Two days later, the weather finally let up, and I discovered that there is little on this earth better than a spring day in Boulder, which meant there was only one place to go - Eldo. Four letters that make my palms sweat. Four letters that spark the imagination of every climber. Eldo, which stands for Eldorado Canyon, has spawned some of the greatest climbers our sport has known. I’ve always had a special affinity for the Midwest masters such as Kor, Erickson, and Hersey. Like their Yosemite counterparts, these 10-foot giants pushed the standards of their eras and spurred the imaginations of climbers around the world. I would not be a climber if it wasn¹t for their stories, and I couldn’t wait to touch their stone.
Without a guidebook, I arrived with the sun and finally got to taste the dawn of my dreams. My warm-up was a run on Layton Kor’s 1957 run around called The Bulge. I should have known this was going to be a wild ride when I found myself 20 feet off the ground and matching monos in a pin scar. Instead, I fooled myself with, “it’s 5.7, how hard can this be?” 200 feet later, I answered the question by stepping up over a bulge (hence, the name of the route) and onto delicate smears with a miserable undercling crimp in my right hand and a bolt close enough to bite down on deriding my lack of protection. My left hand blindly reached, and found, a sidepull and three bladder-tightening moves later I was through the crux.
Another hour of mixed ratings finally warmed me up to the area before stumbling upon the first pitch of Jules Verne. This Eric Erickson classic was put up in the run-out days of old when bold was king. The opening overhanging jugs led to a series of underclings, ending with a fun stretch of crimps, and the amount of chalk showed me the popularity of the pitch. On top of the main ramp, I looked to the money pitches above, devoid of chalk and holds and shivered at the possibilities. Moving right, I could see all the classics of the area, including the most famous line, The Naked Edge.
My fingers traced the delicate cracks and striking exposure of the route while my mind went back to the images that brought me here. The most striking of these was of the late great soloist, Derek Hersey on the route. I never met the man, but his enigmatic smile and outrageous laugh have become synonymous with having an adventurous life. Sitting there where he sat, looking toward the climbs above, where he climbed, and believing in the impossible, as he believed, I paid homage. Bird closures kept me from pressing onward above, or maybe it was shrinkage of the nether regions, but now I had a reason to come back.
I wandered back over to an area known as the Wind Tower and soloed a handful of routes, including Breezy and the amazing Wind Ridge, which felt so good; I did three laps up and down. My wanderings brought me back to bouldering at the base of the Roof Routes under the Redgarden Wall until the sun heated up the greasy footholds and bees popped out between my knuckles during a fingerlock. It was then that Steven Dieckhoff showed up in time to stop me from getting into any more trouble and kindly pointed me toward steadier classics. The best of these was another Erickson route put up as an onsight solo in 1972 called Blind Faith. This two-pitch crack system is absolutely stunning, but also a lesson in Eldo crack climbing. Apparently the cracks are used for protection since plenty of holds surround them, advice I blindly ignored as I stuffed my hands into insecure positions even when forced to straddle an arête that created a round of scrapes reminiscent of a drunken moment in a brothel of cats.
Before long, the sun was quickly dropping as I looked for one last ride. The Bastille area had been providing most of the afternoon’s fun, including a quick solo of Sunset Boulevard, so it only made sense to finish the day there. Sitting on the road, I wandered over to the opening moves of Rain, and then traversed left to a chalked-up 5.8 pitch that ended on a pillar. I should have down-climbed from there, but wanted to see the sunset from the summit and chose to continue on. An off-width flare full of guano pushed the stickiness of the rubber on my shoes, while diverting right stressed the tendons with overhanging unchalked crimps with a straight shot to the ground, followed by the spicy off-width/lie-back crux of the West Buttress and culminating with the best seat in the house as I watched the final rays of the day splash golden hues on various walls and felt the comfortable ache of a mile worth of climbing. It would take a lifetime to understand these walls, but touching the same holds those legends touched brought a warm smile in need of a return trip.