Sierra Sojourn

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Broken wings. photo Ben Ditto

I started to cringe with each step, steeper and more angled than the previous. The weight of my pack and the events of the day were starting to wear on me and my ankle was getting sore. I was walking differently to compensate for the discomfort and then finally, feet hit flat ground and we were in the home stretch back to the truck. As I dropped my heavy, not so heavy burden to the ground and commenced to follow suit I looked up at Patrick with a smile, the words “Thanks for a great day” spilling from my mouth.

Six months prior I had fallen at the Buttermilks and landed with one foot squarely on the pads, the other crookedly in the hole between the pads. Upon impact my talus cracked in two places. For a minute there, after popping it back into place, I managed to convince myself it was fine. In reality it would be two months of disuse followed by months of rehab. At the time this seemed exceptionally cruel as we had just returned from spending a fall and winter traveling and climbing in Spain.  I had red pointed my first 5.14 as well as numerous other memorable routes and I was feeling strong and psyched.

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China Crisis, 5.14a; Oliana, SP photo: Manabu Yoneyama

We returned to Bishop in February and I hit the ground running. There were a few problems on my mind at the Buttermilks and I went after them almost immediately. I was rewarded with quick ascents and as exciting as that was I was also starting to feel a little confused. I went out climbing even on days I really didn’t feel like climbing and I questioned what my motivation was. I was starting to not feel present and just at the height of that feeling I broke my ankle. It was as if the universe was telling me I needed to sit down and get grounded again.

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Just another day, just another problem. Buttermilks; Bishop, CA photo: POD

No one ever really told me how badly broken bones hurt, or how they go through a range of pain or how the mental and emotional self also hurt. I can safely say one thing I learned is that healing hurts – almost more than the break itself.  For days I could hardly get out of bed, the discomfort coupled with the amount of energy it took to drag myself around were just too much. I watched movies, I read, I wrote, I cried, and I slept.  Despite the pain I never filled my prescription for Percocet – I just endured and winced with the waves of discomfort. I never filled it because I was afraid of it, because I knew I would fall into a depression as the time wore on and if I had those pills I would probably find myself down a very dark hole.

I’m a very physical person – at times in my life one could equate my happiness with my activity level. I have always been this way. I love nothing more than trying hard, pushing myself, sweating and feeling the deep burn. I enjoy my body and using it to it’s utmost capacity. This being my first broken bone I was afraid of the down time, afraid of not expressing myself physically, afraid, afraid, afraid. Some days were better than others and I grew a lot as an individual during that time.  I reflected on what things are important to me and what I came up with was an array of things but at the top of the list was health. I went on to take this apart and ask myself what about health is important, is achievable, am I working with currently and how could I continue to work with that in the longterm?

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Seasonal foods, fresh foods, whole foods. Tomatoes keep you cool in the summer!

The work I do with Sacred Rok as camp cook has pushed me into a realm of being responsible for not only my own diet but the diet of many youth and mentors/adults. I cook seasonal foods, organic foods, local foods, whole foods – basically real food. Being an athlete I also want to know what is the most nutritious and beneficial way I can eat for performance. These two things coupled together with the down time of recovery pushed me to enroll in graduate school for a masters in Holistic Nutrition. I’m a few months into the program and I’m loving every bit of it. It’s pushed me further to consider each thing we put into our bodies.

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Organic, local and free!

After a few weeks of being broken I started to get creative with my exercise. Unable to walk or put weight on my right leg I resorted to a lot of floor exercise – like one leg push-ups, ice-bucket lifts with one arm, countless ab work outs, I even started to strap weights to my legs to do leg lifts, and then I entered into a serious hangboard program. I eased into it and always followed suit with push-ups, wrist curls and other oppositional training. Having trained on the board for years I quickly arrived at the point were I was ready to start training max strength. This involved a series of different repeater exercises with added weight as well as pull-ups with weight. It also involved one arm hangs and one arm pull-ups – these involved taking weight off until I could do a pull-up unassisted. It helped structure my time and give me direction even though it seemed like I would possibly peak in my fitness at a time when I wouldn’t even really be climbing. I did it anyway.

