My best friend Mark Oveson moved away from me. Moved away from Boulder. Moved away from Colorado. It was traumatic. Even for him! Alas, he moved to a super cool location: Provo, Utah. Super cool if you're a Mormon, which he is, since it is 95% Mormon there. Even better, at least from an atheist-climber perspective, is that he lives one mile away from a 22-pitch 5.11a sport climb. TWENTY...TWO...PITCHES! This route is called Squawstruck because it ascends the south face of Squaw Peak. While I vowed to visit him often and keep the bond of our friendship ever strong, when I heard about this route, I felt the bond needed immediate strengthening. So I booked my flight.
I booked my flight despite not having a partner for the climb. I hope Mark will eventually climb it with me, but he wasn't ready for it. Truth be told, I wasn't really ready for it. Mark solved both problems by not only supplying a partner, but a rope gun of the assault weapon level that most states want to ban and Utah celebrates. Here the weapon was Jared Campbell.
If you don't know who Jared Campbell is...well, that's okay. Time to learn. He's the hardman's hardman. His full CV of bad-assery would fill volumes and put sufficient wear on my keyboard. He is at the very pinnacle of the outdoor/adventure athlete hierarchy. Climbing? 5.13, thank you. Sendero Luminoso? Yes, please. He won Hard Rock. He's finished the Barkley...twice. He's linked a week's worth of the toughest Zion slot-canyon descents in under 24 hours. He started the RUFA series of races and is the RD for the Salt Lake edition. He's superman in the mountains. He's Stefan-Griebel-esque. But most important in this particular situation, is that he's Mark's friend. Mine too, now.
I flew out Friday night, taking almost exactly as long to fly, house-to-house, as it would have taken me to drive. Delta Airlines. Not a fan. Because of my late arrival (to bed around 1 a.m.), we decided to do the climb on Sunday. That left Saturday to hike up Y Mountain with Mark and two of his daughters. Mark and his wife Trish, being Mormon and all, are fecund. They have three of each (just two genders in Utah - it's almost like visiting a foreign country).
Doing anything with Mark's kids is an exercise in humility. JD (short for Jelly Donut, at least to me. Geraldine to others, like her parents, siblings, and everyone besides me) is the second fastest freshman cross-country runner in the entire state of Utah. I guess because she's only the second fastest is why she stays so humble. You wouldn't even know she ran by talking to her, but looking at her long legs you'd notice potential. And she sucks at running compared to her ability on the piano. Or singing. Or really useful things like memorizing the digits of pi (she knows 200).
Along with JD, Alice joined us. I used to think that Mark's daughter Mallory was the sweetest, friendliest, happiest person I'd ever met, but she's downright surly compared to Alice. Alice is recently back from an 18-month mission in Italy. She's now fluent in Italian. I'm barely fluent in English. Along with a bunch of community service, Alice tutored kids in calculus...in Italian! She re-starts at BYU in January, studying Applied Math. You go, girl.
|Jared leading the first pitch via headlamp.|
We started early, from Mark's house because he lives at the base of Y Mountain. It's called Y Mountain because there is a giant Y painted on it. Before the Y it was just called Mountain, so it's much easier to identify now. The Y is for Young. Steve Young, I assume, since he was a star quarterback at BYU and the 49ers and is in the Hall of Fame. So, you know, probably deserves to have a mountain named after him. A classic first date for BYU couples is to hike up to the Y, which is less than halfway to the summit, but the trail up to the Y is wide and smooth and ridiculously steep. Alice says it is a true test of whether you have any chance of being a couple. If you hike together to the Y without any whining, then there is hope. If not, break-up immediately. Alice has done this more than once. If her prospective suitor can't keep up with her and not whine about it, she cuts them loose. Reminded me of my wife's rule with suitors asking her to play tennis. If you didn't beat her, you didn't get a date. I squeaked out a victory. Lucky for me. And for Danny and Derek!
It took us two hours to hike the 3000 vertical feet to the summit. Mark continues to have serious pain with his now-fused left ankle. An amazing mountain endurance athlete before the infection in his ankle, Mark is still searching for a solution. Yet, he never complains about it. Never offers up any excuses. He just guts it out. And then limps for a few days. Ugh. I wish I could help him solve this problem. But I can't.
|Jared following a pitch low on the route.|
The rest of the day I spent eating, watching a movie, and reading. Now if you asked the members of Mark's family what I was doing they'd say: eating, watching a movie, and sleeping, but they just don't know that when I read a book it looks a lot like sleeping. No fault of theirs. Just inexperience with my unusual ways.
