“These days, sport routes are getting longer,” says the sport-climbing progenitor Boone Speed. Speed would know: he recently photographed Chris Sharma on his 250-foot mega-pitch Jumbo Love, a 5.15 in California that’s emerged as North America’s longest, most difficult stretch of bolted rock. As Speed says, ultra-marathon endurance, especially on steep terrain, has become all the rage: there’s Jumbo Love; the new 300-foot Ichiban, a 5.14 in Austria’s Zillertal; the 170-foot 5.15a La Novena Enmienda (a 65-foot 5.14c linked into a 105-foot enduro-pig 5.14b), at Santa Linya, Spain. The list goes on. … It would seem that top-level climbers are only now realizing the potential in piecing together monster pitches. But what about the little guys, the mini-routes with just a few bolts?
“There are still plenty of great routes that are short and sweet,” says Speed, a driving force behind some of America’s best short, bouldery climbs, many in his native Utah. (Think the 25-foot The Present (5.14a), near Saint George, or the myriad testpiece climbs Speed redpointed or established on the 30-foot El Diablo Wall, in American Fork Canyon, or his Ice Cream, a 5.14c in Hell Cave that’s in essence a bolted V12.) This is a genre Speed knows well.
Speed built on a tradition reaching back to the dawn of sport climbing — the early 1980s. Back then, executing wild, dynamic moves while roped seemed so new that it made sense to start small. Speed cites the venerable Chain Reaction (5.12c; FA: 1983; 40 feet), at Smith Rock; many of the 20- and 30-foot bulging testpieces in Germany’s Frankenjura; and the climbs on the Baby Apes Wall (trad), at Joshua Tree as prime period pieces. These were lines established just as the gymnastic movement favored by boulderers crept into the roped realm. The micro movement perhaps culminated in 1990, with Ben Moon’s Raven Tor route Hubble, the world’s first 5.14c. This two-bolt, formerly A0 start into a short 5.12d added a total of six moves: undercling-nightmare, bicep-ripping burly Beta out a limestone bulge so stout it’s seen only five repeats. Another high note was Dave Graham’s 2000 FA of The Fly, 15 feet of business at Rumney, New Hampshire.
Short Subject (5.11d), School Rock, Donner Summit, California When Mic Deiro in 1984 toproped this line, not too far above Donner Pass Road, little could he have realized the photo-friendly, tiny testpiece he’d unleashed upon the world. (Richard Leversee, with Deiro’s permission, turned the climb into a three-bolt lead a few years later.) Traversing leftward across a hanging prow/block high on the pass, the climb gives an instant illusion of exposure when viewed through the lens. Its base undercut, the climber hanging butt-to-the-breeze on incut flakes and crimps, Short Subject has as its backdrop alpine Sierra splendor — hillocks and trees, the horizon rolling into the distance. It was named, according to Deiro, after Mark Hudon, the short, talented local hardman.
The Beta? Step off the block. Crimp. Heel hook. Traverse a bit more. Clip. Crux at 20 feet on slightly smaller crimpers. Clip one last time. Mantel. In its 25 feet, Short Subject never lets up. Let’s call it, then, a hard V3 with bolts — the kind you sure as hell wouldn’t want to fall off ropeless, unless you call granite blocks and brush a “landing.” (Although with a good snowpack, says the Tahoe local Eric Perlman, the climb is probably only Zone 1.) Short Subject has been done unroped a handful of times, the first time by Deiro himself, who eventually left behind all climbing when the Good Lord told him he’d soon see young Mic in heaven if he didn’t give up the ropeless shenanigans. If the climb leaves you hungry, you can also plug cracks on the neighboring (and similarly wee) Carl’s Overhang (5.11a hands and fists) or Bimbo Roof (formerly Limbo Roof ), a stout 5.12+.
California Honorable Mention: Brena(5.13d), Malibu Creek: 5.11 pockets out a cave to a V9 crux; four bolts, 23 feet, but can be extended into the 5.13 Ghetto Blaster to yield Lateralus (5.14a; eight bolts). FA of both variants: Shawn Diamond (who jokes, “At age 18, I had an equivalent volume of endurance for route climbing as I did for sex!”), 2000.
The Present (5.14a), Gorilla Cliffs, St. George How generous are you? Would you, for example, donate a fully equipped, grade-A rock climb to your buddy if you deemed it beyond your skill set? Well, Mike Call did exactly that when he “presented” a three-bolt line at the tranquil Gorilla Cliffs to his partner-in-climb Boone Speed. Call had bouldered up the small grips on this perfect little line, sussed it at about 5.13a or b, and then returned to drill, only to difficulties closer to 5.13+/14-. Speed took over, finding “a nice, tight sequence that goes through the middle of the wall on really small holds.” In fact, Speed says he still has a “messed-up right index finger due to a power crimp low on the route. I felt the knuckle blow, and it’s been swollen ever since.” He pegged the sustained route at 5.14a, though his gut told him it was closer to 5.13+. Still, with very few 5.14s in the country at that time (1995), Speed figured the only way to attract repeat suitors was with the higher grade.
