March 30th and it looks like ice planet Hoth out there once again. I think this is the third or fourth windy blizzard we’ve had this month that we’ve all thought, “surely this is the last snow of the season.” Judging by the many complaints found within my Facebook news feed, locals are ready for spring. I always chuckle when I hear that everyone is getting psyched for climbing season while I’m living in a state of mild depression because my climbing season is actually coming to an end. Any day now, warm temperatures and humidity will permanently descend on the region instantly transforming me into a 5.11 climber with zero chance of sending anything harder. It’s so bizarre to me how the parking lots are completely empty during the “good” season which for me is mid-October to mid-April.
Typical bluebird day in the parking lot of one of America's best crags: Endless Wall.
As soon as the weather switches to gnarly, the parking lots fill back up. There will be 100 cars jockeying for position at the Bubba City parking lot before the climbers head out for a fun-filled day of jungle sweating, wet rock, poison ivy, stirring up ground hornets, and busting through spider webs. It’s a total mystery to me. I don’t have a problem with it; I’ll continue to enjoy the solitude of perfect 45 degree days in the sun and rock so sticky you can’t fall off. I must admit though, it’s not the season to plan a trip to the New. All winter the weather is unpredictable and you have to live here to benefit. But if you have a flexible schedule and can leave the house on a moment’s notice when the weather permits, 3 or 4 days of climbing per week is a pretty decent average.
The climbing season here breaks down into three fairly distinct time frames for me. Endless Wall season comes first (late fall, mid-Oct to mid-Dec). During this time you can climb just about anywhere in perfect temps. When the deep winter sets in from mid-Dec to mid-Feb, it’s Cirque season. Days are short and you have to be in the sun. From mid-Feb to early April it’s lakebed season for me. The lakebed is one of the most remarkable climbing areas here and it’s such a fleetingly short amount of time to enjoy it. The breeze coming off the lake in the deep winter makes it unbearable even in the sun most of the time. It’s a little more effort to get out there too so the longer days of spring help a lot. But when it’s good, it’s some of the best climbing around and you have to enjoy it while it lasts.
Here’s a little breakdown of some new routes that went up this season in three parts.
Endless Wall Season:
I rolled back into town from Wyoming during the first week of October and it was still pretty gnarly hot. Every year when I get back, I hustle to get stuff lined up for the season. It’s a pretty easy process. I keep a running document of projects, things to rap and inspect, cliffs to hike, etc. I’m constantly adding stuff to the list and subtracting others, sometimes because I ticked it off the list, but more often than not it’s because it didn’t pan out. Either it doesn’t go, turns out it sucks, I can’t do it…etc. So I scan my list, prioritize and hustle.
I only had a week or two before Jonathan Siegrist and Zeke rolled into town. I’ve been telling Jonathan about how bad ass the New is for a few years now and he finally took the bait…only because his A-plan fell through. He was supposed to be up on the Dawn Wall but the government shutdown put a kibosh on that. So he busted out to the New where he would proceed to complain about the heat for the first week of his trip. I can’t control the weather but I felt bad. It was still hot. Definitely not yet in condition for hard climbing. It worked out in the end though when it finally started to cool off and Jstar ended up crushing expectedly. In two weeks or so, he hammered out a good number of the hard classics like Proper Soul (flash), Trebuchet, Freedom Tree, Picket Fence, Coal Train, and a one-day ascent of Mango Tango!
Photo I took with my brake-hand of Siegrist on the flash of Proper Soul. Grigri's for life.
I had a great time showing him around and was really happy to see that he wasn’t entirely focused on climbing 5.14’s which is a common trap for the rare pro-climber that visits. Classics come in all grades and Jonathan fit right into the New River mentality by not being afraid to rack up for 5.12 mixed routes, or classic 5.11 warm-ups.
I got in a few new routes while he was here too. None of these routes are in the 2nd edition guide so I figure I should get the word out for those that are interested in keeping up to speed. Additionally, Kevin Umbel went on a tear of ground-up new routing and got in a heavy handful of great new trad routes, leaving nothing but a bit of now-gone chalk dust in his wake. I’ll try to update when I get more info on those. For now, here’s what I know.
First route of the season was a nice new one to the right of Under the Milky Way at Summersville Lake. I’m a bit surprised it hadn’t been bolted yet but not too much. The top took a great deal of scrubbing and the crux is pretty blank. The route starts off with a bit of 5.11 climbing before the crux, a super thin section at 1/3 height. The climbing up top is great. Check it out and help keep it clean before the black dust settles back in. It’s a great route.
