Cliff Drive Kansas City Climbing Guide



Cliff Drive Kansas City
Heidi Wirtz jamming 5.11 with jammed-knot pro, Adrspach-Teplice spires, Czech Republic. PHOTO: Topher Donahue
Lotus Flower Tower


Fremont Canyon Climbing Images

LEFT: A climber circumnavigates a hanging block wedged in The Great Chimney (55), Otter Cliffs, Acadia National Park, Maine. PHOTO: Andrew Burr

ABOVE: Scott Dooley and Kevin Daniels make It look easy on pitch 14 of Lotus Flower Tower (V 5.10d), Cirque of the Unc Urn babies, Canada. PHOTO: Greg Epperson

Lotus Flower TowerTommy Caldwell Dihedral Wall 14aCliff Drive Climbing Kansas City

ABOVE: Zac Robinson gets ail Evei Knievel on North Six Shooter, Indian Creek, Utah. PHOTO: Andrew Burr

FACING PAGE: Chris Weidner and Julia Warwick climbing All Time Loser (5.11b) in Fremont Canyon, Wyoming.

PHOTO: Celin Serbo



Julia Warwick Climbing

1970, PICTURE IT: a cherry-red Mustang guns it up the back roads out of a po-dunk Hudson Valley college town, burning rubber past farmhouses and orchards and around tree-lined hairpins toward a notch in ridge-top cliffs. The driver is sporting James Dean sunglasses, passenger's blonde ponytail flying free, and the radio's cranking out Diana Ross's current number-one hit, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Yeah, baby. Over the crest and down toward Minnewaska, past a lost city of stone hidden somewhere out there in the trees, where the serious, bespectacled John Stannard clings to an overhanging finger crack until his grip gives out, a few feet higher than last time.

Change scene: Halfway across the country and close to the sky, Bill Forrest inches his way up the last pitch on the first solo ascent of the Diamond in Rocky Mountain National Park, poised in his hand-tied webbing slings, fingering a cabled Foxhead from his rack and nestling it in a burnished granite crack next to a bloom of alpine phlox. All he can hear is that damned Jackson Five song stuck in his head.

And farther west, high on an even bigger wall, the South Face of Half Dome, Warren Harding and Galen Rowel! bed down in their Bat Tents, a bit giddy from too much

Sierra summer sun, but certain now that they won't face a repeat of their hypothermic rescue epic two years earlier. After succeeding on Half Dome, Harding descends and immediately recruits Dean Caldwell for another big climb; this pair will spend the rest of the climbing season, in a single push, on the Wall of Early Morning Light, making national headlines.

In 1970, the year the first issue of Climbing hit the counters of a handful of mountain


shops, American rock was on a roil. It was a volatile time. Nixon had just signed a ban on TV cigarette ads and another measure giving 18-year-olds the right to vote. Four anti-war protesters were shot at Kent State, Janis Joplin OD'ed on heroin, and the comic strip Doonesbury debuted, as did Earth Day and All My Children. The Beatles broke up, the Dead released American Beauty, and the

Blue Flame set a new land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats that would stand for 13 years.

More to the point, while the big walls were just as fashionable as they had been in the 1960s, Stannard was still persisting on the Gunks climb that would become Persistent (5 .lie), pioneering the "epic project" concept for half-pitch free climbs that has helped turn molehills into mountains ever since. At the same time, the teenaged "Hot Henry" Barber was new on the scene, soon to raise free-climbing standards in areas as far flung as Yosemite, New Hampshire, the Adirondacks, North Carolina, Australia, and Africa. And the next year, things really got rolling when a dramatic five-pitch line called The Naked Edge went free at 5.11, almost immediately transmogrifying into a mythical creature that ascended out of Eldorado Canyon and into climbers' dreams.

Charlie Porter, Jim Br id well, and others would soon set to work on climber's nightmares. Like many fine nightmares, these would begin as beautiful dreams, in this case, achingly beautiful panels of flawless Yosemite granite, framed in sky. Oooh, but then the dream turns dark: it's a quest for "A5."

Supplementing the old-school hooks

Homemade Portaledges

tc o and RlJRPs was Bill Forrest's new nut-gone-had, the copperhead. When mashed instead of slotted, these tiny pieces could lure the aid leader far, far out onto sketchy seams.

