Alone In the Dark: Jacobs Ladder

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As we drove down the highway, I shared some stories of my experiences on the Navajo Reservation with Dave. A few of the experiences remind me of a dream. Part of the reason why I love climbing there is because it’s an out of the world experience. Dave didn’t seem to believe some parts of the stories but I remember them as if they were yesterday.

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Soon, we were driving farther and farther away from any signs of humans. We then spotted the formation, Jacobs Ladder. It’s a skinny spire 300 feet tall and 50 or so feet in diameter at the top. It’s Standing Rocks “evil” twin. It looked like an evil formation that sort of belonged in Lord of the Rings. As we made the rowdy 4×4 approach, we arrived at the base. Dave seemed freaked out. It resides in a pretty spooky area. As we walked around we noticed that the first pitch of the FA route did indeed fall off.

Lucky for us, I got some beta from Crusher that pointed us to the right spot to start the route. The gear didn’t look great. The rock was the most featured that I’ve ever come across of but still the rock was pretty virgin and most would consider it really chossy. Lucky for me, I found it to not to be the worst.

 

Route follows the face

Route follows the face

As the sun started to set, I found myself frustrated looking at it and letting my mind play games on me that I was going to break my legs. It’s sort of the unknown climbing there. At the last second, I decided to rack up and get the mental crux over with, the first 50 feet. Within 20 feet, I found myself heal hooking on an overhang with a sharp rock below reminding me of the consequences if I blew the move. I couldn’t seem to commit to the move. It was a big move to a sideways lie backing move. It was harder then it looked from the ground. It’s the sort of committing move that there is no reversing. You either make the move or you don’t. If I didn’t, I was going to break some bones.

Within an instant, I committed to the move. I latched on and pulled over fast. With relief, I placed a string of sort of bad placements in a row until I arrived at a descent #3. As I pulled a few more moves, there was another overhang. I placed a large nut in bad rock. I stood at a stance for a while trying to get the courage to climb these next moves. It was more heady moves where if you blow it, chances are not great that you’ll escape without breaking something. I couldn’t tell what was a hold or what wasn’t. Any hold I grabbed, I had to scrape off all the choss on it.  I threw up another heal hook and with fear made the moves. I made a quick anchor and got lowered off as it started getting dark.

It was a bold start.

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As we ate dinner, Dave kept saying he saw a silhouetted dark human figure to the right, then to the left. I never saw it but we both had a feeling something was watching us or stocking us. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling.

We seemed to rush into his truck. The thought of sleeping outside made us feel vulnerable. We locked the doors in an instant. We both started slowly falling asleep, feeling safe that we were locked inside the truck.

Soon, I slowly looked to my right. As I looked, there was a very dark figure standing outside the door on my side about 2 feet away. As if it was capped in very dark black clothes. I could not see the face of this “thing” but only have a strong sense that something very demonic and evil was near me.

As I locked “eyes” onto this thing, I instantly lost my breath. I couldn’t breathe. At once, it seemed to be drawing all the air out of me towards it, sucking life out of me. My head and body started to be drifted closer towards this. I grabbed the center consol at once and pulled with all my strength away.

At an instant, it stopped. It made a loud screech and non human sound. I was relieved. A minute later, this dark figure appeared on Dave’s side. Dave was asleep. The thing appeared stronger with him. It was pulling Dave closer to it. Dave awoke and I grabbed him and pulled him away from it with all my strength. After several minutes of fighting, I pulled him back and the figure disappeared.

Soon, I awoke. I was under the covers. I was too scared to look out the window. What I had “dreamed” about was the most realistic and horrifying dream I’ve ever had. The dream was so real that it had the exact place of trash, bottles, my sleeping position, Dave’s sleeping position, in it. Stuff I didn’t even know or pay attention to. I was too freaked out to look out of the truck. I wasn’t sure if it was a dream or not. It seemed too real. This is the Rez. Stuff happens here that you’ll never experience anywhere else.

I was awake for a couple hours not budging but my spiderman senses were always going off. The hair on the back of my neck was always standing up. We didn’t belong here and we knew it. Soon Dave woke up mentioning that I did in fact grab his arm that night and that he too in fact was freaked out. We finally got out of the car and looked at the objective, at first light. That weird vibe feeling instantly disappeared at light.

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I grabbed the gear and we rushed over to the tower. I roped up and got to the previous evening’s high point. Soon, I found myself in a mud chimney. The climbing in it was never hard but loose enough that you had to be really careful. After 55 meters I made a belay on a nice ledge. What a cool pitch!

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With really bad wind I sat shivering and noticed a storm was starting to come our way, with lightning fingers. I felt rushed and was getting upset with Dave for taking so long following the pitch. As he approached the ledge, I could tell he was terrified, stating it was the scariest pitch he has ever climbed/followed and he had no idea how I climbed it. It was probably the heavy pack he was carrying. It was just the typical “5.9” loose climbing or something. How do you even grade this stuff anyways.

He soon racked up and led the last pitch on better rock. I soon followed it at 5.10+ or something. We sat on the summit, relieved. Realized after some calculations in the summit register that we were the 14th ascent or something since the early 1970’s. I soon rappelled down to get shots of him on the summit.

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He came down and we shoved all the gear in the truck. It was raining now and the drive out had some really sandy washes that you could not get out of if it was wet, even with 4×4. As soon as we got out, we were sort of shocked of the experience. I soon called Alex and Quentin as I knew they were around Monument Valley with the Sufferfest2 crew.

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The other crew outside of Alex and Quentin sort of were confused why we were there. They seemed to think we drove from Denver just to stalk Alex Honold and Cedar Wright. I wasn’t about to try to explain our experience for the last two days.

The truth? We were just happy to have other company and tour around the back roads of Monument Valley with good friends, Alex Pina and Quentin Tutt. Along with witnessing the solar panels being put up on houses that don’t have power. Witnessing the reactions of those that now have power, that’s worth more then any amount of money.

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Climbing takes you places beyond your wildest dreams. It’s the adventure, the challenge, the experience that makes it worth it in the end.

This is the type of stuff that will change your life, forever.

For me, the risk seems to be a little worth it.

For you to know, you’d just have to be there.

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The Lost Art of Choss


Bomber Anchor

Bomber Anchor

Everyone has seen climbing grown into more popularity then ever before. It is not uncommon to wait in line for any classic climb whether it’s bouldering, sport climbing, trad climbing, or ice/mixed climbing. The Diamond on Longs Peak has turned into the Boulder Rock Club, even on weekdays. El Capitan has long been crowded. Climbing is no longer a sport where one is an outcast of society. It has turned into a somewhat understood thing of society where teams race, at times, to get on route first. Sometimes, they even threaten to slash the other person’s tires for getting on the route first. How dare you!

With such popularity, it’s hard for everyone to get along. Constant internet fighting exists to which method of climbing is the best. You find people bashing each others climbing/hiking/snowflake style. Everyone wants to have respect and think that there form of climbing is best. All a while, climbers should be encouraging each other for chasing the passion we all share, as one. No form of the sport is better then the other.

Climbers search for the best splitters, the best boulder problems, the most aesthetic face climbs, or the long classic mixed climbs. It is not uncommon to be surrounded by the drum circles in Indian Creek or the crowded Camp 4. All a while, the introverts complain about how crowded things are getting. One thing hasn’t changed though. That is the old school choss climbs are no longer traveled. There is no need to get on them when there are so many other classics to get on with good rock. Are we all in agreement? No.

Everyone has a different motivation for climbing.

The search continues for the best rock. For some climbers, the choss can be attractive as it brings high adventure, solitude, and it includes sort of a dangerous game of Jenga. For some, all they want to do is climb choss. It’s almost a forgotten art these days. There is never anything that is too loose but rather if you brought enough stupidity to handle it.

