Fall of Man

Climbing - - THE PLACE -

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



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