Homemade Portaledges

Blank sections were overcome with body-weight rivets instead of bolts. Some routes, like Jimmy Dunn's Cosmos and Charlie Porter's Zodiac went up solo. On the team efforts, lie layers were not always forced co suffer in slings, but now could heckle from homemade portaledges, yelling up encouragements—maybe a few appropriate lines from a Doors or a Cream song—through clouds of smoke. There was no end to the madness: The Shield in '72, the Tangerine Tnpand Mescal ¡to in '73, the Pacific Ocean Wall in'75.

Later in the 1970s, the rising free-climbing standards took to the heights, and numerous big routes were discovered that involved sustained 5.10 and 5.11 pitches, often in true big-wall or alpine settings. The east face of Washington Column became Astroman, free-climb of the century, 1975. Goss and Logan's FFA of the Diamond, same year. Keeler Needle and Mount Con-ness, the Northwest Face of Half Dome*, and the Cruise, 1976. Canada's extremely remote, 18-pitch Lotus Flower Tower (see Gallery, p.39) was freed by a bunch of Gunks climbers at 5.10+ or 5.11—how proud was that?

On the smaller rocks and in the bars, we started to use the grade 5.12. Climbers bad attained that level of difficulty earlier (John Gill's 1 961 Thimbie route, for example), in obscure moments of inspiration, but mostly in bouldering-like settings and without really recognizing what they'd done. Now the grade bit print. The first big claims came from the Valley: Fish Crack (Barber, 1975),

*}im Erickson ami Art Higbee aided a short section near the summit, returning later to free a 5.11+ slab variation, but the all-free ascent was done later by Leonard Coyne,


1. Bill Forfeit tops out on the Diamond, first solo ascent, 1970. Forrest was an active pioneer in the desert Southwest, with major first ascents including die north face of Baboquivari Peak, AZ, and die east face ofShiprock, NM.

2. Cine of the most prolific and widely traveled American free climbers ever, Henry Batber here onsi^hts the first free ascent of Yosctihte's coveted "open project" Butterballs, Cookie Cliff.

3. John Stannard, a 1970s Shawangunks icon who did as much to promote "clean climbing" as any [nan alive, works the roof of Kansas City, one of the area's firsr ,S.12s, freed by John Bra&£ in 1973.

4. Roger Briggs, shown here on a mid-1970s repeat of his free ascent of Eldorado Canyon's Diving Board, lias been one of Colorado's most influential climbers for over 40 years.

5. John Gill, spiritual leader of American bonldering, was still climbing strong in the late 1970s, shown liete on one of his easier problems. Ripper Traverse (V5), in a closed area near Pueblo, CO.

Ray Jardine Climber

Crimson Cringe, Hangdog Flyer (Ray Jardine, 1976). Beautiful, atiiletic, unrelenting granite cracks.

Bouldering, too, was coming into its own. Gill's incredible achievements of the 1960s, and his eloquent, even spiritual advocacy of small-rock gymnastics, inspired modern feats on rocks big and small. The blocs were gaining legitimacy, yet many of today's popular areas had never been touched. There were no regulations yet at Hueco Tanks, Texas, because only about two people had ever bouldered there. The real boom was still in the future, and the state of the art was captured by one evocative 1 978 ascent in Yosemite Valley's Camp 4: Midnight Lightning.

At the face-climbing areas, too, numerous 5.12s went up. With a few exceptions, these more technical climbs grew increasingly scary and serious, and the tiny new Australian RPs often only made matters worse. Then, at the end of the '70s, one of the great pioneers of Valley 5.12, fardine, put his secret weapons on the market, magical insta-protection devices that he oh-so-appropriately called "Friends."

Cams were ridiculously controversial at the time, by the way. Polemics raged in the pages of Climbing. In those back-to-nature days of "clean climbing" and knotted-web-bing swami belts, many climbers chafed at the idea of adding spring-loaded gadgetry to their small quiver of "simple tools." But we adapted.

And we continued to adapt. We definitely had no trouble accepting sticky rub

Old School Swami Belt

ber, when Fires, the predecessor of today's high-performance rock shoes, came out of Spain in 1982. Suddenly, three-quarters of the country's most difficult free climbs lost a letter grade or more in difficulty. By silent agreement, we let the old ratings stand.

