I’ll Take a Few Pitches of Moderate With That Approach, Please.

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I’m pretty psyched to say that I’ve never whipped off of a 5.7 before. Now granted, there was this one time I whipped off the “fun 5.7 finish” of this 5.10, but that’s not what this story is about. Maybe you the reader have whipped off of a 5.7, there’s no shame in that. I’m just saying that I’m stoked I haven’t yet. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this story isn’t really going to have to do with whipping off 5.7’s. It’s more about my own egotism, but lets start with whipping off 5.7’s.

Walt’s Wall at Vedauwoo is a pretty awesome place. For one it’s not littered with too many of the off-widths that the Voo is known for, and it’s one of the few walls that contains some three pitch routes. During my first trip to The Voo my friends and I ran up Ed’s Crack in the evening; the super classic of that wall and the whole area. I kicked my cam out during the wide finish, and we got saved from a heinous walk off in the dark by a 230 pound dude with an assault rifle on his t-shirt and his thin, blonde Barbie doll girlfriend. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the place.

A few days after this incident I went back to Walt’s Wall with Courtney so that I could take her up the walls namesake “Walt’s Wall Route.” Courtney has a thing for multi-pitch climbing, and at the time she had only been climbing for a short while. So it felt right to go spend a day cruising this easy classic and teaching her some things.

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Courtney cleaning gear on Walt’s Wall Route.

The base of the route is located at a nice flat section next to the famous “Coke Bottle” formation. The Coke Bottle is a gigantic detached boulder that rests on Walt’s Wall and looks a hell of a lot like, well, a big ass soda bottle; the old school glass kind, not those nasty plastic ones. Where the boulder meets the cliff is a classic 5.8, Satterfields Crack, that is fun to watch people struggle up from the base. When we arrived a party was doing just that, so we watched and chatted while we racked up.

Getting onto our route was taking a little patience though. From the first pitch belay of Walt’s Wall Route you can avoid the wandering ramp system and instead go straight up a slabby and run-out 5.7 face. There was a party above, doing just that. Now before I start this, let me say that I have never done this route, so I cannot attest to how hard it is. Knowing the way that things are graded at The Voo I’m sure it was a bit harder than the Bastille Crack, but again, it’s a 5.7. Courtney and I sat at the base watching above us as a heftier male and his skinny Tarantulace equipped partner gave this route their all. The skinnier one of the group was up on lead, well above his gear, sketching out. Meanwhile his partner talked calmly to us below about our trip and where we’re from.

“I don’t know man, this is pretty scary.” The leader yelled.

“Awh come on man I know you got it. So anyways, where are ya’ll from?” yells the belayer.

“Ok. Ok. I think I’m gonna try it, but I’ll have you know, I’m just not that good of a slab climber.”

The guy starts pasting up the face, just before… “Oh Shit!” He screams and goes cheese grating down the face, hands and feet in the cat position, slow motion for me and I’m sure slower for him as he scratches for one little edge. He’s caught a mere inch or two above the belay ledge by his partner.

“Woah man, that was a good one.” Says the leader, clearly terrified.

“ah man give it another go, you got it.”

Courtney and I sat in fear, maybe our turn to run up this damn thing wouldn’t ever come if we had to drag some dude down to the base with a broken ankle. The awful thing about being WFA certified is that I’m forced to help someone if they mess up. Sacrifice my climb or get sued? I weighed the options in my head.

“Yeah man, so you guys are from Estes Park, eh?” The belayer said, as his partner set of for his second go at things.

“Yeah, we’ve been living there for the summer.”

“That’s fucking awesome dude, you guys ever climbed the Diamond?!?”

“Ha, no man, not yet.” To be honest, at this point in time I wasn’t that good of a climber, even though I’m talking shit about a dude falling on 5.7.

“Ah man I’d love to do the Diamond! I think it’s still a little out of my league though. You know, I like this craggin’ stuff here, but really my favorite thing to do is climb 5.7 in the alpine! Awh yeah man, that’s the good stuff.”

“Falling” the leader whipped again and I watched as the nut he placed just above his last piece ripped out of it’s poorly architected home. When I see a piece rip the first thing I typically do isn’t let out a whoop of joy, but this guy seemed to find that to be appropriate. “WOOO! That was fucking nuts! Scary dude!”

The leader set off for round three, and much to our joy he got up it this time, which also relinquished me from the mighty conversational grasps of his belayer. Once that guy said his favorite thing to do is climb 5.7 in the alpine I wrote him off as a damn scrub, not worthy of more conversation.

I love alpine rock climbing, and at that point in time I hadn’t actually climbed a 5.7 in true alpine terrain (unlike Lumpy Ridge alpine.) Morgan and I tried to do the northeast ridge of the Sharkstooth in RMNP, but we opted for the 5.4 east face instead when crowds and our own fear told us to take a different path. Why then did I write this guy off for finding joy in 5.7 alpine?

I think a lot of climbers that enjoy the physical pursuit of harder lines would have the same reaction as I did. Something about a guy who doesn’t care much for cragging, but loves to climb what most experts will solo on an alpine pursuit sends off neurons in our brain that make us frantically yell “gumby” and start flexing in a mirror. Are we better than the Planet Fitness bros we also criticize?

At that time in my life as a climber I was becoming quite familiar with the washed up, middle-age, climber guy. Typically this guy doesn’t really get out often, but when he does he’s going to the mountains and he’s climbing a moderate. The jingle of his silver Chouinard hexes rattle loud through the canyons. He was a symbol of complacency, the very thing I hoped to never be. His desk job and wife that doesn’t climb, but loves to take the kids top-roping, all keep him from training properly because he’s just too tired these days. After his dreams of freeing the Naked Edge got buried by baby formula and mid-section swelling donuts at the office each morning, he turned to the alpine to up the difficulty of his adventures. This tactic comes with the luxury of not needing to hit the climbing gym too hard. I feared this in life, I still kind of do, but I’m not as much of a dick about it now I hope.

Later that afternoon I pasted slowly up the unprotected third pitch of Walt’s Wall Route. Each little crystal I stepped on I was positive wouldn’t hold my foot, but I had to look cool and controlled for Courtney because I was the teacher here, not the beginner. Something about well protected alpine 5.7 felt a little more appealing that moment. Maybe I was just a gumby too, because you know what? 5.7’s in the alpine are fucking fun, man.

– Dom

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