I Got 99 Problems and the Climb Is One

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Photo by Nick Schlichtman

I took a couple deep breaths trying to find courage somewhere. I cursed out loud for finding myself in another terrorizing situation. This wasn’t my first rodeo, sadly. I have a disease very few have. I tend to search for type 3 fun. Not on purpose, but because it includes the most adventure. I like to climb things most people are scared away from. I mean, how bad could it be?

Why the hell do you do this? Why do you seek for the loosest of rock? Why do you insist on scaring the crap out of yourself EVERY time you go climbing?  Why can’t you just be happy with sport climbing? Why can’t you just have fun?

I tried to find comfort in soaking my hands in my chalk bag. I tried to go to my happy place. Instead, I found myself in a dark place, reminded of the consequences if I should fail on this pitch. At my waist, I had 4 pitons in an expanding loose flake, and a 5 piece meager belay anchor in very loose blocks below that. All of the gear was in horrific rock. Above laid the unknown. There was steep choss with a double roof guarding the top 500 feet. I tried to commit but my body didn’t want to follow. I gently touched the first microwave sized hanging flake. I watched as it dropped an inch, and then hung on again. Above it laid 50 ft of several enormous hanging detached flakes far bigger then me. The gear would be unreliable, the climbing difficult enough, and the rock horrific. The kind of pitch that makes you do some soul searching. The kind of pitch that brings you into another mental realm very few ever experience. The kind of pitch I would never recommend to my worst enemy. I found myself making the first move, Nick’s words of encouragement soon becoming silenced in the background. Nothing mattered at that moment, except that next move, fully committed. In my own world 1500 ft. above I-70.

The International Buttress of Glenwood canyon is the king line of them all, a serious climb. A route with a lot of mystery from 5.11 X to 30 pitches to a route so loose that even Layton Kor found it to be too much. Some of these things are true. It’s one of the biggest routes in Colorado standing 2,000 ft tall. Split into three sections, two granite buttresses and a limestone buttress at the top. All of which is separated by a large ledge. I can remember the first time I drove by it when I was around 18 years old. I was fascinated by the mythical like walls awaiting those with a true sense of adventure. Something that has seemed to die down since many are concerned about the grades they climb rather then a soul searching experience. From then on I became obsessed with this route. I constantly asked many if they wanted to do it. Sometimes I would be very general, underestimate the hazards, and try to sell it like a car salesmen trying to sell a car that won’t turn on. Other times I’d scheme about lying that we’re going to Rifle and then demand of them to climb the International with me. Years went by. Nothing.

Harvey Carter first tried the International with Layton Kor. Kor turned around at the crux roof due to the nightmarish rock. Harvey then came back with Michael Kennedy and finally completed it at the modest grade of “5.9 A2.” Michael Kennedy then came back a couple years later with Jeff Lowe to free it at 5.9+ which he later upgraded to 5.10+. No known repeats were made for a couple decades until Michael Schneiter and Chris completed it in 2008. They reported there ascent in multiple magazines of the horror. It’s reputation grew. It’s the definition of adventure.

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International Buttress (IV 2,000′ 5.10+ PDW) “PDW” (Pretty Damn Western) is reserved for those special climbs where perhaps the “X” safety rating can’t even by applied. Cowboy up.

At the last minute, I switched plans from something big on the Diamond to the International. Almost playing the situation like a game of chess. It allowed almost no time for Nick to research the route. I also knew he was twisted enough that he actually might like it. I was right. Nick actually seemed excited! Could it be? I met Nick at the climbing gym in Golden several months ago while bouldering. He was fairly new to the state. Our first conversations were about the Black Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, and the Diamond. I usually hate climbing with random people I don’t know really well. I also feel like I know within a couple minutes whether or not I could trust my life to a person. Nick and I first climb together in Eldorado Canyon by linking up the Wisdom (5.11+ R) to Green Willow Wall (5.11+ R) to Lenes Dream (5.11c R) to the Naked Edge (5.11). The best linkup I’ve ever done in Eldo demanding strong mental and physical strength. Our second climb together was Tague Your Time (V+ 5.12+) in the Black Canyon. We ate too much rotten chicken that sat out in the sun. While sleeping at the Two Boulder Bivy ledge halfway up the route, I found myself missing my girlfriend terribly. I threw up a couple times in the morning and then went on to nearly shit myself while following another hard 5.12 pitch high on the route. After only a couple climbs together, we knew each other pretty well.

I left the Springs at 3am to meet Nick in Golden. Soon we were on our way to Glenwood Canyon with rainy weather. I’m optimistic. It would improve.

“Dude, I’ve never pounded in pitons before.” Nick stated.

“You’ll be fine man.” I quickly replied.

We arrived at the parking lot with a tube, a third rope, and shorts to swim across. You have to cross the Colorado River to get to the climb. When I tried a new line in Glenwood with Chris Snobech last time, I belayed him across as he swam desperately. Ten meters from the other side he ran out of rope. I quickly put the gear in one raft and jumped in the other, making sure not to let go of the gear raft. We simul swam that ten meters and he pulled me across. We did the same method, in the dark, on the way back. Only I tried to swim first this time. I got halfway across and lost all my strength. The current was taking me. I screamed at Chris to pull me back scared out of my mind. Lesson number one for a Glenwood canyon climbing partner, they must be a good swimmer because I am not! And you must not tell them about these complications until you get there.

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Water scares me

Nick knew I wasn’t swimming first. We organized the gear and started the hike. Soon, it started to downpour rain, soaking everything. It kept on raining and raining. We joked about doing the first rain ascent. We looked for the right spot to swim across. I was shocked. There was a ton of flow for August. But soon we spotted a Tyrolean! What’s the chances of that? We cruised over to the other side with light rain falling. Soon we were scrambling up horribly wet lichen covered bushy 5.4 slabs. We sat at the base underneath a small bush in the rain. Being realistic, our chances of succeeding were slim. But I didn’t want to bail yet. Soon it stopped but remained cloudy. The rock was as slick as candle wax. It wouldn’t dry for a while. We needed to start climbing soon to be off by dark though. I volunteered to lead the first 3 pitches, for some odd reason. Sometimes I really enjoy suffering. I stopped after 80 ft and belayed. I had already placed all the gear. My feet must have popped off 15 times. It might be the most desperate 5.8 pitch I’ve ever climbed. The next two long pitches lead us up to the second buttress. The rock was getting more dry but my rock shoes were still completely soaked.

