Saturday, October 22nd, 2011
It all started a long time ago when I had just begun to climb as a student at NMSU. I was checking out old climbing magazines while working at the gym and there it was, one of the most intriguing climbs I had ever seen. I had once read that climbing 5.14 was comparable to running a 5 minute mile and having the strength of a world-class gymnast. Having been a competitive runner, this really spoke to me. Then there was Tommy Caldwell doing it at 13,000 ft; or at least that is what the article advertised. I had hiked at elevation a good bit, and I had an understanding of what it felt like to ride a bike at 9,000 ft. As well as being trained by an olympic runner and running sub 5 min miles, I as an athete understood this was a world class feat. I was instantly inspired by this climb. So there it went into the back of my mind, permanently etched into my memory.
I was given the opportunity to attempt the line last summer, in 2010. My good friend Scott DeCaprio agreed to head up there so long as I put up draws on Baloney Pony which is likely the best 5.12+ pitch I have been on. A deal is a deal, so I hung the draws on Sarchasm on the way back down and we set up a top rope off the anchors. I was all psyched and thought to myself, “hey it’s only 5.14a”; I should be able to figure this out”. Oh boy! How wrong was I. I pulled off the ground and was promptly handed my ass. I stared at the rock as if I was staring at a sheet of glass. Holy shit! What the….?! How?…what?? Huh??? Three hours later, I had pulled my way up most of the route, figuring out very little of this puzzle. I left thinking this must have been an off day, musing the whole way back down the 4 mile hike to 9000ft at the trailhead. I came back a few days later… SMACK!! Another schooling. At this point I had already broken some holds off the bottom. It seems as though I always break stuff. Kicked out again! Came back for a third day and figured out at least 70% of the moves, but was totally evaded by the crux move. Of course all on top rope. I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Cleaned my draws off and fully realized I had to become a better climber.
Having the severe ass-kicking seared into my memory, I returned to Estes Park this year with Sarchasm at the top of the list. In preparation, I figured climbing Grand Ol Opry (at least 5.14b) and a V12 in the same day should get me ready for Sarchasm. This would mean Hiking 4 miles into the Monastery, sending a climb which is now suggested by Cardwell to be as hard as, or harder than, Biographie, 8c+ on the euro scale, then hiking to upper chaos in RMNP and sending a V12. Ok – check mark, first mission completed in early August.
I was now filled with restored confidence, great fitness, and more developed technical climbing skills, courtesy of the many different cliffs across the U.S. After the trade show, another of my good friends was at my place all itching to climb. Fully psyched to be out of Kentucky for the summer, Adam Taylor and Rachel Pace had finally made it out for a visit. They were psyched on bouldering, so we took a week to do some pebble wrestling. I kept telling Adam how cool the line was and that we should go try it. After about a week we went to Lincoln Lake where I managed to send Evil Backwards V12/13 and the Overcling Traverse V11 which both felt pretty easy. I also did a bunch of other boulder problems, being as Lincoln Lake is at 11,700 ft elevation and I was feeling good at elevation. I knew it was time to get going on Sarchasm as summer was running by. I thought, “How can I get Adam up there?” Then I was like, oh, it will be a good rest day activity. Got him! Hook, line, and sinker.
Someone else was supposed to head up that day but never showed. I was bummed and Adam woke up and agreed to head up. Of course I was feeding him a total line of B.S. that it was a rest day activity. My real motivation was to get him up there to work on Sarchasm with me. It was great to have one of the best climbers in the country up there to help figure this thing out. I can’t say enough about Adam’s talents as a climber. You see plenty of other pro climbers spraying about big climbs out there and how cool they are but Adam works a full time job and is still way better than all of them but a few.
Needless to say my plan was working. I carried all the climbing stuff up and Adam carried up the stick clip. I was the sherpa! Good training right? In fact i hauled an excessively heavy pack (60lbs) up that hike, so it would feel easy when I lightened the load After an hour or so at the bottom of Sarchasm, we figured out the initial section with me pulling on memory from last year’s encounter. Yeah! We both linked it to the rest. Then came the crux. I went up….Shut down again.
I sat there for 45 minutes….4th day up there and totally shut down. Adam was falling asleep while belaying, so I lowered and hoped he would figure that damn move out. Adam went up all psyched. Not sure how long he was up there I just kept hearing a muttering of curse words and of course the What?? How?? Oh I think I got it!..Grr! Take! He then gave up and put up another quick draw or two. Came back down and was kind of pissed he couldn’t figure it out. I kind of chuckled and told him that thing smacked me around just the same last year. I pulled up to the crux ready to do battle. Again with the shut down. Then I thought maybe his beta would work…. It was working! Crunch… SNAP! Damn, there went the crux hold! Then the fury came over me. ^&%@( Bleep Bleep(**^%$#^& %$#&# I was pissed!
All that training, all that effort, and now I broke what seemed to be the only passage through the crux. A year of preparing! Then I thought – I’m not going to put up with this! I will put this climb down!!!! All I had to do was unleash the beast and I just found some non existent hold to use. Granted the other hold option required a deeper lock off and way more tension but I did the move finally!! I went up a bit higher and worked out some more moves. Lowered and passed along the beta to Adam. He went up did the move and sure enough it worked. Check mark for most of the moves. We headed home to eat dinner.