Jared arrived at the house around 10 p.m. He was bigger than I thought he'd be. A little bit taller than me. He wore shorts and his calves revealed the fact that he can climb 40,000 vertical feet in a single day. I didn't want to stand too close to him for fear that anyone else would be comparing us, but I did try to suck in my gut a bit, just in case.
We got up at 5:30 a.m. and I started having a bowl of cereal when Mark walked into the kitchen offering to make me eggs and bacon. Dammit, Mark! Get up earlier if you going to be offering such service. That just meant I had cereal and eggs. He even bought donuts for me to take up the climb. Lack of fuel was not going to be a valid excuse.
Mark walked the start of the approach with us before we peeled off to scratch and scramble our way up a very steep, loose slope. If it wasn't for Jared having the GPS coordinates in his mapping app on his phone, I'd still be looking for the start of the climb. Shortly into the approach, wanting to see more of the terrain for route-finding purposes, I bumped up the intensity of my Fenix headlamp. If this headlamp worked like its specs said it does, it would be so awesome. Alas, it doesn't. The headlamp promptly died and wouldn't turn on at any intensity. That was after a full charge the night before. I'm done with this headlamp. This was my second one. Both lemons. I had to do the rest of the approach with my phone as my light. Scrambling up this tricky terrain with one hand was probably the most dangerous part of the day.
We were at the start and it was still dark. Jared offered me the first lead. It's 10b - a stiff grade for me...when I can see. I'm not known for my night vision. I'm known for my lack of night vision. I declined and Jared styled the first pitch via headlamp, scanning for the bolts in his beam. I followed easier than I expected and wondered if this whole climb was overrated. Or if I was stronger than I thought. Nope and nope.
|Jared heading up the 10c pitch by the cave at the start of the crux tier.|
The second pitch starts with the "Leap of Faith" where you jump from the slightly detached pillar we had just climbed to the wall behind it. Or you can just make a two-foot step across and avoid the jumping. Jared and I both watched a video of this jump on youtube. We were a bit dumbfounded by it now. I scampered up the 5.8 pitch to the top of the rock and we hiked up to the next band.
Squawstruck is 22 pitches long, but the pitches are not completely contiguous. They are broken into six separate tiers, with some short hiking between. We hiked up to the next tier and, in an effort to move faster, Jared then linked the next three pitches in a massive 200-foot lead, climbing pitches of 5.9, 10b, and 5.9. Impressive. I followed and found the climbing super fun and was pretty comfortable on it. I was working, but not on the verge of falling off. My confidence built.
Squawstruck (22 pitches, 5.11a) on Squaw Peak
I led pitch six, at 10c the hardest pitch yet. It went well. I was breathing hard, but hung on. Cool movement and nothing tricky. Jared linked two more pitches (two 10a's) and we did a small hike to the next tier. The next tier had three pitches: 5.8, 10a, 5.8 and we pitched it out due to the their length. We were moving pretty continuously and didn't have time to savor any belay ledges, of which most pitches had. The follower quickly moved into the next lead at each change-over.
We then arrived at the true meat of the route. The next tier was five pitches long, all 5.10b or harder, with three 10d or 11a. Jared led a 10c and I followed clean and led a 10c/d. All good. Jared styled the crux pitch to a near hanging belay. It looked tricky as Jared had paused there a bit and sussed things out. On my turn I climbed easily up to the crux, which is at the very end of the pitch. There I was stymied by what I thought was the cryptic nature of the climbing. After trying two or three ways, including using Jared's beta I concluded it was more than cryptic. It was hard. Too hard. The crux moved involved using a desperate 2-finger flared jam (yes, a finger jam!) and a terrible sidepull and then moving the left foot up very high to a bullshit foothold. No way. I couldn't touch it. Just too steep on too bad of holds. It seemed way harder than anything we'd climbed up until then. After a few falls, I had Jared take me on tension, and then reached up again for better holds.
|Jared at the hanging belay at the top of the crux pitch.|
This started a downward trend of performance for me. The next pitch was rated 10b and it had a committing lock-off move on it and I couldn't find good enough footholds to pull it off. I hung on a bolt to rest before finishing that pitch. The pitch after that was rated 10d and probably was the hardest pitch on the route. It started a bit to the climber's right, at a second two-bolt anchor. I had apparently belayed from the rappel anchors, with the chains. Normally there is just one anchor of course, but for ease of rappelling there are two or three spots with duplicate anchors. The wall above the anchor was considerably smoother than anything we had climbed or would climb - just tiny, tiny holds. Jared ticky-tacked and toe-tapped his way up this section and remarked, "Dang. That's pretty hard for 5.10." When it was my turn, I just grabbed the first two draws. I'll be back to this route, probably multiple times due to its proximity (to Mark) and the mess I've left behind.