Flight school continued. Post-WWII nylon ropes had put the coffin nail to the adage, "the leader must not fall," and Royal Robbins had already pioneered the concept of taking a few whippers for the cause. John Stannard refined the process until it resembled smali-rock siege climbing, and Tony Yantro {and later, Todd Skinner) ^

figured, while you're hanging there, you ^

might as well work the damned moves! To ^

the purists' chagrin, cams and hangdogging g both prevailed, and for the same reason: they g made free climbing easier so we could climb <g harder. Wait, does that make sense? g

The high-water mark of this era was 2

Yaniro's Grand Illusion, a huge and ap- £

palling dihedral/roof crack at Sugarloaf, 5

California. At soiid 5.13 and no glorified <

boulcier problem, it was the undisputed £

hardest, burliest free climb in the world in 2

1979. Another 1 979 highlight: the first FFA 5

of an El Cap Grade VI, the West Face, by <

Consider for a moment those rough-and- ^

tumble days when 5.12 or harder pretty much meant one thing: torquing body parts into fissures specifically chosen to be tlared, featureless, and the wrong size. Climbing 5.12 today is challenging, but on

Topless Catherine Freer

the right kind of stone, even serious recreational climbers can find it quite pleasant. But American rock like the overhanging jug-hauls of the Red or the huliet faces of Owens River Gorge were almost entirely unknown in the early 1980s. Before rap-bolting, 5.12 hurt.


□ This was not to last. We all send harder

5 now, with less fear and pain and blood.

■E Headpointing, highballing, and the Indian a: Creek Revival can still give restless youth

< a taste of the cage-fight, but for the rest of

n us, there's the option of non-contact karate. ^ Let's call that progress.

Pain and fear subsided, replaced by an obsession with ratings. Eldo and Gunks climbers clamored for a new system that would include "mental" difficulties, so that a "5.11 X" climb like David Breashears' Perilous Journey would garner the same recognition as a 5.12 crack ... but no one could agree how this would work. By default, we kept rating routes by their pure gymnastic difficulty, rather than their overall demands as rock-climbing challenges. This made it much safer to chase numbers. (Until E grades, that is, but American rock was free from that sinister spell.)

Let the record show, however, that sport climbing was not soft, slack, or sloppy. In fact, it started out very seriously. It was nationalistic to a degree that climbing hadn't seen since the early assaults in the Himalaya. It produced tendonitis and pulley injuries. It caused eating disorders.

Throughout the 1970s, Yosemite was king of the world in difficult rock, but in 1980, France got its first 5.13, and soon a new generation of Frenchmen including Patrick Berhault and J.P. Bouvier introduced the 8a (5.13b) grade to the Continent. This was a blow, and not the last. Back in the day, American climbers coined the term "French free" because every time you'd see a French climber, they'd be yarding madly on gear as if some Alpine storm was hot on their tail—which for them, in fact, was the whole point of any cragging exercise.

When the French got a taste for gymnastic free climbing, American dominance was toast. (The Brits had had harder free


1. Ron Kauk vying for die first Iree ascent of Fish Crack, one of Yosemite Valley's first 5.12s, a tew days before Henry Barber sent it in 1975.

2. Karl Wiggins leads the first ascent of Luxury Liner, later known as Supercrack, UT, 1976. Though not the first Indian Creek crack to be climbed, ir was the firsc of the "flawless" splitters, a soul-searching experience before the appearance :>1 spring-loaded cams.

3. Ron Kauk on his 1978 route Midnight Lightning, Columbia Boulder, Yosemite, still the world's most famous boulder problem.

4. Tony Yaniro established some of the hardest crack climbs in the world in the late 1970s, including rhis one, The Pirate (5.12d), at Suicide Rock, CA, 1978.

5. Alan Watts was more than just "the Godfather of American (¿port climbing,'1 as he dem ■ onsrrates here, oti The Acid Crack (5.12d), first led free by John Bachar in 1983.

John Bachar

climbs for decades, bur their rating system was so cryptic and their crags so scruffy and short that they were easily ignored ... until jonny Woodward and Jerry Moffat showed up Stateside.)

American rock was no longer at the center of the universe, and the old guard acted as if they had been told the earth revolves around the sun. Then the new generation flipped the bird to the traddies and threw themselves into the fray.

Anyone who had visited Europe realized that bolted terrain was the way to go and wanted a piece of that action. And how cool Were those tights? Ugly monikers such as "rap-bolter" and "hangdog" were out. "Beta" — a term coined by the late Jack Mileski—was in.

