My Best Onsight. Ever.

March 2020

Just before the entire world changed this month, I was out for a week in Bishop with Tahany. We mostly popped around between the Buttermilks and the Tablelands, but took one day to go check out Pine Creek Canyon. A friend who knows my love for our scrappy local granite in SLC told me that Pine Creek was like an advanced Little Cottonwood. How could I resist such high remarks?

I did have one route on my mind for this first foray - a 5.13a slab arete called Ecstasy that appears completely blank from below. If I had to describe my favorite climbing style it would be a balancey vert face with powerful footwork and comfy handholds which face the wrong way. This line seemed designed for me!

The most intimidating feature I've ever attempted to climb

I had been thinking about the onsight for a few days prior, but reality sunk in when we parked at the gully. You can see the arete from the parking lot and it certainly doesn’t look climbable with hands and feet. This is the blankest granite feature I have ever seen. I felt nervous to even imagine an onsight attempt. My nerves led to a bit of bumbling on the warmups, increasing my doubts.

Midway through the day we moved over below the singular feature. It was the time of reckoning. There were no draws or chalk on the route, and I could spot exactly one hold in the meat of the climbing. I racked up with 18 quickdraws and strapped down my trusty Miura VS shoes.

The line of bolts to nowhere

As mentioned a few times in my blog, I almost always give routes a good ground up attempt. Onsighting is a game of chance. Sometimes the experience is awkward and brief, but other times you hit every mark as if you’ve practiced the route a dozen times. It is such a surreal and memorable feeling when it happens. I unexpectedly had the latter experience on this dreamy line.

The first few moves of Ecstacy involve climbing up a seam before a long reach gains endless arete laybacking for 12 spaced bolts. The handhold on the right side are obvious, but your toes and left hand must use subtle crystals and tiny edges to maintain balance with no rest. In the most surreal experience of my climbing life, I read the entire pitch perfectly without a foot slip or grunt, maintaining flow until I found myself mantling out the anchor ledge. A draw hanging and unchalked onsight of Ecstacy! I could not believe it while I was lowering back down the pitch, and still can’t believe it when I look at the photos while writing this post. In talking to a handful of locals, I believe I joined the esteemed company of Alex Honnold and Alex Megos as the only granite challengers to onsight this incredibly blank arete.

[A tangential aside - this line often has a fixed line dangled straight down it for people sieging it as a project. I am incredibly thankful there was NOT a rope in place or my entire onsight experience would have been foiled! If you are going to leave a rope fixed, please please be courteous to ground up ascents and keep your rope out of the way of any climbing.]