“ The Present is a route, ” says Speed. “A Zone 1 or 2 route.” As a bouldering sequence, consensus pegs the physical difficulty somewhere around V11. The Present has had one ropeless ascent: Dave Graham went sans cord on the 25-foot line in 1996, a feat Speed says would be “way dicier than Midnight Lightning ” (the crux of which comes at 18 feet), even though a fall up high wouldn’t kill you. Graham remembers The Present ashis first 5.14 and that he was heckled into bouldering it by Tim Kemple, shooting the climb for an article. (“When I arrived, it looked awfully shorter than I remembered, and I decided, that with our four pads, we were just fine,” recalls Graham. “I worked it one try on a rope, then bouldered it in the next hour... it was scary but slightly uneventful.”) For his part, Speed made a proper redpoint in the spirit of the Frankenjura, where the term originated, climbing up to clip the first bolt, and then downclimbing to the ground before sending.
Utah Honorable Mention: I’ll Take Black(5.12c), American Fork Canyon: Super-bouldery little unit (four bolts; 35 feet) on the right side of the El Diablo Wall; FA: Boone Speed, 1991.
Maizy Mae (5.13a), Drive-By Crag, Red River Gorge, Kentucky God bless good ol’ “Unknown,” perhaps the most prolific climber in vertical history, with first ascents from Tijuana, to the Trapps, to Timbuktu. Unknown must have been feeling cowed by the Red’s enduro-pig overhangs when he stumbled into the central cave at the Drive-By. Because instead of say, setting his sights on one of the 90-foot climbs there like Dirty, Smelly Hippie (5.13a) or The Nothing (5.14a), he instead sank three bolts in a moss-green, 25-foot block on what’s now known as Maizy Mae, probably the shortest lil’ route at the Red. (The first two bolts have since been chopped, leaving Maizy a one-bolt adventure toprope. The solitary “anchor” bolt — a rusty spinner you have to stick-clip with a monster branch — is far to the side, making for a king swing.)
One Red local described the climb as a “masturbating-in-a-whorehouse type thing, since good, long, more ‘legit’ climbs surround you, yet here you are working a choss block.” Still, it’s been a lure for power climbers looking to nab a Red 5.13 without the heart-slamming, sweat-dripping, lungs-burning feeling bestowed, say, by The Madness, 110 feet of cave climbing in the Motherlode. On Maizy, powerful moves off the ground lead to a V6/7 crux, in which you layback a barely there, left-facing crimp rail, set your feet, and huck to a sandy pocket. “That’s two-thirds of the route,” said our source. He adds it wouldn’t be inconceivable to do Maizy ropeless — the cave floor is sandy, and you could load it up with supersized pads — but as a boulder problem, it would be very high, with “low-percentage dynos to grungy holes up top.” Ratings in the online guidebook at redriverclimbing.com vary from 5.13a/V7 to 5.12c/V5, and from rave reviews (“Best route at Drive-By”) to total pans (“…hardly worth doing”).
Kentucky Honorable Mention: Stay the Hand (5.12a), Roadside Crag: 50 feet long (five bolts), but with the biz in the first 20, with pimpy, powerful, greasy pocket yards, featuring some of the harder moves in the Red (including routes up to 5.13d!). FA: Porter Jarrard, Mark Schussler, 1990.
Bottom Feeder (5.13a), Rumney, New Hampshire Every area needs its Bottom Feeder — a short, friendly, aesthetic route at the bottom of its number bracket — to usher climbers into the next tier of the sickosphere, where sparkling unicorn magic unfurls in rainbow gardens and the great truths of the universe are revealed. The four-bolt, entry-level 5.13 Bottom Feeder sits at the base of Waimea Wall at Rumney, an area not necessarily known for its endurance testpieces, but with plenty of brick-hard bouldery routes — Butt-Bongo Fiesta (5.13a), The Fly (5.14d), and Jaws II (5.15a), among others. (There’s also, for “bolterers,” Rumney’s Monsters from the Id Wall, a 45-degree overhanging wave featuring the 5.13d Dr. No and the 5.14a Parallel Universe, among other crag snacks, most equipped with four-odd bolts.) Team Tough member Chris Smith established Bottom Feeder’s awkward, leaning dihedral circa 1995, part of the back-in-the-day Rumney gold rush.
