Siie Must Appreciate

DANCE, ON SOME LEVEL,

AS A WORKOUT.

the boulders and talus lay tiny and surreal, like grains of sand almost 2,000 feet below. Above, stacked, fang-like blocks guarded a roof that looked "super gnarly," Wirtz breathed—cold, alpine air, with an odor distinctly granite — then shimmied, legs aquiver. Her blue eyes turned upward. She flashed a toothy smile and, finding her roots, committed to the unknown.

Wirtz fired the 5.11 offwidth through a roof—one of the route's most memorable pitches. On pitch 1 1, a long, smooth, 5.1 1 dihedral brought them to a small ledge below' a roof-capped corner at sunset. They'd circumnavigated half the Minaret, threading a free path through several plumb-line aid routes. Wirtz and Scully shared a bivy sack that only reached their waists and shivered until dawn, waking up groggy beneath the

Wirtz on a 200-foot 5.11 protected entirely with threads,

crux, twelfth pitch.

When Wirtz went to relieve herself, her harness' leg loops, somehow unattached, slid off the ledge, leaving her with just a swatni. With what looked like half a dozen pitches to go, the women continued their climb.

Wirtz placed a green Alien beneath the roof and then launched into the crux, fighting for every awkward jam, grit falling in her eyes. Above, the fissure tapered to a smooth, flared seam in a blank wall. She finessed and fought her way over the roof and tip the face, eventually flopping onto a sloping ledge, at the end of her strength—and rope.

Two-hundred feet long, this 5.12a pitch had been her most demanding onsight. "1 was barely hanging on," Wirtz recounts. "I was coming out the roof and it turned into a flared butt crack. I couldn't get a hand jam or anything—it was ridiculous."

At 2 p.m. on their second day, the women summitied, having followed Heidi's hypothetical topo exactly. Wirtz tore off her helmet, exclaiming, "God, my hair is so knotted!" Equally appalled with her own mop, Lizzy squealed, "Eeeewiu; mine is so gross!" The first free route on the Minaret had an instant name: Bad Hair Day (V 5.12-, 18 pitches).

signed her immediately. She found herself in catalogs and magazines. She was recognized at the cliff. Climbing trips were funded. She was miserable'.

"I was just so worried what everyhody was thinking—like, really worried. I didn't want to climb in front of anyone," she admits. Sponsorships were her Annie Oakley to unlimited world travel, but inside she

fy 2000, Wirtz was well known for her boldness, speed, and willingness to climb anything, but she still had worn-out rock shoes and ratty crampons. She despised publicity, but needed gear. "It pretty much came down to that," says Heidi.

One day Donahue, an outdoor photographer, offered her climbing shoes in exchange for a photo shoot. Later that year, he asked Wirtz along on an Alaska trip sponsored by The North Face. The trip didn't materialize, hut TNF kept her résumé, and a close eye on her climbing. In 2002, Wirtz was one of three women featured in a Ruck and Ice article Scully penned, and that same year she appeared in Peter Mortimer's film Front Range Freaks, Wirtz attended her first Outdoor Retailer trade show, where Black Diamond, TNF, and La Sportiva all suffered crushing self-doubt. As Donahue qualifies it, "She got more focused [on climbing], almost as a job description, rather than her desire." She struggled with setting goals, while letting go of expectations. "Heidi wants to be a better climber," her friend Madaleine Sorkin explains, "but she doesn't want to take it too seriously."

Conspicuously absent from Heidi's résumé are 5.13s. Although she's sent sport routes up to 5.12d, she considers her hardest redpoint to he Eldorado Canyon's technical and spicy Evictor (5.12c R), which required two or three days of attempts. On one attempt, 10 feet above a No. 4 RP, Heidi dynoed from two crimps to the finishing jug—and missed. A magnificent scream escaped her lips as she whipped 30 feet, halfway down the route. She laughed and went after it again.

Another memorable send was an elegant, 100-foot .5.12+ trad seam in Rocky Mountain National Park called The Wasp, on which she's featured in Front Range Freaks. "I'd never seen a chick placing small gear, screaming, taking big whippers, and coming back for more at five o'clock the next morning," recalls Mortimer, calling Heidi "the most vocal climber I've ever worked

with." He's even dubbed in her breathing g and screams when footage of other climbers □ needed a boost. x

Watching the movie, it's obvious that ^ Wirtz at the time lacked the panache of a seasoned sport climber. Her feet scratch around until they stick; she muscles through delicate cruxes; she scans for handholds as if onstght-ing—on day two. And though Wirtz clung to her old-school, ground-up ethics as if they were The Wasp's crux crimpers, Donahue eventually convinced her to wire the route on toprope. On her third day, she sent.

In areas like her backyard crag of Eldorado Canyon, Wirtz specializes in the technical, hard-to-read, trad 5.11s, routes that require the finger strength of a sport climber, a first-ascensionist's eye for route finding, the gear-finagling skills of an aid climber, and the mindset of a soloist. Meanwhile, Donahue and Wirtz have established several new routes together— Wirtz-Donahue (5.11 + ), Sharp at Both Ends (5.11+)—in trad areas like Colorado's Black Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park. Says Donahue, "She can truly onsight 5.11 where no one has been before. I don't know many men or women who can do that."

In the last two years, Wirtz seems to have found peace with her pro status, but even if she weren't paid for it, she would climb with equal gusto. Her longtime friend and climbing partner Mike Schlauch compares her to the late Charlie Fowler: "He'd climb every day, it didn't matter what. Whether across the world or at the local crag, it ain't easy to get up and get after it every day," Schlauch told me. Wirtz still battles herself when she decides, last-minute, to

I t do something other than climb. But rarely a week goes by when she doesn't tie in at least four or five days.

Today, Wirtz spends about 20 hours per week on nonprofit work. GEI continues to grow (it raised more than 518,000 in 2009), and has half a dozen volunteers searching for new ways to aid needy areas. But political turmoil, corruption, and inaccessibility

Wirtz finagles a stem rest beneath a rocky roof traverse then calms her mind, pre-crux. i can tell, because she's finally quiet.

have prevented any real work in Khane, the village that first inspired her.

"It's been super-frustrating," says Wirtz, but there is hope. GEI recently partnered with the Pakistan-based women's rights organization Bedari, which designed a scholarship program for girls, to be implemented in Laphi, a village of 3,500 in the northern mountains of the Punjab region. This is a huge step for GEI—and for Heidi personally. Scully, friends with Wirtz now for 14 years, says the GEI work has let Wirtz start to "value herself more."

Meanwhile, Wirtz is still climbing and traveling with The North Face climbing team. She was most recently in the Czech Republic, and her plans for 2010 include all-female ascents in Yosemite, overseas trips (to "undisclosed destinations"). When home, she'll climb in Eldorado at least once a week, the Black Canyon in the spring (where she has an eye on new routes), and Rocky Mountain National Park (for alpine trad) in the summer.

Near the end of my interviews, Wirtz and I spend a day ice climbing above the snow-covered Camp Bird Road, with a

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