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Nick on a cool 5.8/9 corner of P2 

Nick took over and lead a 60 meter 5.9 pitch characterized by having huge bushes in your face the whole time, even had a thorn bush mantel. He then lead up another rope stretcher of sustained awkward 5.9+. The rock was finally dry. Another pitch led us to the final show, and really what the climb is all about.

I took over on the very pronounced buttress. I could tell that we both wanted to bail but we never really talked about it. The rock was now steep loose limestone instead of lichen covered granite. The climbing got steep and significantly more loose. After 3 long pitches of 5.9ish climbing I found myself trying to find a belay anchor underneath the crux roof pitch. Everything was severely loose and I found no reliable anchor. I placed 6 pieces in several different detached blocks, and belayed Nick up tightly. I looked up at the crux pitch.

“Dear God, that looks beyond nightmarish. Maybe I can somehow get Nick psyched on leading it.” I thought to myself.

I was bonking and getting mentally fried from every pitch being very loose and a no fall zone. And this pitch far and away looked 10 times worse. I wanted to bail. This wasn’t fun. This wasn’t worth it. Nick arrived at the belay.

“Don’t hang on the anchor.” I quickly stated.

It was his pitch. He looked up and I could see the fear in his eyes.

“That looks fucked.” Nick stated

I quietly continued to hand gear to him. I hoped I could TR this pitch. I wanted nothing to do with it. To make matters worse, this pitch looked completely different then the 2008 ascent pictures. Clearly the bottom half of this pitch fell off. It would still go, right? Or would these massive detached flakes fall off while we’re climbing them?

Nick started up and 15 ft above the anchor stood on the last tiny ledge before things got really steep. He placed a sub par small nut in a fractured flake. He battled himself but just couldn’t get his body to commit. He kept trying. Fifteen feet below the sub par nut laid me and the meager anchor. The consequences were very real, if he should fall on that nut, and then the anchor.

“Dude, I can’t do this. I’m not experienced with this type of climbing.” Nick stated.

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Bushy climbing on the second granite buttress

Soon he down climbed to me. I knew it was the right decision. I was so close to just bailing but I knew I’d beat myself up if I at least didn’t check it out. I’m twisted enough that I’d come back if I bailed. I didn’t want to come back! And I had one advantage, I could hammer in pins instead of relying on that horrible small stopper.

I climbed up with the soul purpose of getting a good first piece to commit off of. I stood there wailing on a pecker, two lost arrows, and one knife blade. All of them weren’t good. Some were expanding the flakes out wards while the others went in too easy. I clipped a screamer to the top one. I now had 5 pieces that I was confident would barely hold my body weight, if that. BUT I had 5 pieces! Remember, I’m optimistic. Maybe just maybe, one of them would hold. I looked at Nick in terror. There wasn’t one piece between us that was good. I felt out the first move and touched a 4 foot flake that dropped an inch. Okay, don’t touch that. I went right and grabbed some small crimps, weighting them first, to make sure they wouldn’t break. I made the first two moves. Soon the gear was at my knees and I realized I was climbing. OH NO, I’M CLIMBING! Reversing the moves would be more dangerous then just continuing to the better rock 40 ft above, or so I thought. I made more moves before placing two cams in the biggest hanging flake of them all. As I placed the cams the rock started to break off. I kept my mental cool and focused. It was slightly overhung but soon I clipped an ancient pin in a very very loose block and locked off with my right hand making a big insecure 5.10+ move with my left. I continue on. I was forced to pull outwards on these super hollow flakes hoping for the best. It was very precise climbing. A sort of climbing you have no choice but to levitate up. Soon I grabbed the jug and desperately placed a #5 in the roof. The first piece that was good. I breathed deeply, absolutely gripped. So mentally fried I just asked Nick to lower me. He pushed me on to keep going. I was shaken like I had went through something humans are simply not meant to experience. I bumped up the #6 in the double roof. The rock quality was much better now with face holds to help out with the overhanging off width. I soon gunned it over the last roof and shoved my knee into the crack locking it into place.

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A zoomed in picture of the crux pitch in 2008 of the third ascent. The bottom half of that flake you see is now gone leaving behind similar terrain. (Photo my Michael Schneiter)

The rope drag was hideous and I was nearly out of gear. I spent 15 minutes building another 6 piece anchor. I never weighted it. I kept my leg locked into the crack hanging off it and a small foothold. I belayed Nick. He soon got to the belay and brought me a bomber  #5 cam I could place to make the anchor much better. He gave me a look upon arriving. I’m not sure if he was really impressed about what just happened or if he thought I was stupid. Or it was the look that he was never climbing with me again. Regardless, I was psyched. I would get to top rope the rest of the route! It was Nicks block. I hung there in pain. It was getting late. I hoped we wouldn’t get benighted. What about the descent? Are we going to find it? In the dark? Forced bivy? My fiancé, Savannah, is going to kill me if I have to bivy. I thought about these things while hanging way above the river. Nick soon dispatched a cool steep loose pitch to a small ledge. I arrived.

“Thanks for not falling and weighting this anchor.” He stated.

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The steeps on P9?

He lead off on another steep overhung hand crack with face holds. He soon yelled rock. And from 50 ft above, the toaster sized rock hit my right knee. I screamed in tourette’s. Well that hurt. After I followed, Nick told me he had service. Quickly I sent Savannah a text.

“One pitch from the top.”

Nick lead the last 60 meters. He managed to dismantle another rock 60 ft up. This one was big. I thought I was out of the way. It hit me on the right knee again. I screamed in pain. It started to bleed. I was going to walk with a limp for a few days now. Soon I arrived at the top as the sun was setting.

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Last pitch (Photo by Nick Schlichtman)

Nick accidentally left his rock shoes on top and we ran off to find this gully descent. With just enough light, we found it. The descent was miserable. Glenwood canyons gullies are far and away the worst of gullies I’ve ever experienced. But at least we didn’t have to do several rappels. We arrived back to the river, worked.