One from the archives - hangboarding in El Portal. photo Jeff Johnson

One from the archives – hangboarding in El Portal. photo Jeff Johnson

Before I knew it it was time to start using my foot again. I developed a program to recovery that included physical therapy, pilates, bike riding and some strength training for climbing. I went to physical therapy twice a week from April until June at the Bishop Physical Therapy Clinic. I worked with 2 PT’s who really helped push me and get me back on track to an even stronger me. They helped strengthen and stabilize my ankle, my foot, my toes, my calf and both hips. It’s amazing to me how once a person starts to pay more attention to their body they start to realize other imbalances and weaknesses. For sometime now I have been going to see Mary Devore at the Bishop Yoga and Pilates Studio. She has been my primary body worker and through her excruciatingly healing touch has helped show me certain problem areas in my body. Stuff that’s been there probably since infancy and accumulated throughout the dramas of life. During my rehab time she taught me how to use the Pilates Reformer. Originally this contraption was referred to as The Universal Reformer because it “universally reforms the body.” It works the small stabilizing muscles as well as a deep core and it also helps to align the body. This marvelous machine has done more to balance me out than anything else. In wanting to train strength I could think of no better resource than Ian Nielson at Mammoth Strength. He is not only a great friend but also a great coach and very knowledgable about the body and how it works. He helped me understand how to structure a training week as well as establishing exercises on the gymnastic rings, hang board and systems board. I worked some with him through my recovery and once I was climbing again.

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Ian and his “Whip you into Shape” shop

 

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Stretching it out on the systems wall photo: Mammoth Strength

 

During my rehab time I also gave in to a long standing desire to own a road bike. For many years I have wanted one but substituted my mountain bike tires for road wheels – it worked for a while but with rehab as a good excuse I bought myself the sexiest, fastest bike I could afford.

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I took some intro rides around the Owens Valley and became better acquainted with two super fun and super rad Bishop locals who were also in the rehab process: Trish McGuire and Christie McIntire. Together we rode through some beautiful places and reveled in our bodies abilities to heal and strengthen.

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The day we poached the pass! Tioga Rd, CA

 

As I got stronger on the bike I took on longer, harder rides solo. The top two being riding to Glacier Point and riding the whole Tioga Pass from Lee Vining to Tuolumne. They were both hard, both alpine starts and entirely worth it.

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The reward of my effort. Dawn from Glacier Point

 

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Looking down Olmsted Canyon toward the Valley.

 

Sometime in May I was able to start climbing again. I took it incredibly slow, only top roping for about a month and not really climbing anything too hard.  Even though I had been training and was feeling strong it felt weird when I started to move on rock again.I wasn’t breathing and I was guarding my movements; things weren’t flowing freely. Thankfully 18 years of climbing have given me a good foundation and I was back to feeling natural and confident on the rock within a couple of weeks. My psyche was high – I felt more motivated, more positive and more appreciative of climbing than ever. I took the opportunity to tick some classics, revive some long forgotten gems and just enjoy myself.

At the start of July I had been leading for about a month and was eager to get into some long valley routes. In scouring the guidebook for things I hadn’t done I came across some lines that had been forgotten to the lichen. I ventured out trying some of these and found a bag of mixed results. Certain unnamed routes should be left in the past and certain other unnamed routes are “c’est incroyable” and will be getting some more attention from me in the future.  I also came upon the fact that I had never climbed the Chouinard-Herbert.

On a hot July 4th Christina Freschl and I left El Portal in the dark, the crickets still owned the air time as the birds hadn’t quite come out of their slumber. We arrived at the Four Mile trail parking just as the cool blue light of morning greeted the Valley. Marching up the Sentinel approach I felt lucky to be able to walk up there, much less climb the route. My ankle had been healing perfectly and this day would be a great test.

The route was amazing and was quite the trip into the past. The climbing went quickly and we beat the sun to the summit. Partnering with Christina was perfect for this endeavor – she is efficient, tough as nails and really good energy to be around. We had a marvelous day out on this old-school classic.

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Psyched as ever on the Chouinard-Herbert! photo Christina Freschl.

As the summer heat rose I migrated to the High Country. For the last 8 or so summers I have been fortunate to do a lot of climbing in Tuolumne. Some might say I have climbed it out, but that just isn’t true. There are some newer, obscure routes that beckon me – one of which was Mikey Schafer’s Night Shift. In mid July Christina and I made an ascent of  this test piece and wow what a route! Anyone intrigued by this line better bring their A-game in the tech-ten department – mentally and physically.