Here is a small tick list sample of moderate climbs that are not known about but bring some of the most incredible scenery, all a while challenging the mental capacity you have. These climbs aren’t cutting edge nor are they the chossiest out there. These are climbs that most can enjoy at a moderate level that do not include logistical nightmares to get to. These climbs aren’t the loosest out there, or the hardest. They will provide a challenge though. This is a list that is doable for any weekend warrior. You will not be in a race against anyone on these climbs, I promise. I will name this fun list “The Weekend Warrior Chossy 5”

Capitol Peak Snowmass Mountain traverse (V 5.7 R+)

Looking back at the long ridge from the last pitch of the traverse

Looking back at the long ridge from the last pitch of the traverse

I feel that this is the most incredible alpine ridge traverse one can do in Colorado. The fact that this ridge has been ignored for decades between two very popular 14’ers is quite crazy. This ridge spans almost 4 miles. This committing traverse continues from the summit of Capitol on loose terrain for a couple miles of sustained loose exposed terrain until one confronts “Satans Horns” a series of bizarre horns. To enter this part of the traverse you must chimney through the first gendarme. A series of loose mid fifth traverses and easy no pro faces soon land you on the north ridge of Snowmass where two very solid and very fun 5.5 find you at the top. This isn’t for the faint of heart. For example, I have always described this ridge as combining the worst Elk Range rock with the worst San Juan rock. Put it in a blender, and spew it all out. You have the Cap/Snow traverse! A classic ridge that many want to ignore since it would get in the way of completing all the great traverses of the 14ers. You can’t ignore facts.

"Satan's Doorway"

“Satan’s Doorway”

 

A little loose

A little loose

Agathla (5.8 R+++ 500m)

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Located in the four corners area and first completed in 1949, Agathla should not be forgotten about. For preparation, one should do five laps on a 5.9X route on the Rotwand wall in a row. This formation is an old volcanic plug. It’s the evil twin of Shiprock. This formation has the vibe and feeling that danger is ever present. One small mistake will land you in the dungeon. Locate the vertical/overhanging talus field on the North side. It perhaps looks like a gully but upon arriving at the base, it is steep enough that you get extremely confused on how choss can really hold on to this angle. Five pitches of demanding route finding, every hold moving on you, bad gear, sometimes bad anchors, choss traverses brings you to a col where several hundred feet of 5.6X choss brings you to the summit. Now down climb it all to get down. The real crux is getting down. If you do end up making it out without incident, send a prayer thanking the man upstairs because he was looking out for you.

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Choss traverse up high

Choss traverse up high

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Tom Thumbs Tallywag (C1 X+)

On the right

On the right

First completed by desert legend, Paul Ross, this short single pitch aid climb in Palisade, CO includes what I believe to be the “smallest” free standing summit that hasn’t fallen down yet. This climb will remind one of a hanging dagger of ice. What I mean by that is not to clip the rope into any of the pieces on the summit tower. On the first ascent, the diameter of the summit tower was 36×18 inches. Ten years after the first ascent, it dwindled down to 18×18 inches. One must rappel off the summit choss anchors and watch the tower sway with your weight. It’s rated X because if it falls with you on it, you got at most a few 8 inch nails in mud you’re relying to hold. And that’s if it doesn’t collapse on rappel. I found this tower to be 99% choss and it should soon be a future classic.

 

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Don't fall over!

Don’t fall over!

Oracle, Fantasia (IV/V/VI 5.10 R/X “C2”)

Oracle

Oracle

First completed by Harvey Carter and team, this major tower in the Fishers provides perhaps the ultimate desert adventure. The fact that this famed route has only seen around 11 ascents since it was first done, gives a testament on the challenge. This climb will provide you with the scariest 5.7 pitch you’ve ever climbed, one of the most sandbagged C1/2 clean aid pitches you’ll climb, a classic 5.8X dyno on the 5.10 R/X pitch, and a very mysterious last pitch. Getting down is scary too!

Scary 5.7

Scary 5.7

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Ressurection (WI5 M7 R)

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First completed by Jeff Lowe, this is one of the most terrific climbs in Vail. The route is mostly fixed with an assortment of gear and resides right next to the Rigid Designator. It’s a total testament to Jeff Lowe’s passion for the sport. While an obscure old trad route in Vail, I believe it deserves a lot more traffic. It’s one of the most terrific trad mixed routes. Start at the smear of ice to the right of the Dez (harder then it looks) and then start up a small corner with a fixed pin (M5ish) until a small sloping ledge is reached with a bomber TCU. Then the scary part begins. Soon land your way on the hanging dagger! Try not to fall.

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Now I’ll admit, I don’t always pursue choss, it just finds me. To admit that I like choss is to admit that I have a hole in my head. Who wants to admit that? I’m a perfectly average law abiding citizen. Like I sometimes say, climbing choss is like a bad girlfriend that you love. No matter what happens, you just can’t keep away. You keep coming back for more mental damage. It’s not that you enjoy that pain; you’re just one of the few victims that it’s latched onto. There’s no getting away. Give in to it. It’s just easier that way.

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Talisman

The ice season starts out the same every year whether or not there is ice or just rock. August sweeps in and soon I find myself training on my ice tools trying to hold on longer and longer. I find myself dreaming of the hardest ice routes around and hope I find myself within reach of them if they come in. Every year, I forget about how scary it is. I sort of move right into it thinking it will be a cruise. This year was no different, except that it’s been the best ice year since I’ve been climbing.

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After almost two months of hanging on my tools, I almost sent my long time project in Vail, that is, two bolts away from the anchors past the crux. This year started off rough.

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I tried a new line on Pikes Peak with Erik but got shut down by a horrific chossy roof around the fourth pitch. It was one of the worst lines I’ve tried. Sugar choss mank. There was a couple ice sticks on it though.

soloing P2

soloing P2

Fast forward a week or so and Jason, Matt, and I climbed Northstar. Who would have ever thought a 50 meter M4 slab pitch could be so exciting with just 3 peckers as protection? That’s what I get for being adventurous and trying a variation.

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Soon enough the Smear of Fear in RMNP is super fat. With the flooding and government it’s a full on epic getting back there. I’m talking 8 hours to get to Chasm Lake from Denver. With 60 mph winds and a temperature that never reached above 0 degrees all day, we were frozen. Not including the small avy’s coming off broadway and ice pellets raining from the sky. We bailed after P1.

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I returned home pissed that I didn’t climb it. Soon enough Cooper put up the new line on the Diamond of which I had the option of joining Chris Sheridan on but that’s what I get for moving to summit county that weekend. I found myself burnt out on the park. I’m ready to check out other places. I’ve been to that cirque so many times in the last year.

SOF attempt

SOF attempt

I’m then married to the Fishers for a month. Such is life. Instead of sitting there feeling bad for myself, I decided to get a move on.

Talisman (WI6 M6/7 R)

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Well how about Camp Bird Road? Talisman!

I’ve had the long term project of climbing all the mega classics on Camp Bird Road. I climbed Bird Brain Blvd. two years ago and endured moderate climbing X runouts and a few A4 X anchors. Looking back at it though, the climbing was at top easy M5, not M6. Before that was the Ribbon with Jeff that I endured my first WI4 lead on. I jumped from leading WI2 to hang dogging WI5 in two weeks and then went back down to WI4. Really?

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Anyhow, my last classic of Camp Bird Road was the Talisman. There was a reason I hadn’t climbed it. It’s a big boy climb. Sort of like Bird Brain on steroids and then some. I’ve always seen pictures of Steve House or some extreme hardman on it so it’s sort of been a rite to passage for personal reasons. I soon found out it was in.

Alpine conditions

Alpine conditions

Soon, Jay Karst and Phil Wortmann were on board. After climbing 2500 ft of moderate ice in Silvertion, I found myself feeling the time was near to get really scared. Looking up at the route was really intimidating, to say the least. It’s pretty high up on the cliff and all you see is a massive hanging dagger. Let me remind you that this climb has no bolts. No bolts, all balls, is what I was told.

P2 WI6 M6 (R?)

P2 WI6 M6 (R?)

I hate alpine starts but yet I do them all the time because my memory sucks. After being worried that the Lincoln crowds would crowd the Talisman (hahah!) we started the steep slog to the base. The closer we got, the more scary it looked. And the climb was even scarier then it looked.

