Mythical Speed Barrier Broken On The Naked Edge: 22:44
The big question was when—or even if— a party would eclipse the 24-minute mark on one of the finest multi-pitch climbs in North America.
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In May 2020, when John Ebers and Ben Wilbur set a new speed record on The Naked Edge, lowering the benchmark to 24 minutes 14 seconds, the big question was when—or even if— a party would eclipse the 24-minute mark. As teams had traded the record back and forth over the decade prior, the time had dropped first by minutes. Then only by seconds. It was as though the record was approaching an invisible barrier. Ebers and Wilbur had shaved only 15 seconds off the previous record.
So on October 22, when Stefan Griebel hit the stop button on his watch after sliding to a halt on the bridge across South Boulder Creek in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado—the traditional starting and ending point for speed laps on the Edge—and saw 22:44, his first reaction was, “Shit, my watch stopped somewhere on the descent!”
“There was no way we could have done it that fast,” Griebel remembers thinking to himself.
But they had: Griebel and Joe Kennedy, a 25-year-old from Indianapolis, Indiana, who had moved to Boulder, Colorado only a year earlier, knocked a full 90 seconds off the record.
Speed climbing The Naked Edge is a cardio and climbing extravaganza: It involves a steep talus approach to the base of the Redgarden Wall, soloing up 200 feet of 5.8 to the base of the Edge proper, blitzing up over 460 feet of technical technical terrain up to 5.11b, and then sprinting back to the bridge via the steep and treacherous East Slabs descent.
And no one knows the ins-and-outs of speed climbing the Edge better than Stefan Griebel. He has climbed it at least 280 times. But after Ebers and Wilbur clinched the record in 2020, a big part of him didn’t think he’d return to try to reclaim it.
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“I was not going to go after it at all really,” Griebel says. “I had done it with Jason and he’s gone. I didn’t have a chance to do it with him again. Plus, I’m getting old and stuff.” The Jason he refers to is Jason Wells, Griebel’s close friend. Between 2012 and 2015, they traded the Edge record back and forth numerous times with Brad Gobright and Scott Bennett. Wells died in a simul-climbing accident on El Captian, along with Tim Klein, in 2018.
Enter Joe Kennedy, a young gun compared to Griebel. (The latter, when asked his own age, says, “Two years ago Joe was half as old as I was last year. You do the math.”) The two connected via Satan’s Minions, an exclusive scrambling club in the Flatirons. Griebel was impressed by Kennedy’s speed and agility on the Fountain sandstone and loose switchbacks; in the Tour de Flatirons, an annual Minions race, Kennedy finished second overall.
WATCH VIDEO OF SPEED RECORD ASCENT OF NAKED EDGE
After that performance, Griebel “planted the seed” in Kennedy’s brain, telling him, “If you ever want to do the Naked Edge fast, we could take down the record.”
At that point, Kennedy had never climbed the Edge in a mellow style, let alone simul-climbed it in one single mega-pitch. “I was like, ‘Ha! that’s funny that you think I would be able to do that,” Kennedy remembers. Not long after he climbed the route for the first time, with Wade Morris, and found it “really hard.”
And that was that. Griebel and Kennedy climbed together some over the next year—doing the Edge a couple of times, linking up The Wisdom into Mellow Yellow on a memorable day—but Griebel had forgotten about his offer.
And then, on August 30, out of the blue, he got a text from Kennedy: “On another note, do you have any interest in going fast again on the Edge at any point?” Kennedy had started climbing it as a two-pitch route with another friend; now he was looking for a challenge to sink his teeth into.
Griebel didn’t hesitate. “That was an intervention for me,” he says. He cut down his alcohol intake; he started eating healthier; and, he says, “I sacrificed my dad bod.” In the six weeks between Kennedy’s text and setting the record, Griebel dropped almost 15 pounds.
Including the day they set the record, they spent 12 days refining their strategy and going ever faster on the Edge. Every time they went out they would do a warm up lap, followed by a “hot lap.” On one of those days, they were recruited by friends Becca Droz and Kate Kelleghan to climb the route along with them and two others—while all wearing Power Ranger costumes. Because why not?! Droz and Kelleghan hold the women’s speed record on the Edge, which they set at 37:40, in September 2021.
“You feel so sleek and mobile climbing in a Power Rangers outfit,” Kennedy says, laughing.
While always fun and occasionally ridiculous, most of those 12 days were focused on refining their “micro beta,” both gear-wise and climbing-wise. Though Griebel has climbed the Edge an obscene number of times, he changed his beta on the first pitch only a few sessions before the new record. “Joe did this thing on the first pitch, and I was like, ‘That looks way better.’”
On October 22, all those miniscule adjustments and preparation paid off. They were about 30 seconds behind Eber and Wilbur’s pace when they reached the bottom of the Redgarden Wall, but from there they were off to the races. Using their 23-meter rope and a teensy rack—six cams, five quickdraws, one loose carabiner, and three Microtraxions—they flew up the wall,
Reaching the top at least a minute ahead of the record pace. The descent was more of the same. Upon reaching the bridge, they were greeted by cheering friends whom they had invited to watch and celebrate with them.
While Griebel and Kennedy know that their speed climbing may appear reckless and dangerous, they don’t believe that they take undue risks (given the constraints of the challenge), and do their best to keep things within a safety margin that they are both comfortable with.
“There are two key rules of simul-climbing for me,” Griebel says. One is to use a Microtraxion anytime the follower is on 5.9 terrain or higher. The other is that “you always have two bomber pieces between the climbers at any time.” Not following that rule, he points out, is how Jason Wells and Tim Klein died. He also notes that both Brad Gobright and John Ebers have free soloed The Naked Edge—but that’s something he would never consider, despite not having fallen on the route in at least his last 100 laps.
To Kennedy, the most dangerous part of the challenge is the descent, where they careen down the East Slabs at breakneck speed. “If you catch a toe, you’re going to roll,” he says.
Still, flying down the slabs is part of what made their 22 minute 44 second time possible. And now, having blown through the 24-minute barrier, all bets are off on how low The Naked Edge record can go.
“It’s hard to put a number on it, but I can easily imagine a minute or more going off it,” Kennedy says.
Griebel thinks even more. “I don’t know. With two Joes? It’ll probably go under 20 minutes.” But he’s unsure if he’ll play a role in any of that; he has hinted to Kennedy that perhaps the younger climber should find a different, similarly-aged partner.
But Kennedy jumps in. “I’m skeptical that Stefan is done with the Edge. It’s just so much fun. The most fun I’ve ever had climbing.”
And just like that, Griebel relents. “Yea, I’d do it again,” he says.
The Naked Edge Speed Records
10/22/2022 — Stefan Griebel, Joe Kennedy: 22:44
5/22/2020 – John Ebers, Ben Wilbur – 24:14
9/19/2015 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 24:29
10/8/2014 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 24:57
9/24/2014 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 26:16
8/15/2014 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 26:33
6/9/2014 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 29:53
4/22/2014 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 35:01
4/9/2014 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 40:36
1/?/2013 – Scott Bennett, Brad Gobright – 44:00
5/?/2012 – Stefan Griebel, Jason Wells – 49:44
12/?/2010 – Scott Bennett, Blake Harrington – 1:13
9/6/2006 – Bob Rotert, Dave Vaughn – 1: 22 (car to car)
1990s – Michael Gilbert, Rob Slater – 1:30 (car to car)