Ken Nichols: 10,000th Ascent of 5.11


On February 26, 63-year-old Ken Nichols made his 10,000th ascent of the traditional route Dol Guldur (5.11) at Traprock in Connecticut. Nichols made the first ascent on aid in September 1975. He returned to free the route in 1979—after the first free ascent by Mike Heintz and Tony Trocchi in 1976. By 1995, he'd made 2,000 ascents of the line.

Nichols has reportedly kept a very meticulous record of his climbs. About a dozen friends and fellow climbers were on hand to witness the climb; a champagne toast followed the ascent. (Watch the video below.)

Nichols told longtime friend Clint Cummins that he climbed the route so often because it is one of the warmest places to climb in the winter in the Northeast. The route faces east, and has good protection from the wind. The route, a sustained and difficult lead, has provided Nichols with a great workout throughout the years. Here's how Nichols describes it in his 1982 Traprock: Connecticut Rock Climbs guidebook:

"This desperate climb was freed after many attempts over several days and is a real credit to the vision and determination of the first free ascent party. Being every bit as formidable as it looks, Dol Guldur is presently the most sustained lead in Central Connecticut." Nichols is well known as a controversial advocate of traditional climbing ethics, and is famous for his repeated bolt chopping throughout Connecticut and surrounding states. He considers himself a counter-revolutionary against the increased trend of bolting.

“Keep in mind one thing: once I chop a route, it will remain chopped, no matter how many times I have to return to keep it that way,” Nichols wrote in a 1990 guidebook. “Until the bolting stops, apparently the cliffs will have to be destroyed to save them.”

On July 16, 2007, Nichols pled no contest to willful destruction of property in Massachusetts, after he was caught chopping bolts off Mass Production (5.10d). Nichols was sentenced to two years of probation, $250 in fines, and was banned from entering five of the Western Massachusetts crags. The court also prohibited Nichols from chopping bolts anywhere ever again.

But Cummins recently wrote in a forum, about Nichols’s reputation, “It’s too bad—he has really dedicated his life work to Connecticut climbing (and preservation of the crags).”