|Beginning the run out over the #4 Big Bro on Beauty.|
Photo: Jason Molina
I'm super psyched to have recently climbed an old Joe Herbst climb called Beauty. Although the climb has been established for a long time, its wide nature and difficulty to protect have made it a bold and seldom repeated route. Although it's only rated 5.10c, it packs quiet the punch for the grade considering it's an offwidth and pretty old school in nature. I was first introduced to the route by Jason Molina, who regularly endures these wide crack climbs with me. We were both looking for the next adventure, and Jason told me to take a look in the book and see what I thought about climbing at the Triad. Upon opening up the Jerry Handren climbing guidebook, I paged to Beauty and read...
"This route climbs the obvious off width splitting the wall to the right of The Ugly Sister. Insecure and dangerously runout, it is one of the harder routes of the Herbst era. ... An ancient bolt protects the initial bulge, then 40' of sustained, insecure climbing with no further protection leads to the easier upper chimney and a tree belay. ... The largest Big Bro may work on the crux."
Wow! What a description! It definitely started an internal dialogue in my head. "Insecure and dangerously run-out? A Big Bro might work? NICE! Who's even tried this thing? At least Joe Herbst did it!" It goes without saying that I was intimidated by the climb. It was obviously serious, maybe a little too serious for a midwestern boy from the planes. But the more times I re-read it the more excited I became... and that's when the little internal dialogue came back like good vs. evil... The 40' run-out screamed to me "Stay away ya idiot! What arr ya drunk!?" While the idea of *maybe* being able to place a Big Bro and protect the crux screamed back "Just do it you resourceful sonofabitch! Yule find gear!" So as I sat there with the book in hand I listened attentively to my dueling inner conscious, which evidently is a drunken hillbilly sounding person. Although both good and evil hillbilly voice had respectable points, in the end I knew it was only a matter of time before I attempted the route. So I put the book down, packed up my bag, and decided I'd go and do the climb tomorrow.
It was cold day, and the wall was in the shade all day long. We couldn't have picked a worse day to go and get on it (unless it was raining of course). But once I saw the crack there was no turning back. I cruised the initial hand and fist crack for about 30-40', placing a piece here and there. Eventually I gained the wide off width portion of the climb, where I could rest just before and prepare myself to squeeze inside the crack. Unfortunately I found out it would be at least another 10' before I'd conceivable be able to fit entirely in the crack. So I started up with chicken wings, arm bars, foot stacks, butt jams and small nothing face holds to make progress. I clipped the unmistakably rusty ancient bolt, which was located on the outside of the crack and for a short while put the rope in a questionable position which would create a nasty rope obstacle in the event of a fall. After that I squeezed up and was able to reach a spot to place a #4 Big Bro. I believe the crux on the route to be somewhere around this section of the crack. It was truly "off width" too tight to squeeze and too wide to arm bar. I was still too large to fit my chest inside the crack, and attempting to definitely bruised my sternum. So I begun the arduous process of making upward progress a half an inch at a time (not exaggerating). I closed my eyes and imagined myself doing the moves, and after about 15 minutes I had progressed a good 5' above my last piece of protection. Phew! At this point I was able to get entirely inside the tight crack and relax for a few moments. I "stood" mostly on my feet to conserve energy. My heals butted up againts one side of the crack, while my toes wedged the long way against the other. This technique is really fun to do and it feels like you're floating somehow. But soon you come back to reality and realize you're not floating, but rather you're fully wedged inside a human eating crack. I continued this techinuque inch by inch, and felt the crack get wider and wider. After a certain point there was no fear, and the climbing had completely taken over.
I succesfully topped out the 150' pitch just over an hour after I begun the climb. Ridiculously slow by most climbing standards, and especially slow when you consider that all 3000' of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite has been climbed in 2:36! But The Nose isn't a squeeze off width, and if it was nobody in their right mind would ever climb it, let alone for speed! So Beauty goes down in my book as one my boldest and most physically demanding pitches of my climbing career, and I'm excited and encouraged by the ascent. Now, onto the next squeeze!