Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Breaking Bad: Chasing the Naked Edge Speed Record


Frequently climbers who haven’t tried speed climbing disdain it. I can imagine why. Speed on a route has traditionally been a measure of competence. There is no way around that and if someone climbs a route faster than you...are they more competent? Maybe. Maybe not, but slower climbers sometimes are threatened. Not always, of course. The really secure climbers might be jazzed about the speed of others, even while not interested in personally playing that game. Others feign no interest in such precisely timed events, feeling they are above reducing a climb to a single number, though that is exactly what difficult ratings do.

While the reactions to record breaking ascents are mixed, I’ve found one aspect of speed climbing to be universally consistent. Once you’ve tried it, you come away with one overwhelming feeling: That was so much fun! The only people turning up their noses at speed climbing are the ones who haven’t tried it.

The most famous speed record in all of climbing is, beyond any doubt, the Nose on El Capitan. It has been the most blatantly competitive speed record since Hans Florine and Peter Croft went at each other in the early 90’s, though it started well before that. Colorado has had no real equivalent, as no other place does. The Diamond is an obvious choice and recently the winter speed record has seen quite a bit of attention, but it isn’t the same. With the latest Nose speed ascents there has been a sizeable crowd in El Cap Meadow cheering on the climbers.

But things seem to be heating up in Colorado on one of the state’s most storied routes: The Naked Edge. This route is classically five pitches long (with a two-pitch approach), but hardmen frequently link the first and second pitches and the fourth and fifth pitches. The pitch ratings are 11a, 10b, 8, 11a, and 11b. The speed progression on this route, as far as I know, has been:

  1. 1h, 1988, Mark Gay and Keith Pike (reference: Matt Buckner)
  2. 1h38m, early 1990s, Michael Gilbert and Rob Slater.
  3. 1h22m, Sept. 6, 2006, Bob Rotert and Dave Vaughn. Parking-lot-to-parking-lot. Done traditional style (presumably as three pitches, with an unroped approach).
  4. 1h13m, Dec. 2010, Scott Bennet and Blake Herrington. Bridge-to-bridge in 1h13m (the bridge is 50yds from the parking lot, but they thought it was a more consistent starting point). Same style as Bob and Dave: all free, soloed up the ramp to the base, and then pitched it out in 3 pitches.
  5. 49m44s, May 2012, Jason Wells and Stefan Griebel. Bridge-to-bridge (from the center). Simul-climbed as one pitch after soloing up to the start.
  6. 44m??s, Jan 2013, Scott Bennett and Brad Gobright. Bridge-go-bridge, Simul-climbed as one pitch after soloing up to the start.

Stefan and Jason went back for the record on April 9th. I’ve put up a really rough, incomplete video of that record-breaking ascent here:


That day they went 40m36s and didn’t want to publicize it until they had a chance to break forty minutes. This evening, April 22nd, they returned to give it a solid effort. They did one lap up the Edge in a casual 60 minutes to get it fresh in their minds. After a thirty minute rest, they gunned it.

Both climbers ran from the bridge to the base of the wall and soloed up three hundred feet of climbing, up to 5.8 in difficulty, in six and a half minutes. Then Stefan tied into the rope and fired up the first pitch in just a touch over four minutes. At the top of pitch one, two, and four Stefan places a mini-traxion or Ropeman device to protect him against Jason falling.

Stefan fired the second pitch in under three minutes and by then Jason was done with the first pitch. Fourteen minutes later Stefan was atop the Edge and pulling in rope. They did the entire slab descent in around 5 minutes and hit the bridge in 35m01s.

Both climbers stress that, while it is cool to currently have the speed record, the overriding reason they do this is because it is incredibly fun. I’m not remotely in their league, and they probably aren’t in Florine and Honnold’s league, but the constant among all of us is that cruising up a great route without having to stop and belay is an absolute blast.

Congrats to Stefan and Jason.

Here is Jason's report on the record:

Ohhhhhh yeah so much fun!
415pm we roll into the parking lot all psyched up. It just doesnt get old, in fact it just gets more fun!
First warm up lap I made a wrong turn on the solo climbing approach as I was chatting away with Stefan, and heard a "ahem...ah Jason, where are you going?" One would think I would have it dialed at this point, but apparently I need some neon arrows. Later while I was simuling on the chimney pitch with Stefan on the overhanging handcrack I got the rope stuck and proceeded to short rope Stefan so bad I thought he was going to pull me out of the chimney and I was going to get him so pumped he'd fall out of the crack. Dang it! Simuling that part was way tougher than I remembered. It sprinkled a little on route and with the humidity, that slippery eldorado sandstone was feeling like glass. 1:03 later and we were back at the bridge and my confidence was quite low that the next run would be "it". But one thing I've learned is I never really know so we agreed to give 100% and see what happens.
The passing rain brought cooler temps and a nice breeze, so by the time we were ready at 6pm for round 2 conditions were splitter.
With the cobwebs now cleared out, perfect temps and the 100% pact made, we slammed the pedal to the metal on round 2. I was fully maxed on the approach, breathing as fast as I could and trying to shut out the pain. Nothing else mattered but moving up and all there was to focus on was the few square feet in front of me. No thinking, just doing. Then the adrenalin kicked in. This time I didnt make a wrong turn. Hit the base in like 6min with Stefan saving and pacing slightly behind so I would have time to set up the rope. Stefan tied in and after having fun taking a minute to figure out how a micro traxion works, sudenly took off like a shot. Three pieces of gear and about as many minutes later he slammed a micro traxion on the anchor and I was climbing. The rope was flying up ahead of me. I could barely keep up and resorted to whipping gear out and letting it hang off the rope, hoping I'd have a couple seconds to take it off later. Half way through guidebook pitch 2 I just knew we were at record pace. The rope just kept sprinting ahead. Stefan was really moving. We topped out and as Stefan coiled the rope I began the descent. My climbing shoes were slowing me down so I switched to approach shoes. Stefan started to pull ahead in the last 200 feet so I took what felt like the first risk of the day and let it fly for the last few boulder hops. We hit the middle of the bridge a split second apart and Stefan stopped his watch. 35:01.
One of the most fun times climbing! 100% focus with no distractions. So hard to get to that place in life for me. Good times!!!

6 comments:

Hans Florine said...

Love it!

Jean Spencer said...

amazing. great work guys.

Jean Spencer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Archer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Archer said...

Outstanding! You guys think sub-30 is possible?

Brad Schildt said...

Mind-boggling record! Bill, I love how your enthusiasm for your friend's achievements matches, or even surpasses your own. Great write-up.