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Night Shift, 5.12; Tuolumne Meadows, CA photo: Christina Freschl

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High up on the Venturi Effect, 5.12d; The Incredible Hulk, CA. photo Ben Ditto

For the past few summers I have been making ventures into the Hulk. Last year after climbing the Venturi Effect I got psyched on the other hard lines, one in particular called Solar Flare. If anyone is familiar with this wall, then you will know the bright orange sun spot on the left side of the formation. The Sunspot Dihedral climbs the right side of this “sun spot” while Solar Flare climbs the left arete of it.  In late July Ian Nielson and I went in for a couple of days to try our hands at Solar Flare. It is a stunning route. I believe actually at one point while digging deep on the 12d crux pitch slab arete I yelled, “Holy shit, this is like Eat your heart out Mikey Schafer.” Needless to say it was hard, techy, physical and at times cryptic. I fucking loved it! Ian was a great partner and while neither of us made a full free ascent we had a great time, did some stellar climbing and got inspired to go back.

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The Incredible Hulk

 

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The 12b pitch on Solar Flare, 5.12d; The Incredible Hulk, CA photo Ian Nielson

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Last year my friend and frequent partner Patrick O’Donnell and I discussed doing the Hading Route on Conness.  By August of this summer it had been in the works for a year. I had made it a goal to be feeling as fit as ever for this endeavor since it consists of a 4 mile hike in and back out, a 1200ft climb and an elevation of 12,600ft. My training, my bike riding, all of my climbing as well as the trip to the Hulk had me feeling pretty fit and the mission was a great success. The route was amazing, the location sublime and I never felt stronger at elevation than then.

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This route, although easier, felt similar in character to the Chouinard-Herbert. Much of that sentiment stems from how historical both routes are as well as the ancient fixed gear that gives a glimpse into a bygone era. The old YC stamped pins in the CH with the some of the original bongs made such an enjoyable trip down a historical path. As I led my way up the notorious 5th pitch of The Harding Route on Conness I felt similar appreciation for the old bolts. They are old Star Drives and the hangers are original Harding chopped piton, hole punched, ring hangers. They are amazing little pieces of art. My appreciation stemmed not from desperately wanting to clip them but from an admiration of the story that played itself out on this Alpine rock. To think of Harding out there, drilling those bolts, groveling through the squeeze chimneys with his hammer dangling made me smile. We are lucky to have such beauty so close!

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While there are no pictures of us climbing Conness there is this: Sunrise view from the tent

In between Alpine endeavors and long routes I worked with Sacred Rok, enjoyed the vibe in Tuolumne, did a lot of school work, and spent a lot of time on the East Side. I sport climbed a lot, returning to crags like the Tioga Wall, Bear Crag and Pine Creek and checked out other spots like Column of the Giants. I found myself to be in good shape, having power and endurance and maybe even annoying my friends a little by doing their projects first go. I made some first female ascents at Bear Crag, Tuolumne, and Pine Creek and the second overall ascent of a new route at Pine Creek called Planet X ((13b), its the extension to Planetarium and its really worthy.)Not to brag too much but it’s been great fun!

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Hey Ladies, 13a; Column of the Giants, CA photo Lisa B

 

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Techy slab, crack edging Pine Creek fun. photo POD

I was fortunate that my ankle break was so textbook and didn’t require surgery. I was lucky it healed so well. As of now there are days when I don’t even remember I broke it, which is interesting because in the beginning I couldn’t imagine how it would ever feel normal again. I owe a lot to my dear husband, Ben Ditto, for all of his patience, help and support. It would have been a long, hard and miserable journey without him. I also owe a lot to all the people who helped me through rehab and training – without this core group of knowledgable and kind people I would still be a gimpy mess.

There are a few little projects to tie up and one more week of work before this Sierra sojourn comes to an end. I will meet Ben in France and we will spend the fall and winter in Europe again. The Verdon Gorge will be the first stop, a place that has been a dream of mine for many years. I am looking forward to spending some time there, pratiquer mon francais et bien manger.

I wish all of you a great end to summer and happy fall climbing season – and may the snow gods please deliver an abundance of moisture to the Sierra!

