| My Journey of Life On the Edge (So Far)
Desert Big Wall/Tower Trip
Failure happens in climbing. I don’t really like to describe it as failure though. I think failure is not trying.
The Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park is a mega classic big wall climb first done by Jeff Lowe. It can be done as an aid climb at 5.9 C1 or a free climb at 5.12d. If done free, it is one of the longest hardest sandstone climbs in the world with 5 consecutive 5.12/+ pitches in a row. Majorly exposed, this 1200 foot route is a gem. It’s also pretty intimidating. It has to be one of the most beautiful rock climbs I have ever seen. Nothing else is on the buttress, just a finger crack shooting many hundred feet into the sky.
Moonlight Buttress. The route goes straight up the buttress. You can't see the finger cracks but they split it all the way up.
Brian asked me if I was in for it a couple months ago. Though it was not at the top of the list, I agreed. I was not going to Yosemite so getting on a big wall somewhere else seemed ideal. For the route, you have to have 6 sets of many of the finger sized cams. We borrowed and bought many. (Thanks John, David, and Shawn!) We skimped out on the portaledge because there was suppose to be a bivy ledge atop Pitch 5 – so we thought. Our plan was for me to try to free as much as I can (I want to free it someday) and aid the rest.
We drove for 12 hours and go there. We packed everything into the haul bag including 4 gallons of water. This thing was HEAVY. Since it’s the main tourist season, you are not aloud to drive the road through Zion. A shuttle bus takes you. We jumped on the bus and got tortured with how slow it went. By the time we arrived to the climb, it was pitch black.
We were just scouting it out. You usually wade across the river to access the climb, but this river was really deep so that was not happening! On the way back we talked to two others about there climb of Moonlight. They quoted, “Take the bus seat and slant it down a tiny bit, that’s the bivy ledge.” Brian and I decided we would be “sleeping” sitting up 800 feet up the wall. We would not sleep! Which would make climbing a drag.
I laid my sleeping bag on the sidewalk since the camping was full, went to the restroom and came back only to find cockroaches beneath my sleeping bag along with spiders. Yuck! I threw my sleeping bag in the back seat of the Subaru in which I do not fit into. Brian had a hammock but later was bothered by animals, only to come into the front seat to sleep.
Tree in the face. About right for this approach.
We didn’t sleep. We decided to not “sleep” on the wall either. We would fix rope on the first three pitches, rappel, and come back the next day and blast the route. The approach was incredibly bad with not crossing the river. We had to cross a bridge a couple miles back and bushwhack for a couple miles. Oh and in the desert, everything is sharp! Take into account it was 96 degrees at least. We brought 3 water bottles each – mistake #1. Brian took Pitch 1 which was a sparsely protected 5.9 that looked way easier then it was. The rock temperature was over 100 degrees.
Brian leading the spicy first pitch
I took Pitch two which was C1 or 5.10c. I chose to go on a free attempt. This pitch was also sparsely protected with ledge fall potential the first half of it. The belay ledge was great but I only had one bottle of water left. Brian led the next pitch at 5.9 C1 which was basically a bolt ladder. We made it to the top of what is called the rocker block. (A huge block that is chained to the wall because it’s so loose)
Leading the 5.10c second pitch
We rapped and headed back with little water. We came back the next day and did the miserable approach. This time we brought a gallon each for water. (Heavy) Brian ascended the ropes first with the pack. By the end of the first 200 foot jug, he was beat. I followed. We then noticed another party beat us and were taking there time. We were not getting to the top by dark making this progress. It was way to hot as well with over 100 degree temperatures. I want to ice climb in cold weather! We bailed as that was the only choice we had. We packed up and headed to Kane Creek by Moab in which we climbed the classic Happy Turk tower. A reachy bolt ladder. We also did a night climb of the Mount Everest tower sub summit. We made plans that were coming back mid week in cooler temperatures to bag this amazing route.
Jugging and about to bail
On top of the Happy Turk aka The Devil's Golfball
Rapping at sunset
The Journey On the Edge (The Naked Edge)
The Naked Edge (5.11b R) Eldorado Canyon, CO Photo by Paul Martin
Eldorado Canyon is an amazing place. I’m sure many of you have been there and some have climbed the amazing 5.7 Bastille Crack or maybe the classic 5.6 Wind Ridge. This place has it all. All the routes are sandbagged and when first climbing there, you will get very humbled. The climbing is also characterized by runouts. Some huge, some moderate. Then again, there are some lines that are really protected. It’s a magical place and is probably the most famous areas in CO (and even US) for trad climbing. With the great history of Layton Kor, Derek Hersey free solos, and etc.
Naked Edge (Glenn Randall's wonderful Vertigo Games, 1983)
My first trad climb here was a 5.5 (Tigger I think?) on Wind Tower with a small overhang to it. I fell at the crux probably 4 times before I got it. I was pumped and pretty much thought I should give up rock climbing. I saw the Bastille Crack and thought to myself “someday.” The thought of climbing 5.10 in Eldo with runouts never interested me. There was one line though that from the start of trad climbing I wanted. The famous Naked Edge.