This is a new, and not-so-great, trad route at the Lower Meadow. If you walk left from Toxic Hueco, following the cliff line, you’ll pass by a little routeless section in a wooded cirque. Just on the downstream end of the cirque is a wall that hadn’t been climbed. I went ground-up the previous spring and got shut down right near the top. No gear and no holds. I rapped it and pulled my gear, checked out the crux and figured it’d be 12+ or something. When I came back this season, I rapped in to add one bolt and a top anchor. One of the days Jonathan and I were out there, I fired up it and the crux wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be. Goes to show how much conditions matter. I easily could have headpointed it and done it without the bolt but I’m the type that thinks routes should be equipped for the onsight climber. Don’t bother with this route unless you’ve done everything else but if you love rock climbing, it’s pretty damn fun.
Sidenote: When I added the bolt and anchor to Metalocalypse, I also rapped in and added a top anchor to the super classic Big Top (12a). I was unaware of the history of this route and always assumed that the route finished at the bolt anchor below the big roof above the crack section. I added the top anchor with the intention of climbing through the big roof and topping out. I thought it might be a first ascent. It turns out that the first ascent did top out through the roof and the route had been repeated that way by Pat Goodman at least and probably many others. It’s a shame that someone added the anchor below the roof because for as long as I can remember, everyone stops there and misses out on some outrageous fun climbing pulling the big 10-foot roof on trad gear. Point being, now that the top anchor is there, this is absolutely the only way to do the route. It’s so much better. To clean, it’s best to lower to the mid-anchor, pull your rope, and lower again.
Color Blind (13a R)
Every once in a while, I get on a trad kick. Color Blind was a really fun process and turned out to be a really interesting experience and a great route. This route climbs the big orange and gray wall that you see to your left as you’re coming down the Honeymooner’s ladders at Endless Wall. It was another one of those “last faces” that are lurking out there. At the left end of the wall, starting on the arête, is a nice 12a trad route called The Rabbit Almost Died, but the wall itself hadn’t been climbed and looks ridiculously blank. I rapped it the year before hoping it would yield a hard sport route. It did! I was psyched, but it wasn’t perfect. You have to traverse in from the corner at 20 ft to bypass a blank start. Beyond that, there are a series of tiny crimps and pockets that end by forcing you right again and into the path of least resistance, a 5.11 section that you could avoid by bailing back right into the corner. BUT if you were to carefully position the bolts, it would force the climber back left to stay on the face and engage another series of amazing crimps that would have put the route in the 13c range. Would have been a great sport route, despite being slightly contrived.
I put in a permit to bolt it with my permits for Coal Train and the Chunky Monkey project that Tim Rose sent and called The Mandrill. At the same time, Pat put in a permit to put a single bolt on a variation finish to The Rabbit. Both of our permits for this wall were denied due to a bit of lichen on the upper third of the route. It was a surprising reason for denial because there are many, many established routes at the New with a lot more lichen on them. This wall is actually very clean.
Regardless, I wasn’t too butthurt and wrote it off as a lost cause. But instead of deleting it from my list, I left it there and kept seeing it. It was nagging at my brain and despite already writing it off as unprotectable, I found myself out there, hanging from a rope with an array of gear and fiddling with tiny bullshit trying to make it stay. It started to become more reasonable in my mind and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it which I saw as a bad sign that I was about to do something very foolish.
I spent a few more days dialing in the gear on rappel and finally had it all worked out. Jonathan and I were out in that zone one day and I dropped a toprope on it for a little more practice. I toproped it clean and it felt doable then Jonathan toproped it and messed with the gear. I had no intention of leading it that day but all of a sudden “the time is now” just kind of came out of nowhere and I got all sullen when I realized it. There’s always a thousand reasons to not do it: the conditions could be better, I’m a little tired, it’s too dangerous, blah, blah, blah…
One of the great things about climbing with a partner that is better than you is that it changes your perspective and expectations of yourself. When Jonathan came down, I could tell he was all psyched and wanted to do it. This put me in the position to either A: sack up and lead it, or B: be a bitch and tell Jonathan to not do it because I wanted to do it first. Of course, he’s an awesome dude and would have respected that but it’s pretty lame. And when you’re climbing with someone like that, the mindset changes. “It’s ONLY 13a,” I thought. “I won’t fall, and if I do, the gear is reasonable.” So I racked up and decided to climb it without falling.
