Exponential Spring Break: Up to 64 Routes in a Day

It's only day two: Rob Pizem in Unaweep Canyon, Colorado. Courtesy of Rob Pizem

It's only day two: Rob Pizem in Unaweep Canyon, Colorado. Courtesy of Rob Pizem

Rob Pizem, a teacher in Grand Junction, Colorado, decided to try something unusual for his spring break: an "exponential" week in which he would double his route count each day at six different Colorado areas, starting with a single climb (a first free ascent) and ending with 64 different routes on Day 7.

Pizem recruited Grand Junction climber Ben Rueck as a partner and launched the Exponential Spring Break Challenge last Saturday with the first free ascent of Tabequache Tower in Colorado National Monument. On a bitterly cold day—the two climbed in down jackets all day—the three-pitch sandstone tower went at 5.12, 5.11, and 5.11+.

On day two, they climbed two long routes (a total of 9 pitches, up to 5.12+) on the granite of Unaweep Canyon, near their Grand Junction home, again in bitter cold. "Ben kept asking me if this was fun, and I kept saying, 'Yes, this is what I love!'" Pizem said. "He kept saying that I was crazy." Day three brought them back to Colorado National Monument, were they climbed four towers, including the three-pitch 5.12 Medicine Man route on Sentinel Spire. On Tuesday, day four, they did eight sandstone crack climbs at Escalante Canyon—a comparative rest day. "We'd already done so much chimneying and hiking and rappelling that our whole bodies got worked," Pizem said. "I got home early and was able to spend most of the day with the family."

Long Dong

Ben Rueck on the first pitch of Long Dong Wall (5.11a), Bell Tower, Colorado National Monument. Photo by Rob Pizem

Now the exponential curve was leading into serious route counts. On Wednesday, day five, Pizem and Rueck climbed 16 routes in the snowy limestone canyon of Rifle, Colorado, including five 5.12 pitches. "I was unable to sleep that night because I was nervous about the 32-pitch day and then the big day," Pizem said.

In Clear Creek Canyon, west of Golden, Pizem and Rueck hit 32 routes at four different cragging areas: the Doghouse, Anarchy Wall, Wall of the 90s, and High Wire. These sport climbs ranged from 5.9 to 5.12, including 10 different 5.12 routes. By now, Pizem was leading most of the climbs and he'd begun to feel serious pain in his back, which he'd broken years earlier on Half Dome in Yosemite. Nonetheless, they were done by 1:30 p.m., and they drove to Cañon City, near Shelf Road, to rest up for the big day.

Finally, on Friday, March 29, it was time for 64 routes at Shelf, a limestone area notorious for its sharp rock. Here, they kept it simple by working their way along the stacked Cactus Cliff, picking off route after route. Pizem led every pitch that day, which required 12 hours of continuous climbing.

Less than ideal conditions for 16 pitches in Rifle Canyon.

Less than ideal conditions for 16 pitches in Rifle Canyon. Photo by Rob Pizem

In all, the "Pizonacci Sequence" (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 routes) added up to 127 climbs in seven days, with more than 140 pitches. About one-third of the routes were 5.11 or 5.12, and the rest were easier. "The drive home nearly paralyzed my back, and since I got home I've just been resting and hanging out with the family," Pizem said. "I am actually happy to be sitting at my desk at work today!"

Why do it? Pizem has long been fond of "self-imposed ridiculous climbing challenges." A few years ago, he and Mike Brumbaugh did a five-state "Astro tour" climbing the "Astroman of  ___" at Zion, Red Rock, Smith Rock, the Black Canyon, and Yosemite Valley. But with his wife, Jane, due soon with their second child, Pizem needed to stay closer to home for this challenge.

Dates of ascents: March 23–29, 2013

Source: Rob Pizem