The Cleanest Line

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    Throw the Line

    By Marta Czajkowska

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    Any wall climber will see that something is missing in that photo, trail line. The leader trails a small line so they can pull up a haul line to haul the bag. Right where the photo was taken, at the lip of the roof, Dgriff realized that he’d forgotten the trail line.

    "You have to throw it to me!" he shouted.

    "You know well enough that I can't throw," I replied as the sun was setting.

    "I'm going to either down-lead and re-lead, which is going to take an hour or so, or you have to throw the line."

    I started organizing my belay to gain time to wrap my head around the throwing. Dgriff yelled again using his favorite Kurosawa quote, "STOP STALLING AND THROW THE LINE OR WE WILL BE PLENTY DEAD!"

    [Above: David Griffith heads up the final 20-foot roof pitch of Wet Denim Daydream, Leaning Tower, Yosemite California. Photo: Marta Czajkowska]

    Continue reading "Throw the Line" »

    Making Tommy

    By Kelly Cordes

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    Do you ever wonder how the greats became great? Of course there’s no easy answer, no definitive answer, never a formula – they’re human, and human factors interact in infinite ways. Opportunity, natural talent, innate drive, developed drive, mental toughness, perspective, thought processes, influences, dedication, work ethic and who-knows-what-else, in various, mysterious combinations along the space-time continuum of life, probably covers most of it. OK, got it? Yeah, me too.

    It’s a fascinating topic, and the superb filmmaker Chris Alstrin’s short piece on Patagonia Ambassador Tommy Caldwell gives us a few glimpses into one of the greatest rock climbers of all time. Tommy’s also my neighbor – part of a great crew of friends in Estes Park, Colorado – and one of my heroes (by way of disclosure, I helped with writing and story development for the video).

    [Above: Frame grab from Making Tommy. Hit the jump to watch the video.]

    Continue reading "Making Tommy" »

    Mikey Schaefer Makes First Free Ascent of Father Time (5.13b) on Yosemite's Middle Cathedral

    by James Lucas, with Mikey Schaefer

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    The granite burned my forehead. I slumped my body further onto the wall, hoping it would support me. I cried. For the past two hours I seared my finger tips on the hot rock of the Boulder Problem, a twenty-foot section of unforgiving crimps that guarded my path to free climbing El Capitan’s Freerider. I’d spent 16 days over the past year toiling, working, and wanting to send the route. It was destroying me. I stared across Yosemite Valley at Middle Cathedral, El Capitan’s dark brother. How do people complete these enormous routes? [Above: Home in the clouds. Photo: John Dickey]

    The Dark Brother

    For over two years, Mikey Schaefer worked on his mega project. From the Boulder Problem I watched Mikey toil on the cold rock of Middle Cathedral, pushing a line through immaculate slabs and onto the steep headwall of the northwest face. On his fortieth day of climbing, after hand-drilling 113 bolts from marginal stances, after questing on the wall searching for a free passage, after doing the majority of this work alone, Mikey summited. This was the beginning. The route needed to go free.

    Continue reading "Mikey Schaefer Makes First Free Ascent of Father Time (5.13b) on Yosemite's Middle Cathedral" »

    Beyond and Back: Father Time

    by Jeff Johnson

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    Middle Cathedral: the ugly stepbrother of El Capitan that sits just across the valley, shoulders slumped, hiding his dark north-facing flanks that almost never see sun. The monolith hosts many seldom-climbed classics: Stoner’s Highway, the Direct North Buttress or DMB (more commonly known as the “do not bother”), Quicksilver and Mother Earth, to name a few.

    In the fall of 2010, Mikey Schaefer asked if I’d like to check out the Smith-Crawford way over on the right side. “Sure”, I said, thinking, I can always follow. Making our way up the first few pitches I was surprised by the quality of rock and how good the climbing was. At each belay I noticed Mikey scrutinizing the rock to climber’s left. I should have guessed he was up to something. The next thing I know we’re back up there with a bolt kit, hooks, and an assortment of pitons, hand drilling from small stances and marginal gear placements. Note to self: always think twice before accepting an invitation to climb with Mikey Schaefer.