We did a short hike up to the last tier which consisted of six pitches: 9, 10c/d, 10c, 8, 9+, 10a. I scampered up the first pitch without much trouble, but my feet were starting to kill me. So much so that it was affecting my climbing. At each belay I had to pull them off immediately. Unfortunately, as soon as I put them on again, the pain resumed without delay.
The next pitch, the 18th, started with a short, but severe roof. It was awkward to get up the eight feet to the start because the roof was completely undercut, but the undercut was only three feet high, so in trying to pull onto the bottom of the undercut my head hit the roof. It wasn't too bad, but awkward. Turning the roof required getting the feet up really high and locking off for one move. Jared cruised it and said, "At least the holds are good." I didn't agree. I couldn't do it. On my first try I failed the lockoff and the rope stretch put me back on the ledge ten feet down. On my second try I got into the same position and yelled up "Take!" I knew he couldn't hold me there completely, but I wanted all the help I could get. I then deadpointed for the draw over the lip and barely caught it. From there the rest of the pitch was pumpy but doable, barely.
|Jared updating his social media at the summit of Squawstruck.|
At the belay, I knew it was my lead. We'd been swinging leads up until here, but I didn't think I could do it. I was consistently getting my ass kicked on 5.10 since the crux pitch. Jared bailed me out and led a brilliant pitch that went up and left and then hard back to the right. The pitch description in the online guide is apt: "...then back right on desperate and tricky holds." As soon as Jared finished this section he called down, "That was really cool. You're going to love that sequence." Sure enough I did, but I was also glad I wasn't leading it, as once I started to traverse back to the right I was on the ragged edge of falling off clear to the belay. The crux was at the start of the traverse right, but as the moves got gradually easier, my pump built. Some of the climbing was really cryptic. The feet are pretty good here, but widely spaced and the handholds so marginal that it required a lot of balance and body tension. Super neat climbing.
I strung the next two pitches into a monster 200-foot lead so that I didn't have to lead the final 5.10 pitch. The 5.8 pitch went pretty easily but my intense foot pain had me moving slowly. The 5.9+ penultimate pitch had two desperate sections. I found a way around both of them and traversed back into the line above, each time having to skip one bolt. Apparently, I was visibly desperate, as Jared called up some encouragement at one point. Or maybe he was just urging me on to climb faster, as this long lead took forever. My feet hurt and I was getting really tired. I belayed on a small stance and immediately whipped off my shoes. I had just two draws left to clip in.
Jared soon joined me and even he took a slight break from his shoes here. It was the only time he took his shoes off after following a pitch and before his next lead. He was pulling them off after each lead though. Climbing shoes hurt.
The final pitch seemed a bit contrived as a clearly easier path led straight to the top. Instead, the pitch moved out to the right in order to turn a 2-foot roof and then a bulge above. The description is once again right on: "Keep climbing up then right over some roofs with depressingly small holds." One of the bolts on this pitch was drilled straight up into bottom of the roof. It seemed like the first ascensionist wanted to just try placing a bolt like that. Given my state of fatigue and that I'd barely led the 5.9 pitch before this, I was surprised not to fall off this one.
|Squaw Peak and Squawstruck|
The relief in pulling off my shoes equaled the joy in topping out this route. Huge thanks to Tristan Higbee (hey, I wonder if he is related to Art Higbee of the Higbee Hedral on Half Dome...), Thomas Gappmayer, and Christian Burrell (probably not related to my friends Buzz and Galen) for the ridiculous amount of work that went into establishing this route. What an incredible contribution to the local climbing community. Without Jared, I'm not sure I could have ascended this route. I'll find out in the future. I hope that by standing in a sling I can do the crux. Either that or I'm going to have to get a lot stronger.
Jared and I hiked the 4-mile, 3000-foot descent trail back to the parking lot. We chatted about his family and mine, but most exciting was that we chatted about future climbs together. This was encouraging, as my biggest contribution to this climb was giving Jared belay practice. I hope it happens, but I won't hold him to it.
Being the dumbest, slowest, weakest person in the group could be depressing, but not with this group. It's sort of like being the slowest Minion - you might still be pretty smart, fast, and strong. Might be. No guarantees. But being around them is a bit inspiring and I'm hoping some of it rubbed off on me.
Thanks Mark, Jared, JD, Alice, Mallory, Trish, Spencer, and Jason for being such gracious hosts. Every one of you is welcome at my fire anytime.