As we hiked back to the car in the last light, I saw the buttress for the final time. Now I knew what was up there. I was no longer curious. The mystery of it was now gone. It was just another horror fest where I found out who I was, as a human, to the core.

“That was a level of adventure beyond adventure. Something only those that have climbed the International Buttress will understand.” I stated to Nick

“I’ll see you next month.” Nick replied.

The drive back was quiet. I felt out of touch from society and life. I needed a few days to soak in what happened. These type of climbs change who you are, shape who you are in life. Be humble, tread lightly, be safe, push yourself, and seek out as much out of life as you can. The greatest failure is taking life for granite.

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NIGHTMARE IN ONION CREEK

A report that shows the terrible details of our trial of climbing the infamous “Gothic Nightmare”

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Caution: Don’t read this if you want to climb it. (Seriously)

Introduction

Another night found me sleep talking. I woke myself up with just another nightmare. Wide eyed with heavy breathing, I shoved myself back into reality. Everything was okay. But was it? As I got up to drink some water, I couldn’t help but think where my life is heading.

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I’m 23, I’m not supposed to have my life figured out. Between the constant comments of many asking about what I’ll do with my life. It’s a constant annoyance of others shoving there opinions of success down my throat. Maybe that’s why I prefer to be by myself most of the time. The constant comments always put me in a negative mood, pushing people away. All the while, I’m living my personal dream. I’m doing what I love. I’m really living my life the way I need to. Seeing and experiencing things 99.99 percent of the world has never seen. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s who I am.

It’s been 10 years since I first developed my passion for the mountains and outdoors. In those ten years, I’ve been in a huge rush to live life. Through experiencing many climbing friends’ deaths, it’s made me be even more of in a rush. Because life is so very short. Anyone one of us could be here today, gone tomorrow. Do what you love, now, not later. Always.

It’s still an annoyance of this feeling of constant fear I get from the things I enjoy climbing. Whether its runout traditional mixed, hanging daggers, or chossy aid epics in the desert, I’m always pursuing to sharpen my head in the times where it matters. My durability in the mountains. It’s all training in the end. I want to be able to handle anything mentally. Choss provides that extreme training for me and gives me the extreme adventure I look for. Anyone can be strong, but it takes a lot more training to sharpen your head. There is still always some questions I continue to ask myself.

Why do I put myself through this? What’s wrong with me?

Nights filled with nightmares, the unknown, and the risk. Multiple days spent feeling like I’m going to die. It’s all mentally taxing. The Fishers have a way of making you really evaluate life more then any other climbing I’ve ever done. And I mean really evaluate your life. Between the constant struggle to breath in the thick muddy air, the constant screaming your head makes from the fear, the fear of flexing placements that might blow and send you for a long fall to break your legs, the close friendships you make, the views you see, the absolutely mind boggling formations, a summit few have ever been a top of, you’re left with an experience very few have ever experienced. Between the start and end of the climb, you find the meaning of your life. But during it you question your sanity. Sometimes you think you’ve gone mad. To get up these towers you have to submit yourself to A LOT of suffering and commit to not giving up no matter how bad it gets. And it can get bad. This place always humble you and always scare you. Most choose to avoid them which is fine. That means no crowds. The truth is, you can’t find that type of experiences anywhere else. It’s rare to find this type of adventure, except for the Navajo Reservation. And I think every human needs to see the views with their own eyes. It provides you with an ultimate high and satisfaction on how GREAT life is. You’ll be on a high on a life and so grateful for everything you have.

The Atlas

The Atlas

It seems the more I climb there, the better my headspace gets for climbing but the more I look down at myself as far as self confidence goes. It’s all pointless in the end. It doesn’t matter. Is it for the out of this world views? Is it to challenge myself? Do I do it to build up my durability? Do I do it to escape society and people? Do I do it to find out who I really am? Or do I just do it to really get my anger out? All the built up anger I have at myself and others. Though I always crack a smile on the outside, in the inside, I’ve always had anger. Instead of taking it out on others, I take it out on climbing.

Maybe it’s a bit of everything. Maybe it’s for the challenge that most don’t have the mental capacity for. How many of those challenges in life can I complete before my short life will be over? It’s a race to live life till the very end. It’s hard to deny, though, that each one of these scare fests don’t change my life in some way. There are too many adventures to remember in the last 5 years. Too many views. I have absolutely no regrets and for that I am happy. It’s who I am.

GOTHIC NIGHTMARE (Something Wicked This Way Comes VI 5.9 A2++) 6th? Ascent of Route 7th? Of the Tower

The Mystery Towers stand very tall in a remote area hidden behind the Fisher Towers. While the Fisher Towers see lots of hiking traffic, the mysteries stand behind, more proud, way muddier, and way crazier. They see virtually no traffic even for hiking. Get some Fisher nailing experience before climbing here. It makes the Fishers look like granite.

Throw back to a few years ago when I first climbed the Titan with Brian Crimm. I was like most, wanting to start aid climbing because it’s useful to know in the mountains. On the summit I found myself instantly obsessed by the experience. I told Brian that we should climb every tower in the Fishers. (6 or so major ones in all) And then I stated that we had to go to the Mysteries after! They include some of the hardest summits to reach in the desert. Brian stated I was crazy. From that day, a dream was set. But I had no idea at the time the trauma one must go through to get to that point. I thought I knew what being scared felt like. I didn’t know a hint. It was a life dream for me to climb every named formation in the Mystery and Fisher Towers.

After climbing the 5 major towers, something 15? or so people have achieved, I found myself buying over 20 peckers and a couple specters. After Derek Wolfe and I invested almost 2,000 dollars together, we headed to the Fishers for our first big nailing route there, the Rasta Wall on River Tower. A Jim Beyer route that receives little attention.

The Hydra from Gothic Nightmare

The Hydra from Gothic Nightmare

After dropping a load of iron at the base the day before, the route looked dicey from a clean aid climber’s perspective. Steep, more muddy then the traveled routes, pecker seams with pendulums, a double roof and a muddy cam crack. I was scared.

I took about 5+ hours to lead the long involved first pitch at A3/4. And Derek took over 3 hours for P3. With multiple small peckers in a row, some straight into the mud. I got rained on by mud that whole time, turning my beer into a slushy. He even whipped onto a pecker right before the anchor. And it held! The last pitch involved the standard Fisher rotten “C2”. Upon getting down, we were both hooked.