 

also…in case you all are wondering where Ben is in all of this:

In June he made a free ascent of the Freerider – like a bowse! In early July he departed the US and met up with the Belgians and Cpt Bob for another sailing expedition. As of now they have been to Greenland where they established some new routes and boulder problems and have been in Baffin Island doing the same. Stay tuned for more on their adventures. _DSC28614J5A9739_DSC2846


			

Seas of Change

The larger half of the moon glows with orange hues
against a black sky dotted with the lights of stars
across a landscape of space and time.
You are out there in the
far reaches of my mind.
Where the depths of cool, dark waters lap against the rock
Worn away by the tides-
coming and going.
Gritty particles of you are left in the crevices
of being one with the land in the most intimate way.
And when I see the moon, I see you
 Sailing through the seas of change.

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A Meditation on life as a pro climber

 

 

1

Getting to know the locals

I have a hazy memory of standing in front of the TV flipping the channels and stopping on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. This was In the back living room of the mid-century house I grew up in, during the heat of the southern Louisiana summer. Two men were on the very tip of some skinny spire, the ground dropped below them hundreds of feet away. I stood there in awe at what I later came to learn was Ron Kauk and Jerry Moffat making a rare free-climbing ascent of Lost Arrow Tip in Yosemite. I recall wondering what they were doing and imagining if I could do that, too.
Photo by Ben Ditto

2

On my home turf: Peace, 5.13d, Tuolumne Meadows

I think that’s where it all started. A tiny seed of an idea was planted and no matter how far fetched it seemed and how far away I lived from the rocks, I was destined to follow that seed. In my mid-30s, when I arrived at the threshold of being a professional climber, my first instinct was to run into that world without looking back. However, after spending years around some of the first professional climbers in the industry, I had gained some insight into the game and one question kept coming to mind: “Could I maintain my integrity, my soul, my story, but also be a good rep for the business?” I said yes to some opportunities that seemed in line with my ideals and no to the ones that felt like they would pull me in the wrong direction.
Photo by Jim Thornberg

3

The world within worlds

Something I have learned from climbing is that by spending time in nature one becomes more aware of other life—the worlds within worlds. We are all connected by at least one common thing—striving to survive but enjoying the time in between. It’s interesting that as humans we have the capacity to create how we will survive. The mind is a powerful thing. The imagination creates and the body enacts and between the two is the self and the spirit. Being a pro climber means that I get to practice my craft, perfect my movement, refine my technique. It allows me the opportunity to fine-tune my body and my movement as well as my mind.
Photo by Ben Ditto

4

#Vanlife

I’ve been fortunate in my climbing to experience faraway places, world-class destinations, dream climbs, amazing partners, and a lot of inspiration from both people and place. We travel much of the year and so it feels like life is in flux. Constantly on the move—to the next adventure, the next objective. So, there is no real solid definition of a home to settle into—save our camper van. Our sense of belonging to a place is fleeting despite spending large amounts of time in the Sierra Nevada. Every place we travel becomes our home. We have become 21st-century nomads on a landscape perpetuated not by the need to survive but by the desire to rock climb.
Photo by Ben Ditto

5

So tired

There have been so many places, so many moments—it’s only in looking at photographs that I can bring back the memories. Otherwise it’s as if it were another life. The idea of returning to place comes back time and time again. Through all of my years of flux I realize that the connections to place are deeper than a home to rest one’s head. The connection to place runs deep in our psyche—the relationships we have with the rocks, the landscapes, the people we meet along the way, and the experiences that build in us—these return us to “place” and help guide and center our lives. These are intimate and give us a connection to something concrete and tangible despite being ephemeral.
Photo by Ben Ditto

 reposted from: http://matadornetwork.com/sports/meditation-life-pro-climber/

My Soul Searches

Europe, my soul searches for you the cobblestone streets that wind through villages leading to glass windows of baguettes and old women whose men in work boots on tractors of plowed fields under endless skies filled with limestone undulations of time.

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Cities of young and beautiful,(cigarettes and cameras) buildings of histories and oldlike the dirt on the soles of the shoes of those who left the pastoral fields for the sunrises on rooftops.