Phil following P2 (Photo by Jay Karst)

Phil following P2 (Photo by Jay Karst)

At the base we put on our pons and Jay already decided to take P1. Do you like your vegetables? This was the thanksgiving of vegetables. All cauliflower climbing for about 50 meters of WI5ish climbing. Right before the pitch, it occurred to me that I remember reading that Josh Wharton took a 50 foot whip on this pitch when one of the cauliflowers peeled off while he was placing a screw. Jay set off. Phil and I endured Vietnam dodging the bullets but yet we got pelted over and over. It hurt. My stomach was in pain. What I ate the day before was not doing well.

While we followed the pitch, we realized what the pitch was. It’s always harder then it looks. While it looked WI4, the top rope line I took away from the protection provided WI5++ climbing. I got to the belay ledge. So that is the easy pitch.

While we transferred the belay, I couldn’t help but look at the massive hanging dagger above my head. Dear God, I have to go up there? Oh hell no…..

Soon enough I found myself putting screws and rock gear on my harness. Funny how that goes. I was psyched and pretty terrified at the same time. I relied on my experience and partners telling me that I had it. This was the crux pitch I’ve feared for years. The pitch I never thought I would ever lead.

Phil on P3 (Photo by Jay Karst)

Phil on P3 (Photo by Jay Karst)

At this point in the climb you do a rising traverse over 4 or 5 hanging blobs/daggers (WI6??) to another traverse to the M6/7 crux that is sort of run out. From there you traverse back onto the hanging dagger on P3 and it’s all ice to the top.

First swing and it was vertical. Soon I placed a .5 and hung on it due to fear. To get to the next dagger it was thin ice with no pro. I was terrified of blowing it and breaking my leg on the ledge. Phil and Jay encouraged me that I wouldn’t. Soon enough I continued on. It was technical, not WI5 climbing, harder. Screws were hard to place. As I traversed to the mixed crux, I was mentally tired. I desperately wanting to clip a bolt. What I saw made me realize, again, this was not a climb for the mentally weak or physically weak for that matter.

After many peckers, a couple KB’s and one bomber TCU, I got to the anchor. I yelled in excitement except for the whiteout that surrounded us now and high winds. I always get bad weather it seems. I felt like I was in my own little world. Soon Phil and Jay joined me. They seemed glad they didn’t lead it.

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We gave some pep talk to Phil and he set off on the last pitch at WI5+/6. After 40 meters he was at the top. This may be the best ice pitch I’ve ever done. Absolutely killer climbing and oh so exposed. What a great job he did on leading it. Almost like the exposure on the diamond.

Exposure on hanging dagger of P3

Exposure on hanging dagger of P3

We all were on top in excitement. After a couple rappels we did our victory run back to the car. Phil and I kept stating that it was the best mixed climb we had ever done in CO.

Sooooooo good. It presents the scarieness, purity, classic climbing that mixed climbing needs to have.

Now I can’t help but look at conditions in Cody and Bozeman. Winter Dance is in. Mean streak is in. I’m overwhelmed!

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Addicted to Fear: One’s Journey in the Fisher’s

How much fear can you handle?

fisherss1Intro

First things first, I speak of drinking a lot in this report. It’s mainly because you got to drink to climb here. You’ll understand if you climb some of these beasts.

This report is a recap of my journey and beyond of climbing all five of the major towers in the Fisher’s. Something maybe a dozen people or so have ever done since exploration began there with Layton Kor on the Finger of Fate.

Warning: If you do make it through this whole trip report, prepare for it to give you a scare. If you don’t get scared, then maybe you should climb there. This is coming out the way it happened, nothing more, nothing less. It more so cover’s what I went through mentally. Also, if you want to do any big routes there, do not read as this report might convince you otherwise. It’s a beautiful place though, and worth the struggle. This is just one’s experience.

Vince Anderson once stated that the Titan is the closest Colorado gets to alpine climbing. Though it’s not in Colorado, I might have to agree. It might be the reason why I am so attracted to the place.

I’m not sure what brings me to the Fisher Towers every time. The climbing is constantly scary and loose. Ancient Art was my first desert tower I ever did. Jeff (slimshady) and I ventured there before Rainier. I was not that strong when we did it but I had determination. Shoot, I’m still not that great of a climber. I remember thinking about all the giant formations there. Ancient Art is pretty small compared to everything there. It was well over 100 degrees the whole day. I crawled onto the summit because it was so windy.

jeff2 jeff1Once I got back to the car, I looked at the guidebook for all the routes on the other towers. I was sad to see that a lot of the routes had an X on them with hard aid ratings. I dreamed of having the skill to be able to do that one day.

jeff3 jeff4Thinking now though, I wish I didn’t have the skill for them. Along with the experience, there is an added psychological trauma bonus. The fisher’s are like a drug for me or a bad girlfriend for that matter. It doesn’t matter how many times I get slapped, I keep coming back. Maybe I was born for this type of climbing? Maybe I need an intervention?

I imagine some of you are confused by that. After Fantasia on the Oracle (V/VI 5.10 X C2++) I was left with a “high” on life. I’ve only experienced this high when I literally go through hell mentally and physically. I gave it all I got. Maybe I took a big controlled risk. I survived. I’m focused on that goal for so many days. When it’s accomplished, I’m confused about life. Soon the “high” goes away. I’m left with what seems nothing. It seems like a pointless endeavor. I wonder for day’s what I’m doing with my life. It takes a couple weeks to recover. Soon after the trauma diminishes, I want to go harder and bigger. Is it really worth it?

With any amazing experience I’ve gone through, comes a mini depression afterwards. It’s not just the Fisher’s but with all the serious climbing I’ve done. This begs the question that maybe I should just sport climb and hike. It gets old getting scared all the time. But yet, I keep doing it because deep inside it’s what pushes me.

I should be really happy for what I’ve done at my age. Instead, I’m not really satisfied. That’s the same with any goal I’ve had. I’m focused on it with everything I’ve got. Whenever I do accomplish it, I’m not as satisfied as I thought I’d be. The bigger the goal, the more traumas I go through afterwards. Fear never goes away no matter what you climb. You just learn to deal with it better in the end. Here is a small story about one’s obsession with risk and climbing. This has been an obsession that has become a part of me and made me who I am today. I wouldn’t trade anything for it.

1) The Titan
Finger of Fate (IV 5.10 C3 9? Pitches)
Spring 2012

fisherss5It was spring and I found myself dreaming about the desert. Brian Crim and I needed to get better at aid for big walls. After a failed attempt on Moonlight Buttress in Zion due to heat, we had a plan to do the Titan on the “way.” Ha!

We both got suckered into a week fight with the beast. There is a reason that the Finger has an 80% failure rate. Don’t get suckered into the “modest” rating. The Fishers are sandbagged and mud. What is C3 in the Fishers would be C4 in Yosemite. Brian endured the crux pitch, fighting upwards progress for 3 hours on a 70 foot pitch on a 1000 foot tower with mostly bad gear. I endured a big fall on a very scary tri cam in the mud letting out a big scream as I feared the gear would all come out. Oh and the traverses, I hate them in the Fisher’s. It snowed after the first day. We waited for some time and did it in a day. The last pitch includes lassoing because the bolts are so far apart. The summit is “big” but we were so mentally drained that we thought death was near if we unroped. After many rappels we touched the ground.

fisherss4 fisherss3 fisherss6 fisherss7 fisherss8 fisherss9 fisherss10We got home. We had our “fun.” I thought I just climbed K2. I then find out there have been over 1000 summits since Layton Kor did it. Hmmm…. I felt as if I was reaching a dead end with my climbing. I realized though that the rest of the towers could be climbed. I could do it. Brian then quickly reminded me to take it one step at a time. I’ve never been one to want to take it slowly. I want my goals, now.