You start by soloing up easy terrain in the corner for 20 feet, then you reach out and get a 00 C3 in a horizontal. Step left on this little ledge and you’re out on the face where you can build a bomber nest (yellow TCU and orange TCU). Then you launch into the crux section which lasts for about 30 feet. You make big moves between these tiny incut crimps and when the nest is at your feet, you slot a blue slider in a horizontal that’s good but still suspect because it’s a tiny-ass slider. Then you do a few more hard moves and when the slider is at your foot, you equalize a 000 C3 and a red slider before the crux move. Lunge up and right and stick the crux then slot another red slider in a horizontal. The next few moves ease up and there’s a bit of a 5.11 runout over the red slider before you get to a big horizontal break and slam in a bombproof anchor (red camalot and green camalot…as many as you want really)
When that anchor is at your feet, you’re on a big jug and can shake out for days. Blake and Erin from Chattanooga were there and I was like, “Blake! Grab my camera and run up the ladder please!” The next section is a 25 foot runout over the anchor through 5.12 terrain that is a bit heady but totally safe. Then you get a blue TCU and a few more 12a moves and you’re at the top. It actually felt pretty chill on the send go. Just really fun. I lowered off, handed the Siegrist the rack and he scurried up it too.
Chillin' at the big rest.
We'll call Blake's focus on the foreground "an artistic choice."
Hitting the big sloper horizontal and the next piece of gear. My last piece is way down there. So bawse.
Couple more moves to the top.
The whole “R-rating” thing is funny because trad climbing is always as safe or as dangerous as you make it. The R-rating for this route is just to let people know that unless you’re completely solid at onsighting 5.13a face climbs, it might be wise to check out the gear first. Is it actually dangerous? I have no idea; I’ve never fallen on a slider nut. The sliders are about as good as they get though. I’m pretty sure they’d hold. If you trust that they’ll hold, then the route is safe 5.13 to safe, but runout, 5.12. It’s a fun route and definitely worth checking out, even if just on toprope.
Siegrist cruising up Color Blind.
Siegrist didn’t stick around much longer but we always have guests in the house throughout the fall. Nick Duttle stayed for a while and I always enjoy climbing with him. Adam Taylor and Rachel rolled through for a bit, and I’m sure some others that I’m forgetting right now. The fall is always a whirlwind. But the temps continued to drop, as they always do, and before long everyone was gone, it was deep winter, and Cirque season was on.
My goal for the Cirque season was to do Brian’s House of Cards, a 13+ that hadn’t seen a repeat since McCray’s 1997 first ascent. But before I got around to messing with it, I rapped down one of the last bolted projects in the Cirque that I hadn’t checked out. It was the last one I inspected because it looked like the least likely candidate to ‘go.’ Turns out it did ‘go’ and ended up being the longest pitch in the Cirque.
Into the Sarlacc (5.14b)
Located between Mr. Magoo and Brian’s House of Cards. The bolts were so bad, I think I only climbed on it once before rebolting the entire thing with 1/2” stainless. It took a bit of cleaning too. The right end of the Cirque is plagued by a chossy band that runs across the entire lower third of the wall. Brian had done a fair bit of work to reinforce little flakes but it took a while longer to find the solid foot jibs and snap off the bad ones. The route starts with a sustained, technical, and crimpy section of 5.13+ that leads to a cave that you can actually crawl inside of. The laydown rest is the route’s biggest downfall. Because getting to it is so difficult, you have to lay there for quite some time to fully recover and it’s boring. The next 35 feet out of the cave is the crux: killer bouldering with snatchy moves on small holds and a serious try-hard section to get to another good rest at a giant jug flake. It then finishes out a big roof followed by a pumpy section that would be 12d or 13a by itself. Goes all the way to the top. 40 meters!
A view of the Sarlacc from up top. The route finishes just below the tree on the ledge.
The crux section after the cave rest under the roof beneath my feet. Thanks to Kevin Umbel for shooting these photos.
Exiting the roof is the final crux.
It was hard to grade this one because of the big rests but for me it was a 14b experience. I did Lord Voldemort (14a) earlier this year when Jonathan was still around and I think I did it 2nd day, though I’d done the Proper Soul section before. It took me a lot longer to put this one together and, for me, certainly checks in a solid notch harder than PS, Lord V, and Freedom Tree which are all about the same difficulty (I think.) It’s not the best route in the Cirque because of the glue and the cave rest, but the movement is spectacular and can’t get much better. Not to mention the position and exposure of climbing that hard WAY off the ground. Check it out!
