Tuesday, June 10, 2014

29:53! Game On!

Scott Bennett starting up the first pitch of the Naked Edge

It seems the speed record on the Naked Edge has developed nicely into a Rocky Mountain version of the Nose speed record. On the latter cliff the main protagonist has been Hans Florine, who, with six different partners has held the speed record seven times. Florine has faced a whole series of challengers to his title. His early rival was Peter Croft until he teamed up with him to set the record. Since 2001, though, his main rival has been Dean Potter. Potter has broken the record on the Nose three times, twice with Minion Timmy O'Neill and more recently with the late Sean Leary. There seems to be no chance Florine and Potter will ever team up for a speed attempt. There is not a lot of love between these two.

Emerging as the main rivals on the Naked Edge are the parties of Stefan Griebel and Jason Wells versus Scott Bennett and Brad Gobright. Griebel/Wells have broken the record three times, including once breaking their own record when they lowered the record from 40:35 down to 35:01. Bennett/Gobright previously had the record at 44 minutes, breaking the 49 minutes set by Griebel/Wells, but they were back now and taking the current record very seriously. They spent the day in Eldo, working the Naked Edge, looking to milk every last bit of speed out of it. They would climb a pitch and then lower down and climb it four more times. They memorized each gear placement, each crimp and each smear. Then they rested, waited for cooler temperatures and some shade. 

They notified to the current record holders of their attempt and I posted it to the Satan’s Minions Scrambling Group and this resulted in an Eldorado Canyon version of the Yosemite Valley crowd watching El Cap records. Instead of reclining in El Cap Meadow, spectators lined the road, climbed up the trail on the opposite side of the canyon, and even climbed up the descent route to view the final pitch up close. My buddy Mark Oveson and I got there early and climbed up three pitches to the base of Naked Edge. I wanted a different perspective on this record attempt.

Before they took off Scott noticed us up at the base of the Naked Edge and, dejected, told Stefan that a party was on the route. Stefan assured him it was us and we were there merely as impartial official judges, acting as Dan Howitt-like timers…not! There was no shortage of timers for this event though, including both current record holders. Mark and I couldn't see the official start, at the bridge, but we heard the roar of the crowd and knew it was game on! Seconds later we saw them running up the slabs and talus below. They then went out of view as they hit the base of the cliff, but five minutes later they were on the Upper Ramp and fast approaching the Cave Pitch, just below  us. They took a different approach to the base of the Naked Edge, though quite similar. While Griebel/Wells climb the Ramp Route, Bennett/Gobright start there but traverse on the break past Touch and Go and then head up directly. The difficulty is probably similar and around 5.6.

Scott led the entire way, carrying both the rope and the rack, as he is the superior aerobic athlete. We had positioned ourselves out of the way of the bolted anchor, but Scott did not stop there, climbing up ten feet higher to a stance at just above us. He dropped the rope for Brad to put him on belay and was climbing up the first pitch just 6m27s after leaving the bridge, this put them ahead of record pace, by about 30 seconds. They use a similar technique to Griebel/Wells in that one person, Bennett, would lead the entire route as one pitch. I talked with them afterwards and, just like Griebel/Wells, it could go either way, but Bennett is the local and knows the route slightly better and Gobright is the stronger climber and hence the better person to be the bottom climber. This team only uses one Ropeman-type device to protect the leader, placing it at the top of the first pitch. This is quicker, as it takes a moment or two to set up these devices, but greatly increases the risk to the lead climber and puts tremendous pressure on the trailing climber on the 10b second pitch and the 11a fourth pitch. The history of this record has escalated into more and more dangerous climbing as it has progressed from strictly pitching it out to soloing/simul-climbing with little protection for the leader if the second happens to fall.

Scott is a tall, lanky guy and he climbed the first pitch of the Edge, a tricky, tips-only finger crack seventy feet long, in just over two minutes, placing three pieces of gear. His length allows him to grab the arete out to the left up high on the pitch. Watching this up close he made the pitch look 5.6. He had every moment completely wired. There was no hesitation at all and he placed gear and clipped it in just a few seconds. It was impressive and Brad had a bit of trouble feeding the rope through his GriGri fast enough. Scott slapped the protection device on the belay and was soon out of sight. It wasn't long before Brad took off. Being quite a bit shorter, Brad has to climb the finger crack directly at the top, but he’s so strong and so solid, he made that look just as easy as Scott had.

In order to see the finish, Mark and I would have to hustle down the rappels and we started immediately. I rapped down to the next anchor and clipped in. As I looked up to Mark was rappelling down to me, I saw Scott cranking through the boulder problem on the last pitch! I was flabbergasted. We wouldn't even be able to rappel down in time to see the finish. Unbelievable. We'd learn later that the team climbed the Naked Edge route proper in just 16 minutes! That’s from the lead climber starting up the first pitch to the second climber finishing the last pitch. This route is five pitches long, though frequently linked  into three pitches, though only by very strong climbers, rated 11a, 10b, 8+, 11a, 11b. That’s world-class speed.

Mark continued down as fast as we could, while still making sure we were safe. At the bottom I took off, leaving the gear and rope for Mark to retrieve. I dashed down to the start as fast as I could go. I got to the bridge five minutes ahead of them and had time to anxiously await the first sighting of them on the descent. The crowd cheered up encouragement and time splits. Scott was well out in front of Brad and motoring down the descent. Another slight variation that this team uses is that they go completely in their climbing shoes, running down the descent in them. Griebel/Wells carry descent shoes and switch into them at the top.

Bennett hit the bridge well under thirty minutes, but that doesn't count - this is a team event. He couldn't believe the time and shouted with glee, turn around and ran back up towards Brad, yelling for him to go faster, faster, faster! They grouped up on the far side and sprinted for the middle of the bridge - what’s become the official start/finish location. They both got there in 29:53, breaking the record by over five minutes! The crowd cheered loudly at the start, when they hit the base, when they topped out, and erupted when they hit the finish. It was a spectacle to be sure. Wells and Griebel were the first to congratulate them. Stefan had told me before that he really wanted them to break the record so that he and Jason would have a good excuse to go back and try again. Afterwards that was still the case, though he did lament that he wished they hadn't broken the record by so much. 

Chris Archer, a long-time Eldo activist/climber, was on hand to watch the event. He’s climbed the route around 100 times, calling it the best route in country. He might have been able to envision this route being climbed in under an hour, but couldn't fathom it going under forty minutes, let alone under 30 minutes. I concur, but, just like on the Nose, I suspect that even this "unbreakable" record will eventually be broken. I just hope the risks taken don’t get any greater.

Well done, lads!


Buzz said...

Nice report, and great effort by the lads.

I started at the same time from the bridge and had to keep moving in order to reach the classic photo spot above Redguard Route before they came into view. The two climbed the crack differently, both moving at the same speed, with one cam halfway up and another piece at the corner.

After that it was Scott calling out encouragement and directions to Brad as they scrambled down - the descent is a key part of the game, and I'm glad the record is trailhead-trailhead rather than base-top - this is a good test of the complete climber, and provides for more enjoyable spectating.

Mark Oveson said...

It's such a pleasure getting to watch these two teams challenge each other. The rivalry is real and yet it is absolutely good-natured and congenial. High praise to Scott, Brad, Stefan, and Jason, not only for awesome climbing skills and boldness, but also for being consummate sportsmen.

Stefan said...

Suspicion confirmed! Jason and I lowered it to 26m33s on 8/16. :-)