Third Ascent of the Sword

Third Ascent of the Sword

Kingfisher
Colorado NE Ridge (IV 5.8 C2/+)

fishersf1My obsession with the fishers had now really kicked off. Brian and I accepted a third partner for the climb, Derek (Furthermore). It ended up being a totally fun time except for jugging a free hanging rope with two core shots over several hundred feet of air. The crux pitch proved to be a pretty fun lead, though still scary at the start with a 5.9+ R move to clip the first piece. Offsets turned out to be key in the fishers. After only two weeks, Brian and I have ticked two of the five major towers. The route made me too confident. I needed to get my ass handed to me.

fishersf2 fishersf3 fishersf4 fishersf5 fishersf6 fishersf7 fishersf8 Echo Tower
Phantom Sprint (IV 5.9 C3)

The route

The route

On the way to Echo Tower, Brian refused to belay me on Tom Thumbs Tallywag (C2 X) outside of Palisade, CO. Its pure mud and the loosest of the loose. I’ve always been on the search for the worst rock out there. I think Palisade just might win. I peer pressured him into belaying me for the second ascent. I fight upward progress on 8 inch nails pounded into the mud. Soon I’m aiding the summit tower that is moving as I climb it. It’s only 18 inches in diameter and freestanding for 15 feet after 60 feet of vertical mud. If it falls, I would go down with it. I’m forced to then rappel off the summit anchors. I’m terrified. How much worse could the Fishers be?

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FEAR

FEAR

How much is too much risk?

Second Ascent baby!

Second Ascent baby!

Mentally happy

Mentally happy

As with any adventure where I feel the task at hand may be dangerous, my mind then ventures off to the good friends I’ve lost in the mountains. I’ve always been deathly scared my fate is coming to an end. Losing friends to climbing has played a huge toll on me. You don’t just mourn it everyday, but you evaluate it. Maybe I need to let it go. I can’t though. It’s become a part of me. For the last several years, I’ve been in a rush to live life, because I don’t know when my day will come. I don’t have the attitude where I feel I’m invincible. I haven’t for several years. I have a very strong sense of fear in life. I want to push hard until the end. That’s just who I am. Call me reckless, or crazy. This is the life I choose to live. I seem to be doing more harm to myself emotionally, though. I have many more years left ahead of me, and that scares me in a way. You can only push yourself for so long. I figure though, I better keep on going. That’s what my hearts wants. If I don’t follow my heart, then what is the point in this short life?

After the usual long drive to the Fishers, I saw Echo in the dark sky. Beware of the Fisher Towers Grade IV. Derek joined Brian and I again in the fall of 2012. Derek even agreed to lead the runout 5.9 C3 chimney crux on P5. After they led two pitches of physically demanding offwidth, I got a glorious C2 pitch with practically a crack the whole way. It still might be my favorite aid pitch in the Fishers so far. We ran out of time and came back the next day. Brian led his C2+ pitch with a couple of pendulums. He agreed that the pitch might be his favorite aid pitch in the fishers. I was excited to be done leading any hard pitches. Brian and I were then hanging out at the belay talking until we heard a POP! We instantly looked up and dismissed it as an imaginary sound. Soon we heard yelling. I then saw Derek’s ass coming right for us. This is not good.

fishersg2 fishersg3 fishersg4 fishersg5I dodged to the right as much as I could and he fell past us. He was shaking with fear. His finger was broken. In a matter of seconds, my confidence of getting to the top had been shattered. I was getting humbled. Derek couldn’t lead obviously. Brian looked at me and said he wasn’t going to. Damnit!

“We can always bail?” Brian quoted to me.

No, we can’t. I’m never climbing this route again. I started grabbing the gear, pissed at the situation. I was really scared. Was I going past the edge of my personal safety or did I need to just get bigger balls? This wasn’t a part of the plan. I had been psyching myself up for a while on the pitches I was going to lead, not this one, and I hate OW.

fishersg7“I’ll just check out the first piece,” I state.

I knew it meant I was going to do it but I didn’t want to admit it to myself because I was freaked out. I imagined myself taking Derek’s fall but hitting the ledge instead and breaking my ankles. I was terrified. Soon after, I placed body weight placement after body weight placement. I was cursing for my safety. I then shoved 3 #6’s into the OW. I could see the anchor. There was only 15 feet of unprotected 5.9 squeeze chimney to go. I was mentally shot. I pushed through it and collapsed on the first good belay ledge on the climb. I looked into the sky for what seemed a while, confused about what I was doing. Soon, I took us to the summit on a sweet 5.6 R pitch. This has to be the best summit pitch of all the towers, maybe.

On the descent, Brian and I were enjoying ourselves while Derek stated that he was never coming back to the Fishers. The Fishers had other plans though.

fishersg6The Oracle
Fantasia (IV/V/VI 5.10X C2++)
Spring 2013

fishersd1I was in Patagonia climbing feeling as if I was on another planet. After climbing a bit on the Fitz Roy Massif area, I found myself dreaming of the mud. I missed the Fishers. Seriously? All Brian and I had left was the Oracle and Cottontail, the hardest towers there. I had been dreading the Oracle for a long time because of the mandatory 5.10 X pitch up high on it that included sandy slopers and a mysterious dyno. Coming out of Patagonia and too much scary ice/mixed climbing, I was feeling strong and ready for it mentally. We had no idea what we were in for. We had a new Fisher Tower member, David Alexander. I had done Standing Rock with him 3ish years ago but he didn’t have a ton of aid experience. He is a great guy and I have always found it enjoyable hanging out with him. I think he was born for the Fishers though because he was not new to it.

Brian was finding it hard to get motivation after a hard week of work.

“How bad could it really be?” I stated as Brian rolled his eyes.

fishersd6It was windy and I mean really windy. David rocked P1 at 5.9 C2. The climbing is notably more muddy then any other routes we have done there. I took P2 which is a fun bolt ladder with scary free climbing at the top. It’s so windy that my aiders were blowing in circles and hitting me in the head. We bailed for the weekend.

Soon, Jason Haas and Greg Miller came and tried to free the Oracle. With no luck on P2, they bailed, stating our rope on P1 came undone and to bring a “knife.” Ha!

fishersd2 fishersd3 fishersd4We came back after two weekends.

FFA of Dunce Rock (5.10+ R)

FFA of Dunce Rock (5.10+ R)

The thing about the Fishers is that the climbing is really slow. The worse the rock, the slower the climbing. It isn’t Yosemite.  I had bad dreams for two weeks. I was haunted by the unknown 5.10X pitch. Is it going to be soft? Or super solid for the grade?

On any sort of climbing where you’re really dealing with your life on it, it’s sort of trippy the mind games it plays on you beforehand. Nightmares come. I never can vision life after the climb. I become focused on just that. Nothing in the whole world matters. It’s quite simple. Survive.

fishersd7 fishersd9 fishersd10 fishersd11What’s the worst that could happen on that pitch on the Oracle? Well death. It’s a dangerous pitch. This pitch is serious and on suspect rock. I even was told that there was a 5.8 X dyno on it. Seriously people, what the hell?

As you can see, this pitch really haunted me. I was dealing with my life here. I was confident I wouldn’t fall but the mind games really challenged me.

How bad do you want it?

We came back and did the dreaded hike to the farthest and most remote tower. Our packs were HEAVY. We bivied for the night and at first light, started up. Brian quickly made work of P1, again. I continued onto P2 and then a storm blew in. It was hailing on us. Seriously, can anything go right?

Should we just bail?

We huddled in a cave on the ground drinking a bottle of Fireball. It soon seemed to stop hailing. David and I were on the side of feeling the alcohol quite a bit so we got a lot of courage. We jugged up and he led P3. So far the climbing had been sort of soft for the grade. We were confident.

fishersd12After another bivy, we jugged up at pre dawn. I took the next pitch that was rated “5.7.” This turned out to definitely be the scariest moderate pitch I have ever embarked on. It seemed to be more on the X side. A traverse led to a hidden hold over a big void and then more run out scary climbing to the hourglass anchor. The next pitch freaked David out so much that he belayed short of the end. I remember getting to the belay and seeing David’s eye’s full of fear like he just saw something so horrifying that couldn’t be explained. Brian took over and led on many C3 mud placements. Major props to this lead. Soon, after a couple more hours, we descended into the notch. The 5.10X pitch climbs out of it now. I saw a bolt 5 feet up and then it was blank.