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Continue reading

Winter Meditation on Climbing

Bouldering close to home on This is How we do it at the Russian Space Station (V8); Bishop, CA pic by Michael Pang

Bouldering close to home on This is How we do it at the Russian Space Station (V8); Bishop, CA
pic by Michael Pang

Well into our flight to New York, my head hit the tray table as I jarred awake, startled from my dream. I had just fallen for the 30th+ time on the last crux move of Picos Pardos, a route I had been climbing on for the previous three weeks. As my vision came into focus, I could make out the stewardess passing a customs form to the man sitting next to me. Our five-month trip to Spain to explore its limestone in places like Picos de Europa, La Hermida, Rodellar, and Oliana had finally ended, and we were heading back to California.

As I adjusted to my reality, I was a little relieved to be on the plane heading home rather than coming to rest at the end of my rope again. And yet even though I felt relief, I also felt empty, like I had a hole in my heart or like I’d just been dumped.

Picos Pardos; Oliana, Spain (8b/8b+). pic Tara Reynvaan

Picos Pardos; Oliana, Spain (8b/8b+). pic Tara Reynvaan

My husband was asleep in his seat. Two days before we boarded our plane, he had achieved a personal best in his climbing by making a successful ascent of the 55-meter overhanging route called Fish Eye — an aesthetic line of incut

Climbing the mountains of Spain. pic by Ben Ditto

Climbing the mountains of Spain. pic by Ben Ditto

crimps that ascends the very center of the crag on gold and blue limestone at Oliana. And while this was a big deal for him, no one on this plane knew or would even care.

I was excited for him and thankful for the time we had just spent together and the experiences we’d had, but I was downright depressed. Why had I spent so much time and effort trying something only to leave not having completed it, having fallen time and time again in the same spot? What was I doing with my life? I could see the doors of an existential crisis opening before me.

I am getting older. The sun and the wind define the lines on my face more with each passing day. What was a hobby in my teenage years has turned into a whole life, a passion I cannot ignore. Endless days have been spent amongst the rocks in places both near and far — from the alpine terrain of the Northwest Territories, to the granite monoliths of Yosemite, the sandstone towers in Utah, the sketchy crags in Mexico, the impeccable rock found throughout Europe.

Holidays have been missed, birthdays come and gone. I missed home — my grandmother’s hands, my mom’s voice, our traditional Lebanese foods, and the slow Southern accents. I missed my dad and his jokes and his sense of style.

My best friend was in California, a man who has devoted his whole life to climbing. His climbing resume is impressive to say the least. He is respected by many, has many acquaintances, and is involved in some great youth work. But he is single and lives alone, and I wondered if he hadn’t indirectly isolated himself from others by having chosen a life of climbing. Even though I was with my husband, I felt very lonely.

I knew it would be possible for me to climb Picos Pardos successfully — I had done all the moves, I had linked through the hard part but had fallen higher. I just needed another chance or two or five or who knows how many. I also knew I might not make it before we left, and I’d been telling myself it didn’t matter, that it was all just practice anyway.

Yosemite Granite. pic by Ben Ditto

Yosemite Granite. pic by Ben Ditto

But when I fell on my last try on our last day, it was hard to decipher the wave of emotions spreading over me. I wondered if it had all been in vain — if I had been fooling myself the whole time — and as I sat on the plane feeling sad, I wondered what was the point if in the end and in between we feel lost and lonely and empty?

By the time we were landing at JFK, the hole was filling with sad relief. I could move on, try something else, be released from my self-imposed prison. We tell ourselves, “We can do it,” because we have to convince ourselves it could be possible despite all odds — despite gravity, despite reach, despite conditions, despite any other external factor in the world — because we want to see what’s possible and what it takes to make the dream a reality. And many times we succeed. But more often than not, it’s these times that we don’t where we really learn about ourselves.


Picos de Europa

The West face of Picu Urriellu (naranjo de bulnes) stands proud above the surrounding peaks, drawing climbers from throughout Europe

Words by Katie Lambert, Images by Ben Ditto

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After months of planning, wondering and waiting, Ben, (our new friend) Edu, Sandra and I were finally standing below Picu Urriellu, except we couldn’t make out the formation, as everything in the cirque was enshrouded by Orbayu: a thick, misty fog with a smell not unlike the sea which it rolls off. Our only inkling that the Picu towered above us was that we stood on the porch of the refugio, which guards the approach to the base of the wall. Picu Urriellu, otherwise known as the Naranjo de Bulnes, a formation so grand that it can be seen from miles away in any direction, was still a mystery, even in such proximity.