Naked Edge Marked
The Edge is one of the most classic and sought after climbs in Aamerica. It has a long history that is intertwined with the history of climbing in Colorado, and to an extent, that of climbing in North America. Two first ascents of the climb marked changes in the Colorado climbing scene.
This climb is one of the most classic and sought after climbs in America. It includes about 800 feet or so of climbing. Three pitches of solid 5.11, one of them runout. The other pitches are 5.9 and 5.10, and most of those have some good runouts where a fall would not be good. None of the runouts are X by any means but the route does get a R rating meaning even if you protect it right, and you fall, serious injury probably will happen. There is massive exposure on every pitch all the way up. The line is clean and beautiful. If every pitch was just a single pitch, then each one would be one of the most classics around but the fact that it’s all stacked on top of each other, creates one of the best routes around, the Naked Edge.
The first pitch of the Edge is a a 70 foot finger crack that goes at 5.11a. The second slab pitch starts at 5.9, then involves a balancy 5.10b move at a small crack. The third pitch is a 120 foot 5.8, reaching the final steep prow. The fourth pitch involves an overhanging crack and then a shallow chimney that goes at 5.11b. The final overhanging hand crack, with breathtaking views of the ground falling away beneath your feet, goes at 5.11b. From there, a 5.6 pitch takes you to the top.
The fact that it is not in the 50 Classic Climbs is a shock. It may be because the authors were jealous of the first ascent. Who knows? It’s extremely odd though.
Every time I heard of the Edge, I was scared. How in the world do you runout 5.11 or even 5.8 in your right mind here?? I couldn’t even climb 5.5 clean. I kept climbing and soon sent some 5.6’s there. These routes are really sandbagged I kept thinking. After a lot more experience following trad routes with my mentors, I decided to give my first trad lead a go. I had read many books, put it to practice, went out with my rock mentors, I was ready. It was a 5.5 called Breezy on Wind Tower. I have never been more scared in my life. I sent it but felt I was close to falling. My mentor stated that all the pieces were solid. I still did not want to fall on those “sketchy” cams.
One of my first 5.10 sport routes. Peoples Choice (5.10b, 3 pitches) in CCC. I hung on just about every bolt in this picture.
I headed out a lot more, almost full time, trying to rack up my experience. I met a great friend at my work at the AAC Library, Danny, who also just got into trad climbing, but he had done 5.8’s in Eldo, I was amazed. I climbed a lot of sport with him, pushing my limits. Soon I was sending 5.9 on sport. My mentor was soon taking me on 5.9 climbs in Eldo, in which I kept falling following. 5.9 is butt hard here. Danny was progressing also. He climbed 5.11 outside at a time where I only climbed 5.10 and thought of 5.11 as scary and hard on sport. He pushed me on it and even 5.12a’s in which I failed miserably, but my strength was getting there.
A 5.10c I had to leave a biner on because I could not make it to the anchors. (Photo by Trevor)
My rock mentor then pushed me to lead “Five Ten Crack.” It’s a 5.10a solid single pitch trad line. It was thin, almost looked like only micro nuts would fit. I was scared but he pushed me. I got up the crux (barely) and peeled off. The gear held but I was so terrified. I was not supposed to fall on trad gear. I got the bug out of my head and was okay with falling on gear as long as your common sense agrees.
Eventually, I was sending 5.11b’s on sport and pushing my trad limits at 5.10. I refused any runout routes though. That’s when Danny and I pushed for the Casual Route on the Diamond. Danny led more of the route due to me having a bad day. The exposure is unreal up there. After that, I was humbled.
The good old Diamond
With ice climbing, it’s really helped my head as it always feels runout because ice screws are different then cams. There sketchy and you don’t want to fall. I think that helped my head. I soon climbed the Cobra in the Fisher Towers at 5.11b R, a sketchy single pitch climb. Then there was Standing Rock at runout 5.10 to the Capitol Snowmass traverse which was 5.7 no gear. Then the West Pawnee Butte at 5 7 X and other scary aid climbs. To the terrifying and amazing ice climbs of Bridalveil Falls, Sea of Vapors, and Polar Circus. Pushing my limits on sport up to 5.12a sends and projecting 5.12c’s. I was onsighting 5.11a’s in eldo. I was climbing everyday, training harder and harder for both rock and ice. I was taking climbing trips once a month or more, seeing the world, pushing my limits on all levels of climbing.
The Cobra. One spicy 5.11b
Sea of Vapors (WI5+, V) Banff, Canada
A 5.12b in El Potrero Chico, Mexico
I have had a few sketchy trad falls including in WY where I took a 20 foot fall on my first piece in a 5.7 offwidth, only a couple feet from decking and then to having some pieces pull. Through these experiences it has helped me become safer about trad climbing.
Andre and I simul soloing the Third Flatiron
Top of P2 on Bastille Crack
Soloing a moderate WI3
I found myself free soloing the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd flatiron in 3 hours. Then to free soloing the Wind Ridge and the Bastille Crack. Two routes that when I first started, I never thought I would climb with a rope. Then also to free soloing WI4 routes. I don’t recommend soloing but for me, it is the greatest satisfaction. You feel so alive; you’re living on the edge. It makes you love life that much more. Of course, you got to have the right motivations for it and make sure it’s pure. I was comfortable on it. I don’t solo a ton and don’t consider myself a such a climber but sometimes I need it and sometimes a route calls out to me like that.
