Monday, May 19, 2014


At the start of the crux fifth pitch

If you're a climber with any interest in speed you've no doubt heard of NIAD: Nose-in-a-Day. This is a litmus test for trad mastery. Can you climb 3000-feet of granite ranging from 5.8 up to 5.14 (or A1/A2 for most of us)? While this is still a huge deal for most climbers and I'd still guess that a small percentage of climbers are capable of it, the best in the world have whittled this down to just 2h26m.

One of the record holders is Hans Florine. He stayed at my house for the last four days while in town for the CWA (Climbing Wall Association) meetings. Last night he gave my family and friends a great show on the history of the Nose speed record. In attendance was the current Naked Edge speed record holder, Stefan Griebel. When Hans read about that record he realized that he'd never climbed the Naked Edge! This had to rectified. He immediately asked, "What's the on-sight speed record for the Nose?" With that as our motivation we set off early the next morning to attempt the Naked Edge In A Day!

Here's a tip if you are going for a speed record: don't ask me to be your partner. This goes doubly so when the route is rated 5.11, since I've been known to fall off 5.10 more often than not. But that isn't really a key insight and obviously the King of Speed was well aware of this. Hans just can't help himself from talking like that. All the time. In essence this was an on-sight attempt and not a speed attempt, despite Hans starting his ubiquitous watch.

Pat Manson, a guy who knows quite a bit about speed, met us out in Eldo, just for the hell of it. He and his entire family of athletic freaks came to the show the night before and he was so jazzed that he wanted to come out and watch us. This displays Pat's incredible patience and attention to detail because about two thirds of the time Hans was just belaying me and it takes a trained eye to detect movement when I'm climbing 5.11.

Normally I'd lead us up to the base of the Naked Edge (only 5.8 climbing up to there), as that would be my only leading contribution and it's less dangerous with me on the front while simul-climbing. But to avoid any even minor taints to Hans' onsight, he took the sharp end the entire way. This worked out pretty well, except when I found Hans veering right towards the huge cave up towards the Diving Board instead of going all the way up the ramp to the little cave barring access to the start of the Naked Edge. I got him back on track and we were both soon at the base of the route.
Starting up the fourth pitch of the Naked Edge

It had taken us nearly as long to approach this route as Jason and Stefan take to do the entire route, bridge-to-bridge. And we'd get much slower. We switched from simul-climbing on a doubled-rope to regular belaying on a single strand. Hans took his time working out the crux of the marginal finger crack of pitch one, but he can hang on a long time and looked solid. I, on the other hand, cannot hang on a long time. Thankfully the gear Hans placed provided some key handholds and I was able to avoid dangling on the rope.

Hans executed the second pitch in nearly Stefan-esque speed. I thought he'd pause longer at the slopey, committing, run-out moves to the belay, but he pulled out rope as fast as I could feed it. I managed to follow this pitch without any taints. The third pitch is 5.8 and we were soon at the base of what some climbers consider the crux.

Hans cruised the tricky chimney pitch and I surprised myself by not falling off. Actually, this shouldn't be a surprise. I've just spent all winter in the gym getting about as strong as I get and I know the moves on this pitch, so I should be able to pull it off on top rope. I guess you could say the same about the crux fifth pitch, but that pitch is very difficult for me. Gym climbing does not prepare me for the burly, overhanging, hand crack.

Lots of stemming on this route, apparently. Hans nearing the crux of the fourth pitch

Hans climbed up into the boulder-problem start, clipped the two fixed pieces and explored around for a bit. I knew those holds were all terrible and wondered how he could hang on so long. After a bit he down-climbed back to the belay and said with a big grin on his face, "A cool puzzle! I love trying to solve puzzles. This is so fun." I kept my mouth shut on beta for the entire climb. I knew a couple of ways to do this crux (both really hard for me, but one slightly easier). Hans adopted a fairly straight-on strategy and cranked it seemingly with ease on his second trip up. He paused a bit on the awkward duck-around move and then a bit more to suss the crack. Once sussed, he fired it and ran out the rope to the top.

My turn. With a hundred feet of rope above me I knew a fall would drop me 6-8 feet, so I pulled on one draw to get by the crux. I always seem to make this rationalization. I just don't want to fall here. I'm actually more comfortable taking this fall while leading. In that case my partner is right next to me; I have gear right at my face; and any fall on lead is likely to be shorter than a following fall. Oh well, I wimped out.

I climbed up the ramp, ducked around and looked up at the final crack with a familiar sense of dread. This baby is hard. It's overhanging and the jams at the start are very marginal and require a big reach past a pod. I pulled hard, working at my limit and got through the most technical part of the crack. I was up into the #1-Camalot width that a lot of people lieback. I tried, but I was too gassed from below. I didn't have the power. I yelled up to Hans for tension, praying that he could pull the rope so tight that I wouldn't drop at all. I doubt he heard me despite screaming like a little girl. I fell and dangled in free space. I didn't drop back to the start, but I had to re-climb five very difficult feet. After a short rest, I tried again. This time I made it up to the #2-Camalot-sized crack and just barely made it to the rest, wheezing hard.

This was a pretty typical performance for me. This route kicks my butt.

We changed shoes, coiled the rope and down-climbed the East Slabs past a group of six climbers being guided up the slabs. I'd never seen such a big, roped party on these slabs and it seemed a bit comically to be solo down-climbing right by them, stepping over their ropes, and chatting with them while they are all roped up, with gear placed and climbing with big packs. It's all climbing, though. They were out doing the same thing that we were doing: having fun climbing rocks.

Pat, Max, and Ian met us on the trail as we came down. Our round-trip time was 3h13m. We wondered if we could beat Stefan and Jason down to the bridge if we got to start atop the Naked Edge and they started at the bottom of it. It would be close...

While this is far off the record of 35 minutes, Hans pointed out that he now climbs the Nose twenty times faster than he did on his first ascent. Since this was his first ascent of the Naked Edge it only stands to reason that in twenty years or so he'll be climbing the Naked Edge twenty times faster. So, watch out, Stefan and Jason, this baby is going under ten minutes!

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