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

How much fear can you handle?


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

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?




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

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.


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.


About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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2 Responses to Addicted to Fear: One’s Journey in the Fisher’s

  1. Jason Kaplan says:

    Nice job man! Headed for Cottontail next week, then all that will be left is the Oracle which will have to wait till we’re ready. I think we might have seen you guys on the oracle (we watched someone tackle the crux pitch from the phantom sprint I think) , and I’m pretty sure I saw your ropes fixed on Cottontail.

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