Most climbers, says the New Hampshire native Tim Kemple, start with the second bolt pre-clipped. Between there and the third clipper, the climber engages a V6/7 crux, followed by one more bolt and a cruiser 5.10 traverse leftward, to the anchors. Kemple used to free solo Bottom Feeder as part of the Rumney circuit, as did Vasya Vorotnikov. Still, says Kemple, “I bet only four or five people have soloed that climb, while 100 times more have led it. You really need balls to boulder it.” The blocky, uneven landing and insecure, layback-intensive pulls at the crux support Kemple’s point.
Need more evidence that Bottom Feeder is more route than bloc? Kemple recalls one “strong as nails” (but endurance-limited) buddy in high school repeatedly falling at the final bolt. “He’d get up to the 5.10 section with the anchor literally in his face — we are talking bottoms of the shoes 15 feet off the ground — and just come pumping off,” says Kemple. “Not once, but numerous times.” The climber, in fact, fell so often that Kemple and others composed a song — “Shut Fever” — in honor of their buddy’s noble struggle to clip Bottom Feeder’s cold-shut anchors on redpoint.
New Hampshire Honorable Mention: The Fly(5.14d), Rumney: just left of Bottom Feeder, amp up for 15 feet of V13 bouldering out the blank, aesthetic panel of dark stone. Has been led, toproped, and free soloed. FA: Dave Graham, 2000.
Beavis (5.13a), the Franks, Palomas Peak, New Mexico OK, so Beavis has five bolts, making it perhaps the longest (at least, clip-wise) route on this list. But it’s still in a fairly user-friendly “Zone” (as in Zone 2) — and if this limestone swell didn’t have a hillside-dropping-away landing, you’d likely be in Zone 1, totally comfortable bouldering out the pocket moves. No, New Mexico has never been known for long sport climbs (save the rope-stretchers at the Enchanted Tower). It’s instead a land of bouldery caves, volcanic blocks, and limestone and sandstone highball tors, which might be why so many strong boulderers — Timy Fairfield, Jon Cardwell, Bob Murray — call it home. Here, whether you’re roped or not, it often makes the most sense to apply V grades (See New Mexibolts further in the article).
Lorne Rainey established the crack-like Beavis in the mid-1990s, as part of the Palomas gold rush. The crux comes between the first and second bolts, where you reef a cross-through with your body tensioned hard on vertically aligned pockets. Although Fairfield says he personally hates the route (“Too painful!”), he commends the spirit in which it was bolted — roped bouldering. “Short power routes are turbo,” says Fairfield. “They’re all business, no fluff.” Fairfield would know: he put up the 5.14b (or V12) Sick Man, on the same cliff, featuring a hyper-condensed two bolts of business. Fairfield also sees miniature routes as useful teachers: “They really test my will and cause me to question why the hell I’m investing so much energy to travel such a short distance,” he says. “But it can be a metaphor for life, because so many things we do (especially in climbing) are senseless in the grand scheme of things.“
New Mexico Honorable Mention: Didgemaster (5.13c), Eagle Canyon: Probably also New Mexico’s tweakiest — 30 feet (four bolts) of micro-pocket pimping including a clip off a monodoigt in the crux bulge. FA: Jean Delataillade, 1991.
3. Lights Out (5.12a/b), Power Wall, New Canyon: Before hanger rustlers “harvested” the diminutive New Canyon, this fine 25-foot power-endurance line had four bolts. Crimp, crimp, crimp, crimp, crimp. Any questions?
4. Finishing Touch (5.12b/c), Box Canyon, Socorro: This Bertrand Gramont route has been bouldered — by Fairfield. If you lead this proud little leaning, overhanging shield of rock, be aware that the two clips are almost as hard as the moves. Maybe best to think of this as tall, sharp V5.
5. Dragonslayer (5.13b), 45-Degree Boulder, the Dungeon, Los Alamos: Powerful, tech climbing on overhanging basalt. Pre-clip bolt two, bust a V7/8, and keep your wits about you for the 5.11 upper slab. Thirty feet o’ lovin’, with the business in the first 15. Fairfield’s similar — but harder — Honky Serial Killer, a 5.14a, is just right.
6. Mak Daddy (5.13d), Alcohol Wall, Socorro: One bolt of 5.7 leads to a crux bulge (six moves, at V10), to a no-hands rest, to 5.11a to the chains. Six bolts, 35 feet; unrepeated Fairfield route.
It has been years since Matt Samet, Editor-in-Chief at Climbing, sunk metal into anything shorter than 25 feet.