Brian’s House of Cards (5.13d)
Not a first ascent but might as well be since it hadn’t been climbed for 16 years. It’s worth mentioning this route because I royally screwed up the guidebook description in both volumes. I gave it one star, I believe, and a bolt count that reflected it finishing beneath the massive cap roof. I’d tried it once, years ago, on a terrible smarmy day and never made it past the chossy band. I mentally declared the route a pile and wrote it off but I was terribly wrong. It’s amazing!
There is a fair bit of glue and a creatively, but artfully, crafted crux section but the climbing is phenomenal. Additionally, I didn’t know that it actually climbs out that massive ceiling at the very top of the Cirque. I rebolted this route as well and the old bolts were the worst I’ve ever seen. I have no doubt I could have kicked the cold shuts off with my foot had I tried. It’s now clean, safe, and represents one of the New’s most spectacular pitches.
Into the Sarlacc climbs into the left of the two high dihedrals and skirts the big flat roof to the left. House of Cards climbs right of the dihedrals and through the tiered ceilings at the top of the cliff.
Old top anchors from House of Cards. Lowering off of these might have brought the whole house down. They were worse than I thought bolts could be. Careful out there folks.
Card Shark (5.13c)
It’s a link-up. Deal with it. This line starts by climbing all of Hasta la Vista (5.12c) to the last bolt then stepping left to finish with the upper portion of House of Cards. You get a much easier intro and a better rest before you do the crux of HOC which puts this route on the low end of 5.13c. It’s an amazing pitch and the 2nd easiest way to clip chains at the top of the Cirque after Skylore Engine. This route fills the Cirque’s gap in difficulty as the routes there jump from 13a to 14a with not much option for the transitioning climber. Just because it’s a link-up doesn’t mean it’s inferior. Doing this first would set you up for success on HOC if you’re just breaking into the 13+ grade. Super fun.
It's crucial that you keep your sugar levels up to stay warm in the Cirque. Porter doesn't mind sharing. Yes, he put it back in his mouth. Also note the Breathe-Right strips. Gotta keep that airway open.
Zombie Starfish (5.14a)
Greg Kerzhner completed the Delores Claiborne project that branches right off of The Crouch. I rapped this one again earlier in the season and could tell it definitely would ‘go’ but I couldn’t envision the moves. Greg unlocked the sequence using a series of holds left of the crux bolt which is somewhat counterintuitive. The crux is this crazy mantle that puts your left arm in a fully extended, elbow-bent-backward position while your right arm is pressing into an overhead gaston. I watched Greg redpoint it and it looks heinous! He was definitely all star-fished out in the crux. Then it finishes with what appears to be a harder version of the Xanth finish (is that possible?) Slapping and liebacking up a mini-dihedral with no feet leads to a desperado anchor clip that Greg barely pulled off. Exciting stuff. Nice job Greg and another new 5.14 for the Cirque!
Greg and Tara claimed that they moved here but instead just dropped off all their stuff, told me to check their mailbox and then went to Spain for three months.
Is the Cirque tapped out yet? Nope! Kerzhner and Adam Taylor went up on the project that goes straight up from the first bolt of Sloth. I didn’t think that one would go. They’re saying it does and that it might be 5.14d. Another testament to Brian’s vision and my lack of… There are a few more already bolted ones and if you’re willing to get a permit, I think there’s even a few more.
Final Cirque note: Mr. Magoo is good to go again. This 12c route was always a mystery to me. I’d look up past the chalkless holds and see nothing but the massive runout from the last bolt to the anchor. Finally, one day, I just decided to go up and check it out thinking that the runout must be easy or there would be another bolt. I got up until that last bolt was below my feet and spent a few minutes contemplating the body length crux out a 45 degree wall to get to the anchor. I bailed and Craig Reger went up with some TCU’s and made it to the anchor. Turns out, there used to be a last bolt at the lip of the overhang but some poor unknown chap took a fall and blew it out! The bolt was too close to the lip of the roof and broke off a cinder block-sized chunk of stone. I could still see part of the hole where it used to be. Anyway, the bolt is back and the anchor is replaced. It’s good to go and despite having a little choss, it’s a good route.
