Fall of Man
Words and Photos by James Lucas
IN THE SPRING of 1988, Salt Lake City climbers Boone Speed and Jeff Pedersen drove through Arizona’s Virgin River Gorge (VRG) on a tip from a BLM-employed friend who had praised the velvety gray limestone he had seen there.
“It’s like the French rock in the magazine,” he told Speed, who, with Pedersen, had just started developing the limestone of American Fork, Utah, and putting up some of the hardest routes in the U. S. to date. Upon first glance, the VRG cliffs were small and somewhat unimpressive, but it was enough to keep them exploring. After finding orange limestone— unlike the solid gray European stone that was promised— they pulled over on the busy thoroughfare of I-15.
“We walked up to [what is now] Blasphemy Wall and just freaked out,” said Speed.
Pointing to an obvious and beautiful line, Speed declared, “I’m gonna do that.” The first route at the VRG, Fall of Man, goes through steep terrain with a series of pockets and small edges that lead into a technical slab. When he sent the route in 1990, Speed conservatively rated it 5.13a. It was a 12d to a 5.11 slab. “Back then it was bolted exactly the way everything else in the world was bolted,” he said. Though power drills came to the United States in 1987, most sport routes at the time were drilled by hand, requiring 30 minutes to place each bolt. Developers placed little protection due to the physical toil of hand drilling. Speed and others bought power drills during the early days of VRG development, but the ethic of sparse bolting remained.
“Being bold used to be a lot about what climbing was,” said Randy Leavitt, who also established many of the routes at the VRG, including Joe Six Pack (5.13a), Captain Fantastic (5.13c), and Horse Latitude (5.14a). “In the ’90s, we all still felt that; that was still part of our upbringing.” Climbers have since upgraded Fall of Man, calling it solid 5.13b.
THE UNCLIPPED DRAW 50 feet up on Fall of Man teased my waist. Wrapping my thumb around my fingers into a full crimp, I threw to a good left-hand edge—and missed. Screaming for 30 feet, I passed the unclipped draw as my shriek blended in with the roaring sound of the semis on the highway below. In December 2015 I met Alex Honnold at VRG to climb for a few weeks. I was stronger than ever, having spent the fall bouldering in Yosemite and sport climbing at Jailhouse in the Sierra foothills. Feeling fit and confident, I knew that now would be a good time to work
A JOSHUA TREE IN THE ARIZONA DESERT.
BRITTANY GRIFFITH CLIMBS FALL OF MAN (5.13B).