The route's crux looms overhead. And it's knee-scrapingly, ankle-gougingly wide. I'm always nervous about the ".d" grades, especially on routes like this one. The 'Adventure Punks' were a loose-knit cadre of 1980s hardmen who eschewed bolts in favor of a traditional ground-up style. This attitude contradicted the era's prevailing 'route construction' philosophy, but also lead to some of the park's best and hardest climbs. And as I rack up to lead, I recall how it was the crux offwdith on the group's signature route which nearly put an end to the Adventure Punks.
Richard Harrison had sent the the route's finale with a hip belay from partner Nick Nordblom, one #4 friend, and an apparently more-than-adequate set of brass nuts. Sixty feet of serious 5.10 separated
With courage derived from the presence of cams unavailable to the Adventure Punks, I squirm, squeeze, and chimney my way upwards and into the slot. Moving my chalkbag and #6 out onto my left hip, I walk up my #5 camalot and imagine the scene 27 years prior.
My problem? Air Sweden is "5.13 R"
I've always understood an "R" to mean that a fall is likely to result in injury. Hence in all but the most unusual of mountain circumstances*, I think adding an "R" is completely redundant when grading an alpine route, as very few don't feature some "fall and you're gonna get hurt" climbing.
Being above one's gear on a vertical or overhanging pitch is one thing, but climbing above one's gear with a strong likelihood of serious inury from a fall? That's something else. And it's something I generally seek to avoid. I don't want to just guess if that "R" stands for "rescue & evac." or "really clean airtime."
"I fell slapping quite high in the slot on my
second attempt, but it is a nice clean fall."
Dozens of climbers have been on Air Sweden, many of them falling repeatedly on film. (And here and here...) but not a scratch among them. It's not a dangerous route, and it shouldn't be "R" rated.
*an example of when I understand giving your alpine route an "R" rating is when falling from the route's crux, especially if it is several grades harder than anything else, would result in injury. A 5.11+ R with sketchy 5.9 and a well-protected 5.11 is different than a 5.11+ R where missing the crux onsight lands you in the hospital.
A couple years ago, my friend Brandon Workman and I climbed Index's Upper Town Wall via the 5-pitch sport climb called The Golden Road. A new route, the first pitch featured bolts next to a crack, with every other pitch being bolted face climbing. The first pitch also seeps water long after the upper pitches dry out, and it's not unusual to pull on bolts or a cam to get through the p1 wetness. That's what Brandon and I did, which had me remarking that the bolts on this pitch weren't even needed. I knew cracks shouldn't be bolted, and that-was-that. I mentioned it to a couple friends at the time.
And I was way wrong. Those bolts were placed to prevent folks from having to use the crack, which ran along the left-side of a solid-looking, but fully-detached block. A week ago, the Index guidebook author and climbing partner levered the whole block off the wall, while aiding through that section on a #3 friend. This is the exact same thing
Brandon and I had done, and with gear in the very same crack that I said should make those bolt unnecessary. Maybe the first ascentionist, someone who'd climbed at index for years and spent hours on the route, did actually know the rock a little better than a 21-year-old kid who did the climb one time. It's a good reminder...
There are few people who are more often in the wrong than those who cannot endure to be so.
Francois De La Rochefoucauld
And you might just find one.
One of our climbs in Red Rock proved to be obscure for reasons beyond the long approach and byzantine descent. It was also among the most memorable.
In an effort to try a few 'modern-moderates', Garrett, myself, and Rad Roberts hiked into First Creek Canyon, aiming for the 1000' slab climb called Lady Luck, and planning to link that into the 1000'+ Celtic Cracks on the Labyrinth Wall, which looms above the slabs.
For this day, our third in the canyons, the wind never gusted above 40MPH, a welcome change from the tempestuous chaos of prior outings. In fact, we all thoroughly enjoyed the calm on our first 7 pitches, lulled into a sense of complacency by the mellow climbing, solid stone, and sunny weather on the enjoyable Lady Luck.
While we snacked on a ledge, dark clouds flew in over Mt. Wilson, reminding us that Spring in the desert does not reward complacency.
By the time Rad lead the first pitch off the ledge, a steady mix of snow and hail covered positive handholds and ran down the cracks.By pitches 3 and 4, more than frozen precip would be falling.
Pitch3 of Celtic Cracks follows a left-arcing corner, which becomes a roof on the route's signature pitch. Unfortunately, this roof pitch sheltered us from falling snow only to shower us with falling dirt, gravel, flakes, and climbers.
Above this pitch, a short vertical sandbox brought us to a 600' offwidth and chimney crack. Snow continued to spit on us as for the 3 final pitches, where multiple 40' runouts, questionable flakes, and some stretches of suprisingly OK climbing crested the wall.
Bushwack canyoneering down a complex network of gulleys and rappel points provided ample time for contests like "what plant is poking me now?" and "who's got the most thorns in their boxers." Reaching our backpacks at Headlamp:30, we crowned Red Rock wildnerness as the day's only winner.
Here's Scott Bennett sending the roof on "The Breathing Stone"...
See the B&W photo below for the perspective on the pitch. I'd lead as well, with Garrett Grove following for the top-down photos of Scotty sending...
Lots more cool videos, stories, and photos of our 70+ pitches to come later.