Over the months, Derek kept mentioning Gothic Nightmare. We were both psyched on it. A new area I’ve never seen before. Could it really be that much worse then the Fishers? We were shooting for “Something Wicked This Way Comes (VI 5.9 A2+++)” on the Gothic Nightmare. Basically the route to shoot for on it these days. It receives a reputation of a wicked wicked sandbag! Can a route really be A2+ in the Mystery Towers?

The erosion is more out of control in the Mysteries then anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because it has more mud but bolts really do just fall out there, or with slight weight. Don’t go there seeking safety.

Aware of all of this, we dragged David Alexander into the idea. I think we both tried to leave out some stuff about it but I think David knew. It was agreed that Derek and I would take all the nailing pitches, David would take P2, a 150 foot long very very rotten crack rated “A2+” as well. Well how does a clean aid pitch receive an A2+ rating?

Gothic Nightmare as a whole has seen about 6 ascents since 1970? It’s definitely less then 10, these days. It has a reputation. Read John Sherman’s account of Rob Slater and his team tackling the second ascent of the Gothic Nightmare, and you’ll get an account. You get bat hooks, pitons driven tent stake style into mud curtains, bolts that barely hold body weight, tiny peckers forced into tiny seems, and the DOOM mantles.

Derek thankfully hiked in the day before and shuttled a load in. We rounded up the gear, and headed in early the following morning. We kept asking Derek what it looked like.

“Muddy and blank” was his usual reply. Pitch one is 210 feet long so it was agreed I’d lead 100 feet up and the build an anchor, then rappel. Derek would clean the gear and continue on so he’d have enough for the next half of the pitch.

After a really awesome hike in, we rounded the corner in the really hot sun. I looked up and realized just how muddy the Mysteries are. At the roof on P1, a mud hanging dagger was slightly hanging over, something like a hanging dagger of ice you’d climb on, barely hanging over the edge, but worse. I could see no hint of rock the whole way up the pitch except for the first 30 feet.

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I racked up quickly and went to the work. The first 30 feet was straight forward “C1” and way more muddy then it looked. Caught in a small muddy squeeze, the muddy dust particles filling the air. I had a coughing fit, it felt like I was suffocating. I rounded the roof into full on mud, excavating every placement. Soon I got to a couple bolts. Each one stuck farther out until the third one was sticking well over halfway out. From there, a blind spectre pounded straight into the mud got me to some thin nailing juju (hint 2 more spectres) and scary peckers got me higher. At one point, I started getting really scared. The pecker I was standing on, well the mud was breaking apart around it. It started to pop out. I watched it as it was slowly oozing out. I was scared. The fall would be quite big to the bolts and would the bolts hold a big fall? Maybe the first one would?

I down aided quickly to the spectre that wasn’t great but it also wasn’t moving out like that pecker. From there I pulled the pecker out easily with my two fingers. After thinner nailing I got to some bolts that lead to the anchor. Top stepping mandatory. I lowered off, covered in mud. My teeth were brown. I felt like a changed man. Only a little over 3 hours on the sharp end. So this is A2+ in the Mysteries huh?

Blind Spectre Placement

Blind Spectre Placement

Derek started up on P1b. A long rivet ladder with a missing section continued on to some “C1+”. Most of the bolts were covered in mud. He had to dig for them. He arrived at the P1 anchor late in the day. It took all day for P1. He came back to the base covered in mud. We both congratulated him on a fine lead. David jugged and cleaned it all up. We drank beer and started the hike down. We were satisfied. One pitch down, we’re off the ground. We got this. We were even having fun at this point.

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Back at camp at night, we went straight back to bed. I thought I was practically done. All I had was a fun bolt ladder pitch left up high. David had the next pitch while Derek had P3, which was said to be missing some rivets. I had high hopes! But as ALWAYS, something always goes horribly wrong, sometimes multiple things, and the unexpected pops up. Can you handle that fear and keep going?

Derek on P1b

Derek on P1b

We woke up in the dark. Day #2. Derek states he is really nervous about P3 and is not sure he wants to lead it. David was also quite nervous for P2. I was just glad I might not have to lead that day. Soon we arrived at the base. David jugged up and got his rack ready. I followed and soon he was off leading.

Derek after leading the last of P1

Derek after leading the last of P1

His pitch looked like a good crack the whole way. It starts off with a muddy C1 hand crack. Soon he was out of view. Soon, I am getting rained on by A LOT of mud. It’s like a full on missile crisis at the bottom. You’d surely die if you stood too close to the bottom of the tower. There is never a second without constant mud chunks hitting the ground. David is really quiet. I can sense he is gripped. Hell, I’d be. But I’m not. I’m at the hanging belay drinking my beer. Belaying on this stuff is also mentally taxing. At any moment you’re hoping you’re not going to catch a huge whip from your partner. Like that one time Derek whipped onto me and Brian Crimm at a hanging belay after 25 to 30 feet. He tore his tendon from that fall. And I was absolutely gripped finishing that pitch after seeing that.

Ping!….Ping!..Ping!

Oh God!

Soon, I sense and hear something big falling through the air, backwards, head first, in a cloud of mud. Chunks both big and small falling around David.

He keeps falling, and falling while I keep trying to pull in slack. I sense terror under his breath when he comes to a halt. Shouting and heavily shaking from a deep fear.

David right before his epic fall

David right before his epic fall

“Lower me dude! My heads bleeding!” He quickly states to me.

I try to lower him but it’s really hard. He has some MASSIVE rope drag and he just added a descent core shot to the rope from the fall. Without in instant, the stakes are different. Within an instant, we got more serious problems. Soon he arrives at the belay vividly shaking and then rappels down the rope to the ground. He keeps repeating that the mysteries aren’t for him. Stating how messed up the Mysteries are. That he’s never ever coming back to climb there. He keeps stating he just wants to climb in the Fishers. How much he misses the Fishers. And how much he misses the REZ!

