“28 for 28”


A few months ago, Joey brought up the idea of climbing 28 routes on his 28th birthday on June 28th.  I am, of course, a fan of ill-advised physical challenges like this.  Followers of this blog may remember the Banff Burger Dash (run 400 meters, eat 5 hamburgers, run 400 meters) and the “no-train” marathon in 2005.

I turned 10 on July 10th, 1985, before Joey was even born, so I never got a chance to attempt such a feat.  If I remember correct, we had a birthday party at Golf ‘n Stuff and I might have hit 10 balls into the water that day.  A bit lower on the list of life’s accomplishments.

There is talk of me trying to climb 40 routes on my 40th, which is, sadly, just around the corner.  But I don’t know if that is realistic.  I still have a year to contemplate the misery of attempting such an endeavor.

But this day was all about helping Joey grind through 28 climbs, and his girlfriend Elysia flew out from Arizona to take part.  I made a bunch of pizzas, which we discovered make a perfect climbing food.  Joey and I each onsighted our own 5.11a’s, and I think the fontina, pancetta, and red onion pizza with Calabrian peppers deserves full credit.

Sending Bisquits

Sending Biscuits, Neapolitan-style

The plan was simple: Nate and I would form the support team, leading and cleaning many of the routes so that Joey would have the time (and energy) to climb all 28 lines before dark.  We would start at Coyote Crag and knock out a bunch of moderates, and then proceed to less-crowded areas to tick off the rest.  Perhaps, if we are feeling it, even attempt some hard onsights over the course of the day.  I have been wanting to get the redpoint on Arrogant Bastard (.11a) for months now, and Joey had his eye on Long Arm of the Law (.11a).


Joey on the Gunsmoke Wall

I was told that we would be starting at 4 am.  I pulled into our sweet campsite at 10:20 pm and everyone was asleep, resting up for the early start.  A few hours of tossing and turning and then I found myself staring up at the stars, as dawn began to wash them away.  I noticed that both tents were remarkably quiet.  Even the dogs were silent.  Hmm.. maybe this wasn’t happening, after all?



Ah, I have learned by now that Joey is neither an early-riser nor someone who adheres to a firm timetable, at least not where climbing is concerned.  Everyone eventually rolled out of their tents around 5 am and I think we were at the base of Coyote Crag by 6.  This worked out fine, and by the time other climbers showed up, we had already ticked off every bolted route on the wall.


Joey on Long Arm of the Law (5.11a)

For some unexplained reason, I was feeling strong and decided to jump on Quick on the Draw (5.11a), a 60-foot route with a slabby, technical start.  Tiny crimps and micro-edges past 2 bolts, and then the climbing eases off.  Nate belayed and I made it through the business section without too much difficulty.  A fine way to start the morning, and this took some of the pressure off, since I achieved one of my goals for the weekend.

Nate on belay

Nate on the belay



The day was going well, and Joey was making good time on the climbs.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, since I’ve never climbed more than seven or eight routes in a day.  I figured 28 was going to be a tall order, even if we climbed a bunch of easy stuff.  But Joey was feeling strong and he decided to take a stab at a hard onsight on Motherlode Rock, an .11a named Long Arm of the Law.  The route features an imposing roof with a reachy crux, and it is perfectly suited to his strengths.  I ticked another onsight on the adjacent route Mighty Quinn (5.10c) and then hung from the top, in order to take photos of Joey’s ascent.  He crushed it, of course.





Joey eyes the second clip on Long Arm of the Law

I gave the route an attempt on top rope, but got shut down on the crux move.  Arrogant Bastard was still waiting on my to-do list, so I can’t say for sure if I was giving it 100% effort.  Then Nate jumped on the climb, and after a couple of falls, he figured out the sequence needed to negotiate the crux.  With the beta, I feel pretty confident that I can redpoint this climb, the next time we’re out here.


Joey pulling the reachy crux

Joey must have been feeling strong, because he decided to try the next climb down, a route named Highgrader (5.11a).  This one looked pretty blank, and he took a few short falls and hangs before figuring out the moves.  Once he made it to the chains, he was halfway done and had 14 climbs in the bag.  I think that everyone was feeling pretty good at this point, and we relaxed and ate some pizza.

Joey and Nate

Joey and Nate



The day was half over, and fatigue was starting to set in.  While Elysia and Nate hiked back to the car to get some supplies, we worked our way over to the north face of Motherlode Rock and Joey roped up for Powder Keg (5.10a).  This route feels like a highball boulder problem, and goes from a slick, technical start to a huge move over a roof.  Having led it myself last year, I was excited to see how Joey would work the crux.