Brian stated he was not going to push me to lead it. I don’t know what got into me. I had admired this pitch for so long. It was time to pay my dues and go for it. As I was putting on my rock shoes again, many comments starting coming from the back of my head. I clipped the bolt and set off. The 5.10 crux comes above the bolt. You’re not going to die if you blow it, but you’ll break some bones. I placed a squirrelly #4 in a weird pod after and climbed some more until I got to a ledge. This is the move I’ve feared for so long.

It felt like years before I had the balls to commit. If I fell, it would NOT be good. I looked over the edge 700 feet to the ground. I saw a blind hold that looked like it could be good. If it wasn’t, hopefully I could re dyno back to the ledge. If not, then…….

It felt like slow motion as my whole body left the ledge giving it everything I got. I latched onto the jug and it was positive. I let out a scream and ran it out to the anchors. As I clipped the anchors, I was just so thankful for life. For everything I have experienced. It’s easy to forget that. We can do this!

That pitch might be the highlight of my climbing in the Fishers so far. I felt solid, fluid, and in perfect control. When you’re climbing in a perfect motion, the feeling goes beyond your body. It’s euphoric.

fishersd13 fishersd14 fishersd8David led the last pitch which is a REALLY messed up bolt ladder. He spent over two hours leading it lassoing horns among other tricks. Brian and I soon joined him on the summit. The Oracle is the best summit in the Fishers, without a doubt. It’s one of the best summits I’ve ever been on. The views were incredible.

The descent was on the side of dangerous. We went down an unknown gully named the “Gastrointestinal Chimney” aka Mud chimney. Brian braved a 70m rappel with 60m ropes. Getting to the ground was unbelievable. We all partied that night relieved of stress. It still is one of the best adventure climbs I’ve ever been on.

And we were the 16th party to ever stand on top and the 11ish ascent of Fantasia. Crazy huh?

It took me a few weeks to get over the trauma though. My brain was mush for a while. I felt like no one could understand who I was except those that were with me. Climbs like this change you for life. Your body can do things beyond your mind. One more tower was left.

Scared on the descent

Scared on the descent

 Cottontail
West Side
Story (VI 5.9 C3)
Fall of 2013

fishersc1The same story happens every summer. While everyone is super happy it’s summer, I turn into a ball of anger. This last summer was no different. While I had my best year in Eldorado Canyon, it just isn’t the same. I started having dreams of the cold, the ice, the mixed, and the mud. Rock climbing just doesn’t provide it to that extreme. In August, I started training. The type of training where I go to Vail to dry tool in mid summer. It’s sort of ridiculous.

We made dates for Cottontail for David, Brian, and I. I had been telling Brian for the last year he was getting the crux pitch of West Side Story. I had taken them on the last three towers. I needed someone to step up. There is only so much I could handle mentally.

Derek soon made a few comments of how he wanted to join as well. A team of three is the max I’ll go usually but Derek is a fun guy to hang out with, and hey, that’s less leading for all of us, so we thought. So a team of four it was.

Let’s do it in a weekend then. Haha

David and I drove down on Friday afternoon to meet Derek there and fix some pitches that afternoon. Brian was occupied with work. We grabbed our packs and rushed over. I wish every tower approach was like this. At first site, Cottontail is big. It feels bigger then the Titan. I reminded myself to take it one pitch at a time, otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed, unpsyched, and you won’t do it. Derek tried to rope solo P1 with no success after finding a scorpion and breaking a cam.

fishersc3 fishersc4I was so psyched. This was my last major tower here. Let’s get it done! I tied in and embarked on a FUN lead. Actually, it was quite horrific, okay, really horrific. It’s said to be 5.8+ in the guidebook but the guidebook author had never climbed the route so who knows where he got that information from. It included horrendous aid with a horrible scary 5.9+ Eldo crux. I stood on David’s back to get on the first ledge. I did a scary slab sugar traverse to the first piece and started up. This pitch goes in the books as the pitch that I’ve cursed the most on. It even beats the crux pitch of Phantom Sprint.

It’s the longest pitch on the route at 140 ft. of hell. Halfway up, there is a small overhang with no gear to surmount it. I also had to run it out to get to that spot so falling was not an option. I was confused. I built a cairn tower. I stepped on top of it as it wobbled. I was sweating. I threw up my heel and grabbed some mud holds. I pulled myself over and ran up to a #5 placement. I was out of gear. The site of the last overhang brought the great depression.

I yelled down that I was out of gear and that I was building an anchor. They both instantly tied more cams to the tag line rope. Damnit. I still had to lead. Another problem though, horrific rope drag. They both tied another rope to the tag line. Damnit, now I definitely had to finish the pitch.

I tied in to the other rope and started my way up to the last overhang. The only difference on this one is that I couldn’t aid it. The crack is really wavy of different sizes so I could only place a #5 in a specific spot. If it moved in any direction, it would fall out. I’m scared. If this blows, I’m going to get hurt. It’s overhanging enough that while my body is in the OW, my feet are just hanging out the bottom of the roof. I can’t fall. I thrash up. I’m stuck. Damnit.

I got unstuck and took my helmet off and clipped it to the piece. My helmet won’t even fit inside. I get back in it, I’m stuck again. I can’t move. My body is aching of fear. My whole body is pumped. I don’t know if I have the energy. I thrash centimeter by centimeter. Soon I grab an okay face hold. I’m so pumped that I can’t even pull up on it. Breathe Noah, breathe. After a few more minutes I surmount it and run to the anchors. It’s a huge ledge. I fixed the ropes and laid down and watched the sunset over Ancient Art. So that was suppose to be an easy pitch? I was unpsyched. I was mentally fried after a few hours on the sharp end. Nine more pitches of this, but worse. The Fisher Tower dreams and extreme stress returned for the next month. On the positive side, I only had to lead one more pitch, so I thought.

fishersc2Day Two

Brian got in early the next day. Derek and David hiked over to start up while Brian and I relaxed on the ground. Derek endured a pitch with a bunch of ledge fall potential and a FUN squeeze chimney at the top that you get stuck in. David then embarked on the muddiest pitch on route, MEGA CHOSS. I’m pretty sure every hold on that pitch is mud. He endured scary free climbing between aid placements.

I had a couple beers by that point (Fisher Tower tradition to drink and climb) so Brian and I started jugging. The jugging on the route seriously sucks! To show, Derek took a swing while cleaning P3 and sandpapered his whole hand on the rock as he fell. First injury.

fishersc5 fishersc6 fishersc7While I congratulated them both for there leads, Brian took off on what turned out to be the crux pitch. This pitch is super solid Fisher C3. Brian endured horrible piece after horrible piece in the mud. If he blew it, he would hit the ledge. This went on for 30 or 40 feet. Brian placed a TCU in the crack, the first “good” piece. As he clipped it with his aider, the small nut he was on exploded out of the crack sending him falling on his daisy chain. Oh man!!!!!!! I thought he was going to rip it all!!

When he fell, he sliced his fingers open. Second Injury. He might have to get stitches. Derek and Brian went down and go to the hospital. Well here we are again; I was the only one thinking about finishing the pitch. David didn’t seem to even want to belay me. I was stressed about the fall.

fishersc8 fishersc9I pulled my way up the rope until I was level with his last piece. What I saw ahead made me sad. The TCU was the last piece until the start of some bolt “ladder” up higher. I ran it out (terrifying) on sugar mud crap. If anyone has climbed Independence Monument before, it was like trying to climb a slab on that sort of sandy rock. Soon I grabbed a draw to clip the bolt. No holds that I was on felt solid. I felt like I was going to pop off at any second. I was haunted by what would happen if that TCU blew and maybe ripped all the gear below that. I clipped it super fast and breathed.

After many more bolts I was confronted with an effed up 5.8 mantle. All the holds were breaking. Soon enough I clipped the bolts and waited for David to arrive. The saddle between Echo and Cottontail has to be one of the best positions in the Fishers. I was psyched that we were halfway there. We both didn’t want to do any more leading so we went down.

Day 3

Brian’s fingers didn’t need stitches. We all were just thinking of heading home and coming back another weekend. I got some sleep with nightmares and soon woke up with a boost of psyche.

