“What’s better than rock climbing?”
“More rock climbing!”
-Josh Wharton, from the film Higher Ground
Early last year, standing at the base of the biggest climb of my life, these words went through my head. 1000m above my partner Cheyne and I, the massive and complex Northwest Ridge of Aguja Mermoz rose to its apex, where it connected with another ridge system, all leading inexorably to the North Pillar of Cerro Fitz Roy. Further still, 2km off in the blue Patagonian sky, waited the summit for which we’d come. All anxieties about conditions and weather, all of the previous month’s planning and travel complications, all the gram-by-gram parsing of our gear, it was all now in the past. The only task that now remained was the simplest one of all: moving upwards on the rock.
For the last five years of my life, this seemingly simple task has become my overriding passion. It has taken me to the most amazing, wild, and memorable places; it has allowed me to meet people who are now my best friends.
Earlier this year, the American Alpine Club honored me with the “Robert Hicks Bates Award”
“It is to recognize a young climber who in the judgment of the selection committee has demonstrated exceptional skill and character in the climbing or mountaineering arts and has outstanding promise for future accomplishment.”
I was surprised and gracious by this selection, and when I saw the list of previous winners, and little intimidated too!
- Kyle Dempster Awarded: 2012
- Hayden Kennedy Awarded: 2011
- Alex Honnold Awarded: 2009
- Dave Turner Awarded: 2008
- Freddie Wilkinson Awarded: 2007
- Colin Haley Awarded: 2006
- David Graham Awarded: 2004
- Josh Wharton Awarded: 2003
- Brian McMahon Awarded: 2003
- Jonathan Copp Awarded: 2000
- Lisa Rands Awarded: 2000
- Chris McNamara Awarded: 1999
- Beth Rodden Awarded: 1998
- Tommy Caldwell Awarded: 1998
- Stephanie Davis Awarded: 1997
- Jeff Hollenbaugh Awarded: 1997
- Kathleen M. Brown Awarded: 1996
- Chris Sharma Awarded: 1996
I feel honored to be included in such company, and it’s difficult to imagine living up to the accomplishments of my fellow recipients. The only thing to do, moving forward, is to continue to try hard on big and creative climbs, and focusing on staying safe and having fun.
At the same time, I can reflect on the many amazing experiences that have brought me here; the partners that have taught me about climbing and life; and the countless days, from dawn ’til dusk, that have given me the confidence to tackle bigger and bigger challenges.
Here’s a highlight reel, of sorts:
I always come back to Eldorado. No matter how far I roam, Eldo Canyon, just outside of Boulder Colorado, is my favorite place to spend a sunny day with friends, and occasionally try hard and get scared.
Redpoints of Superfly (12d R), The Untouchables (12c), Hairstyles and Attitudes (12c R, first ascent on gear), the Book of Numbers (12c), Scary Canary (12b R), To RP or not to be (12a X) and many more amazing pitches.
Speed records on the Bastille Crack (100m 5.7) in 5m2s, Base to Top, Solo; Ruper (5.8+, 200m) in 32m 11s, Bridge to Bridge, Solo; The Naked Edge (220m, 5.11-) 44m, Bridge to Bridge, with Brad Gobright.
My idea of a perfect day out on the rock is a solid partner and a long, difficult route. I’ve sent all of the following routes, with various partners, over the past 3 years.
Ariana, the Diamond (5.12-, 250m, OS)
Hearts and Arrows, the Diamond (5.12-, 300m, OS, led all pitches, 2nd ascent)
Tague Yer Time, the Black Canyon (5.12, 550m)
The Venturi Effect, Incredible Hulk (5.12+, 300m)
Thin Red Line, Liberty Bell, WA (5.12, 400m)
The Reg. NW Face of Half Dome (5.12-, 600m)
Moonlight Buttress, Zion (5.12+, 300m)
Sheer Lunacy, Zion (5.12, 300m)
Rainbow Wall, with Rainbow Country variations, Red Rocks (5.12+, 350m)
Texas Tower Direct to Texas Hold ‘Em, Red Rocks (5.12, 250m)
Velvet Toungue to Lonestar, Red Rocks (5.12+, 600m)
Let it Burn, Colchuck Balanced Rock, WA (5.12-, 250m, OS, 2nd ascent)
Ziji, Indian Creek (5.12, 200m)
Once, a few years back during a quick run up El Capitan’s Nose route, my partner and I passed a Korean team on the final pitch. A Korean climber was jugging in space behind me as I climbed a gorgeous overhanging hand crack, and he yelled to me: “You are very fast! You are Time Warrior!!” I’ve taken my Time Warrior ethos to many amazing crags around the Western US, and pulled off a number of massive link-ups:
-In Castle Valley, Utah, Blake Herrington and I climbed all five towers along the Castleton ridge in one day (Castleton, the Rectory, the Priest, Sister Superior, and the Convent), making the first enchainment of these features.
-In Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, also with Blake, I’ve linked five spires in a day (The Saber, Foil, Petit Grepon, Sharkstooth, and Zowie).