I soon rappel after him, glad David is okay but pissed about the situation. I bring the massive rack to the ground. Upon reaching the ground, I throw everything off of me and go into a massive cursing fit like a baby. Derek mentions us bailing for the first time. I shun the idea. I know if we pulled the rope, I’d come back in a year and have to re lead that pitch. And I don’t want to re lead it. At that point in time we were more worried about David’s safety then the tower. It seems like something terrible happens every time I come here. No tower ever goes smooth the whole way. There is always something shutting you down with a very very big sense of fear. The hardest part is moving past that enormous fear.

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We rush out, and get David to the ER in Moab. They put four staples in his head. He keeps repeating to us he has absolutely NO desire to finish the tower.

“Are you sure man???!!??” We keep repeating to him.

But he would support us the next day from the base and take it easy.

His bandage on the way to the ER

His bandage on the way to the ER

Derek and I are terrified from his fall too. His fall keeps replaying in my head and makes me shutter. Derek quickly stated that we can bail and that he isn’t finishing that pitch. I refuse such an idea. We came here, we knew it was going to completely messed up. It’s Gothic Nightmare. It’s going to be a nightmare. We got to complete it. I said screw it, I’d finish it. If I whipped bigger then David and hurt myself too, then I’d leave the rope until I was ready to return.

After the ER, I was filled with a very very DEEP dread for the following day. Flashbacks of David’s fall came to my head. What if I fall but am not as lucky? What if I zipper more of the pitch?

David can hardly recall what happened. But did remember that it was a really REALLY muddy rotten crack. And that we needed way more big cams.

I was terrified. I drank more beer. I started talking about the show Trailer Park Boys with David to ignore fear. But as I laid on the desert floor, looking at the amazing stars, I couldn’t help but think of my fate the next day. I don’t want to be me. Why can’t I just have a nice career in New York City with a wife and multiple kids? How did I ever get into this? I wanted it more than ever before. I can’t fall. I won’t fall. Go to bed. Get some rest.

I woke up the next early morning. I grabbed the rest of the cams, and Derek grabbed his pack. We started the hike in, again. David and another friend Glen, would hike in later to watch us. As I started jugging, I was terrified. Of ALL things, this is the last thing I wanted to do. The absolute last thing. What am I doing here?

The rope that was hanging from some piece 40 feet up on the pitch, and the rope was core shot. I tied into the other rope and jugged the core shot rope, clipping some pieces as I jugged, just in case. Soon I arrived at the accident location. No cams actually held him!

The rope wrapped around a detached hanging pillar mud block of rock on his fall. That’s what held his 30 foot fall! The #4 he would have fell on wasn’t the greatest, nor was the piton below that. I started off leading, very carefully. I cleaned out every placement and took my time. Soon I was above David’s highpoint, scared of taking an even bigger fall. Soon I was near the end of the really really muddy part. The end of that part was the crux.

Pure mud so I kept cleaning the mud out. The more mud I cleaned the more I realized, I was actually cleaning out the placement so much that it wasn’t going to be a placement in a second. I placed a spectre. It sliced right through with body weight. I placed a bong straight into the mud but could take it out with my fingers. I clipped it anyways. I then hammered a 4.5 sized Cam into that “pod” Half of it was sort of cammed, the other half wasn’t. I started to weight it after a slight test. It was making a popping sound and expanding into the mud.

“I’m probably going to fall here, Derek!!!!!” I yelled to Derek out of a lot of fear.

“Watch me!!!!”

I took three steps up. No sneezing allowed. The cam was expanding into the mud more and more. I placed the next piece in a detached hollow flake and soon after a bomber #5. A2+ huh? Still can’t believe that piece held my body weight. Unbelievable!!!!! I think I blacked out at one point. Maybe it wasn’t that bad? Or maybe it was?

After several scary doom free mantels onto slabs of heavy mud, I lowered off and back cleaned more gear. But soon the horror was over. Anchor, finally. Long pitch. CLASSIC!

Derek followed. I could hear him talking to himself about how messed up the pitch was while he cleaned it. Re confirming that I was being scared for a reason. My mood was lifted. A nice sight to see on the tower almost 400 feet up.

I had a nice spot on the ridge. I was still slightly shaken from fear.

“Dude that was messed up!” I stated to Derek.

Derek near the end of P2 where it eases off

Derek near the end of P2 where it eases off

Derek was even more nervous now, for the next pitch. We had been fighting hard for every inch on this tower. Derek sacked up and grabbed the gear and started on the sandbagged “A1” pitch. MUAHAHAHAHAH He got to the second bolt, both of them had bail biners on them. He looked up confused.

No seams for #1 peckers, no bolts, nothing above for what seemed like miles. He stated his concerns. I got upset, again.

“Dude there has to be a way, just keep digging! Find a #1 pecker seam” I stated.

Soon he admitted defeat.

“Fine! I’ll do it!” I screamed in anger and fear. We were turning into a couple fighting right before their divorce.

Derek has a daughter and stated he can’t do that with that behind him. Maybe we should bail?

Well, I have nothing, really. So, screw it, I’ll do it.

Derek checking out P3. Steep!

Derek checking out P3. Steep!

I pulled up the rope to the bolt. I dug and dug. Top stepped several times. No bolts anywhere in sight. No cracks. Not free climbable. The bolts had fallen out or someone had ripped several of them out! I admitted defeat as well. No way. I felt bad at getting angry at Derek. He was right. We discussed our options.

The view from the second bolt with nothing above

The view from the second bolt with nothing above

We left ropes and planned on talking to the FA or second ascent party to get more knowledge about this pitch. It was almost all a bolt ladder on the FA. Not a big deal. Soon we got the advice from Crusher on what he would do and planned to go back with a drill and re bolt it very sparsely. Make it like the FA had it. Would Derek have to re bolt the whole pitch? Had they all fallen out? Mind games continued.

Nightmares followed for 3 weeks.

It was indeed the stuff of nightmares.

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Many mornings I’d wake up to a text from Derek stating he had another nightmare. I found myself waking myself up from sleep talking. The dreams seemed so real, so horrifying. The dread always followed me, I couldn’t leave it behind. It followed me like my own shadow.

“Is it really that bad?” Some friends would occasionally ask me while climbing splitter wing gate.

You have absolutely no idea.

I wonder what would have happened if David hadn’t fallen. Would we have handled our fear better? David tried his hardest and the outcome can’t be changed. Him more than anyone wishes he didn’t fall. His fall put in our head that this stuff really is dangerous especially since the bolts are about to fall out, some of them have.