I knocked on Derek’s vehicle. Let’s go! After another horrible jug to the saddle, I geared up for the C2/3 bolt ladder. David jugged up to cheer me on. Brian didn’t want to jug up with his finger so he went home.

This pitch, though scary, was the best pitch I got to lead. It was pretty messed up though. Lots of scary mantels with not great gear. Soon, I am relieved to clip the anchors. I’ve done my part on the tower, and then some. I retire from anymore rope gunning. Derek cleaned it and we all went home.

fishersc17Day 4 (two weeks later)

We’re almost there. I was ready to get it done and stop stressing about it. I was soon greeted with news I didn’t want to hear about.

David is out. He was tired and not psyched it seemed. I packed up for Brian, Derek, and I. David stated for us to go for the top. What???!?!?!?!

Soon more depression hit. Brian’s house got broken into. He couldn’t go.

fishersc10 fishersc11I’m a full on ball of depression. This tower is unrelenting. I’m frustrated at Brian but soon I realized that I was being a little selfish, and that it’s a serious situation. Derek and I decided to go. This time I am joined by Matt, and Adam, who were gunning for ancient art. A big thanks to Matt for all the mental support he provided two weekends in a row. I soon got to the base and realized I forgot the rope. I ran back to my car, grabbed another beer, and a rope, and started running back. All the tourists looked at their watches (8:30 A.M.) and looked back up at me with my beer in my hand. I heard the mom whispering to their kids for them to never grow up to be like that. I agreed. I don’t recommend it.

I just switched my jugging system to Derek’s. I set it up wrong. For two pitches I was doing a pull up, locking off on one arm to pull slack through the lower ascender with the other hand. It was sort of in Cliffhanger fashion. After 240 feet of pull-ups and one arm lock offs, I was spent. I switched to the traditional system and it took everything I had to get to the saddle. I was cursing at the pain. The whole Fisher valley could hear me. I looked over occasionally at hikers and Matt and Adam on Ancient Art. Why can’t I just be normal? Why can’t I just have fun?

Soon I belayed Derek on his pitch. This pitch might win the award for the most bulges. After a little over 100 feet of cursing the OW bulges and a few bad tri cams he clipped the anchor. He just wanted it to be over. Hell, I wanted it to be over. I was shivering for close to 3 hours belaying. Every pitch so far had seemed to take 2+ hours to just lead. I jugged and we fixed another rope. (That made 5 or 6 on the tower?) We rushed down. Derek had done his part as well. We were waiting for Brian and David now to finish there pitches. We enjoyed Indian Creek for a day with Sarah, Dominic, Matt, and Adam. So this is what good rock feels like? Yuck J

The dreams turned into summit dreams. I found myself waking up excited only to realize, I had not been to the summit and we still had two major pitches left.

fishersc13Day 5 (One week later)

Soon we get news that David was really psyched! He even stated that Derek and I have definitely done our leading for the tower. Woohoo!!!!

We were all in for the summit. A big group joined us for the weekend. As I drove down to the Fishers with Brian, something was different, really different. He had no motivation to finish the tower. The crux pitch had been bugging him for so long. After a couple beers, he stated he was psyched. I was psyched about not leading anymore!

In the morning I dismissed several comments Brian made. He said he didn’t sleep and that he is out for the tower. Derek and I were in disbelief. The crux pitch was playing a toll.

fishersc14I was frustrated. I consider Brian a great friend of mine. We had made it through hell and back on these four towers. We had 3 pitches left on our last tower. I kept telling him that. I’ve stepped onto every major tower summit there with him at the same time. It’s different climbing there without him. I learned the ways of these towers with him. We both have covered each others asses when the time was needed. We have made life long memories here. It was more than just him leading the crux pitch for me. It went deeper. I wanted him on the summit.

I was super bummed. I once again questioned my motives to finish this tower. I didn’t even want to jug.

Derek and I discussed who was going to lead the crux pitch. I told Derek I was done stepping in on the major pitches. It had played a toll on me for the last few towers. I needed someone else to step up to the plate this time. Derek stated he would lead it. I was still stressed that if he fell, I would have to step in and lead it. Derek did a perfect job, though.

Derek’s psyche for Cottontail was legendary. You have to be psyched. It was playing a toll on all of us. The fisher nightmares haunted Derek for the night along with David and I.

fishersc12All three of us jugged up in the morning. Derek started up the crux pitch. The start was messed up. It included manky loose funky Fisher climbing with a horrible landing and an anchor fall. Derek re climbed it a couple times before committing. I was scared belaying. He eventually lassoed an angle piton sticking out of the rock. He tied a cordellete to it and had me apply a downwards force to it. He clipped the rope to the runner. The force would hopefully keep the runner on there if he fell.

Soon he mantled onto a ledge and traversed over to a brand new bolt. Later I find out the bolt was added by an unknown party. The crux used to be managing the aid without that bolt and a big swing if you blew it. It’s still a serious lead though with the free climbing. I heard cursing from around the corner. I felt as if he would complete the pitch. After a desperate mantel at the end with two horrible bolts below, he clipped the anchor and screamed. We might just pull it off.

The jug was pretty terrifying. The traverse is over a total void. Soon enough I was at the ledge drinking a beer. Major props to Derek for that awesome lead!

David took off on the last “major” pitch. The only free pitch on the tower. Some enticing 5.9 bulging OW brought him to the 5.7 chimney. This chimney is super wild. It splits the WHOLE tower. Super crazy. Soon I joined him on the shoulder. I heard someone cheering us on from the bottom. Matt and a big group were watching us. It was super awesome. Thanks to there encouragement.

fishersc15It was late. Like 5 P.M. late. Since it was my last tower here, I took the last short lead. C1 (Forgot what C1 felt like) aiding brought me to one last scary mantel to the anchor. As I clipped the summit anchor, one of the most euphoric feelings hit me. I stood on top and screamed in excitement for 5 minutes. I did it. All five. I couldn’t believe it. As I looked around at every tower in the Fishers, memories of the climbs flooded my head. All the pain, fear, and suffering that was endured. I missed Brian though. I wish he could have been here.

Soon Derek and David joined. We all shared an extreme feeling of accomplishment. It was all huge smiles.

DCIM100GOPROAs we descended and endured the stress of one epic descent (traversing rappels and everything) I was in a total zone. I wasn’t super stressed. I knew we would be fine. I knew we would make it out. As we made our way down in the night, I felt lost in space. When we hit the ground, we realized we did pull it off.

In a Zombie state we hiked back. Matt and group soon joined and helped us carry the 8? ropes back. As Matt drove me back, I fell instantly into deep sleep.

After coming back from a climb like this, it’s hard to adjust to society. You feel like no one understands what you’ve been through. That’s okay though. I never expect others too but it just seems hard to relate to the average American. It’s sort of weird how it plays out. For so many days, you have been focused on just surviving. You’re not worried about money, or other life situations. Just living in the moment and surviving situations with great friends.

Climbing in the Fishers means nothing. Any goal you accomplish means nothing in the end. As long as you keep following what you really want, no matter what it is, that’s the biggest accomplishment.

What the future brings, I’ll never know. I choose to live in the moment and pursue the biggest goals I have. I do see the Mystery Towers in my future soon though. For now though, I’ll see you on the beach, or maybe ice, as I got stressed just writing this. It’s time for some Type 1 fun. I know myself well enough though.

A big thanks to Brian C for all the great memories and hard times. Here’s to more of them. Also a big thanks to Derek and David. I could never have done this without your hard earned effort. I give the credit to you guys.

Epilogue

Alone on Kingfisher

solo1After a couple weeks of recovery from Cottontail, I found myself wanting something greater. Soon enough, I was packing for Kingfisher. A little stressed about life, I wanted no partner. I needed some time to myself. I had done the route before but I still found myself nervous and excited at the same time. After packing all the gear, I was driving back to the fishers. Alone I arrived at sunset. While everyone around was in groups and having fun, I was nervous and scared. I sat by my car in a lawn chair drinking beer in which I hope it could give me courage. The tower is just big. I pictured myself dangling on the roof 600 feet off the ground, by myself, and I had something to fear.

