Dead By 30

At the beginning of the fall season here in Tucson, I found myself in a new predicament: I didn’t have any real desire to climb. I struggled with this for a while, but after talking it over with a few close friends who I know have gone through the same experience, I accepted it as just a natural cycle. I started a slackline club at the University of Arizona with my good friend James Xu and started slacking almost every day. I learned a bunch of tricks and made a lot of new friends (the club, which started with 4 members, now has 116).

As mid-October rolled around, I felt the climbing stoke start to return. A couple weeks later, I took a spur-of the-moment trip to Hueco and managed to send Free Willy V10 at the end of the second day, much to my own surprise. Confident I was feeling in shape and ready to go, I returned to Tucson and started looking around for projects. At first I had my sights on The Morgue, Mount Lemmon’s second 5.14- and unrepeated since the first ascent by my original mentor Eric Scully when he was in high school. Though it fit my style (short and bouldery), it also got afternoon sun. My class schedule prevented me from getting out in the mornings during the week and its sloper-dependent crux made it an unlikely prospect in the late-afternoon sun.

I switched my focus to the Beaver Wall, which, in addition to its afternoon shade, is also frequently visited during the week and on the weekends, making partner acquisition much easier. However, during fall 2012 and spring 2013, I had sent all but one of the sport routes 5.13 and up on the wall, and the only remaining route was a different start to a line I had already done. I returned, re-climbed some of my old projects and sent Poplar Mechanics 5.12+, funnily enough my first Beaver Wall 5.12. That same day, my friend Liam Oden finished up the classic Rage to Live 5.13a/b. With both of us in search of something new, some route had to pop up.

The potential of a new line to the right of Last Supper, a trad 5.11 (the first established in Arizona) on the Beaver was not a new thought. Eric Rhicard, prominent Tucson first-ascensionist and guidebook author, had put in a directional bolt up high and worked out some of the moves on toprope in the 1990’s. According to Rhicard, he had trouble sticking a particular long move to a poor hold high on the route and as such abandoned the project. The initial allure of the line was the existence of a potential 6 foot jug-to-jug dyno right off of the ground, and with this in mind Liam Oden and Alex Kirkpatrick rappelled over it, found holds the whole way and installed 4 more bolts. After a couple sessions, they came to the realization it might be significantly harder than originally thought. I accompanied them on a night session to the project and, after a burn, I felt as though I might be able to do it.

The next session yielded some great progress and, with the help of some amazing new beta found by Liam, I managed to do all of the moves on the route. The first section, site of the proposed dyno, instead held an insecure sequence with massive static lock-offs to marginal crimps checking in around V6. The dyno, of course, was very possible, but would likely leave one too power drained for the real crux up high. Long, easy moves on jugs led through the ripples to the base of the upper headwall. From this last rest, you clip bolt 3 above your head and launch into the crux sequence. This extremely bouldery section is somewhere around V9, starting with an enormous lockoff to a divoted slomper from a viciously thin crimp. You then stand up into a half-pad sidepull/undercling, reach to an extremely poor sloping edge with a crucial thumbcatch and move your feet up to some footholds that are quite bad. From this somewhat awkward position, you must generate enough to stick a 3-points-off drive-by/ cross-dyno to a full-pad sloping edge. With the hardest moves behind you, a strange move to a blocky sidepull jug enables one to clip bolt 4 and enter the non-trivial slab leading to bolt 5 and the topout.

The catch is, however, that the fall after the dyno has potential to be quite bad. The route is pretty short at ~40 feet, with the crux move around the 32 foot mark. You clip bolt 4 with your feet several feet above bolt 3, making necessary a very tight belay to avoid hitting the ground. The wall is vertical, making such a long, hard fall a very risky one for your ankles. Any fall after the drive-by maneuvering into the clipping stance (or worse, a blown clip) could leave you 5 feet off the deck with shattered ankles or, with a less-than-perfect belay, on the ground.

I headed out with my friend Soren on Black Friday to spend the day on Lemmon. We kicked around all day, visiting places like Overlooked Pinnacle, the iconic Goosehead and the Rose Canyon entrance boulders. Around 1:30pm, we headed to the Beaver Wall. We managed to get there half an hour or so before the project went into the shade. After killing some time, I put in a couple burns and so did Liam (who was up there already with his friend Peter Piek). With daylight fading, I tied in for one final attempt, pulled on my M5’s, and fist-bumped the plastic Jesus figurine provided by Soren (the route had been christened the Offensive Jesus project). I pulled through the bottom quickly and rested well below the difficulties. I started into the crux and, much to my shock, stuck the dyno. Redlining, I quickly made the weird move to the blocky sidepull and, readjusting using a nearby crimp, clipped the bolt. I took a few breaths to calm down, started into the slab section, and soon found myself standing triumphantly on a juggy ledge 10 feet above the last bolt on the slab. With a stoked yell, I untied, dropped my rope though the draws and topped out in front of awed tourists there to witness the incredible Arizona sunset. I traversed right off of the slab along 4th class terrain and met the approach trail, where I returned to the base of the wall and the congratulations of my friends.

Exhausted, we packed up and hiked out with the sun setting behind us. I’ve never seen a more beautiful sunset in my life, still keyed-up and experiencing the world in a sort of hyper-reality after redlining and succeeding deep in the no-fall zone. I named the route Dead By 30, a reference to the possibility of decking from 30 feet and to a morbid prediction made by James that him, Soren and I would be dead by age 30. The grade gave me some pause, but after some input from the others that had been on the route I settled on 5.13d. It’s certainly the most physical of the harder Beaver Wall routes, though it does lack much pump factor. I’m excited to hear what others think about it and, more importantly, see some strong climbers having fun and trying hard on it. Unlike some hard routes in Tucson like Alex Kirkpatrick’s magnificent Doubt 5.14a, this route exemplifies the Mount Lemmon style, which is cool in my humble opinion. Much thanks to Mad Rock Climbing- the M5’s performed fantastically on the microedge feet and kept me safe and secure. Overall, I’m amazingly psyched about Dead By 30, which is without a doubt one of the most physically and mentally challenging FA’s of my life so far.  The route can be found on MountainProject here.

The lights of Tucson illuminate an approaching storm during a night session at the Beaver Wall.
The lights of Tucson illuminate an approaching storm during a night session at the Beaver Wall.

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