We wanted a third, but found it hard to find anyone even willing to jug the ropes on the tower, let alone lead a pitch. Nor would I want to put someone on this tower for their first time in the Fishers. That would just be a total dick move.

We borrowed a drill and soon I found myself doing the dreaded drive to Onion Creek. The drill wasn’t charged all the way even though I charged it for 15 hours. I told Derek and Derek quickly texted me back clearly heavily stressed.

“I’m about ready to just go up there and get our ropes. I’m NOT going up there without a full battery”

I then got pissed and stated that he better not.

Derek's A1 placement

Derek’s A1 placement

I drove to Dave’s house in Moab he so kindly let us charge it for the next 24 hours, therefore getting a full charge. I drove back to Onion creek to camp. It was raining. I didn’t have a tent. I laid my sleeping back on the ground, put an extra blanket over it and I got drenched in the cold rain all night. Stupid me. Horrible night. Why don’t I carry a tent anymore?

Derek and I hiked in the day before to drop off a load of gear. This approach was turning into something I feared. Every time I hiked it, I was filled with deep dread. We climbed maybe the second ascent of the Marryman, an AWESOME 2 pitch 5.7++ tower. I pulled out the summit anchor quite easily. A kid could have. But luckily we wrapped the summit with chord and got down. A really fantastic tower and type 1 fun! And then we climbed the Hunchback via a new route (Here Today, Gone Tomorrow 5.10++ R A1) which will now go free at 5.11+? Since I cleaned out a handhold out of the mud while hanging. Enjoy the mantle of doom on petrified cobble crumbs, that’s above scary gear.

After simul rapping off the summit (no anchor) we got our harnesses ready for the next day. Gothic Nightmare is just so massive. We were both reminded of the fear. We hardly ate dinner. We had to go to bed.

Another night of sleeping on the ground, found me waking up at 4 A.M. on Halloween day. The sound of coyote howling in the distance, getting closer, kept me on edge all night.

We drove silently on the 4WD road to the start of the approach. Not even speaking to each other. Starting the approach, Derek quickly yelled at me for not hiking fast enough. I was just going my average pace. I was about to reply in anger but quickly caught myself. I knew it would through off his head game even more. I didn’t want to lead that next pitch. I best be quiet.

Gothic Nightmare looked very evil at night. A huge fortress from Mordor in Lord of the Rings where Sauran, the Eye, sits atop of. I started jugging first, hoping the ropes weren’t core shot after three weeks of rubbing over the edge. The bomber Lost Arrow we placed at the start to hold the rope was now super loose and easy to pull out. Erosion at its finest.

Jugging P1

Jugging P1

We spent some time hauling but soon were at the ridge line. Derek arrived.

“I can’t do this man. I got to go down. I’m done with this tower. I don’t have the experience for this.” He quickly barked after jugging P2. He had dislodged a big rock on the jug and a bolt on P1 came out way too easily after some playing around. He was already freaked out. I knew Derek had the experience.

Soon, I believed we were bailing. I stated to him, I was pretty mentally fried, still, from leading those two previous crux pitches. This was Derek’s pitch and I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. I stated that I’d just sucker someone else into it after a month of more nightmares to join me.

I couldn’t bail. I couldn’t pull the ropes.

But soon I tied the figure eight knot and quietly gave it to Derek. Derek was filled with terror. I knew on this stuff, sometimes you just got to tie in and get to the first piece, then the next. It will get overwhelming if you don’t.

“You won’t die dude, I promise,” I stated.

“Just check out the first piece, don’t bail before actually trying it and getting on it. If you’re up there and don’t like it, then fix the rope and rappel. But at least check it out. I know you want this as much as me.” I state encouragement to him.

He screams profanity, fighting his inner demons. Soon he starts tying in.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this! This is completely @$$@.” He states.

To my unbelief he starts leading. At that point in time, I’m really proud of him. To confront that fear and overcome it, few know about that. Few experience that. I know this pitch isn’t some death pitch. It’s all there. But after 3 weeks of dwelling on it….

Soon he gets higher and higher.

Derek at the top of P3

Derek at the top of P3

“Watch me!!!” He states as he is standing on two equalized #2 peckers in by a couple teeth, flexing. A1 huh?

He gets higher and higher. The bolts continue to get worse. At one point, out of view he knocks off a near oven sized boulder in a free climbing section. I dodge it underneath a small overhang. Oh man!!! That was huge!!! I thought he was falling on some bad bolts! In the end, he got to the anchor. I jugged. I was glad he led it.

“Thanks for pushing me to do that.” He stated to me on the rappel to the ground.

That pitch, still, was no joke. He placed 4 bolts in the end, to back up the really bad bolts. We counted 21 or 22 bolts which according to Crusher was around the amount on the FA.

We planned on finishing the climb the next day. I was supposed to finish the final two pitches. Since Derek lead the whole previous day. One more “A1” pitch and then the summit pitch that was supposed to be no gimme. And the bolts were probably even worse than the last ascent in 2009. We knew we had it almost in the bag.

I’m still nervous. We get another early start and soon are jugging quickly to that final pitch to the summit ridge. I start leading, committed to not replace any of the bolts. But the bolts are by far the worst on this pitch more so then anyone of them I’ve seen on the route. Out of over 12 bolts, only one is sticking out a half an inch at the start. All the rest are sticking out 1.5 inches, most are sticking out 2 inches and a couple over 2.5 inches! (out of 3 inches) I end up replacing one that is flexing halfway up, mainly because I had to free climb to it and if it blew, which it could, then I’d break some serious bones. The top two bolts before the anchor, I replaced, were the worst. The top one was only in by a quarter of an inch? Sticking out over 2.5 inches. I had to hang on it, gripped, to place a new bolt. Future parties will thanks me. Still exciting for A1. After some free climbing, I arrived to the summit ridge anchor. Two of the anchor bolt sticking WAY out and one baby angle sticking out.

I added a bolt and fixed the rope.

Wild climbing on P4

Wild climbing on P4

The summit ridge might be the wildest place I’ve ever been. Way crazier than any of the Fisher Tower summit pitches. Soon Derek arrived. I was secretly hoping he would be psyched to lead the last pitch. It looked…..scary….and intimidating.