-Returning to RMNP, Blake and I were inspired by the Jonny Copp and Kelly Cordes “Triple Lindy” day, which links the three biggest granite faces in the Park: the East Face of Long’s Peak, the Northeast face of the Chiefshead, and the East face of Mt. Alice. We repeated the Lindy, and also added the South Face of Spearhead to the mix for an epic 23.5 hour day!
-Climbing solo, I managed to climb two grade V aid routes in Zion, Prodigal Sun (300m 5.8 C2) and Lunar Ecstasy (300m 5.8 C2+), in a 17 hour push.
-Also solo, in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, I completed the “Grand Traverse”, an enchainment of Teewinot, Mt. Owen, the Grand, Middle, and South Tetons, Cloudveil Dome, and Nez Perce, in a long tiring day.
-In a quick trip to Zion in April of 2013, I joined Brad Gobright for a long day. We climbed Sheer Lunacy (5.12, 300m), Moonlight Buttress (5.12+, 300m), Monkeyfinger (5.12-, 200m), and Shune’s Buttress (5.11+, 200m), finishing just after dark. Desert crack paradise!!!
In preparation for bigger routes, hopefully in the Greater Ranges, I’ve made an effort this year to get comfortable on wintery mixed terrain in Rocky Mountain NP.
-I completed a solo linkup of two long mixed routes in a day: Dreamweaver on Mt Meeker and the Notch Couloir on Long’s Peak.
-Englishman’s Route on Hallets Peak (M6 350m), led all pitches onsight.
-Joe Mills and I set the winter speed record on the Diamond, climbing D7 car-to-car in 12 hours and 31 minutes.
“It’s all training” is a mantra that I like to repeat to myself, especially when I’m out at the crag and don’t send some silly single pitch project. No worries, it’s all training.
Except when it’s not. When you’re really out there in the big mountains, you have to bring all of that experience to bear, exploring and finding new lines. In the last two years, I’ve trained hard and used my hard-won skills and experience to open a slew of new routes in the North Cascades, the Waddington, and Patagonia.
-In the Pasayten wilderness of the North Cascades, climbing with Blake Herrington, we made the first ascents of: The Middle Finger of Fatwa (5.11, 160m); Last Rights (5.11+, 300m); and The Heretic (5.11+, 350m).
-In Argentine Patagonia in February of 2011, also with Blake, we did: the FA of Las Vent’uras, West Face of Guillamet (5.11, A1, 450m); the FFA of Cosas Patagonicas, West Face of Mermoz (5.11+, 600m); and the FA of the Pollone Traverse, for the first integral ascent of Cerro Pollone (5.11+, 650m).
-Returning to Patagonia in January of 2012, I climbed with Cheyne Lempe, and completed: the FA of Manos al Cielo, West Face of Guillamet (5.11, 450m, 1st free ascent of W. Face); and the FA of the North Pillar Sit Start, Cerro Fitz Roy (5.11, A1, 2000m).
-In the summer of 2012, with friends Blake Herrington and Graham Zimmerman spent a few months together enjoying long days on perfect granite, and in the process established a handful of new routes. The Valkyrie, on the Spineless Prow in the Enchantments of Washington, has quickly become a classic at 5.10, 300m. Accendo Lunae (5.12-, 400m) follows a line of strength up the amazing Colchuck Balanced Rock, also in the Enchantments.
In the Waddington range of British Columbia, we put up Incog-neato (5.10 A1 400m) on the Blade and The Canadian Club (5.11, 500m) on the Stilletto, rounding out an amazing summer with a dream team of motivated and talented climbers.
-In July of 2013, I again joined Graham Zimmerman for a flight into Alaska’s Revelation mountains. One of the first teams to visit the area in summer, we had our pick of long beautiful granite buttresses. We made the first ascent of the East Buttress of the Angel (5.10, 1000m, 50deg)
In addition to all of that climbing, I’ve kept busy by writing (about climbing, of course). I’ve posted many first person narratives to my old blog (www.theBigWideWest.blogspot.com), but have since moved to a new page (www.RopeandSummit.wordpress.com).
In print, I’ve written articles for Alpinist and Desnivel magazines, both about the 2012 Patagonia trip. A “Spotlight” piece, written by Josh Finkelstein, featured me in Rock and Ice magazine in summer 2012.
I’ve built great friendships and working relationships with a number of professional climbing photographers, including Garrett Grove, Forest Woodward, Fred Marmsater, Matt Van Bien, and Rob Kepley. Thanks to their keen eyes, shots of me appear frequently in the major climbing magazines.
Finally, I should give mention to the fantastically generous grants that I have received that have made some of my climbing trips possible. For my 2011 Patagonia trip, I received a Mountain Fellowship grant from the American Alpine Club, and an expedition sponsorship grant from Mountain Hardwear. For our summer 2011 climbing in the Northwest, I received an expedition grant from the Mazamas club of Oregon. In 2013, we were awarded a Mugs Stump grant for our Alaska trip.
Having written all of this down, what’s meaningful to me at the end of the day is knowing that I’ve challenged myself mentally and physically, and had an amazing time in the process. I look forward to continuing that progression in the coming years, and I’ll strive to be safe and climb hard.
Thanks for reading,