle at the anchor. When she tied back in she mistakenly used a rope she had been trailing to rig for another team’s toprope. She yelled “Got me?” and leaned back, but no one was belaying her on the trail rope. On the ground she woke, as she wrote on her blog, in “a bubble of light: I was confused, but I had a vague idea what had happened. ‘This is it, I´m dying,’” she thought. “‘There is no more.’” Aamodt had shattered her back, pelvis, arm and both ankles. She spent months in the hospital undergoing surgeries and recovering, but only eight months after her fall she was climbing 8a.
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Clockwise starting top right: Dan Brayack, Nate Gerhardt, Andy Cross, Alik Berg, Dan Brayack
Pursue what you love, encourage others as they do the same.
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