But soon I grabbed the gear and casted off. A scary sandy 5.7 or something smear around an unprotected block brought me to one cam. After about 15+ more feet, I arrived to the baby angle in mud, Crusher placed in the 90’s and the final quarter inch bolt really sticking out and clearly eroded. I was scared to weight both with my body weight. If these two blew on a fall, it would be disastrous.

Derek at the ridge belay

Derek at the ridge belay

I must have stood on that bolt for hours, it seemed. My legs shaking from fear.

“Dude, I’m really scared, this is really messed up.” I say.

I just want to bail. This is just getting out of hand. But I’m 20 feet below the summit.

Get a grip on yourself! 

I spend a few minutes cleaning the mud off sandy holds. I top step to find better holds. There all slopers. Soon, I commit. It felt as if my life was moving in slow motion for the mantel. Right hand to mud hold, with too much weight on it, it would break, and I would be sent on one horrifying fall. Left hand on a sandy sloper. Heal Hook. GO!

I mantel and soon find a no hands rest.

“That was horrifying!!!!! The ultimate mantle of DOOM!” I yelled to Derek.

I continue up some muddy 5.7 to the belay. I clip in. I start to get a little emotional. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we did it. I do the 5.4 scramble to the true summit, half the size of a coffee table with 650 ft of air. A summit few have ever touched. A summit I’ve read about for years, where some of my heroes have visited.

Summit

Summit

I raise my hands in the air while Derek takes pictures. Probably the best summit I’ve ever stood on.

I fix the rope and Derek soon stands on top. What a great day for two friends to dangle their legs off a tower in the middle of no where.

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After an epic descent filled with almost stuck ropes two times, and reversing the 5.7 summit ridge “walk” we soon arrived on the ground. The ropes pulled and fell to the ground.

We both opened a beer and congratulated each other on maybe the finest desert adventure we had ever been on.

Summit ridge

Summit ridge

The dread had been lifted. As we hiked out with huge packs, we looked back one last time at the Gothic Nightmare in the rays of the sun.

We overcame our fear. Went to hell and back and then were sent back to hell. There is something special about experiencing that.

gn23

We sorted gear and at 9 P.M. I chose to leave the desert. I drove as fast as I could back to Denver, never looking back.

Done. Finally.

“Dude, we got to do the Citadel, we got to climb all of them!” I stated to Derek before l left.

But let’s give it some time. We got some mental healing to do.

Shoot, maybe it’s time I get married and have kids. You know, be a responsible citizen.

Or maybe it’s time to break out my ice tools.

Why do I do this? I think I found the answer in the midst of the nightmare.

gn13

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Lost Connections

Sheesh. I almost forgot my password here.

After climbing the East Ridge of Mt Logan (and traversing the whole mountain) in the Yukon Territory, I sort of lost motivation to write about my adventures. Too much to put down in words. Almost a book amount of words happened. Maybe I’ll write something about it someday but you can read a 5 page spread about the trip in the October Climbing Magazine issue if you have it laying around somewhere.

Anyhow, for once in my life, I think I’m climbing enough that I don’t have time to write about it. Well, except for now.

Maybe I’ll try to spray more in the future. I just don’t really care anymore. Though, it’s cool to look back two years and read about climbs I did and see my progress.

I will add though, the year of 2014 was probably the hardest and most rewarding year I’ve had. I managed to get out 91 days outside on my tools playing around and trying to avoid gravity. There were many many tense moments. If anything, I have become even more thankful for family, friends, and this passion I’m still able to do currently.

I’ve learned even more so, that life is precious.  But you got to live it until the end.

I’ll try to write a little more here. Now that I sort of got my life back together. I say that sarcastically.

Noah

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The Pursuit of Freedom

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As I stood at the very base of the Mooses Tooth, I heard a scream. It was the sort of scream from someone falling to there death. I looked up, scared. I saw a body falling from several thousand feet above me. I saw it continually bouncing down the cliff. Soon, the scream turned into silence. The body soon bounced right in front of me, without life. It stopped a foot in front of my feet. I stood there motionless and in shock staring, trying to process what just happened. Within an instant, I woke up.

Mooses Tooth with Ham N Eggs splitting the middle

Mooses Tooth with Ham N Eggs splitting the middle

Mt Johnson

Mt Johnson

Welcome to the Alaska Range!

Welcome to the Alaska Range!

I was breathing heavily. I realized my surroundings. I was in my tent. It was early morning. That was just a dream. Shawn Collins and I were the only ones on this glacier. I had to stay awake for a while to take in the current reality, not the dreams reality.

The route from the base of the shrund

The route from the base of the shrund

We hung out for the day and soon packed up for an attempt of Ham N Eggs (V 5.9 WI4) on the Mooses Tooth. We planned for a 5 A.M. departure.

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Upon waking up for the alpine start, I woke up Shawn. He seemed to act different. I figured it to be the early morning. He had a much harsher strange dream where he visited his own funeral and experienced his son crying from his death. On top of that, his crampons did something that I’ve never even thought was possible.

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Denali

Denali

I’ve been on a few trips with Shawn. We have developed a brother like relationship over the years. He invited me on this one. He’s wanted to climb this route for such a long time. I was more then happy to tag along. Without Shawn, I wouldn’t even have been in Alaska. Anyways, it was such a harsh couple of hours. Upon being so upset with the situation, he mentioned that this was how it was meant to be, for some reason that was beyond him. I tried to help the situation but it was also beyond me. He mentioned that I should solo it if I felt good to. I felt bad about getting on the climb without him. It felt wrong since I wouldn’t have been there in the first place without him.

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In the end, I started to pack a small bag full of gu gels and 1.5 liters of water. I gave Shawn a hug. I departed. I felt good mentally, and physically.

Looking down the first 5.7/8 crux

Looking down the first 5.7/8 crux

The suns rays started to appear behind me as I walked across the glacier. I looked for crevasses everywhere, fearing of falling into one alone. The smell of the purest air refreshed me as I looked up above me, once at the base. I took a couple deep breaths. I knew at that very moment in time, I was meant to be there. There was no question in my mind. I closed my eyes all a while going into deep thought.

