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Conversations with Climbers: The Worst Approach

Pro climbers answer climbing questions.

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\”The locals kept referring to the sea as ‘mad’ or ‘angry’—or maybe they were saying we were mad for going into the sea when it was angry. The swim over to North Gaulton Castle was a bit too far for our comfort level, so we opted for the James Bond approach: rappelling with an inflatable boat and paddling over to the tower. Miraculously it all worked out… for most of us. Our party of three dwindled to two when one member of the group deemed our approach too ridiculous.\”Andrew Burr

What was the worst approach of you life?

Cedar Wright

“Hard to beat doing all of the 14ers in California by bike with Honnold. My achilles tendon has never been the same.”

Chris Schulte

“Just did some in Val Bavona in Switzerland that were totally awful. Barely 200 meters from the car, but mossy talus, fallen trees, deep pits, and raspberry bushes everywhere. So many thorns and sliding into holes. Awful with three pads. I suppose there have been worse ones in the early-season mountains… but this thorn shit is still a fresh wound.”

Chris Weidner

“The worst approach was the five days it took me and my friend, Jeff Hashimoto, to get into the Northern Picket Range of the Cascades during a multi-day rain storm in July 1993. It was completely ridiculous that we even went in there in the pouring rain, but it was on the calendar, and I wanted to climb some mountains! Today I hear the approach is more straightforward and it takes strong climbers something like 6-8 hours… not five full days. We did climb three elusive summits (West McMillan Spire, Inspiration Peak, The Chopping Block), so there was a silver lining.”

Heidi Wirtz

“Going to this ‘hidden gem’ of a climbing area in Northern Alaska. It was only a five mile approach so we took it way too casual. We started hiking at sunset, or actually dusk, because it never gets dark in the summer up there. The whole hike was through muskeg, which is basically like post-holing in snow, except the ground springs back up after each step, so it doesn’t matter if you go first or last and its soggy and wet. Every step a swarm of mosquitos would flush up to greet me in the face. After hours and hours we made it to perhaps the worst looking crag I had ever seen. We took a nap at the base, woke with mosquito bites covering any exposed flesh and made a beeline out of there. It was pretty horrible. I did get to practice shooting a sawed-off shotgun on that trip. It didn’t go well either.”

Jesse Huey

“In China I climbed a new route with John Dickey and Toby Grohne on Celestial Peak. The approach was up a rhododendron thatched hillside in the pouring rain. It was miles long and absolutely awful. The bushes were all pointing downhill from the pressure of snow and avalanches. It was like pushing our way uphill into a castle protected by millions of spears pointing in our direction.”

Lynn Hill

“A long time ago there was a long approach in Kyrgyzstan. Getting across rivers and to the other side of this valley—the same valley that Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden got kidnapped—we were way out there. I lost one of my shoes in the river and that was a pain. We didn’t know the area and there was no topo. Getting off the formations was even worse.”

Will Stanhope

“Man, we’re all such sissies nowadays. Wish Fred Beckey were alive to answer that one. God only knows how many thousands of kilometers that guy did slogging through Devils club and slide alder in the hammering rain.”

Mike Libecki

“Solo in Guyana, six weeks, 10 days each way on approach, rain everyday, jungle madness, snakes, spiders, scorpions, after soloing an FA on a Tepui. I lost 20+ pounds.”

Read more Conversations with Climbers.