The old-school crags of the US were far too conflicted to lead the revolution. Yosemite? War zone. Eldo? Ditto. But out in the Pacific Northwest, another crag had been quietly moving into the future.

When Yaniro sent Grand Illusion (5.13b) in 1979, the hardest climb at Oregon's Smith Rock was 5.! lb. That year, a free-thinking climber named Alan Watts moved to town, repeated the hardest routes at the sleepy little trad area, and moved on to freeing whatever aid routes remained. Scary seams got old fast, and the fragile volcanic tuff definitely put the whammy on the prospects

The Pacific War Hopkins

of ground-up new routing. But the steep, blank faces of Smith were an offer Watts couldn't refuse: enter "the Godfather of American sport climbing."

At first, Watts knew nothing of what was going on in Europe. He felt, however,

"Watts Tots, done two weeks earlier, featured a pin and fixed nut.

almost completely free from local peer pressure, unlike younger climbers at more established areas. In a perfect storm of necessity and rebellion, Watts made his own rules for the next generation of Smith's free climbs. Against all odds, these rules would become the norm for a majority of America's short new rock routes for the rest of the century.

Watts' first true sport route* was a geometrically fascinating overhanging arete feature. In real life, it's disappointingly short, but most climbers would never actually see it. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when the climber is wearing neon lycra; though "only" 5.12c, Chain Reaction became the most photographed route of the 1980s and did more to spread the love than all the spray from either shore of the Atlantic.

Recall that Watts was also an accomplished trad climber and no stranger to cracks. In 1985, he freed a thin crack on the East Pace of Smith Rock's Monkey Face, pushing American standards for the first time since 1979, to 5.13d. Watts also cleaned and bolted the next generation of Smith testpieces. In the years to come, visiting French climber Jean Bapriste "Jibe" Tribout would send two of these to produce


g the hardest sport pitches in the country, To Bolt or Not to Be (1986, America's first 5.14), and Just Do It (1992, 5.14c).

The mid 1980s was an incredibly contentious time. As trad and sport vied for turf and prestige, it produced terrible bitterness and division in the climbing community. There were countless editorials and climbers' meetings. There was bolt chopping. There were fistfights.

In the Valley, escape from Chief Tenaya's Corse could only be found on the big walls, and the decade produced a huge surge in standards there. Peter Croft teamed up with John Bachar in 1 986 for a one-day link-up of the Nose on El Cap with the Northwest Face of Half Dome, inaugurating a new game of Grade VI enchainments that continues to escalate today. The next year, Croft stepped into a realm that no one could quite wrap their head around when he did back-to-back free solos of Astroman and the Rostrum, which at that time were still two of the Valley's longest and hardest free climbs. In 1988, the Wyoming team Todd Skinner and Paul Piana mixed every trick in the sport-climber's book with every bit of cowboy grit they could glean from their Louis L'Amour novels to pull off an epic, landmark first free ascent of the Salathe


1 i '\l:l Skinner was a pioneer not just of difficult rock climbs, but of the professional-climber lifestyle. Beginning in the early 1980s, lie began a quest ro climb the world's hardest crack. When lie freed this one, City Park (5.13c) at Index Town Walls, WA, in 1986, lie came close.

2. Bright is right for Craig Smith's "Rose move" on Darkness at Noon (5. i 3a), Smith Rock. i.While competition climbing found immediate success in Europe in the mid 1 980s, the US had always lagged behind in putting on flashy, mainstream climbing events. One early exception was the international extravaganza held at Snowbird, UT, in 198 S Shown here is the French superstar Patrick F.dlinger on his way to a crowd-pleasing win. 4. Catharine Freer, Beth Wald, and Fred Beckey, slaves to 1980s fashion, 5.Salt Lake City hardman Merrill Bitter on the incomparable Chain Reaction (5.12c), Smith Rock, OR.

6. Rob Robinson, early ambassador for steep Southern sandstone, established some of the wildest traditional climbs in the East, such as this one, Hands Across America (5.12c), Tennessee Wall, TN.


Hands Across America Tennessee WallOpen Hand Climbing

(VI 5.13b). The West Face had gone in '79, but now, the granddaddy of American big walls was really open.