Jason cutting loose

Jason cutting loose to pull the roof on Powder Keg (2013)

As it turns out, fatigue had really gotten the better of our hero on this day, and he fell a couple of times before pulling the roof. I was watching (and belaying) with horror on his final attempt, as he almost squirted off the slab above, which would have led to a nasty pendulum of a fall.  But he made it to the top, and ticked off his 15th climb.

Next on the agenda was Arrogant Bastard, a climb that we have been working for several trips.  Last year, we both top-roped it for practice, and it seemed too scary (and hard) to actually lead.  Then, Joey worked the climb with Nate on another trip, and when the three of us returned recently, he got the redpoint.  I gave it a few solid tries, but kept falling at the crux, which is very beta-dependent.  Between managing the pump and remembering the tricky footwork, I just couldn’t put everything together.

On one hand, I was feeling strong and ready for this climb.  But we were several hours into a very long day, I was probably more tired than I realized, and I didn’t have enough to make it happen.  I gave the route a couple of 90% effort attempts, hanging the draws in place, and then rested for a final go.  Things went smoothly, I worked my way up the flake and into the crux sequence, and almost effortlessly, found myself on the final holds of the crux.  All I had to do was throw for a hidden jug – the hold that would mean certain victory.  Like previous attempts, excitement and impatience got the better of me, and I forgot to shift my feet.  I threw for the jug, screaming as I realized the error and hoping that I might somehow reach it.  My right hand clawed at the rock as my body began falling backwards, and I felt the hold slip away from the very tips of my outstretched fingers.  This is the second or third time that I have been, quite literally, one move away from redpointing this damn climb.  I shouted some expletives in frustration, but strangely, I was smiling as I lowered off.  I’ve enjoyed working this climb over many sessions, and I can tell that I’m getting stronger, because it doesn’t feel nearly as difficult as before.  I felt good in the knowledge that I gave it my 100% effort, and that all that is holding me back is a mental error.  I can’t wait to get back there.

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley

Despite the fact that Joey always says he hates slab, we finished up the day on exactly that.  We hiked over to Lost Orbit Rock and climbed some sketchy slabtastic face, and then ticked off a bunch of short climbs on Skyy Slab.  Only three climbs to go, we moved to Gunsmoke Wall to finish the day.  Joey climbed a couple of easy routes and then, in good style, opted to lead a .10a for climb number 28.

Bacon Taco (5.10a)

Bacon Taco (5.10a) – climb #28

Joey and Elysia


The challenge was complete, and it was time to return to camp and drink some beer.  The dogs were tired, our hands were filthy, and it was time to celebrate a very memorable day.  Congrats to my climbing partner and friend, and hopefully I can convince him to belay me on 40 climbs, when the time comes.

Happy to be done

Joey and Elysia

The support team

The support team

Here’s a full list of the routes, in the order climbed.  Routes that Joey led are in red, top-ropes in black.  1,410 vertical feet of climbing, in total.

Bye Crackie 5.7     Coyotes at Sunset 5.8-     Black Magic Poodle 5.9     Golden Spike 5.10b

Golden Poodle 5.9+    High Noon 5.10b     Gold Bug 5.9     Hidden Gold 5.7

Gold Standard 5.6     Quick on the Draw 5.11a     Pistol Pete 5.10b    Long Arm of the Law 5.11a

Mighty Quinn 5.10c     Highgrader 5.11a     Powder Keg 5.10a     Blasting Cap 5.3  

Wildrose 5.7     Fire in the Hole 5.10b     Gravity Kills 5.10a     Bear Essence 5.10a

Bear Pause 5.7     Naughty Pine 5.6    Skyy Pilot 5.9     A Midsummer’s Night Seam 5.7

Firewater 5.5     Fever Pitch 5.3     Cali Gold 5.5     Bacon Taco 5.10a

I found this silly picture of The Nose route on El Capitan with a few famous buildings shown to scale.  The Nose goes at 2,900 vertical feet, making it one of the longest sheer faces of vertical cliff on Earth (that record is held by Canada’s Mt. Thor at 4,101 feet).  Still a ways to go, but Joey got pretty close to the height of the Empire State Building (1,454 feet if you include the antenna on top).  Fun fact of the day, the speed record for climbing The Nose is only 2 hours and 23 minutes, currently held by Alex Honnold and Hans Florine.  That is absolutely mind boggling.

1,410 feet

1,410 feet – not quite ready for El Cap






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