Often referred to as the centerpiece of Spanish alpinism, the Picu has become Spain’s most famous mountain, yet it sits largely unknown to the rest of the world. It has been said that anyone wishing to call themselves a true climber needs to have this on his or her list. I was drawn to the Picu’s west face by its reputation of steep and bold limestone, by rumor of oddball trad placements, out-of-sight bolts and hard, technical free climbing. With there being around 50 free routes on the west face, my tick list would potentially be quite extensive. Climbing some of the harder free routes would be a more long-term goal; this would be an intro trip, a trip to get to know the wall, the place, and find the most inspiring lines. We would have a couple of weeks in the area before fellow Eddie Bauer athlete Caroline George would meet us. This would be our first time meeting and climbing together, and I was excited to have a good route picked out for us.

Murciana 78 (6a, A1+/ 7c+ free 550m) was one of my objectives. It was first put up as an aid line by Alfonso Cerdán, Juan Carlos Ferrer, Juan Carlos and José Luis Garcia Gallego in 1978, over a period of 9 days, and then eventually free climbed in 1990 by Nick Dixon and Andy Popp. I had come across some photos of the route in my searching in earnest for some sort of beta on getting to and climbing in the Picos. The crux pitch ascended an overhanging dihedral and then exited out onto a steep and technical-looking face. From the photo, the rock looked impeccable. But as we stood on the porch of the refugio and scanned the area for a good spot to pitch our tents and unload our burdensome packs, Murciana 78 and the west face, with all the rest of its routes, still stood as myth and rumor. And just as the anticipation of seeing the wall was about to kill me, the fog dissipated and gave us a very quick glimpse of the orange and grey towering monolith of limestone. In bed that night, tucked into my sleeping bag, I mulled over the guidebook, trying to decipher the history of the Picu. I drifted off to sleep that first night with the thrill and excitement of the days to come.

While there was a lot of action on the Picu for over half a century, most of it was accomplished by men. In 1971, another very historic ascent took place on the west face. Martine Ware—Caroline George’s mother—with her husband Larry climbed the Rabadá-Navarro. They spent two days on the wall, carrying bivy gear with them. With a newborn son (Caroline’s older brother) only 4 months old at home, she became the first woman to scale the west face, a feat that was newsworthy, as reporters and camera crews awaited them on top. Sometime in the 1980s, this route went free. As the decades rolled on, so did the talent level, frequency and magnitude at which people were capable of free climbing, and many other routes went free as well. The grades started to soar from the 5.10 and 5.11 range to 5.12, 5.13 and 5.14 range. The Pou brothers opened up numerous hard aid lines to hard free climbing, creating some of the world’s toughest walls. In 2002, Josune Bereziartu, a very talented and accomplished Basque climber, became the first woman to free climb one of the harder free lines on the west face,”El Pilar del Cantábrica,” going at 5.13. This made quite a mark in the history of the Picu, as well as female alpine rock climbing.

Katie and Caroline unwind at the Refugio after the approach, sorting gear for the climb

The next morning, we rose to clear skies and readied ourselves for the first climb of our trip, Soy Un Hombre Nuevo (7b+ 450m). Recommended to us by a Spanish friend, it would be a good introduction to the climbing there. The chill of the morning was almost unshakable, as the four of us hiked up to the base wearing jackets, windbreakers, hats and gloves. We were looking at approximately 6 more hours of cold shade until the sun hit the wall.

This would be Spanish alpine rock climbing at its finest. The climbing lived up to its reputation of thin, technical and run-out, with creative gear placements. Sandra gave over all her leads to me. In between many meters of climbing, there were sometimes spits (often mistaken for an expansion bolt), sometimes there were pods or small fissures to place cams or stoppers and sometimes there were cords threaded around rungs of limestone, where the water had worn away the rock behind. Very often, it was just better to run it out over long distances, not worrying about which funky piece of gear was better or worse. My previous season in Tuolumne Meadows had tuned me up just right for this, and I was overjoyed to lead us through the edges, sidepulls, gotas, and steep jugs. We climbed ten pitches or so of 5.11 and 5.12, with a handful of 5.10 and easier, joining Ben and Edu on the summit nine hours after setting off. The cold never gave way, and we were taxed from the climbing as well as all the shivering. Elated to be on the summit, we coiled our ropes and discussed which way to the descent. The last rays of sun cast a golden glow over the sea and across the vast valleys capped with paleozoeic limestone in alpine karst peaks. Picu Urriellu had not disappointed us. I was excited about what we had just experienced and looked forward to reaching the summit again with Caroline.