1990* Against a backdrop of sandstone towers, a Toyota pickup is parked askew, tailgate open with a cascade of cams spilling onto a tarp thrown down in the dirt. Two scruffy climbers rack up and tape their hands, skin and clothes stained ochre, the B52's on the tape player rocking out with "Love Shack." North Sixshooter today, the cracks of Indian Creek tomorrow. Dirtbagging was sweet, and more people were doing it. In fact, the sport was in the middle of a decade-long period of exponential growth never before and never since seen.

Lynn Hill was home from the European comp circuit, having kicked serious ass at the World Cup. She then handed off to Robyn Erbesfield, who would do the same, compensating somewhat for American men's inability to prevail on plastic (Jim Karn being a notable exception, taking third overall in 1991).

Hill was coming back to her trad roots, with a specific project in mind, which she pulled off in September 1993: the Nose of El Cap, where the best men, from all over the world, had tried and failed. Hill sent the two cruxes, the Great Roof, one of the Captain's most spectacular pitches, and "Houdini" corners, the Valley's blank

Cowboy King 13c

est 5.1 4 (which she called 5.13b). Then she linked it all in a continuous four-day push. Not content, she came back the next year and sent in a day. If theire had ever been any doubt, Hill settled once and for all her status as absolute supreme mother goddess of American rock.

Hill was in her early 30s when she reset the bar for big-wall free climbing, and it was as if in the process she birthed some spiritual force that manifested itself in the new generation. Or maybe it had more to do with rhe new incubator that since its origins in the late 1980s had become a way of climbing life in urban areas across the country: rhe indoor rock gym. Whatever the reason, a crop of youngsters appeared who would rock American rock like it had never been rocked before.

in the next couple of years, Katie Brown, Beth Rodden, Dave Hume, Tommy Caldwell (the elder statesman of the crew), and Chris Sharma all made their first headlines, average age about 15. On his first major road trip (who was driving?), Sharma found himself willing and able to send Boone Speed's superproject at the Virgin River Gorge, Necessary Evil (5.14c), probably the hardest pitch in the country at the time and the first evidence of a meteoric talent that still burns. In fact, across the range of difficulty a whole youth culture blossomed in the late 1990s, much of it revolving around bouldering, a completely new sport after another 1990s innovation: crashpads.

Leonard Coyne Black Canyon Verve Climbing Clothing

1. Lynn [ (ill on her groundbreaking first free ascent of rhe Most3 (VI J.14a), F.l Capitan, Yosemite. What more must we say?

2. Kurt Smith circa 1993 on his route Slice of Life, Rifle, contender tor the first 5,14 in Colorado. Only recently, with 5.13+and 5.14 routes regularly climbed, has the early history of this grade been sorted and confirmed.

3. Christian Griffith, vocal spokesman for sport tactics during the "bolt war" years, shown here oil his 1987 route Verve (5.13c), Boulder Canyon, CO, that inspired his clothing line of the same name.

4. Califomian Scott Cosgrove operated a little lower on die radar screen than many pioneers of 5.14 sport. He established this route, Rtistafarian (5.14b?) at Joshua Tree, in 1991, making it one of rhe first routes of that grade in the US.

5. Peter Croft, free-soloist, speed climber, and crack master extraordinaire, jams Desert Gold (5.13a), Red Rock, NV.

Peter Croft Climber

And THAT brings us TO thedawn of the New Millennium, which is already starting to seem like a long time ago. What's new? Well, Subarus outnumber Toyota pickups at the crags, and you're more likely to hear hip-hop than reggae. Blue jeans are coming back, as is off-width climbing (are these two related?). What would Harding have said, up at one of the Dawn Wall bi vis after a hard day of bathooking and a few swigs of Christian Brothers, if he had looked over to the west and got a wine-induced premonition of Dean Potter soloing, rope coiled, up Pancake Flake, or to the east, of Alex Huber free climbing through the Great Circle in his leather pants?

And the future? We might as well end with a shout-out to Sharma's jumbo Love, a super-overhanging 250-foot pitch of 5.15 limestone. It's a good place to be, way back there and up above the desert on the Third Tier of Clark Mountain. Nice view. Free camping. More overhanging limestone, yet unclimbed.


1. Chris Sharma looks into tlic tiitucc on th e 250-foot pitch of Jumbo Love ■ 5.15 b). Clark Mountain, CA.

2. Since climbing her first 5.14a (To Bolt or Not to Be, Smith Rock) over 10 years ago, Beth Rodden has only gotten better, with highlights including an pnsight of Sugarloafs Grand Illusion (5, l ie); the FFA of l urking Fear, F.l Cap, with Tommy Caldwell; and this route, Meltdown (5.14c), Yosemite Valley, perhaps the world's most difficult thin-crack climb, 2008.