    [Above: Mikey Schaefer rests on a relatively large stance as he contemplates his gear options. Photo: Jeff Johnson]

    Continue reading "Beyond and Back: Father Time" »

    Pull Half Dome – A Paraplegic Climbing Attempt [Updated with video]

    Words by Timmy O’Neill, Photos by Justin Bastien

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    Nothing imagined, nothing created, nothing ventured, nothing gained. These thoughts come to mind as I am painstakingly carrying my brother Sean, a t-12 paraplegic, uphill through jagged talus and clawing bushes. It is dark, I am sweating profusely and the rescue coil of rope that supports Sean's legs and his combined weight of 140lbs cuts into the back of my neck and forces me to take micro rests every few minutes. We had just failed on the northwest face of Half Dome, having gained about 700-feet of exposure. Sean and I were climbing with a 23-year old wall rat from Luxemburg named Ben Lepesant and he, like Sean and I, were more than uncertain of the outcome of our adaptive adventure.

    [Above: Timmy and Sean O'Neill in front of their objective, the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Yosemite National Park, California.]

    Continue reading "Pull Half Dome – A Paraplegic Climbing Attempt [Updated with video]" »

    Dirtbag Diaries: Crash and Burn

    by Fitz & Becca Cahall

    Crash_and_burnDrive it until it dies. That's the motto I lived by as my truck, Crash, crisscrossed the West. Family members would doubtfully ask, "Are you sure you want to drive there?" I did. Friends would ask about Crash's well being as though he was my aging dog. Though I knew the day was coming, I was still blindsided when the gears ground to a halt on my way to Yosemite. Could my belief in Crash transcend beyond the hulk of metal?


    Audio_graphic_20pxListen to "Crash and Burn"
    (mp3 - right-click to download)


    Visit dirtbagdiaries.com for links to download the music from "Crash and Burn" or to hear past episodes of the podcast. You can subscribe to the show via iTunes and RSS, or connect with the Dirtbag Diaries community on Facebook and Twitter.

    [Graphic by Walker Cahall]

    The Free Triple - Tommy Caldwell & Alex Honnold Free Climb Mt. Watkins, El Cap & Half Dome in 21:15

    by Kelly Cordes

    "The best thing about screwing up," I said, speaking from a wealth of experience, "is that you can only improve from here." Tommy had just forgotten his climbing shoes. He and Alex Honnold – a climbing dream-team if there ever was – were 45 minutes into the hike for their first climb in an utterly audacious Yosemite linkup: the All-Free Triple. That’s climbing the three biggest grade VI walls in the Valley all free, on lead and second, in a day: Mt. Watkins, El Capitan, Half Dome. But partway into the hike, Tommy remembered that he’d spaced his shoes. Given that I’ve forgotten every imaginable piece of equipment at some point in my life, I felt a kinship to the A-team (hey, we all grasp at a connection to greatness when we can…). Anyway, Jeff Johnson and I were tagging along when we weren’t getting lost, lending subbie support, a bit like the B (or C) team, mostly psyched to witness such a feat. It’s not everyday that we get front-row seats to world-class achievements, but the climbing world is still unique like that.

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    [Tommy and Alex atop El Cap at sunrise on May 19, after free climbing Free Rider by headlamps in 6:45 (this after first racing up Mt. Watkins, and before Half Dome). Photo: Jeff Johnson]

    Following that auspicious start, we got the shoes and the boys put the hammer down. South Face of Watkins in 2 hours and 50 minutes, then Free Rider on El Cap in 6:45 (via headlamp), and the Regular Route on Half Dome in 5 hours. Over 7,000 vertical feet of free climbing up to 5.12+, some 75 guidebook pitches climbed in less than 30 pitches – via extensive simulclimbing, through 5.12 – and the entire linkup, base of first to top of last, in 21:15.

    Continue reading "The Free Triple - Tommy Caldwell & Alex Honnold Free Climb Mt. Watkins, El Cap & Half Dome in 21:15" »

    What Inspired You?

    We recently received this email from Ross Curwen, a reader from, as he says, "rainy old England."

    RossJust a letter saying thanks to The Cleanest Line community from rainy old England. About a year ago I injured my shoulder. This meant I had to cut right back on two things pretty huge to me: surfing and climbing. I was a bit mopey for a bit.