What the hell? I was super psyched to do this but I’m scared now that I’m here. Its one thing to say what you want to do and dream about it but it’s another to actually do it.

Soon enough everyone disappeared from the parking lot. I was alone, already. This place is creepy when it’s just you. I felt as if I was haunted by these towers night and day. I was scared enough that I slept in my car.

The Fisher Tower nightmares returned, just after I thought they were gone from Cottontail. I woke up a couple times from them.

Should I just go home?

Soon, a car door shut. I woke up thinking I missed my alarm. It was still dark, and I was a wee bit nervous. I started hiking in the dark with music as my backdrop. It does a good job of keeping your mind off things. What a horrible approach, made really bad by the fact of how much crap I had. With no partner, it means way more work.

solo7I threw it down at the base of the route. I had no idea what to anchor off of.

Rope soloing is safer then free soloing but it’s still a big undertaking. I’ll explain in a nutshell. You make an anchor. Then you fix one end of the rope to it. Many methods can be used. I use a basic clove hitch. I tie one every 15 feet, from the side fixed to the anchor, onto my harness, clipping the rope to the protection as I go. Essentially I’m belaying myself and climbing at the same time. Then once you lead a pitch, you rappel, and jug back up to clean all the gear. Basically, you’re doing twice the amount of climbing and work. Twice amount the stress and fear too.

solo2Two others showed up at the base. I was surprised to see someone else there. I let them cruise ahead. They went pretty fast.

For P1, I had to make an anchor to belay myself off of. I used the first couple bolts of the bolt ladder. All of them were spinning but I have high confidence in spinners in the fishers. I started up. Soon enough I’m thrashing my way up the 5.8 chimney which I will add is quite scary rope soloing. I clipped the anchors soon enough though. Two pitches linked on one lead. I head back down and then jug the rope and clean the gear.

solo4I organized the ropes and started off on the “crux” pitch. The first piece was way up there. I remembered last time I led this pitch that I had to do this 5.10 R heady move to desperately clip it. Seeming to have left my balls at the car, I stick clip lasso the angle piton. The runner was barely on there. *Don’t sneeze or you’re going to break something

After some delicate work and sweating as I was weighting the runner lassoed around the angle, I got it clipped. That was scary. Soon enough I topped out the crux C2 pitch. I was tired and annoyed. I just want to have fun. This is just scary. In some twisted way I was sort of enjoying it though. It was just me. There was no one else to blame. I was responsible for everything. I went back down and jugged the pitch in order to clean it. Okay, two more pitches. The next one was the one I really feared by myself.

solo5 solo6Harvey Carter calls this pitch the most “exposed” pitch he has ever climbed. I remember jugging this pitch with two core shots in the rope last time I did it. I was terrified. The exposure is “serious” with a roof several hundred feet off the ground. I remembered getting off the belay was a problem for Brian last time and he had offsets. I didn’t. Big problem.

I top stepped from the anchor and placed this sort of blind .75 in this flared pod.  It held the bounce test. I was scared. The piece was shit. I had no other choice but to trust it. It continues to hold my weight.

And then in 15 seconds as I was about to place the second bad piece, it came out.

Out of nowhere I am sent downwards into space in what seems slow motion. Fifteen feet later, the clove hitch caught and the anchor held. The rope took most of the force but my legs hit a ledge. I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t know if I was hurt. I was seriously freaked out. I had to re aid the last part of the previous pitch to get back up to the belay. I was shaken with fear. This just seemed too dangerous. In a matter of a couple seconds, I was lost. I didn’t know if I really should even climb. I had no clue why I put myself through this. I just wanted to bail. Screw this place.

solo8There was no one there to encourage me. There was no one there to take over the lead. Either I had to sack up or bail. But I’ve made it so far.

I don’t know what made me continue. I knew I was responsible for my actions. Without thinking, I grabbed the tricams. I top stepped again. This time I placed a scary tri cam. I swear I always see them move as they hold my weight. I was terrified. The fall kept replaying in my head. Getting hurt by yourself is never a good proposition. I could feel the ledge below me. Falling while rope soloing is not recommended. I made it to the top step. I’m always scared to top step in the Fishers. I found out that the next piece was worse and the piece I was already on wouldn’t hold a fall. I desperately wanted to clip a bolt. I placed a .5 that was cammed halfway. The pod was so flared that the other half of the cam was in air but it was the only thing that would stick. Damnit. I missed the offset cams. It was sooooo bad that I only put about 40% of my weight on it. I used it as a handhold to reach the next placement, a scary flared #1. I just wanted it to be over. Soon enough, I was thankfully on the bolt ladder.

The roof got closer and I felt way out there and vulnerable. Soon, my mind was telling me to go down but my body was telling me that I could do it. I was scared on the roof. It’s so exposed. I didn’t want to take a fall into space. I clipped the piece at the lip of the roof, took a deep breathe, and swung into space. After I surmounted the roof, I was greeted with scary steep 5.8 climbing with minimal gear, rope drag, and no more draws. I got to the anchor. It was a big ledge. Thank God.

The last thing I wanted to do was rappel and jug back up to clean. Once on that roof is enough, but I had to. After I jugged, I looked up at the final pitch. I’m so close.

A 5.8 hand crack to a grungy 5.6 runout chimney brought me to the summit.

solo9I took in the views. It was just me up there on this island in the sky. I signed the register. It was super special to be up there alone. I felt a sense of being “high.” The kind of high you get when achieving a big goal. For me, soloing Kingfisher has always been a far off dream that I’m not sure I wanted to do. I found out what I’m capable of. Your body can do things you never thought were possible. It’s all mental.

solo10After a while on top, I feared the descent. The first rappel went easily but the second one is the one to fear. A 60 meter rappel into space over a crack in the roof led me to be at level of the anchors. I made two swings over space to finally grab the anchor tat and pulled myself in. I started pulling the ropes but they wouldn’t move. I looked up into the sky. I was tired mentally and physically. Come on ropes!

They wouldn’t move.

After much cursing, I looked to my right. I saw the parking lot. Why can’t I just be hiking? I hung my head in anger. The ropes weren’t going to pull by themselves. It was time to get a move on.

I grabbed my ascenders and started pulling with my weight. Inch by inch they moved. After 20 minutes, they came undone, finally. I descended the rest with no problem. Once I touched the ground, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I did it. 7 ½ hours pack to pack. Not the fastest. I didn’t care about time though.

solo11Right when I went over to my big pack to grab a beer, I slipped and nailed my back on a rock. I let out a scream. I always have feared the horizontal hiking. That’s what always gets me. Forget the beer. I had some class 4 scrambling with a 70 pound pack to do. I hiked down and after a bit, arrived at my car. In typical tradition, I threw my pack down. I grabbed some water and a beer. No tequila this time. At the same time, all the tourists in the parking lot were wondering what my deal was.

But I didn’t care. I soloed Kingfisher and I’ll never forget it. I have memories that make me feel extremely rich. I’d rather have that then a ton of money I don’t know what to do with. The more memories you have, the richer you become.

In a matter of a year and a half, I feel as if I’ve grown 10 years. I feel as if I’m in my 30’s. I feel as if I’m starting to forget some of those memories. Part of climbing that I love the most, is that it makes you grow so much as a person and human being. You never come to an end of accomplishing everything in climbing. But one thing’s for sure, you can give it all you got. And that’s what I’m trying to do in this life of mine.

When you’re at the edge of your comfort zone or when the terror of surviving comes into any situation, that’s when life really begins. Those experiences go past any feeling you have in the normal life. Those feelings are when you experience situations you never thought were possible. When perhaps you survive a situation that brings you near to what you mentally fear may be your last breath. Is it reckless? Is it selfish? Too much risk? Call it whatever you want. Life needs to be explored. But really, who’s to decide what is possible except yourself? After all, it’s only you who decide that question in the end.

Onwards.

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Chinle Spire

After a long season on the tools I took an amazing trip to the Navajo Reservation. David and I’s goal was mainly Chinle Spire. It’s been said to be the Totem Pole’s brother. Very skinny with a very small summit and still pretty big! At about 400 feet tall, it took a lot of effort! It always seems on these towers that always seem to have shitty chossy rock that for every pitch, it seems like about 5 pitches on granite. So by the top, it’s like you climbed El Cap or something. More so then anything, it takes a lot of mental stability, and a lot of creativity.