Crack Climbing GuidJoshua Tree Jumbo Rocks ClimbingJumbo Rocks Climbing Routes

SUMMER 2006: Heidi Wirtz scanned the south face of the Ogre's Thumb, searching for uncijmbed lines up the 3,ooo-foot granite wall above. She stood awestruck on Pakistan's Biafo Glacier, surrounded by the wild peaks of the karakoram, imagining each pitch ...till a scream shattered the stillness.

Heidi Wirtz and the balancing act of being a pro climber / By Chris Weidner

Chris Weidner ClimberHeidi Wirtz

J(x was Lizzy Scully, her close friend and climbing partner, Wirtz ran hack to find Scully sprawled face down beneath her 70-pound pack, blood from facial cuts staining the glacier crimson. Scully had slipped off a small ice tower, breaking a rib. She could walk, but couldn't climb, and while Scully recovered in basecamp over the next week, five splitter days slipped by. Over the following six weeks, the pair managed two solid new-route attempts, both unsuccessful. With 10 days left and a terrible weather forecast, Abbas, their cook, invited the women to his village nearby. They accepted.

"Heidi Almighty," 38, a professional climber since 2002 (her sponsors include The North Face, La Sportiva, Petzl, Julbo, Clif Bar, Pacific Outdoor, and Adventure Medical), has a reputation for strength, talent, and bull-headedness on all terrain: rock, ice, and alpine. It's been said that Wirtz can onsight 5.11 anywhere. "She can pull on gear, free-climb hard, throw in ice tools," the iate Micah Dash once explained. "She can climb up whatever terrain is in front of her, no matter what skills it requires. She always takes her leads and gets 'em done."

Having cut her teeth in the trad bastion of the Gunnison Valley, Colorado, Wirtz is not your typical 5-whatever rock jock. In fact, she's never climbed 5.13. But she's undeniably hardcore: when Wirtz first moved from California to Colorado, she lived in a tent outside Crested Butte (elevation 8,885 feet) — for three years. "I remember being cold sometimes, like when it was -30 F," she says, "but ! never got frostbite or anything."

In her 19 years climbing, Wirtz has established new routes in Patagonia, Jordan, Morocco, and Siberia, as well as numerous first ascents in Wyoming and Colorado (see the "Heidi Almighty Ticklist," p.60). She and Vera Schulte-Pelkum hold the female speed records on three iconic Yosemite walls: the Nose, Half Dome, and Leaning Tower, all established in just one week in June, 2004. (Wirtz, however, says she's "not proud of that" because her goal that summer was to link Half Dome and El Cap in a day. And Wirtz felt they could have climbed "way faster" than they did.) Today, Wirtz is perhaps the only pro female climber who uses climbing as a vehicle for philanthropy, educating girls in Pakistan, Nepal, and Liberia.

This last achievement was an outgrowth of Wirtz and Scully's visit to their cook's village, Khane, in 2006. Children queued up to hold the Americans' hands, and the village mothers threw them dinner parties every night. They toured the government-funded boys' school, a clean, whitewashed struc

ture surrounded by a concrete wall and an extensive garden. But the girls' school was a different story. Half the size of the boys' school (but with as many students), the ramshackle, disintegrating hovel provided little shelter, and the yard had become an open-air outhouse. Built with short-term funding from the World Bank, the school was no longer maintained. Worse, the Pakistani government wouldn't hire a teacher, so the village paid a paltry sum to a teenager who functioned mostly as a babysitter. The climbers felt they had to do something. "It just seemed like a no-brainer," says Wirtz.

Back in Colorado, Wirtz and Scully wasted no time creating Girls Education International (GEI; Scully formed a website and sought help from the Mountain Fund, while Wirtz helped write business plans and raise money by "doing the kind of stuff I know how to do"—like throwing dance parties, attending trade shows, and talking it up.

The organization grew slowly at first, but in 2008, Wirtz was one of five semi-finalists for the Inspiring Soles Award, which honors athletes who raise awareness for meaningful causes. Nominated for GEI, as well as her regular volunteer work for £

FfERA Climb4Life events, the Khutnbu z Climbing School, and the dZi Foundation, o Wirtz received $5,000, which she put toward GEI's Liberia Scholarship Program. The award will provide $71 per year for 47 girls, covering their school fees through spring 2010.