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“….Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

As I grabbed my helmet and ice tools out of my pack, I didn’t think about life’s struggles. I didn’t care about them. All I cared about was searching myself. When you solo, you find yourself and you find it well. You find who you really are in every way. It’s not like when you’re in society where you can hide yourself so well. You come closest to your inner senses when you solo. Your senses are heightened. You can hear anything in miles radius. You come into contact with your feelings very well. Your common sense becomes that much more alive. You become alive! You realize and can separate every different kind of fear.  It’s addicting. It’s emotional. It’s such a pure form in climbing. It’s in these moments that I become the most in love with living life. You travel a fine line.

Life goes beyond your imagination in these moments almost like you are going beyond life. You’re not burdened by belays or any of that stuff. You just move in a perfect motion. It all just connects perfectly when you solo.

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I have those routes in my life I dream of soloing for personal reasons. I imagine myself traveling that fine line but yet being completely confident doing it. In those moments I reach the biggest euphoric feelings I can experience. It becomes emotional. Those moments are so real. It’s hard to put it into words.

I put in my headphones, turned up the volume, and started moving. As my mind went into a trance, I crossed the shrund and started up the 45 degree approach snow slopes; I couldn’t help but be amazed of my surroundings. I soon approached the standard first mixed pitch a couple hundred feet above the shrund. I noticed the standard 5.6 way to go but couldn’t help but notice what looked to be an easier way out right.

It’s always harder then it looks.

I started up this “easier” way. Soon enough I found myself wishing that I would have went the standard easier way. The start turned into a small steep sloping ledge with a steep headwall and no handholds to grab into. I carefully placed my crampons on small crystals and crept along with the perfect amount of bodyweight on each leg to keep my feet there. I looked down between my legs, already a descent ways above the glacier with exposure.

Take your time. Don’t blow it. 

What I thought would be simple scrambling terrain soon turned into a slab. I stood there for many minutes. I refused to move ahead until I felt secure. Yet, the stance I was in was precarious. After trying different things, I finally committed to the crux moves. I placed my crampons on smaller then dime edge holds and tried to keep the weight off my feet. It was sort of like aid climbing, balancing weight on horrible pieces. Soon though, I swung my ice tool into gravel and pulled up.

I hate mixed slabs.

Up to the chockstone

Up to the chockstone

I climbed up the steep snow for 100 meters until I got to a 4 move M4ish chockstone overhang. It sort of reminded me of something on Birdbrain Blvd. I put one of my Nomics into the overhang. I hammered it in further with the other ice tool and placed that tool above. I yarded on it to a move or two more before I grabbed a jug. That’s the type of mixed terrain that I find awesome!

Above the 40 ft. overhung ice

Above the 40 ft. overhung ice

The trance music kept raging louder and louder. As it kept the beat, I found my own beat. I felt as if I was doing a different sort of dancing to it, a dance between life and death.

I turned the corner and soon was underneath a short 40 or so foot vertical ice gully. Only it was out of normal condition, it seemed. It was delaminated and there was a Bridalveil overhang at the top of it to navigate. I placed a sort of okay knifeblade and threaded the rope through it. I gave myself 50 ft of slack and then tied that to my harness. I took the first swing into airy snow. Stemming with my left foot on the left rock face, I started stemming. The placement of my crampon on the rock felt much better then the ice. I approached the overhang. Through awkwardness, I soon swung above it. Occasionally, I would swing and my ice tool would just bounce off the rock since the ice was by no means thick. I finally swung into a solid chunk and pulled over.

I guess that was WI4. 

I untied from the knot and pulled the rope through the knifeblade. I left the ropes hanging and continued up a few hundred meters of steep snow. The sun was up by now. I felt so alone on a big wall. It was perfect. I found myself a little nervous, satisfied, and so free. These are the moments I live for. Life is so vast and amazing. I soon approached the crux of the climb.

Crux

Crux

It was a 100 foot step with an overhang at the top. There was tat at the bottom so I decided to do a proper rope solo of this pitch. I just had not clue what that overhang would be like, if it was out of condition. I tied one end to the tat and left my pack behind. I tied off a huge amount of slack. I started up. The ice was thin and unprotectable. Soon I found some left over stuck rock gear. I clipped it and soon was making the crux moves. This time I was moving left, up, and over the overhang. Both feet were soon on the vertical rock slab while I was pulling over. All of a sudden, something slipped. It wasn’t my feet.

My helmet fell off! It was hung up on my headphones. I told myself not to move. I needed both my hands to hang on to the crux. Then as fast as it happened is as fast as it fell down 2,000 ft. to the ground. I started cursing at myself.

No helmet

No helmet

Freaking Noah. That was such a rookie mistake. Seriously, dude? You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you just did that. 

It was like a flip of a switch. All of sudden, I felt so vulnerable that something was about to fall down from above and now hit me in the head. I continued on horrible alpine ice but once I swung above the overhang, the ice turned out to be great. I ran up 30 meters to the belay. I tied off the rope, rappelled and top roped the pitch with the one half rope. I got back to the belay and looked above.

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I had just done the crux pitch that felt a bit more like WI4++++. I just had a couple easier pitches and more snow to the summit. The solo of Ham n Eggs felt so close. It felt so achievable. I wanted it more then anything right then. I stood there for a while staring out into space. I was so upset with myself.

Deep inside, the little man was throwing up a red flag. I knew it too. This climb was a garbage chute for everything above. The heat of the day was about to come. I had no helmet now. I was by myself a couple thousand feet up an Alaskan wall.

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Live to climb another day. 

I started down. Upset with myself. Despite that, I realized I had made great time, only taking 2.5 hours from base camp to my high point. I was on track for a near 4 hour ascent. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. Things didn’t feel right after the helmet fell off. You got to listen to that.

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Rappel after rappel I bombed down. Rappelling is also way faster by yourself. I found myself at the base not too long after. I even found out that my helmet was not even damaged. It’s so light, it probably parachuted down.

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 I was back in time for breakfast and coffee with Shawn. I sat out in the hot Alaskan sun for the day. I contemplated what I needed to improve on, what my weaknesses were. I guess my weakness for the day was loosing my helmet and maybe some stupidity.

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Alone In the Dark: Jacobs Ladder

jl9

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.

jl3

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.

jl4

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.

res2

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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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