Chinle Spire was first climbed by Fred Beckey and Eric Bornjstadt at a said grade of 5.9 A4. It’s basically a bolt ladder, kind of, not really.  It’s the craziest bolt ladder I’ve ever climbed, way crazier then anything bolt wise in the Fisher Towers. Anyhow, we were joined by our good friends Alex and Quentin who we have to thank for showing us around town and getting us to the base of the tower! We chose the wrong start at first. Really chossy scary 5.11+? climbing made us realize that this couldn’t be the route. Did I mention scary? I was placing cams in sand flakes that would expand as I placed them. So David went up (I had enough) and nailed in two so so angle pins and rappelled back down.

Ended up we were on the wrong side. So I lead up the right start that had the absolutely horrible overhanging OW that must have been sandbagged 5.10 OW….not 5.9. (Maybe they aided it on the FA?) Then it’s more or less bolts to the top separated by some pretty dicy TCU’s with ledge fall potential.

I don’t know if it was A4. Aid grades are all weird. We pretty much did it clean at C2/3 minus one nailing part. It was scary though. We also placed a summit register. I wonder how many times it’s been climbed? I know two parties that have climbed it. One back in the early 80′s.

Check out the vid!

Lost In Space: Chinle Spire

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Tough Truth of the Game We Play

RIP Steve Gladbach

RIP Steve Gladbach

DEATH

It’s always the part we try to ignore. It’s always the part that we try to pretend it won’t happen to you and your friends. Time and time again though, it happens. Death is a part of life. It will happen to everyone but when a friends life is taken in the mountains, it’s different. It goes deeper then that, way deeper. They were playing the game you play constantly. So why them? In many cases when it was a good friend, you formed a bond with them. Not the sort of bond of a normal friendship in today’s society but one that’s sort of a “marriage” bond if you should say. You probably went through many hair rising situations where you are really trusting your life to that person and vice versa. You made life defining choices as a team. You either both make it out or don’t. When the type of situation happens where you both are scared shitless for a long time, then a lifetime friendship and connection is made. It’s a type of bond I’ve never experienced outside of climbing because the friends you might have outside of climbing, you probably wouldn’t be able to trust your life with in a true stressful situation. Sounds harsh, but true for the most part.

As weird as it may sound, it’s a deep friendship, that lasts. When someone like that passes, a piece of you seems to go with them.

When that’s taken away, you feel sort of lost and devastated.

The chase of the obsession with climbing seems to bring you to that point. You feel more lost the deeper you get into it, it seems. Chasing something bigger, harder, maybe more dangerous. But time and time again, does it really satisfy you? I mean really satisfy you? It does for those moments you realize you completed your goal only to have bigger ones sprout up. When you get down, you’ll have memories and pictures. And then you seem to just feel lost in the end. The fact that you may be a good climber means absolutely nothing in life. If you’re looking for constant happiness, this isn’t it.

With the death of a climbing partner, you’re brought back into reality, again, on the game we play. It can be a very cruel one. A deep passion that could take your life away. All those future memories with potential family, friends, experiences, adventure, could simply be taken away from one wrong small but big choice. A selfish pursuit chasing what you want and desire and risking it all for the sake of your passion. When you realize what you would be leaving behind, the hell you would bring to your family, it makes you think if this is really worth it?

I’m only 21 and I’ve lost 3 friends in 3 years. I don’t say that for anyone to feel sorry for me, don’t be. I don’t like being felt “sorry for.” There are plenty of other people facing way harder situations out there. I say it to state the reality of the dangers of climbing.

I know the risk. I simply choose to continue the legacy of my lost friends. It’s my destiny. Push on. Onwards. As safe and hard as I can.

So why not analyze the hell out of every accident that happens? So it won’t happen to you? I feel like others just do that to make them feel better that there closer to the “no risk” zone. There is no such thing in this world, especially in climbing. Sure there are some positives to learning from others but for the most part, the above is true.

We can either measure our risk with teaspoons, or go all out, as safely as possible, as we do just have one life.

It’s the game we play. We all try to ignore the bad side of it. But we face it again, and again.

Accept it and keep playing or ignore it and stop playing. Easy as that.

RIP Steve Gladbach
Thanks for your friendship, partnership, and mentorship. Thanks for helping me in some of the darker times in my life. Thanks for the encouragement and believing in me. Thanks for everything you did to make countless peoples lives for the better. For the times we shared the rope or a day in the mountains, thank you.

Steve

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Tools of the Trade

It’s been a little over a year since I bought my new Nomics. So far, I don’t quite know if I’ve let them sit for anytime more then a week, yes, that includes summer. Now, they show a ton of abuse from the many swings I’ve made with them into gravel, choss, ice, and moss in desperation for the lack of protection. They have more abuse then other ice tools that have been used for a decade. I’ve seemed to have a new outlook into mixed climbing since I’ve gotten them. A sort of outlook where I see everlasting potential that many look past in search of the comfort of bolts. It feels overwhelming. So many new lines waiting to be done along with a few others waiting for that second ascent. Another sort of desire to do as many Figure 4′s and 9′s as possible before you simply cannot hold on anymore. To get strong and to get trained for the bigger places in the world.

In that type of climbing, it matters about your technique and strength, but most of all, it’s about your head game. That takes just as much work as getting the strength to climb such things.

For instance, over a week ago on a trip to Cody, WY, I stood at the base of the lean, overhanging Moonrise. A WI5 piece of ice when fat. When it forms many roofs, it can turn into WI6 rather quickly. What is WI6 for that matter?  I guess it’s when it’s unrelenting, overhanging, and usually has bad screws.

I talked to my partner Jay after we both soloed the first pitch. I knew the screws would be worthless for the most part with the thin ice and much air in the ice on other spots. I knew I could do it but it was the mental battle of knowing the protection would be grim on a lot of spots. I took the screws, and climbed the egg shell ice 10 feet to the base where it got really steep. I hooked my ice tools on a overhanging mushroom and went for it. The crux proved to be a big roof with virtually no feet and hooks that I wished were better above a tipped out screw that hit a few air pockets on the way in. Finally a bomber screw came when it eased off at the top, funny how that works. I got to the belay in excitement. I was super happy with how good the pitch was but I was more happy with have the mental head space to go for it. After a few more pitches, Jay went for the Pillar of Pain taking the harder left side with a 5 foot roof to negotiate. I watched as he went for it and committed to the hanging dagger that had slushy hooks. After a few more bombers screws, he reached the top. I followed quickly, with the left side feeling much harder then any WI5 I’ve been on in Cody.

Sometimes though, there is more to it then climbing. Sometimes you can be so focused on just the climb, you forget all the other dangers that come with ice climbing. We started packing up when all of sudden “WHOOSH!!” A microwave sized rock flew right over the Pillar of Pain onto the exact spot I was belaying from. Jay and I looked at each other, and ten seconds later, “CRACK!!”……..”BOOM!!”

We run into the cave further and look in horror as the gully a 100 feet to climbers left of the Pillar of Pain take out almost the whole gully we just climbed up. Feeling vulnerable to say the least. An hour earlier or later and that thing might of hit us. A very wet slide.

We try to find another way down the rib but it cliffs out. We move fast down the avy path. We rappel tree to tree, making sure to always stay on the rope. Soon we were at the bottom.

As I was packing up, I started thinking about people I knew that have died in the mountains. I though of my good friend Kevin Hayne, that fell to his death on a peak in CO that is really just a scramble. It was an all of sudden occurrence that changed my normal day into a nightmare. That’s life. When the road get hard, the tough keep going. I zipped up my pack along with another experience and we raced back to the car.

“The more ‘good fights’ a climber has had, the richer he becomes” Harvey Carter

P1

Jay soloing P1

P2a

Moonrise crux

P2b

P3a

P3

P4

P4

P5

Jay on the Pillar of Pain

P3

Avy debris on the way down

P5a

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