'"IPirtzgrew up in South Land Park, California, a Sacramento suburb, the third of four children. Her parents divorced when she was six, after which she ricocheted between mom's house and dad's. She quickly adopted a fierce, albeit curious, independent streak, filling the family void by developing intense relationships with peers, some older, who would party, dance, and drink. "I was a total punk, you know? I can't imagine raising me," she admits.

Wirtz's nickname, "Heidi Almighty," originated from her bold climbing style, but it could just as easily have stemmed from her unfettered willingness to shift life direction. Take her college stint at Humboldt State University in northern California: she quit in 1990, after a year and a quarter, to surf—her first passion — and to follow the Grateful Dead. Then in December 1990, a friend dragged her to Crested Butte for a weekend. As Wirtz bicycled the vacant streets, the bike's knobby tires split a track through fresh snow and she thought, This is where I need to he. A month later she

pitched a tent in the back-town woods, and stayed for the next three years. As Meg Npffsinger, one of Wirtz' closest friends, puts it, "Some people are too scared to follow their passion; Heidi embraces it."

In winter, Wirtz would rise early for her job as a baker at the Crested Butte ski area, emerging from an enormous nest of down blankets and thrift-store garb. She also man-

"i was a total punk, you know? i can't imagine raising me."

aged the Marriott Hotel's banquet and restaurant, saving up money so she could play the rest of the year. She lived on less than $7,000 per year ("and only surpassed that recently," she says). Wirtz later "upgraded" to a hallway-closet "apartment" that she shared with her boyfriend in a house with 20 roommates, several of whom resided in the laundry room and sauna.

By 1993, Heidi had scrambled in the California Sierra, and toproped some in her sneakers, but it wasn't until friends took her ice climbing near Gunnison that she really got hooked, "ice climbing takes you to the most amazing places," she explains. For the next two years, Wirtz climbed every chance she had. She racked up mega vertical mileage—some rock but mostly ice—after which she embarked upon one of her favorite early climbing trips, cooked up with her then-boyfriend Lou Bartell: the "Ultimate Week" of Colorado ice. They began with Vail's classic pillars Rigid Designator (WI5) and The Fang (WI6); drove to Ouray and swapped leads on the 1,000-foot Birdbrain Boulevard (WI6 M6); hit up the Tellttride area multi-pitch testpieces Bridalveil Falls (WI5+) and Ames Ice Hose (WI5/6 M6); and finished with a few classics in Rocky Mountain National Park. After her intro years on ice, Heidi "got smarter" and gravitated toward the stone.


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Heidt Wirt* edging her way up 10,000 Maniacs (5.11c), Penitente Canyon, Colorado.

One day in Crested Butte's Taylor Canyon, Heidi tied in to lead her first offwidth, a 5.9 gaper whose name she can't recall. She slid in a hex, and then bear-hugged up one side of the fissure. Her five-foot, four-inch frame (and negative-two ape index) didn't offer enough reach to place gear, so she kept climbing. The crack spit her off, sending her for a sliding, sideways, 30-footer that stopped just short of the ground as the hex skated a few inches and finally caught. Local tradster Joe Melley poked around the corner and surveyed Heidi's bruised, bleeding side. "You're not supposed to fall," he deadpanned, himself limping from a sprained ankle recently incurred in a trad fall. The two became regular partners and soon after started dating.

And so began Wirtz's tutelage under Melley and his band of nails-hard trad men (who Wirtz dubbed the "Old Dads"). Wirtz's old-school apprenticeship rendered her a product of an earlier era, more a Catherine Freer than an Emily Harrington. Crested Butte local Les Choy (aka "Mr. Standards") wouldn't let Wirtz hang, even on toprope, and Melley prescribed that she follow 100 pitches at each grade before leading it. Heidi eagerly racked up these miles in the Black Canyon, Taylor Canyon, and Indian Creek (where she used to live for months), and on road trips to places like Red Rock, Zion, and Yosemite Valley. For five years, she plowed deliberately through the Yosemite Decimal System until she could lead 5.11 trad, onsight—anytime, anywhere.