Just as the Cirque starts to feel played out, it warms up enough to get out on the Lakebed. The Long Point side of the lake has some of the best rock in the region but people rarely climb there. I’ve been poking around out there for the past 4 or 5 years, usually getting in a couple new routes per season. The first two seasons, Kirk Bjorling and I picked some real plums but I’m always finding more.
The frozen lake makes it easy to cover a lot of ground in search of new routes. I send Lilah out first to test the strength of the ice.
Ash and Urn (5.13a)
Super sick line in the Monstrosity roof. I’ve stared at this wall for years trying to find a way up it. I finally buckled down this year and stood there staring at it for 20 minutes until I saw something that might go. It turned out a little different than I thought it would, but better. I won’t bore you with the details but I promise, the climbing on this one is incredible.
Route starts just right of Chris Whisenhunt's face and moves up and right through the white stone. Ash and Urn finishes out the flat roof between the icicles and the Horizons project climbs the flakes that finish to the right of the ice.
When the bolt line splits after the crux, go left for Ash and Urn, or right to tackle the Horizons project. Bolting routes is such a challenge. I try to avoid at all costs bolting something that doesn’t go. At the same time, when you’re looking for something hard, you have to take some chances. Before the bolts are in, and you haven’t climbed on the route, it’s hard to tell how difficult it might be. Some moves look terribly hard then aren’t and vice versa. The Horizons project didn’t look that bad. I thought it might be 13b. Turns out the crux is heinous. Maybe V10? I do believe it goes though, just not for me. Someone please do it so my bolts weren’t wasted. It would be a 4 star classic, just like the easier finish, Ash and Urn.
Double Yoke Egg (5.13c)
Hardest route on the Lakebed. This thing is great! It’s on the south-facing wall just around the corner from Houseboy and just right of Liturgy and Sascrotch. This was one of those routes that was a bit of a risk to bolt. It looked really hard. I had rapped it the day we put up Sascrotch the year before and didn’t know if the moves would be possible for me. But I came back this year, rolled the dice, and got lucky. Power bouldering on tiny crimps.
Booger Sugar (5.12a)
Amazing face climb on the same wall as, and just to the left of, Chopping Bloc. The really good white rock. Possibly the best you’ll ever touch. Starts with a 12a boulder problem off the ground protected by a bolt then it’s all gear-protected 11a face climbing.
Climber on Chopping Bloc (5.12a). Booger Sugar climbs the same white face but just to the left.
Fifty Shades of Spray (5.13a)
I’ve been eyeballing this thing for years from Long Point. It’s across the lake at Whippoorwill, actually it would be the first route described in the Lost World sector which is the land-locked portion of cliff to the right of Mormon Wall. Two rad cruxes split by a jug rest and then a cool finish up the left side of the arête.
Starts on the right side of the faint arete and finishes on the left.
It looks like Jim Taylor has bolted 3 or 4 new lines in the zone around Penance and Scientific Paws. Look for the glue-in bolts. I’ll try to find out more about these lines. I know the one left of Penance is in the 12d/13a range. Tough boulder problem at the start. The others look more moderate, maybe 5.12-.
This one is not at the Lakebed. It’s the old Doug Reed project below the Keeney’s parking. What a special route. Pat did the work to resurrect this one and now it’s safe again. Thanks Pat. This route is the all-around package that incorporates all the qualities of New River climbing. It starts with a heinous tech crux on the face, then goes out a big, but easy, ceiling. Another face crux awaits on the 2nd panel and then the real climbing kicks in through a variety of tiers and changing corner dihedrals. Getting to the last bolt is about 13c and then there’s a scummy rest in a corner that I thought was going to be a lot better than it was. The final crux section is unbelievable and on redpoint… I haven’t tried that hard in a long time. It was super desperate and felt every bit of 13d. Hard to say though. I warmed up at home and then did it first try that day so I may have been carrying a flash pump. I’d put this route in my top 5 favorite 5.13s in the region. It’s a must do.
The name comes from a story that someone told me, though I forget who. Apparently, years after Doug was gone from the New, they talked to him about NRG climbing and he asked if anyone had done this route. It seems likely that he remembered it being very good. It is!
The route goes up the white face, through the ceiling, and finishes up the crack system through tiers.
I’m sure some more new routes have gone up that I’m forgetting about or don’t know about. Please keep me in the loop if you’re out there establishing routes. I’ll be adding the new stuff to the app in real time from now on which is what spurred this blog post. New routes, corrections and suggestions can be sent to email@example.com