Now Adam was motivated to head back. Returning after an actual rest day we headed back up, charged by our last success with the route. We did the bottom part to keep it fresh in our minds then headed up to try to link the crux and work out top. SMACK! It was as if we had never done the move. Adam eventually did the move again, but it was a serious struggle. I did too, but it felt obscenely hard. We just scrapped the crux move for the moment and moved on to the top section. We did really well on that part and we both linked that section on top rope. To be fair about it we were both super pumped and started a bit above the crux. The pump is so different at that elevation. It’s like your arms just can’t recover. It is a tight numb sensation. A form of hypoxia. The human body must adapt to this and it takes time and training.
Day 3 this season. Rachel hiked up with us. There was a good chance of storms that day. So it would probably be their last day. Rachel wanted to try her project in Chaos Canyon so we got a pretty early start and came down fairly early. I decided to try and lead it while we were there. Which turned more into me grabbing quick draws and saying “take.” Adam then went on top rope. Warming on parts of it and working links. He was looking good on it but realized he needed more time. With the skies looking dark and stormy we headed down.
Little did I know the battle was just getting started. In the following days I dealt with hurricane force winds, thunderstorms, hail, lighting, cold temps, wet rock, more breaking rock, and all the other joys of having a project in the alpine environment. I began to feel really bitter, angry, disgusted with myself, defeated, and a whole gambit of other emotions. I was obsessed with completing my goal but it just wouldn’t yield. Then I did some meditating and took a few days off. With my inspiration renewed, I realized that this was for many reasons one of the most difficult if not the most difficult climbing goal I had set out to complete. I had to remind myself of the cliche that the journey is the true reward of the quest. I continued to battle the extreme dryness which plagues me already at lower elevations, let alone way up there. At 12,000+ feet there is almost zero moisture, especially on clear days with howling cold winds. Then a day or two later I was ironically flushed out by hours of rain that met my persistent devotion with a cold face-numbing rain and hike out in the darkness of night. Returned again with Tiffany Hensley to find all the tick marks guiding me up this blank feature of stone washed cleanly away. Rushed up in the narrow gap of time between the frigid morning temps and the afternoon downpours just to place tick marks and warm up in time to watch it rain the day away again.
On the last day before sending, Scott headed up there with me. It was a frigid and nasty day. It was getting late enough in the year that the rock was barely seeing any sun. That day the clouds blocked the sun and the wind blew all day. My hands were drying as fast as I could put moisture on them and my hands and feet were totally numb. I went up for a warm up on lead anyway. The finger pain was so intense from the cold that I was close to puking. Yet still I pressed on. I gave it some good attempts, almost getting through the crux. Coming down, bundled up and tried to hide away from the wind. I gave it one more valiant go that day, falling at the very top of the final crux, on the last move of the sequence. The wind screamed insults of pain and discomfort at me like a banshee. My fingers were just too numb to move and I couldn’t feel my toes. I fell…Got back on and linked to the top. I left knowing that I could take one more step up to get it done.
I headed down to Boulder to train that evening in the gym. I was so tired from battling the cold and trying many times but knew that I had to dig a little deeper to make sure I finished. The next day I headed up Trail Ridge Road to read my book at 12,000 ft and to go for a run to keep my system used to the elevation. Then it hit me as I was reading… It was kind of a sad feeling, but I knew right then and there that I was going to send the next day. This feeling was that of a letting go. So strange how that works.
I headed down from Estes the next day to pick up Tiffany from Boulder for another belay. We hiked up to the Ship’s Prow once more, and it was perfect out. Still air, beautiful light, temps in the low to mid 40′s. Warmed up, lowered down, rested and then everything came together. It however did not feel easy as it often does when sending is happening. In fact I was so pumped I changed my beta at the very last move of the final crux section because I knew I was unable to reflex my hand anymore and had to hope I could keep it in the same position to stab at the last hold.
Whew! I grabbed it and held on. The last 40 ft or so are not so bad but very airy and committing. I took my time and soaked in the experience. I stood on top of the climb and took in all the beauty of where I was and what I had done, etching it all in my memory. This was a dream come true with lots of hard work. It took me 10 years of climbing from when I first saw that picture of this line to send it. Now that’s focus Of course, this line was originally given 5.14a but I broke a bunch of stuff off, as usual. I offered 5.14b which is in my opinion a horribly sandbagged grade. This is because I believe I’m not in the position to offer a higher grade and do not want to participate in grade inflation. I can say however that having tried Dreamcatcher, The Golden Ticket and many others, it is for sure one of the best and most inspiring of North America’s top-end sport routes. Huge respect to the 3 previous ascents – Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, and Jonathan Siegrist. Very proud! Thanks for hand bolting this and believing it possible over ten years ago, Tommy. I hope that others will find the passion and dedication to complete this line as well, as it is a truly all-around amazing experience.
Look for some video coming out on DPM Stash in January. Thanks for reading my blog everybody! Hope it is inspiring.