I’m ambitious I’ll admit - really ambitious. I just want to live life though. I want to make a difference. For some reason, I feel climbing is the way of life for me. I’m a bit obsessed. I really want to accomplish my dreams on the 8,000 meter peaks.
I remember posting a forum on 14ers.com my first time on it only to get shut down by the dreams I had. A couple stating I won’t get there. I was just a kid with a “dream.” While others were sarcastic and making fun of it. I wrote a couple articles for mounteverest.net at an age of 15 about my dream. Internationally climbers mocked me but a few encouraged me as well. To the Maroon Bells accident with Kevin in which again I was predicted to die by 21 on the Notch Couloir by an avalanche or that I did not belong in the mountains. I was shocked what people stated. Then with Kevin’s accident on Little Bear Peak last year in which broke my heart. Still a day does not go by where I think about it. It has been one insane journey. Not easy by any means. Through perseverance, I have overcome every obstacle in my way. Through determination, I have not given up my dreams. Through climbing, I am inching my way closer to it.
It came about at the beginning of this year, I thought I was ready for the Naked Edge. I talked to Danny who also was pushing his limits by climbing 5.11d R in Eldo. For Danny, it has been a dream since he started climbing as well. He was in. With the raptor closure ending in May, we were ready.
It went something like this.
“Want to climb the edge Sunday?”
“Ya man! Let’s do it!”
Up we wake at 7 and head to Eldo. I was a bit nervous with such a dream that I had since I was young, was I really ready? Only one way to find out!
About to start the climbing
We racked up with gear and headed up Touch N’ Go, a one pitch climb to approach the start of the Edge. At 5.9 I felt pretty good on it. Danny quickly followed and then headed up the last approach pitch to the start of the route with a weird 5.8 overhang.
Danny Leading P2 5.8 to the start of the Edge.
P1 Finger Crack. A honest 5.11a
I looked up and I was both really excited but kind of intimidated. Well here it goes. The first pitch is a 5.11a finger crack. It’s pumpy, sort of hard to place gear while hanging off one finger lock, but overall had great gear. I fell off the top part. I had sent the 5.11a crux of it but the pump got the best of me. Soon, I got to the anchors. Danny sent it of course and I was feeling quite weak just remembering what mountproject said “If this pitch felt hard, remember that the last two are significantly harder and more involved.” I was really high off the ground. The first pitch had me smiling though with great movement!
Danny took the next lead which is all pretty runout. It starts out with 5.8 R with bolts twenty feet apart, then it turns around the edge to a 5.10b crack where the crux is pretty high off the cam. Then he combined the next short 5.8+ R pitch to one amazing 200 foot runout lead. I followed clean to the crux pitch. The next two pitches are both solid Eldo 5.11b. The pitch I was about to lead is considered the crux by many even though some guidebooks say the next one is.
Hey Danny, nice runout you got there! P2 (5.10b R)
P4 (5.11b R) My turn!
It starts with thin 5.10c liebacking then to 5.11b into a Bombay chimney. Then a 5.10d roof traverse to the anchors. Oh and did I say it’s spicy? I lead up and clipped the piton that protects the 5.10c move. I climbed up 10 more feet up underclings to the next pin that is suspect, it does not look solid but I guess it has held falls. (The reason this pitch gets an R rating is because if it blew, it would be bad news) I backed it up with a small TCU. I then went to the many crux moves which were so awesome but I did notice I was getting higher and higher above that suspect piton. Soon I clipped the next one fast and backed it up. My legs were shaking. I then traversed and made the final hard moves to the anchor. Onsight! I can onsight the “hardest” pitch but I couldn’t onsight the easier pitch one? This pitch was a tad spicy gear wise.
Danny following the "crux" pitch
P5 of the Naked Edge (Photo by Dr Dirk)
Danny came up and and fell by trying to avoid the chimney. He set off on the last pitch. A couple 5.11b moves protected by solid pitons with 600 feet of overhanging air below. Awkward traverse moves lead to the overhanging hand crack. This thing was hard! He took a whipper in the process but soon got up. I followed in not good style. The hand crack gave me a lot of trouble. I was already really tired. But after some screaming and thrashing I got up it. I lead the last 5.6 R pitch to the top. Danny followed. We scrambled to the top of Tower One and shook hands with big smiles on our faces.
Exposure at it's best on top of P5
We had climbed the Naked Edge.
Something like this is meaningless to most. What's the point? Friendship and partnership never fails and is what's so great about it. Chasing your dreams is what counts....big....or....small. I'm happy to say one of my dreams that started at 13 has come alive.
May you never stop chasing yours.
On top of our dream.
My thanks goes out to everyone I have climbed with. You all mean a lot to me and without your help; I would not be where I am today. For those that have shared there wisdom with me, those that have taught me, and those that have pushed me in my climbing. And to Kevin who taught how to truly move “Onwards.” And most importantly, my Lord and Saviour. Without him I am nothing.
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