We arrived at our base camp just as the goats had come in for their daily visit. For a hefty fee, the refugio offers a three-plate dinner both to those who sleep there and those who wander in from the mountains. They serve bananas for dessert, and as disappointing as that may seem to us, the goats love the peels. It is the habit of the refugio workers to throw all food waste outside. Because of this, every day a herd of 100 or more goats comes running down the mountains into the cirque—through the tents, trekkers and climbers—straight to the food pile. After entertaining ourselves with the goat show, we set up camp and settled in. The evening was clear and gave us a great view of the wall. Going over the topo and pointing out the line of Murciana 78 to Caroline, it was agreed that we would climb it the next day. So once again I settled into my sleeping bag that night with the excitement of the day to come.

The sound of the Jetboil igniting roused me from my slumber. At 7 am the cirque of the Picu was still cast in darkness and only the promise of something hot to drink could lure me from my bag. As daylight shook it’s drowsy head we made tea, cheese and jam sandwiches and donned our climbing gear. The chill was uncomfortable but as we made our way to the base, blood coursing through our bodies it was decided that it wasn’t all that cold and we left behind our thicker down jackets in exchange for the lighter ones. The “crisp” mountain air would be perfect for trying hard on the 5.13 crux, a pitch that would be coming soon after the first two 5.10 corner pitches.

Having climbed on the wall the week prior I was used to it’s characteristics and opted to lead whatever Caroline didn’t want, but her enthusiasm was evident as she said I should take the crux pitches and we could just swap leads for all the rest. It was game on as I set off on the first pitch. The cool limestone was tacky and textured and as I stemmed and chimneyed my way to the belay placing some gear but not much I was eager to get to the business of the route. After belaying her up the first pitch she set off on the second 5.10 with more crumbly rock, gear placements and crack climbing. This brought us up to a gently sloping belay ledge and the crux of the route.

The wall arched slightly overhead and out of the rock opened up a steep, overhanging crack in a wide dihedral. After 40 feet of this the crack abruptly ended at a gentle overhang where the hard and technical face climbing started. Taking my shoes off I rubbed my cold and numb toes. I needed all the feeling I could get in order to stand on the small edges and high-step my way through the crimps. I had a quick snack, chalked up and set off.

The crack was steep and pumpy but amazingly friendly and took great cam placements. A threader marked the last move out of the crack and onto the steep face. Some tenuous and punchy moves led up to the first bolt and then a brief rest. From there it was more foot edging and more crimping up precision movements to the first crux. A cross-through to a small, sloping right hand edge, a high left foot and an aggressive move out left to a very positive incut. I matched there, shook out and continued the crimp fest to the next crux where a series of sidepulls and wafer like holds made the way to a long move up to a flat jug. I rested briefly and entered the sequence to the last crux consisting of a small gaston and a thrutchy move to another large flat hold and then I was clipping into the anchor. I had sent the crux pitch, a pitch which is mostly done as an aid climb and now there was just one 5.12 next followed by 10 or so more pitches of 5.11 and 5.10.

I belayed Caroline up and set off on the next pitch. It is here that I almost fell, as this pitch is also typically aided and there was no chalk to follow. I quested up, down, right and left. I kept a wicked forearm pump just at bay, and I barely managed to sort out the correct sequence on the correct holds to make it through to higher ground. Relieved to have made it to the anchors, I belayed Caroline up and happily handed over the next lead to her. From here, we pretty much swapped leads the whole way out, leading over similar terrain as the week prior with long runouts, some spits, and creative gear placements. With a couple hours of light left, we reached the summit! We had just made a team free ascent of the classic Murciana 78. Caroline reached a summit that both of her parents had stood on over 40 years ago. I made the first American (female) free ascent climbing–all 550m of it–with no falls. While this was not perhaps some groundbreaking ascent, it was another mark in the history of the Picu.

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