November 1994: Yosemite Valley's cafeteria, packed with dozens of traddies and wall-rats, reeked of damp polypropylene and bad coffee. Snowflakes spun from the sky, harely visible through the steamed-up windows. All chitchat on this cold morning revolved around the two climbers stuck nine pitches up El Cap's Lurking Fear. Here, Wirtz shared a tiny ledge with Chris Pur-nell, shivering inside a 20-year-old sleeping bag that didn't zip. This was her first wall on her very first climbing trip outside of

Colorado. From the cafeteria, Scully, then a wide-eyed trad rookie, wondered, "Who is this chick? She's a badass! I've got to meet her." Three days later, Heidi walked into The Caff through the "Exit Only" door and sat near Scully.

"That was a wild time up there, eh?" offered Scully. Wirtz smiled, and her blue eyes lit up. "D'ya want to go to J-Tree?" she asked. The pair hit the road for three months, trad climbing all over the Southwest.

"Heidi would wake up at 6 a.m., go running, do yoga, then make tea," says Scully. "Then she'd wake me up, and be like, 'C'mon Lizzy, let's go, let's go!' And then we'd climb 5.11 all day." Mostly Wirtz took the sharp the girls couldn't tell the hound's

Tooth from Snow-

patch Spire, and they'd never even heard of the the

South Howser Tower Minaret.

end—Scully was then leading 5.10—and was, Scully recalls, "so tiny, so strong, and so obsessed."

This initial trip formed a strong—if volatile—partnership that would take the two to India, Canada, all over the States, and then to Pakistan. For the last six years, despite her vagabond lifestyle, Wirtz has based out of Boulder, Colorado, where Scully also resides.

Wirtz today lives in a one-story ranch house in east Boulder's farmland. She shares the house with two roommates, including her boyfriend, Patrick Megeath, 23. He's a routesetter at the Boulder Rock Club by day and "DJ Dirt Monkey" by night, spinning for clubs and events in Boulder, Megeath and Wirtz climb together often, but his real passion lies in music—and in Heidi. She attends most of Patrick's gigs, and is usually first on the dance floor. She'll bend deep at the waist with every techno pulse, arms swinging, pounding wildly, smiling perpetually. Her movements are quick, sweeping, and so energetic that she must appreciate dance, on some level, as a workout.

Heidi's talent and insatiable drive are counterbalanced by equal parts whimsy and ambivalence. Her motivation is sometimes shaky, and her habit of being psyched in the morning but indifferent at the crag is well known among her regular partners. The filmmaker Pete Mortimer, who has shot with Wirtz on several occasions, observes that rather than climb, "She might be just as happy hiking around, stretching, or writing in her journal." Longtime climbing partner Topher Donahue theorizes that this is precisely why Heidi excels at long routes—that once she gets off the ground, she's focused until the top, eliminating her need to "retool her psyche every 45 minutes."

Cperhaps the high point of Wirtz's partnership with Scully came in August 2002, when the women used a $1,000 Mountain Harchvear grant to realize their dream of a first ascent in Canada's Bugaboos. Considering the limited depth of their research, this was an unlikely coup. At the trailhead, the girls couldn't tell the Hound's Tooth from Snowpatch Spire, and they'd never even heard of the 2,000-foot granite incisor called the South Howser Tower Minaret.

Six grueling hours from the car, with one pair of crampons and no ice axes, Wirtz and Scully staggered over the loose, icy Bugaboo Snowpatch Col. They aimed for the Howser Massif, where Half Dome and El Cap-sized walls lurk on the Bugs' "back side." The duo wandered across the horizontal Vowell Glacier in a swirling whiteout, unable to discern snow from cloud. By sheer luck, they ran into Marc Piché, author of the Bugaboos climbing guide. As they huddled in the mist, Piché scribbled a topo of the South Howser

Tower Minaret and its four existing aid lines. "You gals have to do the Minaret," he said. "Nobody's freed it."

The following day, Wirtz glassed the Minaret's contours, sketching climbable features. She fleshed out Piche's drawing, adding pitch-by-pitch detail. The next two days were what Lizzy calls, "some of the best climbing days of our lives."

Early the next morning, the women cruised the first low-angle cracks of the Minaret's west side. Pitch four presented a runout 5.10+ face traverse between climbable cracks. On pitch seven, Wirtz's scarred, tanned legs pressed against one chimney wall, her back braced against the other. Between her legs, the snowfield at the Minaret's base appeared flat and distorted;

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