Before spring-loaded camming devices came along, climbers’ racks consisted of stoppers, hexes, and slings. The following nine routes were originally climbed only on passive pro; many are still doable in this style (some only if you’re bold). Enjoy a taste of what leading was like in the Golden Age of clean climbing.
Butterballs (5.11c), Cookie Cliff, Yosemite National Park, California
FA: Henry Barber, 1973
Another Barber classic. The Cookie Cliff holds some of Yosemite’s best crack climbs, and Butterballs is no exception. A beautiful and sustained finger crack splits the wall; most climbers find this climb—which favors those with sausage digits—desperate even with sticky rubber and a full rack of cams, but it’s even harder without. Finish with a steep but easily protected layback.
Guidebook: Yosemite Valley Free Climbs, by Greg Barnes, Chris McNamara, Steve Roper, and Todd Snyder ($30, supertopo.com)
McCarthy North Face (5.11a), North Face, Devils Tower, Wyoming
FA: Jim McCarthy, John Rupley, 1957; FFA: Dennis Horning, Frank Sanders, 1978
This route was only the 10th on the Tower when it was climbed in 1957, and the first on the Tower’s North Face; today, it’s considered a must-do by locals. Perfectly shaped pods offer a multitude of nut-placement options— many climbers find cams too fiddly on this route—so rack a bunch on single biners or quickdraws for quick, plug-and-go placements.
Guidebook: Devils Tower Climbing, by Rachael Lynn and Zach Orenczak ($35, extremeangles.com)
The Pirate (5.12d), Buttress of Cracks, Suicide Rock, California
FA: Pat Callis, Larry Reynolds, 1967; FFA: Tony Yaniro, 1978
This thin, two-pitch crack runs up a slab; practice your fingertip jams and balancing tricks beforehand. Breathe easy once you reach the “thank God” knob next to the crack near the end of the first pitch, and then run up a much easier crack to bolted anchors at the top. The Pirate was free climbed before the birth of sticky rubber by a 16-year-old Tony Yaniro—whose visionary training tactics (e.g., one of the first climbers to “hangdog” while working projects) helped transform American climbing.
Guidebook: Rock Climbing Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks, by Randy Vogel and Bob Gaines ($25, falcon.com)
Xanadu (5.10a), West Ridge, Eldorado Canyon, Colorado
FA: Brad Gilbert, Jim Michael, Dan Hare, 1974
Eldorado is famous for its colorful sandstone and free-climbing history, and also notorious for its tricky gear. Xanadu follows a thin crack in a left-facing corner; small cams down low will help, but the business is all small nuts— a double set will be helpful. The FA party wielded RPs, marking one of the earliest American routes to use these small brass nuts from Australia.
Guidebook: A new edition of Eldorado Canyon: A Climbing Guide, by Steve Levin, will be available spring 2013 (sharpendbooks.com).
Generic Crack (5.9+), Donnelly Canyon, Indian Creek, Utah
FA: Jim Dunn, Brian Delaney, 1976
Though the route name is boring (the FA party never officially titled it), the climbing is far from it. This was the first route in Donnelly Canyon. At 130 feet long, the splitter starts at hand-sized and widens to fists at the top. Unlike many Creek cracks, this one has slots that fit big hexes perfectly. (Brian Delaney led the first pitch, placing only a few hexes.) There is a 100-foot second pitch of 5.10 offwidth, but it’s not done nearly as often as the classic first pitch.
Guidebook: Rock Climbing Utah, by Stewart Green ($27, falcon.com)
Chasin’ the Wind (5.11b), Beauty Mountain, New River Gorge, West Virginia
FA: Mike Artz, Cal Swoager, 1985
The New is known for many things: a plethora of sport and traditional climbs, deep water soloing at Summersville Lake, and splitter finger cracks. Cams were on the rack at the time of this first ascent, but the finger crack on the second pitch of Chasin’ the Wind swallowed nuts so perfectly that active pro wasn’t necessary. Climb through a corner to a ledge on the first pitch, and then traverse right to the exposed crack; sink bomber finger-locks to the anchors.
Guidebook: New River Gorge Rock Climbs, by Mike Williams ($40, wolverinepublishing.com)
Drumstick Direct (5.10+), Turkey Tail, Turkey Rocks, South Platte, Colorado
FA: Don Doucette, Art Howells, Mike Dudley, 1969; FFA: Mark Hesse, Dan McClure, 1972
Turkey Rocks is home to some of the best crack climbing in Colorado. Drumstick Direct (“a granite version of an Indian Creek crack,” says guidebook author Jason Haas) is a tough lead on cammed-on-the-run hexes. Hand- and fist-jamming plus stemming will lead you to a roof crack right below the rappel anchors.
Airation (5.11a), Airation Buttress, Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire
FA: Sam Streibert, Joe Cote, 1969; FFA: Henry Barber, John Bragg, Bob Anderson, 1973
According to local guide Jim Surette, “This is one of the best, most splitter and striking lines at Cathedral Ledge.” Sharp finger jams defines Airation, which was one of the early 5.11s in the Granite State. Fancy footwork will help reduce the weight on your fingers.
Guidebook: Rock Climbs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Third Edition, by Ed Webster ($30, rei.com)
Scenic Cruise (5.10+), North Chasm View Wall, Black Canyon, Colorado
FA: Ed Webster, Joe Kaelin, 1979
A variation of The Cruise (5.10+), this route offers 13 pitches of high-quality climbing up a 1,700-foot-tall cliff, making it one of the most popular routes in the Black Canyon. Earl Wiggins repeated the route by free soloing it in a pair of Kronhoffers (early climbing boots) sans chalk—and in only two hours.
Guidebook: Black Canyon Rock Climbs, by Robbie Williams ($28, sharpendbooks.com)