Notes from the top
active free soloist. Notable ascents include third-classing Ahab at the base of El Cap, a 50- metre 5.10b that narrows from chimney to offwidth. To descend, he down-soloed Moby Dick Center, a f ist crack starting with a hard finger crack. He free soloed Sentinel Rock i n 1977, after climbing it four times, via the 500- metre Steck-Salathé 5.10b route. In ’ 78, he onsight free soloed the Lost Arrow Chimney 5.10a 400 m on the Upper Yosemite Falls Wall while carrying Albert Camus’ down his pant leg so he had something to read while killing time. The route doesn’t top out, so he knew he’d have to wait for his buddies to drop lines down the final 60- metre of the wall for him to prussic out on. His ascent of Pipeline came one year later.
“I only really soloed for a few-year period. After those big three there was one more,” he says as he finishes a cold brew and I hand him one more. While third classing the 300- metre Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral Rock 5.9 in Yosemite, “which was going swimmingly,” he reached the crux move 10 pitches up, one rope length from the summit. The route is notable for its devious route finding, wide cracks and sustained steep jamming.
The single move stopped him cold. He climbed up a few moves to the crux, then back down, then he considered the seriousness of his situation. “My girlfriend would be in Yosemite the very next day,” he says. “I didn’t want her to find out that I died soloing.” So he down climbed the route and gave up long soloing right then.
Today Grug has t wo daughters, aged 22 and 27. He is a software developer and likes to climb on the weekends in the Black Canyon whenever possible.
“I’ve never lost my sense for adventure climbing. That’s what turns me on. Bouldering doesn’t turn me on. Going to the gym doesn’t turn me on. But the Black Canyon turns me on,” he says. “I like to climb like a Frisbee dog likes to run after and catch a Frisbee.”
Looking back, Grug says his ascent of Lost Arrow Chimney got a blurb i n
magazine but that Pipeline received zero press. “I knew that good climbers knew about it and that was good enough for me.” Rumour has it that route was recently soloed.