    I needed to have something to maintain my fitness. Gyms, road running, cycling are all good but they're missing something. That's when I found trail running, through the Patagonia site. I don't have the huge expanse of mountains and national parks but I am spoilt with miles of cliff paths and dartmoor close to hand.

    A year later and I am hooked. I love the rhythm of the trails, the temperature changes on your face emerging from dappled tree lines onto exposed cliffs. Like a lot of people in the community it becomes a bit of obsession. I'm at work knowing I've got shoes and a head torch waiting for me and trails to conquer later.

    I wouldn't have this drive without reading the submissions on The Cleanest Line. I read the stories of all the different sports, trips and adventures and it inspires me to make my own. So all in all thank you to all of you and keep going as you are.

    This short letter got us thinking about how we got started doing the things we love to do. Surely, we thought there are lots of interesting stories out there among our readers and we thought it'd be cool to hear some of them. If you have a story to tell, by all means chime in!

    I'll go first...

    Continue reading "What Inspired You?" »

    The Prophet

    by Sonnie Trotter

    On El Capitan in 2010, British rock climbers Leo Houlding and Jason Pickles completed their nine-year project, The Prophet (600m, E9 7a, 5.13d R). The difficult and dangerous new route climbs the far right side of El Cap, and Houlding, renowned worldwide for his boldness and skill, successfully freed every pitch, on lead, on their final push. This fall, Sonnie Trotter and Will Stanhope headed to Yosemite hoping to repeat the route. Trotter chronicled his efforts on his blog, including this post, below, which he wrote in late November, just after the culmination of a Yosemite journey – the second ascent of The Prophet. - Kelly Cordes

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    [Will Stanhope climbing The Prophet, El Capitan. Photo: Sonnie Trotter]

    Wow. What a roller coaster. As life is I suppose. The highest of highs, and lowest of lows. It’s a beautiful thing really. I’m in Bishop, California, with my incredible wife, Lydia – I don’t mean to brag, but she gets more beautiful with each day. I am sooo lucky. I missed her dearly, I didn’t even realize how much until I saw her at the San Francisco airport two days ago. But there’s a sad truth that when you’re so focused on a project such as The Prophet, time literally flies by. Days turn into weeks and you don’t even think twice about it. Looking back now, most of it is a blur.

    Five weeks in the Valley, five failed ground-up attempts, four days in Lake Tahoe, two days in Santa Cruz, and over 25 days climbing, hiking, rappelling, hauling and slogging. El Cap is a glorious son of a bitch – that’s a fact. And The Prophet was one of the richest, most deeply rooted climbing experiences I have ever had, with a partner who’s got a boyish charm, a man’s ambition, and a spirit tougher than leather. It was more like an expedition than a climbing trip.

    Continue reading "The Prophet" »

    Recap on El Cap - Another Butt-Kicking

    - by Tommy Caldwell

    Today, Tommy Caldwell writes about the conclusion of another season of trying to free-climb the Dawn Wall. And coming up empty – though that’s really not the right word. We’ve covered his efforts in multiple posts (click here, here, or here), and it’s made frequent news in the climbing world for its nearly incomprehensible difficulty. Here’s how it feels, from the man himself. His words remind me of what it means to be grateful and of the spirit and values that matter most, which, I think, is worth remembering as we approach the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. - Kelly Cordes
     
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    [Tommy recovering after a fall on one of the many crux pitches. Photo: Rebecca Caldwell]

    The wheels of my van protest loudly as I hit the rumble strips on Interstate 70. My wife, Becca, bolts upright out of a peaceful sleep with a panicked look on her face.

    “Did you fall asleep?” she says, her eyes the size of basketballs. Did I? I think for a second. I gaze toward the passenger seat. A bit of drool glistens on her cheek and her long hair sticks straight out from the right side of her head.

    Wow, that girl is cute when she is irritated at me.

    “I guess I was just daydreaming.” I shrug my shoulders and try to put on my best puppy dog eyes.

    “Well be careful!” She curls back up in the seat and is asleep in seconds.

    The truth is, I am not even a bit drowsy. The post-expedition mind is a funny thing. Both happy to be returning home, but trying to find a way to cope with something. A kind of loss of immediate purpose. And although the trip I am returning home from wasn’t exactly an expedition, it had a similar effect on my psyche.

    Continue reading "Recap on El Cap - Another Butt-Kicking" »

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